Hey Bank, wanna be an Airport?

Last week I was reminded how fortunate we are in banking. No, not fortunate, lucky. No, not lucky, immensely damn spoiled!

I spoke at an event called CX Ireland and while listening to everyone else before my turn came, I felt tempted to repeat the same sense of awe and shock in every 140 characters as I realised I couldn’t live tweet points of data I was gathering from the speakers because it had absolutely no relevance to us in banking. None.

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The professionals on stage knew and cared about the amount of clients that will be lost with every bad interaction point. How many of them would never recommend at the end of a month of merely average service. How designing the right experience could double the number of new clients. How it’s imperative to test leadership’s commitment to CX. The magic of connecting NPS as a score to make CX the business of the entire organisation. How to delight customers or perish. All of this is so disconnected from our industry I felt I could be live tweeting from a Dr Who conference so after a few stunned facts and some shocking numbers I stopped.

When the head of the Dublin Airports Insights took the stage she started by saying “we all have terabytes of data in real time but true insight that’s rare, we only get that once every few years” – how utterly inspiring they even made the distinction or really that they even have the job title and appetite considering they should have an even higher degree of inertia seeing how they are the de facto monopoly. Yet they care about being a beloved brand so deeply they test and tweak their airport experience around their different types of travellers experience until they obsessively click on that smiley green face button of the satisfaction meter they dared place everywhere.

One the many things she spoke about with intense passion was the experiment they run of strapping a heart monitor to airport travellers and asking them to go about their normal run. Unsurprisingly their heart rate neared heart attack levels when they passed security and helped them arrive at the concept of “customer happy hour” as it settled and elation replaced the terrified moment and travellers started spending like there’s no tomorrow once they found themselves airside.

A brand does this kind of thinking. A brand cares. A brand is curious and a perfectionist. A brand therefore wins.

There’s a lot of similarity between banking and airports. The de facto near-monopoly. The experience being both high frequency commoditized and connected to intensively important life events. There is a lot that’s different too. We in banking are not all that invested in the customer being nudged to buy more with us. We don’t have to be scary to our consumers, we’re not protecting world peace and security by any of our processes. Maybe the most important difference is that we don’t care like they do. After all why should we? None of the other numbers mean anything to us, who in banking is afraid of the youtuber Zoella giving them a bad review that will result in lost customers?


Here’s what we are going to do banks. We’ll change all this. We’ll buy some of those silly customer satisfaction stands with the happy faces and place them in every branch. We’ll strap heart monitors to people faced with inputting both memorable words and password and pins before they can see their account balance online. We’ll start designing and obsessively re-tweaking those happy hour experiences.

We will, right?

Right?!? If not then maybe FinTech can come up with an airport API so we can threaten Dublin airport’s business because they are sure smart enough to see there is now technology and ample room in customer dissatisfaction to threaten ours.

I Bank therefore I… Nothing

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At first my journey was powered by personal and professional indignation that banks don’t spend money on finding out what consumers really feel and giving it to them. Over the last few months I’ve realised this is not banks being evil, it’s just banks being dumb.

I now honestly think we should forgive them, for they don’t know any better. As an example of this systemic ignorance, following my series on Banks and Brands I’ve had a frightful amount of conversations with bankers who still confuse marketing with branding.

“Yes, our marketing department is not doing a great job with this brand thing, our ads are never great.” – While there’s no dispute that most banks’ marketing is subpar and underwhelming, this is a minute part of the brand and certainly NOT the job of the marketing department! It’s everyone’s job.

“Reputation is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”

Seen that adage? The easiest way to explain brand is to extrapolate that to say “Brand is what people feel about your company when they don’t even think about it

Without this core understanding of what a brand really is, I don’t believe banks will ever be able to deliver compelling user experience, understand what human centred design truly entails and remember their “we do want to serve the consumer” demagogical mission statements enough to transform it into reality.

