Branded for life
As distribution changes, financial companies need to adopt a lifestyle approach for brands. Jason Ross in Money Marketing, February 14th 2002. Money
The polarisation debate rolls on, over (if we are to believe the pundits) the supine bodies of consumers and IFAs.
With the mega corps set to be in charge of product distribution to all but
a select and wealthy few, what will Howard Davies' "significant liberalisation
package" mean for product provider brands?
Will they need to tool up their business-to-business sales forces or their
consumer marketing efforts? Will they need to abandon their brands and focus
on making better products to attract the gaze of this big bancassurers?
Today, the brand landscape of the financial services industry is dominated
by well known marques. The ranks of the old school bancassurers and providers
remains fairly solid, with the occasional newer initiative, either from
the land of dot.com or engineered to deliver the openness, responsiveness
and transparency that the digital world promised. However, this landscape
may look very different a year from now.
Let us assume for a moment that the multi-tie disclosure regime will favour
bancassurers and that independent, fee-based advice becomes the province
of the rich. One key channel is diminished - IFA distribution networks.
Banks and building societies become the supermarkets of financial services,
selling a range of off-the-shelf products, some provided by themselves (white
labelling), some distributed for other providers.
How does this environment affect product brands? Two main strategies emerge
for ensuring your products get as much shelf space and in-store visibility
The first is the development of an aggressive trade sales force that interfaces
with the retailers' buyer networks. Financial providers' trade sales teams
rarely approach the level of sophistication of Unilever or Procter &
The tools of this trade rarely deliver consumer transparency. This is a
closed world of negotiation between buyers and sellers, where the sales
force uses discounting, the promise of higher, promotion-supported sales,
new launches that encourage customers to "trade up" and considerable expense
accounts in a war for stock-keeping units.
Supporting the efforts of the sales team are the marketing department's advertising and promotional schedule.
Two key characteristics of fmcg marketing campaigns are their saturation
coverage and the way they "dumb down" their core offer. The two features
P&G's European interactive marketing manager Jenny Ashmore described
the key issue of media fragmentation last year: "Twenty-five years ago you
could buy five spots and get 80 per cent reach. It now takes 320 spots."
It is imperative that the message is broad enough to be understood by anyone
who sees it. The rule of thumb is the unique selling proposition - one key
benefit per product and keep it simple, stupid.
Financial products are unused to this level of simplicity in brand communications.
But one result of the FSA's proposals will be fewer, stronger financial
brands that compete on simpler benefits.
The race for brand awareness to ensure placement as one of a bank's recommended
products will mean that only the strong will get on the shelf.
Strong does not mean "best product". It means the company with the biggest
marketing budgets or residual brand value (past marketing budget).
We are likely to see a wave of mergers and acquisitions and collusions as
product companies seek to snap up customer mind-share by buying competitor
A key challenge in this future retailer scenario is likely to be how to
develop a brand that differentiates itself in a market with few dominant
players. In this environment, it is hard to convince marketers to adopt
a niche approach and companies will scrabble for category-generic propositions.
Washes whiter than white, younger-looking skin and best-performing fund.
Most financial services companies are not good at understanding brands.
Brands tend to be thought of as advertising budget multiplied by logo to
the power of media spend. Brands live, not in what companies say they are,
but in consumers' experience of what they do.
Customer experiences are generated every time they interact with the brand.
When you call your bank and are put through to a call centre in Edinburgh,
a distinctive brand message is delivered - you are just a number to us.
The more times the automated messenger says "Your call is important to us"
the more you question the company's integrity. Consumers think "If my call
is so important, pick up the phone." Doing so would deliver a brand experience
that strengthens the marketing communication.
Time and time again, the experiences of customers are out of step with what
the advertising claims the company believes in. The result is that customers
stop believing in the company. Companies which mistakenly believe that product
superiority is all that matters are missing the key point. We do not entrust
our pay cheques to companies because they have superior products, we do
so because they have built up a relationship of trust with us. That relationship
is the source of a strong brand.
Building great brands over the next two or three years will require a move away from simplistic perceptions of mass-marketing best practice. The standard techniques will leave financial services companies in the position the big banks are in today - their only "loyalty" coming from customer inertia.
Financial services companies will need to start thinking about brands as
promises and trust relationships. The successful brands will have to differentiate
themselves with powerful and emotive positions on consumer-relevant issues.
For some, it will be the first foray into the softer aspects of branding
and there will be high-profile failures and significant growing pains.
Differentiation will come at the level of brands and services, with providers
vying for attention by incorporating experiential and social values into
Don't look now but financial services are about to go lifestyle.
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