Banking may be the only industry where building an emotional bond with the consumer is not a top priority. The excuse given is often that financial services can’t be ‘loved’. But then again, who thought a taxi company (Uber), an airline (JetBlue), a specialty retailer (Ted Baker) or a phone (Apple) could build such an emotional connection with consumers?
Other industries work hard at bringing new products to market, deeply understanding consumers and creating an unbreakable emotional bond with them to ensure they become fans who keep bringing new business. So, why hasn’t banking tried harder to improve the customer experience enough to stand out?
One reason may be that the banking industry’s low attrition – caused mostly by difficult switching processes – has lulled financial services executives into complacency. With low attrition, unchaining pens or offering digital devices in branches is usually the extent of customer-centricy.
The lack of urgency to replace attriting customers has resulted in changing products and delivery channels mostly to reduce costs as opposed to better serve the consumer. In banking, neither the products, nor the level of service, have changed much through history.
Worst still, while other industries spend most of their time exploring the psyche of consumers to extract insight that would help them become a beloved brand, the banking industry usually thinks of branding as a visual corporate identity exercise where changing the secondary color of the brochures is a major decision. A new tag line doesn’t create love unless it is delivered upon.
When it comes to the banking industry, not only is the consumer in the Indifferent Stage, so are the banks. Neither have made a significant movement down the “Brand Love Curve” for decades.
Brand = Advertising + Product + Heart
The Power of Advertising
When consumers are polled about their favorite brands, they mention those that have worked hard to form a relationship and have used data and empathy to personalize the experience. Unsurprisingly, the top examples never contain traditional financial providers. More interestingly most of these brands are but a few years old.
The age of a business is not a factor in making a brand loved, however, as we can see from brands such as Coach, Carlsberg or Burberry. Despite each firm’s long history, they still work very hard at keeping an emotional connection with their customers. This emotional connection that has become part of their legacy.
For example, Burberry has treated its fans to The Tale of Thomas Burberry. A very high cost ad, the production value is so good, it can easily pass for a Hollywood trailer … and there have been calls to transform it into a movie.
“The role of brand is to create a unique, own-able and motivating idea that transforms the brand’s purpose-driven DNA into a brand reputation that connects quickly and lasts in the minds and hearts of the consumer, generating a tight bond, power and profit beyond what the product alone could achieve.” – Graham Robertson, the creator of Beloved-Brands.com
Most recognize Apple as an excellent example of the power of brand. Apple does not want casual buyers, but dedicated fans, underscoring the link between brand love and profitability.
“A brand becomes beloved when demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, and thinking is replaced with feelings.”
Apple illustrates what happens when traditional thinking is replaced with human emotion. As they state, “99% of the people who have an iPhone, love it.” This enabled Apple to create this poignant “If it’s not an iPhone, it’s not an iPhone” campaign that reaffirms they have built an undeniable standard. All good advertisers will insist that two parts are essential in creating strong content: 1) exceptional consumer insight and 2) making the consumer feel brand affiliation.
In the United Kingdom, legacy banking models are currently being tested more than in any other region of the world after a change in regulation democratized the process of applying for a banking license. This has resulted in dozens of ‘Challenger Banks’ rushing to the market. None of these fintech start-ups are yet fully operational – and most are still figuring out their proposition – but the majority have worked very hard on their branding.
One of these challenger banks, Atom Bank, started their efforts of making their potential new customers feel an individual and personal connection by creating 1.4 million logos that assign a unique color combination to each client experience. Another challenger, Tandem Bank, would likely say their campaign of hilarious videos with titles such as “What if your favorite pub was run like a bank” is a way of leveraging on consumer insight. In reality, they are just pointing out a painfully obvious, common knowledge set of emotions we experience as consumers when presented with poor banking service.
The Role of Great Products
Creatively strong advertising copy in itself is necessary, but not enough, to create a beloved brand. Being able to come up with strong product offerings and continually reinventing, is part of the equation. In the case of the many UK challenger banking organizations, there is a risk of doing a lot of advertising but doing nothing to reinvent and redesign the same exact products offered by traditional banking.
While aiming to build “customer obsession” is what every brand should do, it isn’t achievable in the absence of a serious look at the core product line.
