In 2019, a study ranked Sterling Bank as the third best retail banking institution in Nigeria in its 2019 Nigeria Banking Industry Customer Experience Survey. In terms of the most improved bank based on profitability growth year-on-year, the bank recorded significant profit increases with 17.2%, including FCMB and UBA with 13.2%, and 13.3% respectively.
Asked if they are aware of Sterling Bank’s aggressive marketing tactics on social media, 55% said ‘yes’ while 45% said ‘no’. Covering several options, we asked our national focus group (NFG) to describe the bank’s aggressive tactics — 31.6% described it as ‘unethical’, 21.1% view it as ‘interesting’, 18.4% described it as ‘mischievous’, while 13.2% found it ‘funny’. 5.3% found it exciting and another 5.3% said it is dirty.
For those who viewed the campaign positively, comments include “It’s awesome”; “So sweet. Drag them by their wigs. We are here for the violence!”; “E sweet. It works”; “I don’t think it is offensive”; “It’s challenging the conservative ‘face-your-front’ marketing communications paradigm in Nigeria. I love it”; “It’s intriguing and innovative to me”; “This is the first time we in advertising can enjoy the competitive marketing that other countries in our industry enjoy. This is fun, let’s just enjoy it”.
Looking at those who viewed it negatively, comments include: “I always thought it was funny, but seeing this tweet screengrab it’s actually not funny. It’s wrong”; “It’s totally unethical. Violates the ethical principles that guide the relationship between the commercial industry (banks)”; “It’s wrong and unprofessional. Once is a mistake; but to then make it the basis of your marketing strategy? It screams insecurity. The exact same thing as what bullies do. They feel threatened by other banks, and they think the only way to ‘one up’ them is to repeatedly attack them, which plays on the internet mentality of ‘savagery’. The internet often applauds these kinds of savage replies, and so Sterling uses it to their advantage”.
Culture Intelligence from RED asked our national focus group if such messaging encourages them to become Sterling Bank customers, 70.6% replied ‘no’ while 29.4% answered in the affirmative. Asked if they would encourage other banks to adopt such methods, 57.5% agreed and 42.5% disagreed.
The latest ‘holding company’ restructuring trend in the Nigerian banking sector, which has led more banks to diversify their revenue base to remain competitive, supports a different kind of ambition for Sterling Bank. According to the bank’s Managing Director, Abubakar Suleiman, the bank does not intend to compete with Fintechs.
“Our end-to-end plan is that we want to significantly leverage technology to become the major financial adviser and lender in specific sectors,” he said in an interview. “We want to be number one for risk underwriting. We want to develop a capacity for risk underwriting at a level that no one can compete with. That’s our intention. I think the role of the bank above all else is to underwrite risks so that capital can flow and the economy will grow.” As a holding company, Sterling Bank channels its focus on wealth creation and the use of technology to improve lending and investment opportunities for customers. So, how does the strategy go with its underlying mission to grow company profit?
“Buzz. Such bold and aggressive marketing moves are intended to create buzz,” said an expert. Consumers want humour, and they want brands to be authentic. In the minds of the target audience, it also positions the brand as a one willing to think and act outside the box, and actually wants to rival your competitors. That Sterling Bank can truly put its money where its mouth is remains arguable. For instance, how many times will customers complain about horrible ATM services, internet transfer issues or customer services before it becomes a problem. Because most people do not take the bank seriously yet, it can appear fun and exciting. The conversations will become serious when it has bigger customers who are willing to jump on Twitter anytime there’s an issue”.