Case

MIR FOR RUSSIA

Campaign to launch the national payment card system Mir on the Russian market (2015-2016)

The project to launch Mir payment card was implemented by NSPK, CROS and CrosDigital teams and won the “Silver Archer” award in 2017. It was one of the most ambitious and complex projects for the agency in recent years, in particular because of many market and communication restrictions and limitations.

BACKGROUND

Recurring attempts to launch a national payment system in Russia have been made since the appearance of the banking services market in the country. However, for various reasons, they did not reach the scale and technological level to cover the entire turnover of bank card transactions. There was also no urgent need for a national system due to the strong expansion of international players Visa and MasterCard that satisfied in full demand for payment cards on the one hand and had technologies to ensure execution of various operations (transactions) on the other.

Meanwhile, there was an understanding in the government of the importance of building a national payment system. The fact was that Russians remained exposed to and dependent on various external factors: all transactions information was processed and stored in Visa and MasterCard processing centers located abroad, and the freedom to use bank cards depended on decisions of the payment system operators or the political will of states where they were headquartered. An urgent need to develop a national payment system appeared in March 2014 after the United States introduced sanctions against Russia. Then, international payment systems stopped providing services to a number of banks and hundreds of thousands of Russians could not get access to their money via bank cards.

In order to avoid recurrence or aggravation of this situation and to ensure financial safety and security of Russians from the influence of foreign policy factors, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the establishment of a national payment system under the auspices of the Central Bank of Russia. The National System of Payment Cards (NSPK) became its operator. It was supposed to develop a technological platform for processing domestic transactions on cards of international and local payment systems using exclusively domestic hardware and software, as well as to introduce Mir bank card, a national payment instrument.

Market restrictions and limitations at project start

  • Saturation of the payment systems market, its maturity and the associated high level of expectations of the main players: banks, trade and service companies, users.
  • Lack of natural market demand for a new payment system; positioning of the system as a reaction to external risks.
  • High cost of upgrading payment terminals for Mir cards.
  • Lack of incentives for banks to promote Mir cards among customers.
  • The common practice of clients choosing not a payment system or a card, but a bank and its product (service package).
  • Low awareness of payment systems among both bank employees and users.
  • Possible functional limitations compared to cards of international payment systems.
  • Fears of excessive administrative pressure.
  • Technological lag behind the leading international payment systems.
  • High risks of hacking and DDoS attacks.
  • Shortage of domestic hardware manufacturers with a strong reputation in the field of information security in financial transactions.
  • Low financial literacy of the population.
  • Low interest of the population in NSPK and Mir card, low level of awareness (only 10% of Russians knew about the national payment card at the start of the communication campaign).

Communication restrictions and limitations

  • Inevitable comparison with the leading international payment systems and competitive positioning.
  • Moscow's strong dominance in the geographical rating of media interest in NSPK and Mir payment system. Regional news breaks almost invisible.
  • Insufficient coverage of the technological design of Mir payment system, increased attention to failures and jams of NSPK technological platform.
  • The potential of own news breaks limited by the short list of speakers. In 90% of cases, head of the company Vladimir Komlev was the expert and commentator.
  • Skepticism of the federal and top regional media regarding quality implementation of the project, associated with market restrictions and limitations.
  • Close association of Mir payment system with NSPK in the information landscape, limiting independent media positioning of Mir payment system.

The team was faced with the goals of launching a new Russian-made product into a competitive market in the absence of demand and very low awareness of the payment system operator, stimulating the banking and retail industries to acquire and issue Mir cards, developing Russians’ expectations about the release of Mir cards and willingness to use them.

GOAL AND COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

The goals of the project were to create favorable conditions for launching Mir national payment system on the Russian market and building confidence in Mir payment card ahead of its mass issuance at the end of 2016.

The communication strategy development was preceded by analytical and sociological research, the results of which made it possible to take into account strengths and weaknesses of the project, opportunities and threats from the external environment, as well as to develop a toolkit and an approach to organizing communications.

The research included:

  • 10 expert interviews with professionals from the field of finance and economics (from both public and private institutions and companies);
  • 22 focus groups with users of financial services and employees of banks’ front offices;
  • analysis of competitors’ advertising strategies in Russia in 2014-2015;
  • analysis of competitors’ content policies in the social media;
  • perception study of NSPK and Mir payment card among online audiences;
  • research and analysis of the experience of 5 countries that launched national payment systems;
  • media audit of NSPK and Mir payment system in the Russian media.

The communication strategy was based on three principles:

  • identification of groups of opinion makers: communication with the expert community was a priority at the initial stage of the project. At the stage of the cards’ broad issuance they became additional influencers for target audiences;
  • brand synergy: use of the existing NSPK communication system and making it an integral part of the communication strategy for Mir payment system;
  • positioning Mir payment system as a national project rather than a market product (switching from the “consumer” to “participating” attitude of target audiences).

