U.S. Banker on Bank Marketing

By Joseph Rosta

Banking: A branding disaster
Banks need to work smarter

There is no Budweiser or Federal Express of banks, and that spells trouble for the banking industry, according to a recent study from Stealing Share, Inc., a brand development and research outfit. “No major bank has differentiated itself from the competitive set,” according to the study. “Banks have been satisfied to spend recklessly on ineffectual advertising that does nothing more than a bit of awareness and no preference instead of battling for customer loyalty and based on definitive brand preferences that create preference.” [Click Here for Complete Study]

Tom Dougherty, Stealing Share’s CEO, attributes this failure to a bank-centric approach to branding. “Banks want to talk about banks, not customers,” he says. “They’re a service industry. Customers expect convenience, free-checking, friendly tellers. They want to hear about themselves, not the bank.” Preference is emotional, not rational, Dougherty argues. “You have to let know that people who share their values are the bank’s customers.” Banks must abandon their “inside-out view, which is self-deluding, for an outside-in view.” This means learning not just what “customers believe about themselves, but what non-customers believe themselves to be,” he says.

a branding disaster will follow the current marketing strategies of banks
Bank marketing is a branding disaster

The Bank Study

The study hands out grades for current branding efforts, although it warns that the “bar is set pretty low.” Commerce Bank “comes closest to owning a brand, although its position is not emotionally intense.” While its “America’s Most Convenient Bank” slogan, backed up by extended office hours, “has some meaning in a market lacking authentic brand differentiation,” Stealing Share research shows “it is not enough of a brand preference to encourage the vast majority of customers to switch.” The effort earns a B.

Wachovia gets a D because “they talk about themselves [and] never touch the switching triggers that research tells us exist.”  Bank of America gets a B-minus for an attempt at a brand—“Bank of Opportunity.” But opportunity is a “vague promise that there is something worth getting out there,” the study notes. JPMorgan Chase falls on the sword of cleverness: “By including the corporate name in the theme, Chase has reduced it to a Madison Avenue substitute for strategy and has raised barriers to sincerity,” Stealing Share says in awarding the bank a D. Wells Fargo is a C branding student by diluting its stage coach “equity marker” with its “The Next Stage” tagline. Citigroup and Washington Mutual scrape by with C-minuses; SunTrust pulls a D; and BB&T earns a D-minus.

Dougherty contends that a true A student will eventually emerge, a Bud of Banks. “Once that happens the other banks will copy that branding success,” he says.

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