Companies such as Virgin have gone above and beyond to change their core products and meet their consumers where they are needed. Not long ago, Ford asked Ideo help them transform, and Ford is now aiming to go beyond manufacturing cars, and instead becoming a “Mobility Provider.” The goal is to keep Ford on the road in a way that falls naturally into their consumers’ lives. No product is too rigid to reexamine and innovate in a way that resonates with the consumer’s inner narrative.
Building Emotional Connections – JetBlue
There are few other places in the world that demand more in terms of customer service and good value for the money than the United States. There are also few industries where achieving customer satisfaction is arguably harder than in the highly emotional and intensely personal relevant airline industry.
JetBlue has achieved the performance of building real fans. Scoring at the top in customer satisfaction for 11 years in a row, JetBlue has consistently been either first or second in satisfaction surveys since its inception in 1998. JetBlue is also one of the top 50 most innovative companies as well as being the fastest company to hit 1Bn $ in revenue from inception. And that is because they boldly and intelligently, lead with emotion.
It’s All About the Snack
There are objective reasons why customers love the airline. Chief among those, according to surveys, is that JetBlue offers live in-flight entertainment on every seat as well as free drinks and snacks on every flight. This sets the airline apart from their competition. They also do well at check-in and during flights, having an award winning digital experience and were the first to introduce “Apple Pay in the Sky.” Bottom line, they recognize that what resonates with people most is their level of enjoyment in flight.
In their latest publicity stunt, they truly bet on ‘the way to the consumer’s heart is through their stomach’ by introducing edible ads. “We’re not saying you should, but you could eat the paper” they say in the ad that reminds their consumers they can have all the snacks and drinks they want on a JetBlue flight. Unlike other airlines, the snack are left out in the galley, ready to be picked up by satisfied passengers at any point during the flight.
JetBlue was founded with the express intent of challenging the status quo, and they often use empty white boards to design the in-flight experience. While the airline is fiercely driven by product innovation, they recognize in the same breath that “the secret sauce” is not just in experience design or equipment, but their people. “Anyone can buy airplanes and fit TVs, but you can’t copy culture … what we have here you can’t fake,” states Robin Hayes, CCO of JetBlue.
“We want every one of our employees to say, ‘Wow, this is the best job I’ve ever had,’ which we hope will make our customers say, ‘Wow, this is the best flight I’ve ever had’.”
Evidence of how serious JetBlue is about culture ranges from how they treat employees – last year they opened “the Lodge” – a boutique hotel for their employees to how they recognize words matter and they enable empathy and honesty in their #CultureCode.
Efforts like building kids playgrounds with KaBOOM in impoverished areas are not uncommon for organizations that are trying to show corporate responsibility. But, it’s hard to believe JetBlue is simply ticking a box when the authenticity in their care is evident in so many other ways, and when they built their whole business proposition on “bringing humanity back” More than just a slogan, the organization tries to live it’s brand every day.
JetBlue’s founder, David Neeleman, is considered the Steve Jobs of the Airline industry. He speaks about how building a brand people love is paramount and hinges on “having real brand advocates and taking great care of them.”According to Needleman, “Being flawless in execution and innovating for connection with the customer is difficult, but if you succeed, there is evident value correlation.”
Building Emotional Connections – Ted Baker
Having launched as a specialist shirts shop in Glasgow in the late eighties, Ted Baker quickly became an amazingly successful “affordable luxury lifestyle brand” under the tagline, “no ordinary designer label,” which boasts legions of supremely dedicated fans.
“From subtle embroidery and the use of the finest fabrics, to amusing notes on the packaging and irreverent window schemes, everything that bears the Ted Baker name offers absolute attention to detail, quality and that ‘little bit more’ Ours is a style that’s completely unique.”E
What’s in a Name?
One of the most extraordinary facts about Ted Baker is that there is no such person. That doesn’t stop the brand from building a brand proposition as if he does, however. The company goes as far as to say, “Everything produced under the Ted Baker name has his personality woven into its very heart,” implying there such a master tailor. In an interview the brand’s creator, Ray Kelvin, he states, “Our DNA is our passion – we use strong colors and intricate details as our signature.”
