What bank leaders can learn from Wells Fargo

The Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal will affect more than just it and its customers. The scandal will affect the entire banking industry, which means banking leaders must be beware of simmering anger with banks and know what to do going forward.

There are already reports that other banks are being investigated by regulators. Stories have also emerged of employees at those banks saying the sales culture is just as intense there. That is, a culture that could produce the same over-reaching employees that worked at Wells Fargo.

Wells FargoConsumers have always had love-hate relationships with banks. To them, a bank is both important and irrelevant. Few enjoy going into a branch anymore, making branches into very expensive billboards. In fact, most people don’t even want to hear from their bank because any notice just means bad news. That’s what makes banking both low intensive and low involvement – except at that point of failure.

We’ve conducted proprietary research for banking clients and there is one constant throughout: At any given time, a customer has considered leaving that bank. It doesn’t matter the demographic involved. In fact, about 7% of the market is seriously thinking about changing their primary financial institution at any given time.

Therefore, will that percentage increase for Wells Fargo and will more people leave?

Probably not. The thought of switching feels too complex for many bank customers and, with the lack of differentiation among all banks, there is very little reason to switch.

How Wells Fargo affects all banks.

But here’s the thing. Rising distrust of the banking industry will rise and cross selling will be less accepted. This is akin to the financial crisis in 2008 because the general public blamed banks for that – and this can feel more personal.

If you think it’s difficult to reach those goals now, just hold tight through the rest of the year (and beyond).

So what are bank presidents to do? How do they keep high margins when faced with higher regulatory costs and low interest rates?

Consider this. Most customers do not switch because they don’t see any other bank as being much different. They see the banking industry as a whole, not a collection of its parts. It’s one big glob to them without any differentiating brands. The question asked is, “Will it be any different over there?”

Wells FargoDuring the recession, credit unions blew a perfect opportunity to steal market share from banks because anger was so high. Credit unions had the high ground but it only exploited it by using the same messaging about how they are not beholden to stakeholders.

That is not an emotional thought, just a logical one. It is hard for potential customers to see how no stockholders give them a personal advantage. Humans, by our very nature, generally only act when events directly affect us. The ones most likely to leave Wells Fargo, for instance, are the ones who were financially hurt by the scandal. Credit unions were just lumped into the banking industry as its little sibling. In the end, customers believed credit unions were also banks but with sign-up restrictions. So few of them joined up.

A similar situation is threatening to brew here, although not as severe but more pointed. The anger will result in weariness of banks doing any cross selling or accepting any new offer from a bank. (“They’re just going to screw me over!”) Want more customers to sign up for a credit card? Good luck.

Where the opportunity lies

But there is opportunity for the right bank (or credit union) to take advantage. Like in 2008, customers will see all banks in the Wells Fargo glow and will only prefer a new one that’s truly different and better.

The knee jerk reaction by most banks is to reassure customers (and, hopefully, new ones) that they have integrity and would never do that. Banks will say that there are safeguards in place to prevent any wrongdoing and that, we the banks, are always focused on you, the customer.

It won’t be believed or move the needle. No, instead a bank that takes ahold of the current opportunity must drop all the trite messaging that exists in the banking industry.

Wells FargoNow is the time to be truly different. A brand message that taps into the distrust and is truly emotional will win the day. Tone is key because banks never adopt an edgy tone that gets noticed.

In fact, tone can prompt the switch because the right one would align with the attitudes of the target audience. Telling them to switch because it’s time to take action would be a stronger message than what banks are promoting now.

To convince audiences to switch their primary financial institution is extremely hard. To get people to switch doing what they are doing now in any thing is nearly impossible.

But the door is ajar for the moment. The bank that steps in will become the leader.

Brexit succession means nobody wins

The unthinkable happened with Brexit

Brexit is racismBrexit was a bloodless civil war. We have come along way (or have we?). Time was an obscure Archduke could be assassinated in Bosnia and the whole world would be dragged into a global war later called the First World War in history books.

In 1861, the United States of America began a bloody struggle to decide the legality of succession. We called that fight the Civil War and it took four blood soaked years and millions of lives to settle. In the end, the decision was made that no state was sovereign enough to resign its place in the United States.

Shelby Foote famously said that, before the Civil War, people said the United States “Is” and after the Civil War they said The United States “Are”.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom VOTED to leave the European Union. In our Twitter world, the vote was shortened to Brexit. It is an example of how blind nationalism can cloud judgment and how people will emotionally vote for things that in the long term are not in their own best interest. I wonder if Scotland wishes it had another shot at their historic vote to remain in the United Kingdom? Scotexit never became a word.

Brexit means?

Brexit winsI think a great deal of world stability will be shaken by this vote. I can see further troubles stirring in Northern Ireland again. I believe the uncertainty in the world’s monetary systems will shake rattle and roll the financial markets for a while as the global community tries to discount this tsunami of change. Everything we have come to rely on in this global world has been challenged.

But the reason I write this is because NO ONE doubts the RIGHT of the UK to secede (not to be confused in any way with succeed).

