Updated Bank Names For 2009

About this time last year, I published a list of updated bank slogans for 2008. This year, I’m moving up to the big time and renaming banks altogether. Here’s a partial list of new bank names we need to see:

 

Old Name                   New Name

NetBank                      NotABank

WaMu                          VaMoose

PFF Bank                     Poof! Bank 

Integrity Bank             DisIntegrated Bank

Hume Bank                 ExHume Bank

Security Pacific Bank   In The Pacific Bank

IndyMac Bank             InDeGround Bank

Downey S&L               Downed S&L

ANB Financial              A Necrophiliac’s Brothel Financial

 

By the way, if you wondering what these banks have in common, go here.

And if you need help understanding the name of the last bank, go here.

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Delusions Of Brandeur

Bank branding efforts are in full force these days. Frost Bank of Texas launched a brand building campaign in April designed at improving awareness of its full range of services, including banking, investments, and insurance (wow, isn’t that a surprise!). Flagstar claims to be the “new wave in banking” (interesting choice of terms when you consider that “new wave” music went out of style more than 20 years ago). And WaMu launched its effort to be an iconic brand, by eliciting a whoo-hoo from its customers.

My take: First off, these banks are failing to support these branding efforts with their Web sites. And second, that might not matter, anyway.

For all the efforts that banks make to tell their customers and prospects that the bank is different (or better), their Web sites just scream “we’re really the same.”

Sorry, Flagstar, but your site — with its top nav-bar menu tabs, large banner ad mid-center page, and product links below the banner ad — is not the “new wave in banking.” Sorry, WaMu, but a link on your home page that promises help with mortgage payments, but only goes to a page that provides your phone number does not elicit a “whoo hoo” from this bank customer. Sorry, Frost, but while I like the notion of asking your site visitors “how can we help you today?”, simply providing a list of products is often not what a customer needs help with.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your bank’s Web site. See the login boxes on the left? The product-focused banner ads in the middle? The links to every product the bank offers below that? And the major line of business links along the top-nav bar? Of course you do.

The dilemma that bank site designers face is deciding between familiarity and uniqueness.

On one hand, when a bank Web site follows certain conventions about navigation and design, it make it easier for a site visitor to know what to do and where to go.

On the other hand, though, when you spend millions of dollars in advertising telling the public that you’re “different,” a site that conveys “sameness” creates brand discord.

Should banks overhaul their site design conventions to support their branding efforts? If they do, they should look at the site for Marriott‘s St. Kitts property as an example of how to be different. Granted, the loading time isn’t desirable, but the design as a whole is in line with the kind of image the hotel is looking to portray.

My take: Instead of changing their Web sites, banks should rethink their branding efforts.

NetBanker reported recently on the success of BancVue’s Rewards Checking product. According to information that BancVue supplied to NetBanker, 381 FIs are live with BancVue’s checking account. Overall, there are 610.000 accounts open with $5.5 billion in those accounts — or about $9k per account. In addition, BancVue reports that more than 13,000 accounts are opened each week.

Put that in context with the success that ING Direct has had in the US market over the past few years with a simple savings account that pays above average market rates.

What does this tell you?

That rate matters (a lot). That having a branch on every corner might not be the “cornerstone of a customer relationship” (Vernon Hill, ex-CEO of Commerce Bank, said that). That some (many? those with money?) consumers might not want a range of products from their bank, but simply be looking for the best particular financial product that meets a need that they don’t want or need advice on, or other products to go with. That some consumers might not care about going whoo-hoo after visiting their bank, and simply want the bank to get things right in the first place, so they wouldn’t need service in the first place.

And that spending millions of dollars to create a brand image that isn’t supported by the online experience (and in many cases, the offline experience) or a solid understanding of the kinds of relationships that consumers want with their banks may be a poor use of scarce resources.

