Branding without breaking the bank

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Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail, B2C or B2B. Branding is a relatively new concept for the financial industry. They are slowly realizing that they need to manage their strategic assets too. Many financial service firms have historically perceived brand management as being relevant to consumer goods only.

Building a brand requires real understanding, knowledge, talent, correct creative skills, resources, and, of course, time. There is a common misconception that the product is the brand. However, it is the goodwill, the image of the company can create an impact on the whole products or brand which they may not realize. People have to realize that with experience comes expertise. The brand has a much larger and long term impact because it is not only the product but it is also the culture — values, principles, people, ethical, spiritual dimensions and also after-sales services of the organization. All these create credibility and loyalty.

Branding is reliant on eight important factors, and they are visionary organization, simple and focused leadership, caring organization, learning organization, customer-centric organization, quality organization, incubating organization, innovative and creative organization. Above all, a real brand built on honesty can be clearly perceived by the customer. The brand experience should be a true reflection of a company. There should be a sense of uniformity. That credential gives a brand real value, develop an image and creates impact. In the end, it helps to increase the bottom line: the profit.

Companies convey value through the brand name or the symbols they use. We need to be mindful to stress on the core value of a brand to create an impact on the consumer minds to become successful. The goal is to retain a long-standing market position. Branding for business is the lifetime achievement of a successful businessman. The yields can be enjoyed along with generations. Doing business can make you money, but building a brand can give name, fame, roll and protect your money, mind, and market. However, a brand must be truthful. That is, it must be based on reality. Everyone should know what the brand stands for, and everyone in the organization should have clear answers to these questions and be ready to play a part in shaping the consumers’ perception.

In order to make this happen, banks and financial institutions have to fully equip their team members to live and breathe their brand story. It’s never been more important to empower workers to represent brands in a way that portrays an understanding of the brand story. This is especially true for those directly in touch with consumers through conversation, email, phone, YouTube video, and Facebook post.

A bank or company can’t grow if the MD or the CEO doesn’t understand marketing. In multi-national or global companies there are two brand custodians – one is the CEO and the other is the head of marketing. Since the CEO is selling the brand image, he or she is responsible for its image. The head of marketing is responsible for feeding the CEO about the market mechanisms, product or service development, communications, customer insights, and market insight. Marketers work as growth driver which at the end of the day adds value to the business growth. If a company wants to be successful in the twenty-first century, then it has to put emphasis on corporate branding and then on getting the right human resource, marketing can give you the intellectual support, creative support, as well as market-related support. An effective brand strategy gives a major edge in increasingly competitive markets.

There is also employer branding and employee branding. If you do not have a good company image you won’t attract good employees. If you don’t have quality employees, then you won’t have quality structure or quality teams. A powerful brand is meant to change customer behavior, improve business economics, gain competitive advantage and provide a clear mandate for employees.
There is a significant opportunity for savvy banks to articulate and execute a brand strategy. Branding a company successfully is a rigorous process of developing the promise that an institution wants to convey to its customers, and executing a strategy that delivers on the promise. To make sure that the brand promise is achieved, a strong guardianship function is required. The best approach is to create a dedicated brand management in the bank, where the CEO is the CBO. Creating a strong brand management function as such, marketing takes a central role in guiding the corporate strategy by having the top management team and the CEO regularly updated about the brand strategy, customers and markets.

This is not in place in most of the organizations and sometimes brand gets task oriented and cannot play a proper role. The old saying applies here — commands from different commanders confuse soldiers. The brand is led by the boardroom and managed by brand marketers with an active buy-in. “Trying to convince a skeptical CEO about the value of branding is like trying to push water up the hill,” explained once Dan Roselli, brand and advertising executive for Bank of America. “Go to work at a company where the CEO already understands.,” he also stated. To brand or not to brand is no longer a question of marketing alone. The decision to launch a branding or re-branding program has evolved into a business often directly addressed by CEO-and-Board. They understand that the brand is, in fact, the institution. While marketing and advertising services illuminate branding, delivering the brand’s message across diverse media to intended audiences, a simple logo change is not enough. Bank branding really begins at the core of the organization and works its magic from the inside out. But in most cases, people think branding means only heavy advertising and publishing press releases. If a bank is perceived as no different from its competitors, it is in trouble. That is why we brand, to create the difference. In a crowded and confusing marketplace, a recognizable, meaningful brand has become today’s most valuable business asset.

