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Possibly branding can save banking!

My favorite definition of branding, one that I read a long time ago goes like this - brands are about people and ideas and great brands are built when people and ideas come together. Sadly, most bank branding that you and me have seen over the years have been either only about the bank itself (read heritage, organization values, mission etc.) or only about a new benefit (read information, differentiated offer etc.). Does the integration of people and ideas ever happen? Well, sometimes it does, but more often than not it is not a collaborative approach or a reflection of what people really want but a ‘push' approach from the bank's side.

In the current scenario, when banking across the globe is going through its worst ever crisis, when convenience, product choices, technology and location are no longer a differentiator, it makes sense to look at branding for banks in a completely different light. It's important to go back to the fundamentals and reflect why in the olden days, people used to cling to their banks. Not because they knew the bank manager well or they had little choice but it had something to do with the bank manager knowing them well and understanding their needs. I don't think this aspect of ‘understanding the customer' will ever change, all research and management books tell you that customer is king. The same is true with the brand; the customer owns the brand so it is important that banks look at their brand not merely as an aid to awareness and recognition but as something central to their corporate strategy.

An important transformation that is taking place at banks today is on the branch side, where these are becoming more like retail stores. Transactions are taking the form of interactions, the waiting area has the feel of a lounge and the experience is more branded than commoditized. So, in the current context when ‘trust' and ‘consistent communication with the customer' has become such important success factors, bank branding is becoming even more critical. The key is to understand what you as a bank needs to stand for, and ask your customers what they like /dislike about you. Marry the two... just like people and ideas and you have something which suddenly makes sense to your bank as well as your customer...brand themes can vary from being just simple or honest, to providing choices, creating value, or being based on a personality ...the themes can vary as long as it makes sense to both the bank and its customers. But for the brand theme to be successful it needs to impact everything - product mix, branch design, pricing, messaging, staff behavior, training and so on. And that's where most banks fail from a branding aspect.

Branding provides the perfect opportunity for banks to build back the ‘trust factor' with customers. Keep it grey and irrelevant with something like ‘convenience' and ‘superior service' and you won't rock the boat. It's time for banks to do something's time to rock the boat.




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