Fewer conversations I have on money today involve Lakshmi. Could it be the increasing influence of Saraswati in her domain that reduced her mystique? Armed with increased money, literacy and instant access to competing financial services, consumers are now forcing Indian banks (and other financial institutions) to operate in world of reducing information asymmetry. The challenge becomes more acute due to the human disconnect associated with technology backed service delivery. The only road to success is to embrace customers and rebuild the softer aspects of the banking brand and re-igniting the customer experience.
Rebranding roadmap – The missing link
Our line of work gives me the privilege of talking to the most respected banking brands in India. All unanimously agree that bank branch has gone from being buzzing neural hub of business to a sinking leviathan of the past. My interactions with industry leaders reveal that less than a third of the branches have retained their economic sheen. While revitalisation of the brand and the branch seems the obvious answer, an actionable roadmap is missing in almost all cases.
You need to rebrand – The writing on the wall
The most common problem noticed by my brand associates is a lack of clarity in defining who the banks’ customers are. The inconsistent definition of the customer from one level of the company to another is the most palpable sign that the vision of the bank is no longer the glue keeping the system together. Owners of the bank brand need only a cursory check across levels to validate that brand inconsistency within the organisation impacts brand dilution outside the organisation.
Rebranding – Not so common sense
I haven’t read a management book yet that does not include ‘Customer is King’. However, many brand presentations go slide after slide without a single customer verbat, video testimonial or customer segment montage.
Step two is to outline what are the brand priorities. The jury is still out on whether you should build on your strengths or your weaknesses, but you can’t go wrong if you focus on what is important for the customer.
The next step would be to ask your brand partners to dig a little deeper to understand the customer. Ask them tough questions on semiotics, consumer aspirations and the emerging banking codes. Unless this exercise is done, the hidden brand platforms will not be revealed. Brand investments are long terms assets. Choose a brand advisor who can offer the same rigor to your brand investment as any other asset class.
Measurement is another success pillar for rebranding. With campaign measurement, rebranding is as subjective as choosing between cubism and pointillism.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the banking brand. Without a commitment from brand owners to establish a brand over a five year to 10 year horizon, the rebranding effort will be still born.
The 4D banking brand
Brand decisions for banks are highly complex because of their sheer size. Managers who have successfully steered their companies through successful rebranding agree with us about being able to identify early on that a single set of values will not be able satisfy their needs. Any bank brand exists under the following dimensions:
A service brand – This is the first level dimension for the bank brand and is imperative to attract and retain customers. While most brand decisions in the banking domain are centred on this dimension, it is important to focus the other dimensions as well.
A corporate brand – This is the role that the bank needs to fulfil while dealing with governments, policy makers and business partners.
An employer brand – Here the brand’s role is to attract and retain talent and therefore possibly needs to explore other aspects of the brand.
A social brand – Banks need to leverage the tremendous good that they are doing socially and environmentally to impact the other brand dimensions
A bank customer I spoke to quipped, “There are three things certain in life – death, taxes and your relationship manager”. While the comment was made in jest, it is a palpable reminder that banking codes have changed and a banking brand is more about experience, not less about a pretty picture.
The author is President, DY Works