Debashish Chakraborty
Interviews

"Bank employees work really hard to help the country stay open": Asha Kharga, Axis Bank

The executive VP and group chief marketing officer of Axis Bank spoke to us about the new ad, the BFSI segment and marketing in these troubled times.

Axis Bank recently launched a campaign 'Zindagi rahe open' to highlight the contribution of its employees to keep the operations running effectively, despite lockdown restrictions.

Conceived by Lowe Lintas Mumbai, the digital film is mostly shot on mobile phones and includes footage from, and of, Axis Bank employees.

We spoke to Asha Kharga, executive VP and group chief marketing officer, Axis Bank, about the challenges faced during this campaign, consumer shift in the BFSI sector and her marketing approach.

Edited excerpts:

What was the hardest part of putting this campaign together? And, how did you overcome this obstacle?

The 'Zindagi rahe open' campaign was a unique initiative by Axis Bank to pay tribute to the banking community. Not many of us realise that a lot of bank employees work really hard to help the country stay open… they make it possible for us to swipe our cards in 'kirana' stores. They ensure our salaries get credited into our accounts, make sure that ATMs have cash, ensure fund transfers happen digitally to make businesses and families run, ensure cash reaches your doorstep via mobile ATMS, and make banking services reach people in unbanked areas.

Given the lockdown scenario and hence no (possibility of a) shoot, the challenge was to capture the diversity of our workforce and show the scale of what all of them do.

What followed was an enthusiastic collaboration between agency partners, the marketing team and chosen employees to create a collection of self-shot footages. To aid this process, a detailed shoot guide was prepared and circulated amongst the chosen members. Reference images for each and every shot, angle of the shots, phone resolution, background, timing, shoot during daylight, etc., were clearly communicated. Employees, including their family members, branch colleagues and partners at 35 locations across the country self-shot the footage through their mobile handsets with specified resolution. We also provided COVID-19 safety kits, and all the necessary precautions were taken to ensure everyone's safety.

"Bank employees work really hard to help the country stay open": Asha Kharga, Axis Bank
"Employees, including their family members, branch colleagues and partners at 35 locations across the country self-shot the footage through their mobile handsets with specified resolution."

In the banking and financial segment, what's the single biggest shift in consumer behaviour we will witness after the lockdown is lifted?

Consumer behaviour will shift massively to digital. We are already seeing an upswing in e-commerce transactions, where prepaid orders (earlier, it was more of cash on delivery) are being preferred. Contactless forms of payments will start gaining traction amongst consumers as hygiene starts gaining prominence. Investments are being done on digital. Simple FDs as well as investments in MFs and equity are happening on the app. Education has gone online and, hence, school fees will start getting paid via digital modes. Mobile recharges have seen an upswing and electricity bills will go that route, too. Essentially, all those payments for which people had to physically go to pay their bills, like cooking gas, electricity bill, property tax, etc., will now shift to digital.

Having said that, the critical thing for brands to understand is that, even in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence, people will remain at the heart of their success. So while investments in technology are important, those in human capital and connections are even more critical in ensuring successful customer experiences.

"Tone-deafness by making light of the direness of the situation, opportunism or doing activities just because another brand in the category is doing something, will be poorly received by consumers."

Brand marketers are caught in the crosshairs between releasing COVID-washed causevertising-type messages and tone-deaf hard sell for their products. Is there a safe mid-path? What in your view might that be?

A brand should always stay true to itself and, hence, the message must have a clear link to the product truth. While it’s good for brands to give messages of empathy and express solidarity in times of crisis, anything over the top will look like self-promotion. Also, tone-deafness by making light of the direness of the situation, opportunism or doing activities just because another brand in the category is doing something, will be poorly received by consumers.

It’s the way a brand responds in times of crisis that makes a lasting impression. And, it’s even truer for service brands like banks, which directly connect with branch employees, who have lent credibility, integrity and character to the category. Customer experiences in situations like these will play a big role in building trust and advocacy.