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The Future Of Bank Branding

Financial services branding is a hot topic these days, from releases of (methodologically suspect) brand rankings, to a number of blog posts. Stealing Share published a study recently, and had this to say about bank brands:

The major banks remain undifferentiated and deliver little to no brand meaning. What banks need is a new brand promise, one that is a reflection of who the target audience is.”

The Open Source CU blog echoed this sentiment:

The vast majority of financial institutions will continue their pursuit of “better sameness” in lieu of real differentiation. They will continue to apply imaginary rules about what FIs should and shouldn’t look like.”

My take: Both Stealing Share and OSCU are right on regarding the lack of differentiation in bank brands.

I was disappointed, though that Stealing Share (a “strategic brand development’ firm) didn’t offer any ideas for what a new “brand promise” in banking that “reflects the target audience” would look like. And I while I agree with the author of the OSCU blog post that the majority of FIs will “continue their pursuit of better sameness,” I believe that is only in the short-term.

For the longer-term horizon (3+ years out), I envision a very different scenario for the future of bank branding efforts. A scenario that reflects not “who the target audience is”, but “who the target audiences are.”

In the future, banks will go down one of the following three branding paths:

1) Specialist. The brand message for firms going down this path will be “We do [fill-in-the-blank] — and only [fill-in-the-blank].” Fill-in-the-bank might be a specific product or service, or perhaps “serve” a specific segment of the market.

I can see the TV commercial for this brand: A prospect walks into a bank branch (a competitor), and meets with a rep to talk about a specific product. The prospect then says “great, I’d also to talk to someone about product #2.” The rep says “sure, one moment, I’ll go get someone” and gets up and walks out. The same rep returns a moment later wearing a different jacket, perhaps a wig, perhaps a fake nose and glasses, and says “hi, how can I help you?” Voice over: At XYZ Bank, we do one thing, and one thing only. And we do it better than anyone else.

Rationale: The financial supermarket concept has never worked, and never will. Consumers have never wanted a one-stop shop, and many never will. Self-directed consumers who know what they want, are willing to put in the effort to manage their finances — and multiple financial providers — will place a value on firms that specialize in narrow product areas, services, or their particular segment.

2) Trusted, objective advisor. The brand message for banks on this path is: “We do right’s for you — not us.” Think Miracle On 34th Street with Santa sending customers to other stores because it’s right for them. Sound crazy? Sure it does. But this is true differentiation — and will plenty of traffic in the door and on the site. It’s working for Progressive Insurance.

Rationale: There’s a segment of consumers — they tend to be younger, less affluent, less highly educated — that need advice and guidance on how to manage their financial lives and how to make smart decisions. Trusted advice is easy to get when you have $10 million in the bank (which is funny to say, because the people who have $10 million usually don’t keep it with a bank). Trusted, objective advice — regarding both sides of the balance sheet (assets and liabilities) — is an unment need among many consumers.

3) Operational excellence. The brand tagline for firms on this track is “We don’t screw up — ever. And if we do, we’ll fix it so fast you won’t even know it happened.” (I’m sure the copywriters will come up with more appropriate language)

In the ads for a firm on this path, an error will occur when somebody enters erroneous information on a computer screen. This will set off an “alarm” within the bank’s information system (because they’re able to flag the error as such in a nanosecond), and bots will go screaming through the ethernet to grab the error out of the dataflow, fix it immediately, and ensure that the right information goes through to the customer at the other end.

Rationale: Relatively affluent, highly educated consumers value this more than anything else. When my bank screws up a $50 charge, it can only make me wonder: “If you can’t keep track of $50, how can you expect me to invest $500k with you?”

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What about today’s predominant branding themes — convenience and superior service? They’re subordinated under the three tracks I’ve laid out. In other words, convenience and superior service are givens, or the cost of entry to compete in the first place.

I may be completely off-base with these branding approaches, so feel free to dispute them and suggest others.

Side note to the branding gurus out there: Don’t just critique and bash the banks for their current branding efforts — offer some constructive alternatives. If you’ve got any, that is. I’m not sure you do — if you did, there might not be so much sameness across today’s bank branding efforts.

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