Banks: Less Differentiated Than a Bar of Soap

A research company studied brands in 75 different categories to measure the degree of differentiation among competing companies. Banks were among the companies studied.

Guess what? Banks are viewed as having zero differentiation. The good news is that banks weren’t the only undifferentiated category:

“Banks, motor oil and 20 other categories – nearly a third of all the categories examined – did not have any differentiated brands. The products and services were ‘known,’ but not known for anything in particular.”

For some reason, soap manufacturers have figured out something most financial institutions haven’t. The study found that 100% of soap brands differentiated themselves.

It makes sense. Look at the six brands of soap to the right. All six are distinct. Most people could probably articulate something different about each of them even if they don’t personally use those particular brands.

  • Dial works longer.
  • Lava is for tough guys with dirty hands.
  • Dove is smoother, and for women.
  • Zest opens your eyes.
  • Neutrogena is pure, simple and clean.
  • Irish Spring leaves you “Fresh and clean as a whistle.”

One reader of the study blames hollow bank slogans and endless mergers for the lack of differentiation among providers of financial services:

“Take the category of banks. They produce one meaningless slogan after another. ‘Where money lives,’ ‘Embracing ingenuity,’ ‘The clean Swiss bank,’ ‘Here today. Here tomorrow.’ Slogans like these and endless mergers have commoditized the category.”

Add to this the many similar-sounding names endemic to banks and credit unions — 1st, First, One, Community, etc. — and you’ve got another major contributor to financial “blanding.”

Bottom Line:

  • If you don’t clearly stand for something — anything! — consumers will think you stand for nothing. This is a recurring theme in financial services.
  • Failing to create meaningful differences forces people to define you by their own criteria — usually quantifiable things like rates, fees and the number of your branch/ATM locations.
  • You absolutely must distinguish and differentiate your financial institution from the countless bland options that already exist or risk reduction to a simple commodity.

Key Questions: Can your organization succinctly articulate a clear, unique and meaningful brand promise or position? Do key stakeholders in your organization agree on this brand position?

Reality Check:
Is there anyone else in your industry who could credibly make your Brand Promise? (Hint: If you said anything about “friendly, personal service,” or something like being “the best provider of financial solutions,” the answer is most definitely “yes.”)

Note: The original study is available offline from Brand Keys.

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