Lessons from an unexpected email, sometimes it’s good to be different.

I recently received an unexpected email from Emerald Street, a lifestyle newsletter that is a trusted friend with its recommendations for eating out, clothing and home inspiration. It’s a welcome distraction. However this email was different: it was in collaboration with Capital One, and it was all about credit scoring. A bit of a surprise. I don’t have a particular interest in credit scoring, but I did appreciate the opportunity to find out more and now feel better informed because of it.

It’s a risky strategy on Emerald Street’s part as the relationship between brand and consumer is highly valued and you mess with it at your peril. But interestingly, I didn’t lose my trust in them. In fact, I’d say it improved: they were still being my trusted friend, but they wanted to have a more serious conversation with me. I was used to them being a source of inspiration for the more exciting aspects of life, so why couldn’t they also be for the less exciting too?

Over the past few years we’ve seen significant advances in targeted, tailored and personalised content. Social media platforms and their use of algorithms have resulted in only seeing content that’s considered ‘relevant’. Facebook is the biggest culprit, and has been a game changer for the way brands operate, with engagement being the number one factor. But has this left us in an engagement no-mans-land? We only see the brands we’ve shown an interest in, so has it all become a bit samey? A bit boring? So, when we see something unexpected from a brand we trust, perhaps it’s more effective? Perhaps it enriches our perception of that brand…

This has got me thinking. Not only about content marketing for email and social media, but generally about brand behaviour and the impact of behaving in unexpected ways to reinvigorate what we stand for and in turn attract new audiences. Here are a few thoughts for doing just that:

Collaboration is key

We don’t know who initiated the credit score content: could’ve been Capital One looking to tap into Emerald Street’s established audience base, or Emerald Street hoping to boost their credibility by partnering with Capital One. Regardless of the order of events, the result of taking that leap and collaborating outside the comfort zone had a positive impact on perception for both brands (at least as far as I’m concerned) – and also genuinely did the readership a favour.

This is one great example of a brand using a leftfield collaboration to reach new audiences, and I’ve unearthed a couple more. First up is MINI, with multiple collaborations in a radically different sector that reached more and different audiences, way faster than the automotive product cycle allows.

MINI Fashion

MINI has been a British icon for decades. It revolutionised the small car and was, at one point, the best-selling car in British history. In 2015, looking to reinvigorate its iconic status, MINI collaborated with a new industry – fashion.

An unexpected move for an automotive company, but for MINI it made perfect sense. As Head of Brand Strategy and Business Innovation for MINI, Esther Bahne said:

“MINI has always been a brand for people who dare to do things differently, to stand out. In the 1960s the first Mini became a design icon, and this heritage-inspired us to launch MINI FASHION. We really wanted to stick our necks out and join with creatives to bring something new and bold to the industry”.

Sebastian Mackensen, SVP of Brand for MINI, noted “Fashion is fast, in complete contrast to auto.” So getting a foothold in the fashion industry makes complete sense for MINI; it allows the brand to reach a much wider audience, far more often than it would if confined to the automotive industry alone.

As Mackensen suggested, “The purpose is to enrich the brand story and the communication and the relevance of the brand for the relevant target groups.”

MINI already had a strong brand identity, but allowing the brand to expand outside the confines of its industry has successfully engaged with a wider audience placing the brand in an even stronger position and in 2017, MINI was ranked 87th on Interbrand’s Best Global Brands. MINI saw an opportunity to harness the benefits of another industry – and they went for it with great success.

Barclaycard’s News & Insights content hub

In this example, Barclaycard stays true to its brand promise – to help businesses move forward every day – while repositioning itself from a financial provider to a trusted advisor and educator. The content is available to everyone, so that literally all business audiences, whoever their current credit card provider, can benefit from Barclaycard’s knowledge sharing.

To create an ongoing dialogue with its target audience of small business owners, Barclaycard for Business has spent the last few years building up its News & Insights content hub. Articles and infographics run the gamut of topics important to its audience, from how to guard against a cyber attack, to fun quizzes like “How well do you know your business?”

This past year Barclaycard launched The Fast Track, an impressive, interactive online course for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Each of the five learning modules spotlights a local business, plus video, audio, written content, and downloadable guides. Module 3, for instance, is on “Building profile and customer loyalty,” featuring the owners of Blok London, a boutique class-based gym, and how it’s competing in a saturated fitness industry. The Fast Track is meant to be a full-funnel content marketing initiative with content appropriate for both new and existing customers. To amplify content, Barclaycard is using its social channels as well as distribution networks like Outbrain.

Barclays itself complements The Fast Track with Barclays Life Skills – a hub that offers advice to young people looking to get into work, and joins them up with businesses looking to offer work experience, apprenticeships and traineeships. It also has content for parents – no audience left unserved.

Great potential

We regularly focus on the target audience, it’s vital for delivering effective creative projects. However, it often leaves me wondering how to balance and apportion time and effort to those audiences who don’t fit bang in the middle of a brand’s usual target demographic. Here are a couple of areas within financial services that gave me real food for thought…

Laying foundations with financial education

Mental health awareness is potentially going to become part of primary school curriculum (fantastic). But (from my understanding) formal financial education is a bit of a footnote, fighting with a lot of other important skills for scarce space in citizenship or PSHE lessons.

We know the average age of a mortgage application is ever-increasing. But how you manage your finances in the years before you apply all contributes to the picture of your application: credit rating, payslips, tax, savings, outgoings. Knowledge about the impact these things can have on your mortgage application is patchy at best, so a lot of applicants find themselves there in the application process, saying a lot of ‘I wish I’d known x.’

Beyond mortgages, financial management and the ability to navigate the systems that kick in when things go wrong, have such a huge impact on equality and opportunity in the UK. What a gamechanger it would be to help the next generation gain a better financial understanding – even down to everyday basics, like the obligations that come with a phone contract or a TV licence.

We see brands talking to the parents, but nobody bold enough to encourage ownership or loyalty at a younger level. It’s a real opportunity that makes us want to get our strategic thinking caps on.

Informing savvier product choices

Often our first savings accounts are often opened by our parents. We then maybe open a current account when we need a debit card or have a first job, or to take advantage of student accounts. Then once we start to settle into real life, we might set up some more, like a joint account. Or as research suggests – we just stick with what we’ve got.

The regulators work hard to publicise current account switching, but rates are still low.

The right combination of brand voices has the potential to kickstart a change in behaviour and conversation around savings and current accounts for a huge range of audiences.

Kids and seemingly settled account holders don’t immediately jump out as ‘prime’ audiences, but there’s a strong argument that engaging with them now could support your position as a brand when the time comes.

And finally: where will you find your new audience?

If you’re feeling inspired and thinking about where your opportunities might be, here are a few places to start your search.


Podcasts monetise through ads, and the range of stuff we’ve heard about is vast. Beds, mortgages, clothing, champagne, phones, other podcasts… Representatives of brands and causes also appear as guests on podcasts, to get their content out to the podcast’s core audience without compromising the concept of the show. The best way to find your niche is to check out reviews and get listening: we shared a few favourites earlier this year.


Got a sector in mind for your collaboration? Attend that industry’s big events to meet and listen to the people who serve the audience you want to reach. Got no idea? Pick an industry that interests you. See how people are solving problems outside your field – you never know where it might lead.

Social media

There are influencers of every flavour sharing every aspect of their lives: from interiors and business meeting selfies to meal prep and the queue in the post office. The right research will help identify the right people: people whose values and activity resonate with (or at least, don’t outright contradict) your brand, and whose followers are yet to discover you.

Written by Emily Wright

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mark-making* is an award-winning creative agency specialising in branding, campaigns and communications