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 then give it to them. Over the last few months, I’ve realized this isn’t 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 isn’t doing a great job with this brand thing. Our ads are never great.’ While there’s no disputing 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, nor 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 isn’t 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 digital channels. The best brands transcend the channel and give us a unitary (pleasurable) impression in all of them equally, whether in person or digitally. If you’re an Uber fan (the ‘if’ stems from its latest degradation in London), you will feel strongly positive 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 that we have the same emotional response to developing a relationship with a brand as 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 clear, passionate moments of ‘wow’ that we presume are impossible to replicate elsewhere (from how the brand intimately understands our very core), and we may not go to sleep and wake up thinking about the brand. Yet, we trust brands with the same mechanisms that we trust people. More importantly, on a smaller scale, we experience the same sense of contentedness and 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 expectation that we would discover something new and move on is, after all, the essence of commerce.
In banking, this expectation of mobility doesn’t exist, and it’s worth considering what this means for the relationship.
Narrative, identity and pride
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, and what we we watch are all points of self-actualization 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 otherwise be borderline socially unacceptable to communicate in an adult or professional setting. Kids will walk up to each other on the playground, wave awkwardly and quickly deliver 100 words an 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 of an acceptable communication method as we advance through life (unless you live in Shoreditch), so to replace it we wear a certain color (or if you’re in financial services, a certain type of kooky socks at conferences) and drive a certain car; we drink a certain brand, and choose a certain newspaper or TV channel.
There is, of course, a difference between someone driving a Mercedes 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’s 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 that they’re 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, but 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 I like my bank to give me some digital convenience (yet, I don’t appreciate the sci-fi 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 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’re 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 color, and then sustaining that with service and interaction. They’re 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 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.