Many financial services organizations, brokerage firms, and non-traditional financial services now understand the importance of brand building, specifically those outside the traditional banking industry aiming to attract financial services customers. But moving quickly to build a brand that communicates a powerful message to financial services consumers is critical.
Building a branded banking business is to understand the role of the brand in that particular business, including the leverage it can provide across markets and product categories. The critical part is positioning clarity, consistency, and relevance. Unfortunately, many of the local banks clearly do not know what a brand stands for and will be actively communicated to the target audience. In many cases, firms, from smaller banks to the biggest, cannot differentiate their product as per consumer needs.

The organization must be aligned with the people, products and services, physical network and service level required to communicate and reinforce the brand message, every time a customer comes in contact with the organization. The significant changes required may challenge the management of traditional financial services companies. There are a few reasons for which brand communications get marginalized — basically, everybody thinks they are an expert, communication works at a subconscious level, creativity is subjective, and marketing is seen as cost-centric, while not many tools of measurement are available. It needs top management support for success.

Branding is the science and art of corporate strategy. This balancing act may overcome the illusions of how ideal corporate brands can exist. Branding in financial services is undergoing substantial changes, owing to the dramatic increase in the competition following deregulation and the threat posed by new entrants or global banks with branding experience. Consumers actually want something from banks and financial organizations. There are ample opportunities if they get the packaging right and superior experiences. It is “one-stop-service,” or in digital platform “one-click” with a difference.

A brand represents an expectation, a level of quality and it is a measure of trust. It is more than a logo. In our country branding is widely misunderstood to be advertising or public relations (PR). These are tools or means of communication of brand building. It’s been found that many companies or organizations depend heavily on advertising agency and work as per owner’s directives; which becomes task oriented rather than real strategic role-playing. Many cases it is found the brand failure is basically caused by management failure.

Although some long-established banks and insurance companies still see their brand merely as an aid to awareness and recognition, the new entrants and are radically transforming themselves by placing the brand at the center of their corporate strategy. It is noteworthy that few financial service firms commit to actively and consistently managing their brands.
A powerful brand is differentiated and relevant to its target audience, a service brand can communicate its promise through advertising, but it must be built through action. Identifying and articulating a brand vision for any Bank is not easy because employees have to live it in front of the customer every day. Because the company’s employees are, in a sense, “always on the stage” they are the face of the bank.

Now the ‘experience’ economy has arrived. A brand experiences the feelings or expectations of customers that are evoked during every interaction at every touch point with people, products, service, process, technology, and branches that are like ‘shop” or ‘stores’. That is why banks might use their branches to create the right branded customer experience in the future.
For digital platform, that is the future. The decision makers are not very into the digital realm. The current young generation will be bank customers in the future. It will be another 10 to 16 years before they become decision makers. So, the digital platform needs to be developed. Marketing is ultimately a creative engineering and strategic business science. You have to engineer and re-engineer. You have to stay updated all the time. Otherwise, you become invisible to the consumer.

Data and analytics are important indeed, the story behind the data is also important. It’s marketing intelligence or business intelligence which bring changes through the data science and digital ecosystem. Social media is still the best way to reach Millennial. Specifically, the platforms used, the impact of friends and influencers, privacy concerns, and inbound marketing preferences. We should learn to use small data first before thinking about big data. Analyze small data first, get insight and make the strategy.

In addition to influencers, Millennials give ear to what friends and family say online and they are more likely to buy a product or service if a peer recommends it on social media. Financial service firms can transform this challenge into an opportunity to tailor a more comprehensive plan for growth. So, it is time to get banks to become more innovative. Start branding without breaking your bank.

The writer is a globally recognized business marketing professional and brand strategist. Instrumental in revamping corporate brand of Trust bank, involved in the rebranding process of City bank and planning process of AMEX card launching, led ‘Here for good’ brand transformation of Standard Chartered Consumer banking, strategized brand guidelines of Sure Cash, Developed brand marketing strategy of NRB bank. Can be reached: Aftab.go.brand @gmail.com

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