Irrational Bank Loyalty – Part 1

Following what was overwhelming response last week to my “Everything is a brand – everything but a bank” article I’ve decided I’ll explore this further and break down what being a brand in the Financial Industry really means and what it could become if we took this seriously, but this turned out to be a gigantic post so I’ve split it in two parts because I care about your time and want you to read it all and of course, because I’m hoping to gain some brand capital on the back of said caring.

Loyalty in Banking – as Irrational as it comes

Consider what these people feel strongly loyal to on this Reddit thread – forget the almost-religious Apple/Android debates and the Google and Samsung declarations of love – take a look at the other brands and the brief explanations for the likes of Cadbury, Nintendo or Vegemite. Do you see how emotionally charged the connections are, how strong the beliefs, can you imagine them talking about a bank that way?

Loyalty is rational if it matches how invested we are in a brand simply put: the more we like it, the more likely it is to stay put.

One of the premises I started with last week was that we have all instinctively known for a long time that there is a degree of loyalty in banking that doesn’t seem to correlate with our declared hate of the institutions.

This is an actual App designed to let you dislike - I wonder how many banks feature in there
This is an actual App designed to let you dislike – I wonder how many banks feature in there

While banks consistently rank lower than most other brands (we’ll discuss the FirstDirect exception in Part 2) in customer satisfaction we still don’t leave and switching never made a significant impact. It’s the equivalent of recognising you’re in a broken marriage and yet choosing to stay. In fact it’s worse than that, as in Britain people will more readily get a divorce than get another bank account.

Our loyalty to banks we hate – It’s fascinating, it’s worth exploring and it’s certainly irrational.

Brand as Identity

Truly valuable brand experiences are addictive and sticky (I’m fascinated with the medium echelon the likes of Ted Baker or even Top Gear and another post explores this theme on its own) but most important they become part of the customer’s own narrative and identity – who we wear, what we listen to, what we we watch – there’s never any pride in who we bank with.

Brands work hard to become part of the fabric of who we are – banks couldn’t be further from that yet we don’t leave.

Inbuilt Arrogance 

Whether they realise it or not banks are obnoxiously arrogant about our unwillingness to leave them. Consider this: if you call a mobile telephony company you will invariably have an option to “Press 3 if you are thinking of leaving us”! – how many times have you heard it when you phoned your bank?

No one advocates they take it to the Comcast extreme where people can famously not leave irrespective of how long them plead for it but what more clear sign of being taken for granted than not being fast-tracked if you are *that* upset?

Most brands care deeply about keeping us, banks do not – yet we stay put. 

“Intentional Branding” – Advertising and PR

Last week I was stunned to see there are still those who equate brand to a logo or a phrase or an ad on TV. To me, who sees brand as even more intense and complicated than Seth Godin’s excellent definition of a collection of experiences, expectations, stories and relationships, this is saddening but I can understand we come from different perspectives.

Advertisement is just one layer in branding and there are many other elements over time to reinforce or assassinate those efforts (consistency of perception is reinforced by everything from employees to digital interactions) which is why if bank marketeers stop at investing at advertising without really understanding brand, will fail.

(I won’t go into examples now, as a post on UK banking advertising is in the works because let’s face it, someone has to address the big black horse in the middle of the “Why would you think this is engaging?!?” room.)

Nonetheless, advertising along with PR are the clearly intended branding efforts for Financial Institutions and many times its sum total where some believe that using the right corporate colours (sometimes at frightening UX costs) is all one needs to do to uphold brand.

To create a brand it’s essential to create a positive emotional connection. To create a connection the interaction must feel intensely personal at one point and old school advertising has trouble achieving that because of its sheer mass. Social Media on the other hand has a more more intimate feel and good brands have immediately sensed its potential and capitalised on it – look at how Red Bull or Coca Cola use images networks to inspire the activities that would create the context for their consumers to remember their allegiance and consume them  whereas in banking, the big news is that we finally hired enough community managers that @BankHelp may answer our Tweet or Direct Message on the same day!

Some brands wow us with ads and interactions that go straight to our hearts – banks still give us vapid shinny happy people and yet we stay. 

(Come back and read Part 2 on Accidental Branding)

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