In the US, we thought the illegality of succession was decided and written in blood 150 years ago. Americans believe we have a corner on the market when it comes to freedom and liberty. We are wrong.

Freedom of self-determination was just exercised in Europe to an extent we can’t even fathom in the US. Had this RIGHT been self evident, I would be penning this blog in the Confederate States of America because I live in North Carolina—a state that lost 1 out of every 4 casualties at Gettysburg  during the Civil War.

To me, it does not matter if you think the American Civil War was fought over state’s rights or slavery. The impetus for the temporary dissolution of the United States in the late 1800’s was due to a racist issue.

I think the same is true for Brexit.

Racist underpinnings

I don’t believe it was so much an economic issue as it was over a war on immigration. The UK did not want Europe dictating immigration policy. They just don’t want THEM settling in the UK any more.  Think about it, the UK never surrendered their currency to the Euro. The Pound  Sterling remained.

BrexitSo much for economics driving succession.

I find Brexit a sad move. Not for all the obvious reason of a common market and ease of travel. I find it sad that bigotry wins anywhere and under any circumstances.

You can have your DNA tested for just a couple of dollars (or Euros or pounds) these days. It points to your REAL ancestry.

Funny, the differences are very small. We all began in Africa and are very much the same. Only the adopted and insignificant drapery of religious preference and favorite cuisine separates us all one from another.

Choosing a Branding Company

When choosing a branding company, start with what they have accomplished

Choosing a Branding Company affects your successBranding companies promise to completely understand what your brand means.

In the most basic sense, a branding company examines the logic and relationships between the services and products you produce or offer, and help better define the connections between disparate offerings and promises.

We try to clarify the values inherent in everything your brand does.

This is an intellectual evaluation of everything you say about your brand and often it requires changes in your brand equities.

What are brand equities?

In a general sense, brand equities are the things your brand owns.

Some are visual representations that Brand Equitiesare immediately associated with your brand. For example, when someone sees the silhouette of a hat with mouse ears, they immediately recall the Disney brand.

These, like the NIKE Swoosh, are examples of a brand mark and are considered an equity— something the brand owns. Other visual cues can also be equities.

Pepto Bismol PinkFor example, a logo or a word mark is designed to be an equity.

A specific color palette may also be an equity (like the pink color of Pepto-Bismol or the blue of Chase Bank) as can a shape (like the unique shape of the Coca-Cola bottle) or packaging (like Air Wick).

The conventional wisdom amongst branding companies Chase features the color blueis to identify something important about the brand and give life to that importance.

This is why you see so many brands with a logo or brand mark that looks like what the brand does.

This is why we have so many brands that are named after the technology or product (think Duracell and Energizer).

The purpose of all of these created equities is to help the customer or prospect remember the brand by creating associations.

Human beings think visually and having something planted in their minds that is associated with a particular brand allows the brand to then place meaning and value in the minds of those they wish to influence.

When Choosing a branding company do they simply adhere to the traditional branding model?
The traditional branding model is about clarity but not importance

While some may do a better job with these tasks than others, most branding companies can point to examples of how they have created a brand by inventing these equities and identifying a distinct color palette.

All the brand consultancy needs is a few smart and strategically thinking minds and a design team that makes appealing images.

Why Stealing Share rejects this model

The commercial world today is different then it was just a few years ago. Almost every category is crowded with competitors, so brands find themselves surrounded by strong competition.

The customer has many choices and the field of battle is desperate to say the least. It is important to own something but that something needs to be important to the prospects you wish to attract and the customers that you wish to keep.

The Stealing Share Branding Model helps when choosing a branding company
The Stealing Share branding model includes the customer, research, brand anthropology and brand training

We ask more of your brand at Stealing Share than other branding companies. So should you.

The amount of importance your brand occupies is in direct relationship to what your target audience covets.

If you want your brand to grow and steal market share from your many competitors then the foundations of the brand equities are going to be found in the beliefs and needs of the people you need to influence— not in the things you make or your company itself.

Persuasive brands find a way to merge the brand value itself with a reflection of the company AND the customer’s highest emotional intensity.

This is not easy to accomplish. It requires all of the parts of standard branding companies (smart strategists and talented designers) but also requires in-house market research and brand anthropologists who study human behavior and find ways to influence it.

This rare element in branding science makes everything work together. The strategy, the research, the creative and the brand itself. Suddenly, nothing is the same and the game itself has changed.

So how do YOU choose a branding company?

Focus FroupStart by inviting us in for an hour of your time and we will change everything. Ask more of us because we brand for a purpose.

It’s in our name and our brand DNA. Is it in yours?

Our clients are aggressive, hungry and looking to grow. Clarity is what you want but purpose is what gets you there.

The recent moves of Walmart are scary but on brand

Banks and financial institutions will be watching Walmart carefully.

Walmart recently announced two initiatives: in-store medical clinics and a low-cost checking account through a partnership with Green Dot.

The clinics would be staffed by nurse practitioners and have the ability to take care of basic medical needs with a low cost of about $40 for a visit. The checking accounts are a low monthly fee alternatives for people who are on a fixed income with no fees for bounced or returned checks.

