Category Archives: Brand strategy

So Banks Have Lost Trust…Do They Care?

What a difference a day makes!

In my last post, I referenced the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer survey. In another example of market research telling us what we already know, financial services (banks, insurance, mutual funds, etc.) came in dead last when it comes to the trust factor. In a nutshell, banks and their brethren have gone from being a necessary evil to potential charlatans. This is the kind of news that can make companies shake in their boots.

When I created the first draft of this post yesterday, I had a very cynical tone about the likelihood that banks would really change. Today, I am slightly less so and here is why.

The New York Times today carried this headline in its Business section: “Bank of America to End Overdraft Fees. This is an example of a bank that is voluntarily and publically taking action on behalf of consumers.

Is this action going to start a trend of banks competing to be the most kind and loving to their customers? Of course not. But it’s telling, and a small step towards regaining some trust.

Below, a reprise of the Edelman recommended actions to regain trust, and my take on each.

1. Work with regulators instead of fighting them. That’s not happening. Consider the words of TARP Chief Elizabeth Warren:

“The reason that we’re not changing things in Washington is that the banks have lobbyists in Washington in numbers I’ve never seen.  They’re coming not just once a month or once a week, or even once a day.  These guys are coming in two, three, four times a day.  They’ve got their position papers, and they just keep slamming in the same direction over and over and over.  And people that want to advocate for American families, that want some changes, or want to level the playing field just don’t have that kind of lobbying power.  And so what we’re really watching here is a David and Goliath story of monumental proportions.”

2. Be honest and transparent in communications. Yes and no. Frankly, a lot of transparency has been forced on the industry. A top example is the Credit Card Act of 2009. How much stupidity, pain and suffering could have been avoided if consumers had seen what I just saw on my Visa bill–that it would take 16 Years!!! to pay off my account if I paid the minimum each month. Why didn’t any single institution think of this themselves? Thus, my skepticism.

3. Focus on quality, not quantity, of communications. Maybe. Banks like to measure things. If they really listen to their customers (and Bank of America gets kudos here), they may realize that they make more “noise” than they need to. Less can definitely be more.

4. Spend less time pushing product and more time providing service. This is the crux of the matter. If banks do this, much of the other problems will retreat into the background. It’s going to be hard to do and it will take time because banks are filled with product managers and sales people, all with individual goals, and frequently a culture that rewards speed and volume over one to one marketing and personal relationships.

5. Engage customers and employees alike. The financial meltdown and the visibility of banks as major contributors to the problem has had a major impact on employees. If they don’t feel good about the company they work for, how can they be expected to engage customers? Banks have the power to do this, but do they have the will?

Only time will tell. My guess? Banks will behave less badly, at least for the next few years.

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Filed under Brand strategy, Employee Brand Engagement, General Marketing

Ouch! Banks Get Skewered In Latest Edelman Trust Barometer

Went to a breakfast presentation this morning, held by the FCS.  The subject was “The State of Trust in Financial Services 2010”.  Let’s face it, I didn’t expect that the content would be upbeat. It was not. But the subject is interesting and provocative and the speakers were very good.

The core of the presentation was the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer survey. This past year, the survey, for the first time, did a deep dive on the financial services industry. The findings show that when all categories (NGOs, Business, Government, Media) are combined, the level of trust in institutions tends to track with the S&P. Trust levels overall have bounced back from the 2009 lows by an average of 18%. Not so for banks–trust in banks continues to decline.

What does “trust” mean in the context of the survey? It means the ability and willingness of a company or institution to “do the right thing”.

Tech companies are the most trusted, according to Edelman. The worst? Financial Services.

The drill down allowed for segmentation within the Financial Services industry by type of company. Community and regional banks rank highest, and private equity firms are lowest, even worse than investment bankers.

So what’s the industry supposed to do?

1. Stop fighting with regulators, and work with them for a change

2. Be honest and transparent

3. Focus on quality not quantity of communications

4. Spend less time pushing product and more time providing service

5. Engage employees and customers alike

I will provide my point of view on these in my next post.

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Brand Advocacy the Apple and Amazon Way

Sometimes I get tired of seeing Amazon and Apple at or near the top of various brand rankings. It just seems like a cliche. So I received a much-needed jolt of reality this morning on my morning commute.

I was reading Groundswell on my Kindle. As the train reached 125th St., I noticed my seatmate looking at me. That usually means that the person needs to move past and exit the train, so I asked him if he was getting off. He said that he was actually looking at my Kindle and that it reminded him of his wife’s recent experience with her Kindle. Apparently, she was reading while exercising, and dropped it. Although the device didn’t shatter, the side controls were loosened, and her Kindle was unusable.

Hoping that it might be repairable, she called Amazon customer service. To her amazement, the Customer Service rep said not to worry–just mail the broken Kindle to them, and they would replace it. Two days later, her replacement arrived, with all of the books in her original Kindle intact. My seatmate and I agreed that Amazon was quite generous in their terms.

(In fact, I was curious enough to check out the Kindle warranty on the Amazon site. It is quite open to interpretation, and customer service would be within their rights to claim that dropping it on a treadmill or elliptical machine wasn’t covered in the warranty.)

