Marketing in the banking industry

Within every successful brand customers see themselves

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

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.

bank market

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 market-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.

Bank Market. 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. The entire bank market misses the point.

bank market

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 had 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? What if the message was about the customer and not the bank market? 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 market

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 bank market 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

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