Few understand their brand better than Walmart
Few understand their brand better than Walmart

These initiatives are interesting for a couple of reasons. One, they help to further cement Walmart’s brand with its traditionally lower-income customer and two, they are completely on brand.

Walmart has grown its brand on being the low cost provider, the place to go to get the most stuff as cheaply as possible. It is now adding two important and needed features to that brand that their target market, especially in rural areas, desperately need.

I doubt either represents a windfall in additional store revenue but each helps Walmart with customer loyalty, especially in those communities without access to primary medical serves or financial services options. They are part of reinforcing the Walmart brand.

Beyond that, however, each of these has the possibility to be a game changer. Banks will either say good riddance to their lower income customers or be forced to respond if they want to stay competitive. Medical services could eventually see a major competitor for primary care dollars, especially for patients who have a chronic disease and high copays.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But one thing I can say for sure is that Walmart takes its brand very seriously and these two initiatives are proof of that.

Marketing in the banking industry

Bank Branding

A look at bank branding before the Wells Fargo-Wachoiva merger, which still serves as a primer on what banks should consider when rebranding.

Within Every Successful Brand Customers See Themselves

From US Banker

By Michael Van Ausdeln

Stealing Share Senior Brand Strategist

It wasn’t that long ago that bank customers felt an emotional bond with their bank. Banks fit so snugly into our lives that we trusted bankers to listen to us know us as people and even see us as more than a number. That time and place are so distant from our world now that it feels like it existed in a 1950s TV sitcom.

Banks need to do a better job of branding and marketing
Banks need to wake up

It even seems corny. How banks lost that special place in our lives and how they can reclaim it is story about brand failure. Banks gave the perfect brand position away in an attempt to be everything to everybody, forgetting that their brand should be about the customer and not themselves.

Once banks begin reclaiming a brand position that is about the financial success of their customer and relating to them on a personal level, they can steal market share lost to mortgage houses, brokerage firms and the like. The heyday of the bank-customer relationship was probably in the first half of the 20th century, up through the 1970s when the financial market was clearly defined.

You bought your stocks or mutual funds through your broker. You bought insurance and annuities from insurance companies. Your bank was where you had your checking and savings accounts, and possibly your mortgage, but you defined yourself by your bank. Today the differences between financial entities have vanished. Everyone — mortgage companies, brokers, insurance companies and, yes, banks — began claiming they were one-stop shops. Because of that, customers had a hard time discerning the difference between a bank and everything else.

Confusion is part of the problem

Confusion is only part of the problem. Now that the field is so cluttered and customers can’t distinguish a bank from a mortgage company, they also can’t figure out the purpose of a bank. What is the bank’s expertise? Why do I even need one? For example, the brand of Bank of America, one of the largest and most successful banks in the world, feels big, important and American, and its brand message is that it can help. A recent TV ad campaign was built around a harried husband spending ungodly amounts of time applying for a mortgage while his wife wrote him love letters because she missed him.

Bank of America's marketing is no better than others. Bank marketing needs new life.
Bank of America wins by default

Bank of America

Bank of America will probably tell you the brand meaning of this campaign is that “we make things easier for our customers. All that’s missing? The customer. It’s a campaign about what Bank of America can do, not who you are when you are a Bank of America customer. The campaign instead should be built around the idea of, let’s say, that “your time is valuable, not “we make things easier.” That may seem like a slight difference, but in creating a brand that customers will covet, the difference is tremendous. Another example: Wachovia has created a campaign on the notion of “Uncommon,” as in “Uncommon Wisdom” or “Uncommon Approach.” One tagline reads: “Sharing all we know, understanding all you need.” Again, it’s all about the bank, not the customer. With just a slight twist Wachovia could give its brand so much more personal meaning to their customers.

What if the customer had uncommon wisdom and not the bank? The large banks aren’t the only ones, with brands that have lost a personal connection with customers. Community banks have the same problem. For them, it’s about “exceeding expectations’ and “helping you meet your financial needs. The brand position for banks should be centered on customers and what is important to them. Instead of owning the position “We are successful, it should be ‘you are successful.”

Bank marketing had a winner but Citibank left its Live Richly campaign and picked a loser
Citibank had gold but did not realize it


One bank currently getting it right is Citibank. Its “Live Richly” campaign reflects who the customer is when they use that brand. One print ad that’s typical of the campaign shows a boy looking at electric guitars through a shop window. The headline reads: “Even though needs always win over wants, it sure is fun to root for the underdog.” (Read how Citibank threw away its prized position).

Another uses a headline that reads, “Cutting your own hair may seem like a good idea to save money, but it’s not. In these cases, the Citibank customers are people who live the lives they want, without having to make the little nickel-and-dime compromises that overtake our lives.

For banks to reclaim that special spot in customers’ lives, banks have to begin branding themselves in such a manner that customers see themselves in their brand. The brand belongs to the customer, not the bank. Understanding that will make banks important in our lives again.

Read our Market Study on the Banking Category here