Together we can

Metropolitan’s brand appeal is based on approachability and communication

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Metropolitan Retail has returned to its roots, with a new advertising campaign designed to restore its status as a household name among the people and help advisors connect with their market at the same time.

A moving and dignified portrayal of an “after-tears” party following the funeral of a beloved elderly family member, the advert reflects the values, hopes, fears and aspirations of ordinary South Africans and shows how Metropolitan can lend a helping hand on life’s journey. The core message – “What matters to you, matters to us” – resonates beautifully with the Metropolitan motto, “Together we can”.

“We’ve gone back to what it is that makes us Metropolitan,” says Llewellyn Allen, Divisional Chief Marketing Officer and one of the architects of the project. “It's the idea of a friendly, encouraging expert that’s there beside you to help you make the right decision with your money.”

That message was in danger of being lost last year, when Metropolitan embarked on a sophisticated campaign appealing to abstract Afropolitan values, but, thanks in part to new CEO Peter Tshiguvho and Nontokozo Madonsela, the new Group Chief Marketing Officer at MMI, Metropolitan’s feet are firmly planted on the ground.

“Our new leaders reminded us that we're a brand that has strength in the market, you need to address the everyday person’s needs,” says Allen. “We’ve gone back to focusing on the advisor, focusing on where do you find Metropolitan? Why do you want Metropolitan?”

As an established brand of 120 years standing, Metropolitan’s hallmark has always been its approachability, but in recent years it seemed to lose touch with its base. Allen testifies that “I remember my parents had a policy with you” was a statement that frequently cropped up during the six-month research and development process in the run-up to the campaign. “The question we started to ask ourselves was why don’t you have a policy with us?” says Allen. “People were asking us to remind them of what the core of Metropolitan is – to tell them who we are.”

This echoes the thinking behind MMI CEO Hillie Meyer’s “Reset and Grow” strategy for Metropolitan and Momentum, MMI’s two core businesses. “Our whole marketing ethos now is about just getting back to the basics, doing them brilliantly, and reminding people of why that’s important,” says Allen.

Today, the Metropolitan brand is working harder. In addition to raising visibility and awareness, the marketing function has gone from packaging the product to enabling sales by helping the advisor to be noticed and engage with consumers.

“It’s not just about putting the name out there,” says Allen. “For example, the new campaign is set in a funeral. Funeral cover is one of our largest products – it’s what we are best known for. Now we’ve used a TV commercial to dramatise the uniqueness of our funeral product – that we are able to personalise it to your needs. The brand is still there, we are still approachable, warm, and proudly South African, but we are also showing people ‘why Metropolitan’. That’s how we’re helping the advisor.”

At the same time, the messaging underpinning this year’s campaign is intended for Metropolitan staff as much as for the market. “The advisor, the actuary, the accountant in finance all want to know that someone is listening to them,” says Allen. “It’s a great rallying cry for us to remind people what approachability means – and to make it relevant. We’re saying, if it matters to you, it matters to us – we’re listening to the consumer, we’re listening to the employee, we’re listening to the investor, and we’re doing something about it. We’re in a partnership with the consumer and our advisors to the end of a collective success.”

Naturally, in advertising terms, a campaign is only successful if it helps to “move the dial”. “You can build as glamorous a financial services lifestyle brand as you want, but people can only engage with that eco-system if they buy something,” says Allen. “It doesn’t help having people love your brand if they’re not buying anything or engaging with you. It can’t be a one-directional conversation and that’s why we’re supporting the advisor.

“At the end of the day, there is only one metric and that’s conversion, which we do track on a regular basis,” says Allen, “but it’s not just conversion to sales – we’re also tracking the advisor sentiment, because that’s what it all comes down to. If the advisor isn’t believing in the product or selling it, then it’s really just fluff.”

To prevent one-directional communication and ensure advisor buy-in, Metropolitan is spending a great deal of time and effort on determining what its advisors believe and responding to their feedback. “We’re in the field regularly asking branding and marketing questions, just to assess whether our approach is resonating, whether it’s working. Marketing sits in the advisor management structures now, so we can hear the conversations first-hand and come up with a response at once. We’re not waiting for the end of the year to review and try something new – we’re adapting as we go.”

In conjunction with the renewed emphasis on the advisor’s role and needs, Metropolitan’s entire branch footprint is being rejuvenated. “We’re rolling out brand-new, better-looking branches in better locations, branches that tie into the ethos of the brand,” says Allen.

It’s the small but significant touches, like having welcoming messages in the languages spoken in a particular region, that are updating the entire experience of Metropolitan. When it comes to opening branches, advisors from the region are being given time on local community radio stations, which helps raise their profile. “We’re bringing branches closer to the people,” says Allen, “and bringing advisors and consumers together. Again, it’s about approachability – our advisors come from those communities.”

The emerging market that Metropolitan is targeting can be defined as the emerging middle class that will collectively determine the future of South Africa.

”Our core definition of the emerging market is the individual who is employed or has a regular income, not the informal market yet,” says Allen. “Our advisors are talking to nurses, bank managers, call-centre agents, miners – the ordinary working South African, usually with a family to support. They have children they’re proud of, they believe that they’ve got a purpose, and they want the best for their family. That’s who we’re appealing to and that’s what currently sets us apart from our competitors. We’ve gone back to the individual and their family. There may be millions of those people. One by one, they make up a country and they make up a continent.”

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