Your Bank Has Sent You A Friend Request

The banking crisis of five years ago left the image of banks in tatters. The PPI claims, the controversial charges, and all the headlines placing the blame of the UK recession firmly at the feet of city bankers, are not easily forgotten. While not entirely unjust in some cases, this perception has undoubtedly been difficult for the banks to shake off, and the industry is in dire need of a facelift. As banks try to restore faith in their customers, the more enlightened ones have realised that the market has moved on. We can no longer use the messages of old to rebuild reputations.

I can buy a can of beans after 5pm

Thinking back to ‘traditional’ bank marketing, we might remember high interest rates headlining adverts to encourage savers, or lower mortgage rates to encourage borrowers. These transaction-based messages focused on the net financial result of choosing one bank over another, and were successful for a time.

More recently, faced with a stagnant market, banks moved away from transactional sales pitches, turning instead to messages that promised better customer service. But some of these customer service based messages (and offerings) came too late, failing to resonate with modern customers who were accustomed to living in a 24 hour society. If people are used to being able to buy a can of baked beans in the early hours at a 24 hour supermarket, why would they be impressed that their bank is open after 5pm or over the weekend? It should be a given, rather than an outstanding feature to headline an ad campaign.

Proteins, the building blocks of life and brands

Consumers are becoming brand savvy. They know and interact with brands who give them fantastic customer service, who take them on a journey and become a part of their lives. Even the least likely of brands are now picking up on and embracing this change in customer mood. For example, I am a big fan of the brand engagement activity of an incumbent company established in 1977 in the health and fitness industry (Universal Nutrition’s ‘Animal’ brand). They have mastered the art of social media engagement, with compelling mini-movies featuring fans and sponsored athletes. I recently shared an example of their work on my Facebook. The choice of music, production quality of the YouTube videos, and the exchanges they have inspired on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, have netted them a loyal and engaged community of fans (aka customers).

Bear in mind this is a company that sells dried milk and egg (protein) powders. If a brand selling tubs of dried milk powder can express empathy and establish authentic engagement, I am certain the same can be true of the banks – after all, they enable some of the biggest emotional decisions of our lives such as buying a home, planning for retirement, launching a business, and helping us through tough times.

Adding value by consolidation

Apple is the poster-child for brand advocacy and fan-based customer communities. They have deployed a strategy to embed themselves in to the everyday lives of their customers and tie them to the brand. For many of us it started with a phone. Then when we wanted a tablet, it made sense to opt for an iPad so that our devices would work together. And so it goes on - we buy apps through the Apple Store, a Mac instead of a PC, and when in the market for a smart watch, we all know which one will be strapped to our wrist - why consider another brand when we stand to lose so much in experience? We are tied to the ecosystem, and most of us realise this and actually love the brand because of it. Apple’s customers are happy to go with the flow because they know and understand the products, value the service they will receive, and most importantly, trust Apple to deliver.

The same tactics could be applied by banks, but so far they have largely failed to do so. Unless there is a value in having multiple financial products (such as current account, mortgage, and savings accounts) held by the same bank, people will no longer do so. What the banks need to do is figure out a way to do what Apple has done and offer products and services that enhance each other. Loyalty should pay, and banks need to offer motivation for customers to consolidate all their financial products with one provider. For this to happen, both the product propositions and the user experience with the brand across all their products are equally important.

The John Lewis effect

A sure sign that banks are responding to the need to make more meaningful relationships with their customers is the plethora of emotive TV commercials they are currently putting on our screens. Indeed, you might be forgiven for mistaking some current banks’ TV ads for mini-dramas. From nostalgia to tear-jerkers, the current trend focuses firmly on emotive connections, a strategy far removed from the traditional transactional messages we have come to expect from banks.

These TV ads show a desire for the ‘John Lewis effect’ – the banks hope that an emotional response to an advert will be transferred to the brand. In this approach, I believe authenticity is key, especially when exposed to the raw critique of social media. Openness will create the brand of the future, with robust and trusting relationships that benefit both parties. Emotive advertising is not enough – it may make customers take notice, but unless it is backed up by consistently authentic customer experience along with a real incentive for customers to consolidate financial products with one provider, it will only take the banks so far.When we openly show our heart, customers might drop their scepticism and accept the friend request.