Reports today that the head of a congressional panel charged Washington Mutual with being a “mortgage bomb” made me chuckle a bit.
That’s because most thought the reason WaMu failed was due to its branding and marketing, which was different (and more focused) than anyone else in the category. WaMu scared the industry because it was taking market share by being different and better than the competition.
It was, as Senator Carl Levin of Michigan noted, shoddy loans with little documentation and shaky paperwork that doomed the bank.
It wasn’t WaMu’s marketing approach, which was easily dismissed but actually quite effective. If you can’t remember, the bank positioned itself as kind of hip and even silly, and even had a slightly different model in its branches. One spot showed a huge man dreaming of being safe by wearing pajamas and playing with puppies. Another showed a couple residing inside a kangaroo’s pouch.
In the world of bank marketing, where everything looks like Bank of America, it was a series that was often mocked by just the folks who were losing market share. WaMu represented a true brand face – a reflection of a target audience that thought banking was too complicated and stuffy for its own good – that stood out from the competition.
I bring this up because we have been doing a lot of work with clients in the financial sector recently, and many unfairly see the failure of WaMu as a marketing story.
I agree with Sen. Levin. It was operational failures that doomeed them. WaMu’s marketing was a prescription for success its former competitors should take heed.