Continuing on the subject of great customer service, the same gentleman began talking about a similar experience with the Apple Powerbook that he purchased for his college bound daughter. The laptop arrived the week before she was to head off to school in California. When she turned it on, it was clear that something was very wrong with the hard drive. It was now Friday afternoon, and she was due to leave in five days. Her father called Apple customer service in a bit of a panic.

Again, the customer service rep was totally reassuring. The rep informed the father that someone from DHL would arrive at their home by 6:00 p.m. with a box that would fit the laptop, that he ship it back to Apple, and that a replacement would arrive by the following Tuesday. The father emphasized to the rep that his daughter was leaving for school on Wednesday morning, so there was no margin of error.

Sure enough, the laptop arrived on Tuesday as promised. He said that this experience alone persuaded him that a Mac was worth the large price differential over a comparable Dell or HP.

By now, we had arrived at Grand Central Terminal. As I walked to work, it occurred to me that my seatmate is a genuine advocate for both Apple and Amazon. Customers like this is what all companies yearn for. What made both of these examples so great was that it had nothing to do with “features and benefits”. What drove his loyalty to these two technical devices was the interaction with human beings in customer service.

All the brand strategy, advertising, brochures, cool websites in the world cannot improve on the personal interaction with a brand. It is clear that in a purposeful way, both Apple and Amazon create engaged employees. Engaged employees are infectious in the best possible way–they pass along their infection to customers.

My hat is off to both of them.


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Branding Brilliance from Mary Kay

My daughter and I were on a drive for a college visit. I was in the center lane of a three-lane Westchester County parkway. Before I knew it I was passed on the left by a most unusual SUV. At first, I thought that the sun was affecting my eyes, but, yes, driving along in distinctive splendor was a pink Cadillac Escalade.

My daughter gasped and said, “Is that a pink car?”. “Yes”, I replied, “it belongs to a super salesperson for Mary Kay”. Susannah immediately asked whether anyone could buy a car that color, and my response was that it was unique to Mary Kay.

I had always heard about the pink cars, but had never seen one. I had assumed that they would be awful-looking, but that was the wrong assumption. Pink the Escalade was, but it was tasteful, and believe me, it stood out from every other car on the road. It conjured up so many positive attributes as well:

  • Cadillac is an American car, and Mary Kay embodies the American dream. Good for her for not handing out a Lexus to her top salespeople
  • Pink is Mary Kay’s signature color, and this particular shade was so special that it remains in my mind over a week later
  • This is a business that encourages and–better yet–rewards the entrepreneurial spirit. Whoever was driving must be an incredibly successful person and clearly an advocate for the Mary Kay brand

All of those associations came crowding in within seconds. Although there was a discreet “Mary Kay” on the rear of the vehicle, it was unostentatious. Bravo!

Mary Kay doesn’t advertise. It is sold on a one-to-one basis. I have no idea how to calculate the collective impressions each time the vehicle is seen in the area, but I bet it’s worth a lot.  You gotta love the clarity of purpose and creativity behind this program. And my guess is that it grew organically, not as an overt way to “raise awareness of the brand”. Mary Kay was a woman ahead of her time in more ways than one!

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The Ten Brands I Give Thanks For

It’s Thanksgiving day, and although it sounds frivolous, I have spent the last few days thinking about what brands I really care about, that make a positive difference in my life, and that perform against higher standards than most. This is highly unscientific, personal, and random. But these companies make products that drive preference–mine at least–and stay the course in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

You will notice that the cool advertising is not  the reason these brands have been chosen. Cool advertising–or any advertising–is not the same as a brand. The same goes for the logo.

The list is in alphabetical order:

American Express For not recklessly pursuing the sub-prime market. For the wonderful Platinum card, which has earned every penny of the annual fee by giving me access to airline clubs on bad travel days. For retaining the original card member year on the face of the card.

Apple For gorgeous design, intuitive controls, and perfection in packaging. For not selling out to Intel’s co-branding dollars and keeping its advertising clean and distinctive.

Bergdorf Goodman For not contributing to the homogenization of the world and maintaining its one, spectacular and historic location. For merchandise that you can’t get elsewhere.

Felco For the best pruners in the world, in all sizes. 15 years and counting.

Google Voted in by my daughter, “because it answers all her questions,” and it’s hard to argue that. Besides, it isn’t afraid to take the logo out for a walk now and then. All I ask is that they stick with their mantra, “Don’t be evil”.

Hershey* For giving new meaning (or the original meaning) to “corporate social responsibility”. For employee retention and loyalty that few can claim. For staying true to its roots, even in extensions like the amusement park and hotel. *If they buy Cadbury and mess with the Trust, they are off the list.

Martha Stewart The brand, not the person. For inspiring me to get back in touch with my inner crafter, and make my home a better place. For an unerring eye for color, composition and quality. For products that are manufactured to high standards.

NPR For miraculous programing that brings a fresh face and point of view to whatever it covers. For Car Talk, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Jonathan Schwartz, An American Life, all of which have kept me in my car long past the time for me to get out.

Olay For reinventing itself from an obscure, old lady brand, to a well-priced, well-researched, line of skin care products just before the recession hit. Well done!

OXO For changing forever the experience of peeling a potato–in other words, ergonomic innovation. For standing out among all the endless kitchen tools.

The minute I finish this post, I will undoubtedly come up with other winning brands. I’ll just keep them until next year.

How about you?

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Filed under Brand strategy, corporate identity, General Marketing, package design