Irrespective of the anecdotes behind the creation of the persona, having Ted Baker for customers to fall madly in love with has proven a strike of genius for the company. The brand now dictates new fashion trends on the catwalks, but he also makes sure their customers keep in awe and in joy.
“It’s All About the Soul”
It is notable that the Ted Baker brand flourished and grew effectively by word of mouth exclusively at first. Not much was done with advertising at first, preferring to rely on its cult-like following, and letting Ted Baker brand advocates do the selling.
Instead, efforts were focused on carefully cultivating their followers, using highly intelligent wording, being a bit quirky and being detail oriented. Proof of this lies in how most of Ted Baker’s messaging is etched on their products – designed to elicit a warm smile from someone who has already purchased the product, effectively transforming them from a buyer to an advocate.
Beyond the shirts, the soles of Ted Baker shoes often say things such as, “It’s all about the soul” or “Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life.” Other apparel sayings include, “Sew in love” or “Ted Says you look fabulous today” or “Grin and wear it”. Handbags feature, “You really got a hold of me,” while “Consider yourself protecTED” is on the inside of a phone case. Interestingly, unlike brands that brag for all to see, Ted Baker messaging is never on the outside. The stellar copy is not for marketing … it is for cultivating brand addiction from their existent customers, demonstrating they know you can not stop surprising and delighting if you want loyalty.
When Missions are Impeccable
Ted Baker external advertising when they recognized the power of digital and social media. In 2015, they were the one of the first companies to use Instagram in such an engaged way it was one of the most successful campaigns to make use of Social Media. The #Pinch_Me campaign encouraged users to look for hidden messages within the images Ted was posting to promote its SS15 campaign, making innovative use of Instagram filters and generating 7.3 million impressions in its first month.
This year, they have upped the bar even further having launched what is one of the most interactive campaigns in the fashion industry. Mission Impeccable is a unique example that real “omnichannel experience” means meeting your consumers where you know they will be by heavily employing the latest in technology. The campaign starts with a 3 minutes espionage film produced by Guy Ritchie, and in an interview about Mission Impeccable, Ray Kelvin says he’s been waiting 10 years to find a way to connect the digital dots between a movie and real life in a way that has “purpose and depth”.
The result bridged the gap between the street and the screen in a gamified way incorporating shopable videos, interactive store windows, and innovative social media thanks to partners such as Wiremax, Poke and Google.
Chasing the Experience
In 2015, Ted Baker started setting up barber rooms in some of its locations, prompting many to wonder as to whether its strategy was to move into the beauty industry. While evidently they welcome the new revenue stream, the company’s history suggests they were simply eager to capitalize on another engaging of experience for their target audience – the trend that sees shaving transform into an immersive show, including steaming the skin with very hot towels and burning away unwanted ear-hair with fire.
While Ted Baker’s lifestyle products and experiences are of undeniably of incredible quality, it is the element associated with building a unique emotional brand that turns legions of customers into dedicated fans who want to be “Ted to toe”.
Zappos, Amazon, Ugg, Mini, Lululemon, Lego and Disney all have legions of loyal fans because they focus on building strong, emotional ties with their customers. These brands understand that 80% of their business comes from 20% of their customers, and that they can realize up to a 95% boost in profits if they reduce attrition by 5%.
The value of these brands (and their stock prices) stand the test of time because they have the courage to build strong internal values and culture. They also use data and advanced analytics, personalize their products, and obsessively deliver surprise and delight moments.
With the ability to connect with customers 24/7/365 through social media, digital technologies and unique gamification and immersion strategies, some brands have become so omnipresent that people see themselves through the prism of the brands they are loyal to. Being an emotional “brand advocate” defines consumers. Even when no one knows someone is carrying an iPhone in their pocket, wearing Happy Socks under their suits or have the latest Birchbox inside their suitcase, these brands helps define the consumer.
Great brands with emotional appeal become part of a consumer’s identity. And once loyal, these consumers are also fiercely protective of their “brand-based” identity, but eager to share their loyalties with others.
This is why all financial institutions should work to build an emotional brand connection with consumers around their mobile apps, credit cards, retirement accounts and mortgages. Just because they don’t go to a competitor doesn’t mean they are satisfied. And it certainly doesn’t mean they will recommend you to their friends.