An Open Heart Relationship Posted on | AdForum

MullenLowe Lintas Group Chief Strategy Officer, Subbu, speaks to AdForum about their long-term relationship with Axis Bank.

What is the longevity of the relationship between your agency and the brand, and how did this relationship begin?   

Our relationship has been banking on the axis of openness for more than a decade now. And every day of this relationship in the last ten years has been characterised by trust, respect and candidness with one another in advancing the brand, business and partnership.

The relationship literally started with a zero brand balance. Axis Bank, which was originally UTI Bank, had taken on a new life and was keen to etch its new brand identity with a deeper meaning.

Lowe Lintas came on board post a high-profile multi-agency pitch at that time to launch this most important strategic initiative in the brand’s journey. In a battleground shift in the banking industry, we had triumphed in positioning Axis Bank as the true spirit behind a new, young and progressive India. And in taking that thought-leading stand, the brand found that its fortunes had progressed as well.

Tell us about the first campaign your agency worked on for the brand.

The ‘Badhti Ka Naam Zindagi’ (‘Life is about progress’) campaign.

India was growing to be a younger nation. Over 50% of its population was under 30 years of age. This trend, coupled with an economic boom, explosion of new media and the presence of unprecedented opportunities, had made this generation of young adults perhaps the most boldly optimistic and confident one in India’s recent history.

They were taking more home loans, purchasing cars in their early twenties, buying big with credit cards, investing astutely across a range of financial products and insuring themselves far earlier than their parents had thought of the same. They knew they were a very important part of the India growth story. That was why several of them were also leaving behind lucrative careers in the corporate world and embarking on entrepreneurial pursuits. For them, life was a journey with continuously evolving milestones. It was all about kinetic energy, even if, and especially if, they had loads of potential.

Most banking brands dwelt on stability, safety and security with micro-dialogues of products and services. They were oblivious to the inherent dynamism, which was so much a part of the lives of this new generation. Axis Bank decided to pursue that perspective and gave the staid banking business an interesting canvas of a cinema-like allure, with a new conversation that was long overdue.

What has been the most innovative/successful campaign created by your agency for the brand?

The ‘Open’ movement was not just another campaign, it went way beyond that.

The challenge was to come up with a platform idea that was both a proposition and a philosophy, galvanising people inside and the world outside at the same time.

In a world where everything that used to be muted and disconnected is wired and intelligent now, we believed that anything that cannot be digitised or automated will become extremely valuable. Predominantly human traits such as emotion, conception, imagination, supposition and intuition will be even more important in the future because, while machines are very good at stimulating, they are not as adept being warm and caring. And those are precisely the traits that we need in the banking sector when dealing with customers, now more than ever.

In the tussle between tech-touch balance, our belief that wherever there is a human in need, there is an opportunity for kindness, gentleness and tenderness to make a difference, led us to taking an inspiring stand beyond the brand for Axis Bank – OPENNESS ADVANCES RELATIONSHIPS. In creating a culture of being ‘OPEN’ for employees, customers and communities, the brand allows one to rise, stay ahead and ultimately be at their best for themselves. The storied content and creative expressions on this stance convey that when one is open and ready to receive, the universe around you not only hears you but also extends a hand to help you.

OPEN is, therefore, the rallying cry of Axis Bank. It isn’t just another marketing initiative. It’s the reason for everyone working at Axis Bank to wake up and march together for each other. It breathes a new culture.

What factors have enabled you both to stay in a partnership for so long? 

It is genuinely the spirit of openness. Believing in it, nurturing it and getting permanently infatuated with it. The miracle is not that we kept our doors open, but that we never had any doors. And that’s a serious commitment to the partnership.

What do you identify as being the most significant change in the industry for the brands? In which way have you adapted to meet this change?

In the past, brands behaved as fortresses, built to defend fixed market positions or single-mindedly pursue creating shareholder value. Times have changed now. Technology, data and consumer activism have brought on transparency, revealing the inner workings of companies – good and bad.

Today’s consumers expect a business they buy from to be more intentionally purposeful and are willing to reward them with share of mind and wallet. High-growth companies understand that having a brand with higher motives, coming out of a strong sense of purpose or POV is more attractive to customers, employees and partners. It’s no longer about what you buy, but what you buy into.

A shared purpose puts a brand at the heart of the customer’s world, making service smoother, communications more efficient and adding a feel-good factor to everything it chooses to do.

At Lowe Lintas and Axis Bank, as partners, we had the same view point, seeing it as a passion, not a job. Our employees too proudly share that sense of purpose and derive dignity from their daily work, not just working for a salary. They feel like they matter, and that what they do matters. With our inspiring Purpose – To nurture the spirit of openness – with every customer, every employee, every interaction, everywhere, every day, we have truly put what we care, at the heart of what we do.

It’s not what we do or how we do at business. It’s to get people to appreciate why we do it.

How would you describe the relationship between you and this client? In what ways has the dynamic changed since the pandemic began? 

The promise of the brand is the promise of our relationship too. Being open is all about a state of heart, before it manifests in any state of action or interaction between us.

The extended lockdown brought on by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, presented an interesting challenge to the brand and how we addressed it as partners. It was clear to us, being an essential service, Axis Bank had to rise to the occasion by always remaining open, in the same spirit of what it believes in as a brand.

We combined our offline ‘human experience’ with the online ‘user experience’, becoming fluid and flexible aided by technology, making interactions fast and efficient without any unwanted processes, providing cross-channel experience by accessing all the information and more.

In an open and warm embrace, we showed genuine empathy through a very Indian concept called ‘Khata’ (ongoing account), where people asked small vendors of various types, to keep adding their purchases in a billing account to be cleared at a later date, on the basis of a trusted relationship.

Axis Bank turned this concept on its head during a period of economic slowdown, asking people to #ReverseTheKhata and make advance payments, so that those small businesses would also get an infusion of funds to survive the lockdown. This was about opening the purse strings of the heart and helping those who were more vulnerable.

Eventually, even the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic did not make a dent in the Axis Bank resolve to open the door of possibilities for its customers or public in general.

And we are open to whatever comes next.

S. Subramanyeswar, Chief Strategy Officer, MullenLowe Lintas Group

This article was originally published on AdForum