Falling in Brand

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou 

Studying how consumers emotionally respond to brands is not nearly as advanced as it could be. This is because the definition of brands has been evolving as the way we experience them has with the advent of the digital channels. The best brands transcend the channel and give us an unitary (pleasurable) impression in all of them equally, whether in person or digitally. If you’re an Uber fan (the “if” stems from their latest degradation in London) you’ll feel strongly positively about the overall experience without even being able to separate the value as coming from the ease of payment or the drive in itself.

Research does show we have the same emotional response to developing a relationship with a brand that we do when embarking on a new relationship with a person. In other words we fall in love the same way with brands as we do with people.

There may not be as clear of passionate moments of “wow” which we presume are impossible to replicate elsewhere from how that brand intimately understands our very core and we may not go to sleep and wake up thinking of it but we trust brands with the same mechanisms that we trust people and more importantly, on a smaller scale, we experience the same sense of content belonging while it lasts and a sense of loss when disenchanted. The key reason why it’s on a smaller scale is because of how with this form of attachment as compared to relationships, there’s acceptance and active encouragement around mobility. The expectations that we would discover something new and move on is, after all, the essence of commerce.

In banking this expectation of mobility does not exist and it’s worth considering what this means for the relationship.

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

This is worth repeating over and over: truly valuable brand experiences are addictive and sticky  but most importantly, they become part of the customer’s own narrative and identity – who we wear, what we listen to, what we we watch are all points of self actualisation and pride – yet there’s never any pride in who we bank with.

We use brand association as a means of communicating things about us that would be otherwise borderline socially unacceptable to communicate in an adult or professional setting. Kids will walk up to each other on the playground, wave awkwardly and machine gun at 100 words per hour “Hi, I’m Kate – I like pink and Frozen and lollies and sunny days and singing and skipping and I have a pet hamster named Bubbles and my mommy has a thousand shoes and I have Dora the Explorer PJs and like Fruit Shoot. You?”. And they will get a response. This becomes less and less of an acceptable communication method as we advance through life (unless you live in Shoreditch) so to replace it we wear a certain colour (or if you’re in Financial Services a certain type of kooky socks at conferences) and drive a certain car, we drink a certain make and choose a certain newspaper or TV channel.

There is, of course, a difference between someone driving a Mercedes a and someone choosing to drive a Mercedes and then expressing it. “I drive a Mercedes” is a statement to mean they’ve chosen it, that there is something about the values it represents that they subscribe to – whether it’s the process of making it, its appearance, its technical prowess or its country of origin that the driver admires, the statement says parts of that and implies they are proud to be associated with it.

“Meh, it is what it is, brand happens!”

We’ll hear what people drive, what they wear and what they drink every day. Never who they bank with.

“I bank with Lloyds” should say so much about someone. It should say “I’m conservative in nature and careful with my money (yet not as far backwards as to be with the biggest bank in the world) and like my bank to give me some digital convenience (yet I don’t appreciate the SciFi pie charts or the all-black browser experiences and don’t mind the maddeningly tedious password entry experience), I like how they occasionally try and keep up with the times (yet don’t want them to be trying too hard and give me doggy treats or video banking for mortgages) I like that I can send money to my spouse (but don’t care how much it costs or how painless it is to do so) and hey, I may even like green.” – If Lloyds were a brand, customers would say it, be proud of it and expect it to mean something.

When the CheBanca team thinks of vision, direction and translates that into product they intently drive what capital they are building in their brand in person and online. It’s beyond creating users personas and sticking them on the walls, it’s carving a sense of emotional investment with every gesture and every choice of colour and then sustaining that with service and interaction. They are inserting themselves into the fabric of who their consumers are and want to be. How do I know this? I don’t. I never sat down with them or witnessed this but but I’m willing to bet my last Euro that they don’t expect any of the narrative around what it means to bank with them to just happen and pay it no mind, or they would not have built a brand beloved by Italians above the likes of Nike or Starbucks.

Brand does happen, but addictive, beloved brand doesn’t. It takes work and it takes passion so if we have any of those left in banking at the end of a day debating acronyms and technology let’s invest them into the consumer’s Emotional Current Account by building something he can be proud being part of.