Benita Chacko

HDFC twins merger: CMO Ravi Santhanam says no anxiety about communicating the change

It is expected to be an easier merger because the consumers have considered the two groups as the same for over two decades. 

The merger of HDFC, India's most valuable lender, and its largest mortgage financier HDFC Bank, is inching closer to its culmination. The creation of the world's fifth-most valuable bank, is just one stage away now. Media reports suggest that the process, which began in April 2022, is expected to culminate by July 20, 2023. 

Every bank merger brings with it another mammoth challenge - the need to communicate the new identity to its customers and shareholders. Creating a bank worth $168 billion, this merger is unprecedented in India. Yet, HDFC Bank is not anxious about communicating the change to its stakeholders. Rather, it finds confidence in the fact that both the entities have many similarities. 

Speaking from the sidelines of Goafest last month, Ravi Santhanam, chief marketing officer, HDFC Bank, said that it is an easier merger because for over two decades, the consumers have considered the two groups as the same. Moreover, both the brands share the same values. 

"There's a lot of similarities, starting with the name itself. The consumers have not differentiated much between the two, and the group is considered one. For the last 25 years, the group companies have acted in unison, in terms of values." 

HDFC brings in some advantages, because of the emotional product it has sold and also its huge consumer connect.
Ravi Santhanam, chief marketing officer, HDFC Bank

Santhanam says that though the two different brands are coming together, in the consumer's mind, it is almost like a single brand. So, one does not need to put in massive efforts to communicate the change.  

"HDFC brings in some advantages, because of the emotional product it has sold and also its huge consumer connect. Meanwhile, HDFC Bank has a different type of relationship building with the customers, as it serves the customers right through their life."

Also Read: What does brand HDFC mean to consumers?

As the home loan portfolio of HDFC will move to HDFC Bank, the merger will also present the latter with an opportunity to interact with its customers over a long period of time. Home loans are generally taken for a long duration, at least 15-20 years, presenting the bank with an the opportunity to interact and engage with the customers over that period of time.

"It gives us another product. Home loans are a highly emotional product for most people in the world. More than 90% of people will think long and hard before buying their first house, and it is an emotional investment. The long duration allows us to sell multiple products to the customers, as their lifestyle keeps changing," mentions Santhanam. 

Communication strategy

HDFC Bank's communication focusses on two elements - business and society. From the business perspective, it aims to create awareness about its products and services. This communication stresses on its benefits and convenience.

"Our focus is to ensure consumers get to know and buy the product, and get the life cycle management," shares Santhanam.

The bank also strives to educate the customers about frauds and scams. It ran the 'Mooh Band Rakho' campaign in the past, to increase awareness about these frauds, and stress on the importance of not sharing crucial banking information. Last year, it launched its own influencer 'Vigil Aunty', to highlight the different types of fraud and how to prevent them.

"We are the biggest brand in the financial services industry. Over the last 2-3 years, frauds and spams have really taken off in this industry. So, our core focus is to educate the customers on how not to fall prey to these scams," Santhanam states.

After the success of 'Mooh Band Rakho' campaign, it realised that everyone was trying to say the same thing, and people had a blind spot, with regards to such communication. 

"So, after a lot of research, we decided to create our own influencer on social media. Now, we are able to do the same communication in a funny way, and more people are seeing it," Santhanam informs.

The brand has roped in erstwhile VJ Lola Kutty as 'Vigil Aunty'. Sporting a 'Stop' sign as a bindi with a 'Stay Vigil' pendant, 'Vigil Aunty' addresses topical issues on her social media - from electricity bill frauds, to international call scams. 

Older people are more prone to such frauds and tend to use WhatsApp a lot more - either sending forwards or to chat. While social media platforms help Gen Z and millennials understand safe banking, the bank reaches out to senior citizens on WhatsApp. 

"We use WhatsApp as a medium, because people forward whatever is relevant. Our target group is primarily senior citizens to start with, but frauds are not restricted to them alone. We are able to communicate to more than a lakh people through WhatsApp. These people, in turn, forward the same communication," Santhanam mentions. 

Beyond this, the bank also raises awareness about its corporate social responsibility (CSR), as it wants to make sure that its customers feel good about their contribution for the society at large.

"As a bank, whatever we do is, at the end of the day, the contribution from the customers. We spend more than Rs 2,000 crore on CSR every year. So, we want to make sure that it acts as an inspiration for other brands as well," says Santhanam.

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