Being Successful and Hated. Can a brand be both?

By Tom Dougherty

Morgan Stanley Marketing has invested in its brand
Morgan Stanley remains aggressive

Morgan Stanley Marketing has Surprised Many

Why should a company, whose profits have risen to $1.41 billion, spend a dime of that profit to fix their brand? How can the brand possibly be broken? In other words, can a company’s success create a problem that only addressing brand can fix? Seems counterintuitive. Can a hated brand still be successful?

But, here is a case in point: Morgan Stanley.

Look Critically

Brand is a fluid entity. It is in many ways a living being. It has personality and also personality quirks. When looked at critically, it can be seen as a person and the closer that personage resembles the customer you wish to influence, the more effective the brand is at stealing share.

As a result, an unpoplular brand’s importance changes moment-by-moment. Drastic changes in a market or category should be a signal to the vigilant brand manager or CEO. When they see change, those dedicated to success need to read these tealeaves and look critically at their brand. In recent memory no market has changed as drastically as finance.

Therefore, every bank, investment firm, credit union, or financial company – including Morgan Stanley – needs to look at their brand in relation to that personality.

Consumers Have Changed

As brand anthropologists, we research human behavior and found that the consumer has indeed changed. The economic crisis has redefined not only the investor but the average citizen as well.
Your prospect has changed regardless of nationality, race, religion or anything you can pile into a demographic profile. Their relationship to the financial industry has changed. So has their view of government and oversight.

Because the consumer has changed, especially those in the financial sector, brands like Morgan Stanley need to adapt. A hated brand has problems.

It is About Permissions

To do that, you must first look carefully at your brand’s permissions. From the perspective of prospects, does your brand have permission to play. ( For example, Morgan Stanley couldn’t have a brand all about technology. Target audiences wouldn’t believe it was technologically advanced, nor is it important.)

Morgan Stanley Marketing is upbeat
A brand is complicated

It is our experience that a singular truth transcends geography — human beings seek a sense of equilibrium. They look for a sense of consistency and understanding. The more the prospect and customer understand the brand’s personality and rules, the more comfortable they are with it.

Remember, a brand looks very much like a person. The better you know a person, the more comfortable you are with them. You can, in effect, anticipate their reactions, actions and temperament. There is a natural comfort level with them because they are not viewed as erratic in any way. As a result of this natural order of things, the more comfortable a prospect or customer is with a brand’s promises, actions and limitations, the more apt they are to use it. It is human nature after all.

As brand strategists, we refer to these ”intangibles” as brand permissions. When developing brands, we ask what the rules this brand must follow in order to prove the brand position is true? What are the brand promises? When the reason d’être is defined, are the actions and “face” of that brand “legal” within the brand definition? If they are not, then change is called for. A hated brand has difficulty building loyalty. It might win for a while but there are long term issues it needs to fix.

Does Morgan Stanley, who was part of the financial collapse and crisis, have permission from prospects and customers to make such a large profit? It is a question that the brand needs to address. t is an issue that insists the brand needs to change.

Finding the biggest problem in an unpopular brand is the strategy we follow, and because we know how to isolate it, we know the road map to success.

It would be nice if only all financial success had its counterpart in brand success. Unless they are aligned, success on one front builds animosity on another and such friction holds great companies back and causes the collapse of good ones.

How Financial Services Companies can steal share

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