Can Consumers Really Love Their Bank?

Consumer love for a brand drives preference, word-of-mouth and loyalty. This might sound strange in the banking sector, where marketing tends to focus on rational benefits. But it’s been proven that consumers can connect with banking providers on very deep, emotional levels.

Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, banks have been struggling to rebuild trust and foster positive consumer perceptions. It’s been challenging, to say the least. So thinking a consumer might actually love a bank seems like a far-fetched concept. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be.

The inaugural FIS Consumer Banking PACE Index shows that consumers believe the financial industry is successfully delivering digital solutions and access. While this suggests progress, these indicators don’t reflect or capture consumers true feelings. Are consumers establishing a deeper, more emotionally-based relationship with their banking providers?

Market research conducted by Coherency for major financial institutions has shown that consumer love for a bank — yes, actual love — can be a powerful driver of engagement, preference, loyalty and word-of-mouth for the brand. Can consumers really love their bank? Don’t people only care about rates and fees? This notion of “brand love” for banks might sound a little crazy, but it’s not and here’s why.

The 3 Ingredients for Love

The scientific principles of human relationships tell us there are three key components in any loving relationship:

  1. Chemistry – The strange sense of excitement when the heart outraces the mind. It generates a combination of anticipation and delight that often results in what can — at times — be considered irrational desire.
  2. Needs Fulfillment – This occurs at both the emotional and rational level; meeting one’s needs on both levels is important in any successful relationship.
  3. Compatibility – The foundation for a lasting relationship calls for finding common ground on values and principles.

These principles apply to relationships between brands and consumers as well. For financial institutions specifically, Rational Needs Fulfillment (convenient locations, good rates, etc.), Emotional Needs Fulfillment and Compatibility are the components with the most impact on consumers’ love — or lack thereof — for a banking brand.

Emotional Needs Fulfillment within financial services can take many forms depending on the brand itself, ranging from providing financial security to helping enable personal success for its customers. Compatibility within financial services is very much about the brand aligning with how the customer feels about him/herself and aspires to be perceived by others (e.g. a bank or credit card that represents exclusivity).

So how does this translate into consumer love for a bank?

Emotional reactions to a brand occur in people’s subconscious — their immediate, gut-level reaction. From there, consumers begin rationalizing their actions. According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman’s How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, 95% of purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious.

Read More: Consumer Psychology – The Good Reason vs. The Real Reason

The importance of being able to access and analyze emotional data gives financial institutions huge opportunities to build stronger relationships. The trick is reaching consumers at this subconscious level, then trying to measure and deepen the love.

When consumers are asked to explain what they want from a bank they typically state a series of rational needs (e.g., convenience of branches, interest rates, partner programs, etc.). Once a consumer is asked about emotions in a rational manner, the person’s rational thought process kicks in and influences the response. What someone thinks they feel is different than what they really feel on a subconscious level — that gut reaction. What consumers don’t automatically share are the emotional reasons for selecting a banking brand.

Emotion-based market research has traditionally been qualitative in nature, relying on methodologies such as focus groups and one-on-one interview tools to gauge feelings about a brand. While this type of analysis does provide value, it is limited in both scope and reach. Worse yet, when it comes time to develop multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, marketers don’t usually feel enough confidence in the findings to rely on them.

A methodology dubbed LoveQuotient enables marketers to measure and evaluate the emotional connection between consumers and brands on a large scale quantitative basis. This process, which looks at a specific bank brand along key emotional brand attributes and benefits vs. its competitors, begins with highly-interactive survey tools designed to “tease out” consumers’ emotional feelings. Compatibility algorithms are then applied to further understand the relative importance of the emotional elements measured and determine the key drivers of love for the brand.

A large, multi-year quantitative study across more than 250 brands and over 6,000 respondents validated a strong correlation between love and profitable consumer behaviors.

What does this mean for banks? Understanding what drives brand love across your target audience enables a you to go beyond the basic rational connection — to deepen that emotional connection, and even predict certain consumer responses, such as the likelihood of selecting the bank for certain products, engaging with the brand in social channels, and referring the bank to a friend through word-of-mouth.

One financial institution recently utilized this approach to inform their global repositioning efforts. After many months of research and planning the bank was left with a rational brand persona. The company then worked to identify key emotional attributes and benefits that it could infuse into its positioning. Those banks that do embrace quantitative emotion-based data could very well build brands that are as loved as the likes of Amazon and Apple.

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