The concept of brand positioning suggested adjusting the established image of NSPK (and Mir payment system to some extent) from “being a response to sanctions” to “creation of Mir payment system being a historic event, the beginning of a new era in the independence of the Russian financial system.”

The strategy was designed for the period until 2018 and involved consistent and ongoing communication with target audiences in four main stages, based on the development of Mir payment system.

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE

Communications of the first – public awareness – stage of the campaign implied active interaction primarily with representatives of the financial and banking community; engaging on the federal and regional level speakers of the largest banks to provide public support for the project; increasing the amount of media coverage in the priority regions for the newly introduced Mir payment system. This approach secured targeted communication and informing of opinion leaders who would later, at the stage of the cards’ mass issuance, become additional influencers for bank card users.

During the first stage of the campaign, it was also important to inform and develop consumers’ loyalty towards consistent development of Mir payment system: from establishing a broad acquiring network in trade and service companies and ATMs to the issuance itself.

Work with front-office employees of banks and trade and service companies

  • Over 40 articles in the corporate media of 30 top-level banks and trade and service companies.
  • Information materials (including infographics, presentations, videos) about the payment system and Mir bank card on the corporate portals of over 30 banks and companies, participants and partners of Mir payment system.
  • Technical guides about Mir payment system and bank card for employees of banks and retail outlets.

Interaction with opinion leaders and experts from the banking sector and the payment industry

  • A series of expert round tables, resulting in over 100 articles.
  • Participation in the major business events (KEF, SPIEF, IFC) and interviews with the leading media in their framework: Russia Today, Kommersant FM, Russia-24, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, LifeNews, TASS, Interfax, etc.

Press office for communication with the federal and regional mediа

  • Press office operating 24/7: production of press releases and news breaks about the development of Mir payment system, initiation of media coverage and interviews with NSPK management, expert comments, talking points and Q&As.
  • Press conference announcing the release of the first Mir payment cards with the participation of representatives of the issuing banks and the Central Bank of Russia. The media coverage of the event resulted in over 800 mentions in online and print outlets and about 30 stories on the federal and regional TV channels, including Channel One, Rossiya-24 and RBC with the total reach of about 75 mln people.
  • Off-the-record meetings of the head of NSPK Vladimir Komlev with the editors of the leading business media Vedomosti, Kommersant and RBC).
  • Six informal press lunches in million-plus cities with about 80 journalists attending.
  • TV stories about Mir bank cards on the federal channels, including Channel One, Russia-1, Russia-24, RBC, etc.
  • More than 10 interviews in the major regional media.
  • Special projects with the popular general interest and lifestyle publications: Metro, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moskovsky Komsomolets, Banki.ru, AiF, The Village.

Online promotion, work with bloggers

  • NSPK branded section on Banki.ru for posting information about Mir payment system and collecting feedback from users via a hotline. Over 200 materials were published and answers to 160 questions from the forum and the hotline were answered during the campaign.
  • A long-term joint project with Finparty.ru.
  • Updating the Wikipedia article about NSPK.
  • Collaboration with popular bloggers on Livejournal.com with the total reach of 530 000 people. All materials were rated among the top 20 LiveJournal posts on the day of release.
  • Online support for the project “Otkroy Mir etim letom” (literally “issue Mir this summer” or “discover the world this summer”) – participation of the brand in summer festivals, including “Nashestvie” rock festival and the Moscow International Film Festival. 15 ambassadors of the brand made over 80 posts on the social media with the total reach of 2.17 mln people.
  • #найдимир (find Mir) contest on Bigpicture.ru and Instagram: people took pictures of venues and stores accepting Mir card in their cities and published them on Instagram with the hashtag. Users’ publications were used to create on Bigpicture.ru a “live map” of places accepting Mir bank cards. The project reached 1.5 mln users in 18 regions of Russia.

Development of a crisis response system, crisis communications

  • A crisis communications system was developed and implemented, a crisis management guide was produced for the company.
  • Daily monitoring of the information landscape was provided in order to predict and identify crisis situations.
  • A system for prompt response to crisis situations in the media was developed, expert comments were drafted, etc.
  • 15 media trainings were held with 7 speakers.

RESULTS

  • Over 140 Russian banks joined Mir payment system.
  • Over 150 000 ATMs and 600 000 terminals all over the country accept Mir cards.
  • Heads of a third of banks publicly supported Mir bank card and payment system.
  • Around 500 000 employees of banks and trade and service companies received information about Mir bank card and payment system.
  • Mentions of Mir payment system in the Russian media increased 7 times.
  • The overall reach of publications mentioning Mir amounted to 69 mln people.
  • 5 priority regions for the launch of Mir cards were included in the TOP 10 media by the number of Mir payment system mentions.
  • The total reach of digital communications was 8.5 mln unique users.
  • Mir brand awareness grew almost 5 times and amounted to 44% of Russians.
  • According to a nationwide poll by VCIOM, over 60% of Russians said they were ready to use Mir bank card.

In 2017, the campaign to launch Mir payment system on the Russian market won the “Silver Archer”, an important Russian award in the field of public relations.