By definition, the banking industry is insane

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

28 February 2012

It keeps doing the same thing expecting a different result

When we rebrand companies, there are a few vital aspects that we must be addressed to make sure the execution is well positioned to steal market share. The first is research. It has to be quantitative to ensure the data is reliable and projectable to the market as a whole. The second is the messaging. This includes the imaging, language and overall tone. And the last, and in some instances the most difficult, is company politics. How does the company operate, what does not align cohesively with the brand strategy, and most importantly, how do you get company personnel out of their own way? Nowhere are those questions more pertinent than in the banking industry.

More often then not, stasis is the culprit of brands that have lost their way. They might have started with a compelling brand promise, but competitors copying it and the ease of simply maintaining status quo can make it meaningless to the consumer.

“You cannot be interested in ideas if your policy is to never look at any. If you never consider new ideas all you can expect is more of the same.”

We harp a lot on banks. They are in fact one of the worst offenders in marketing table stakes that every competitor has (ATMs, good service, etc.). When it comes to status quo, you don’t need to look hard to find an example in the banking industry. In fact we didn’t have to look at all. An example was mailed right to our offices.

Banking industryWe recently wrote a letter to Bank of America, outlining some challenges facing the banking industry and, due to the lack of any compelling message, great opportunity within it. About two weeks later, we received a response from Bank of America. Our letter had been opened and accompanying the material we sent them was a response from its legal department. The main body text read:

“We appreciate your desire to help us improve our performance. We are very interested in ideas which will help us meet our customers’ needs, and we are committed to providing the best products and services in the banking industry. However, in accordance with Bank of America’s Unsolicited Idea Submission Policy, we are unable to accept your marketing idea submission and we are returning any information or materials you have sent us along with this letter.”

The banking industry can get out of its rut

And therein lies the revolving door of the same, repeated, non-intensive brand messaging, played out continually within the banking industry. When we start out any project, we tell our clients that we do not have their answers yet. We only have the questions that eventually lead to them. That’s because assuming you have the problem solved before you start means you have gotten in your own way. As it’s been said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I have no doubt that Bank of America receives a vast amount of mail and that screening, evaluating and responding to it all takes time and resources. I also understand that there are legalities involved. My qualm is that this is typical of the banking industry and other industries (such as automotive) that churn out the same marketing product over and over. You cannot be interested in ideas if your policy is to never look at any. If you never consider new ideas all you can expect is more of the same.

Banking is a tough nut to crack. Yet we have done research for banks and there is certainly messaging to claim. The problem in the banking industry is its propensity to remain static. It is the reason customers see banks as an unwanted necessity rather than a preferred benefit.


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