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Exclusive interview with ING's Isabelle Conner 16 Nov 2007

Isabelle Conner (USA) ING Sponsorship Director celebrates 2nd place with the Renault team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Sunday, 30 September 2007 Isabelle Conner (USA) ING Sponsorship Director. Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday 21 October 2007. World © Sutton Isabelle Conner (USA) ING Sponsorship Director. Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, United States Grand Prix, Race Day, Indianapolis, USA, Sunday 17 June 2007. World © Sutton

For a team so used to success the 2007 season was no picnic for the Renault team, but that didn’t stop it being a huge success for new title sponsor ING. Their first foray into Formula One sponsorship proved extremely positive for the financial services giant, with Isabelle Conner, managing director of ING’s Renault F1 programme, suggesting it delivered even more than expected. It seems a big investment does give the best return - then again you’d expect a bank to know that…

Q: It was ING's first season as a Formula One sponsor. Did your commitment meet your expectations?
Isabelle Conner:
Our first season in F1 more than exceeded all our expectations. ING took a conscious decision to move into F1 with a large scale sponsorship, in order to effectively increase both the positive perception and global awareness of our brand. Our tracking showed we achieved both of those objectives in the first few months, far more quickly than we expected.

Q: What was the core of your strategy? To make ING a household name?
The core of our strategy during the first year was to raise ING's brand awareness globally to be more in line with the global scale and scope of our business - one of the top 10 companies in the world according to the Forbes global 2000 rankings. We didn't just want to make ING a household name - we also wanted to make sure customers are aware that ING has a full suite of insurance, banking and asset management products and services.

Q: Your Formula One sponsorship programme is already quite extensive: title sponsor of the ING Renault Team, title sponsor of two Grands Prix, and a track-side advertiser. Pretty aggressive for a first timer - can you explain the reason?
The reason really goes back to the core of our strategy - to increase global awareness of the ING brand, and to ensure the vast numbers of customer and potential customers watching F1 races globally - many millions of them - understood that ING is active in banking, insurance and asset management. A bold and aggressive entry strategy was judged to offer the quickest and most effective way of getting our message across, and the tracking we have undertaken has proven this to be correct.

Q: Of the 17 countries holding Formula One races in 2007, ING is active in 15 - often with different products on the market in each. How did you utilise your Formula One sponsorship across such differing markets?
Local activation is absolutely key to the execution of our F1 sponsorship and the effectiveness of getting our messages about the global ING brand across. ING's business units in 50 countries have been enthusiastic about entering F1 and have quickly understood they can also leverage the sport to achieve their objectives. We have seen some highly innovative local marketing and branding campaigns, from Malaysia painting Kuala Lumpur 'ING orange', to the numerous marketing campaigns across central and Eastern Europe - where many countries don't even have a GP. This has meant that ING has been able to tailor the execution of the F1 sponsorship very specifically to the local markets, which has hugely increased the effectiveness of the sponsorship for the whole of ING.

Q: This first year must have also taught you some lessons. What were they? Will you proceed in the same style in 2008 or make some alterations?
Next year we are going to move the sponsorship forward. We are going to focus on using the sponsorship to help drive business into the organization. I don't want to give too much away today, because I'm looking forward to telling you about it next year, but you will be seeing a great deal from ING in 2008.

Q: The beauty of Formula One racing is very much in the eye of the beholder: it's global, it's high tech, it's lifestyle, it's 18 times a year, etc. What's the beauty of Formula One for ING?
For ING the beauty of F1 is not only its global reach, but also the wide demographic that the sport reaches. It offers the single most effective platform for reaching millions of fans across the social spectrum. Allied to that is the increasing move of F1 eastwards, we have seen the sport grow and move into China and Malaysia, and soon we will have a race in Singapore. These are all very important and growing markets for ING.

Q: Have you established parameters to measure how the sponsorship is supporting ING's brand building? What are they?
We have established extremely clear parameters for measuring all aspects of our sponsorship, from visibility and awareness, to employee engagement, press coverage and new business. I report back our progress to the ING executive board on a regular basis. Our biggest research effort is around tracking the effects of the sponsorship amongst 16,000 people in 32 markets, both F1 fans and non-fans, who may or may not have a relationship with ING. We track their responses across five key criteria - were they aware ING is a sponsor of F1, did they feel ING was a leading and global financial institution, did they have a more positive view of ING because of the F1 sponsorship, and were they more willing to do business with ING because of the sponsorship. We measured market preferences at the start of the season, and we're currently collating the results after the end of the season. Preliminary results at the mid-season point have shown a statistically significant uplift across all those categories, and we are seeing similar trends from the post-season measurements.

Q: It was also your first season of life in Formula One’s fast lane. How was it for you personally?
I absolutely loved it and felt right at home from the very first GP! The Renault team is a pleasure to work with; they became an extension of my family this year. And travelling is a passion of mine so I enjoyed discovering new destinations like Fuji and Shanghai and rediscovering Istanbul and Sao Paolo. I feel quite privileged to have lived this experience this year and cannot wait for the '08 season to get going again. I miss it already!