Opinion

Brand building is an art the industry can’t afford to lose

Ahead of his participation on a panel discussion at the Mumbrella Asia Finance Marketing Summit in August, TrinityP3 founder and CEO Darren Woolley examines brand building in the finance space

“There’s going to be more change in the next five years in financial services than happened in the past 30,” said Paypal CEO Dan Schulman in November 2017, during an interview with CNBC.

At a time of such disruption, it is important that financial services companies continue to invest and manage their brands. But many of the major bank brands have been more focused on chasing short-term market share of high-value product categories, rather than innovating their core bank offering such as payments.

The art of brand building and brand management is not lost. No matter what the naysayers suggest and what some of the curmudgeons of the industry declare. New brands are constantly emerging especially in the payment area. Some of them are finding new ways of growing such as Square, Adyen, Stripe and First Data – which have grown almost exclusively through social and shared media.

Others are using more traditional strategies such as AliPay and Tenpay. They have grown through e-commerce association through the parent brand in the same way PayPal did with EBay. And others again are creating fresh combinations of old and new – such as TransferWise.

But there are also established brands that are failing. Sometimes they have been distracted by shiny new technology solutions or turned away from longer-term strategies under the pressure of delivering short-term immediate sales. Sometimes they have simply lost sight of the essential skills of brand management, perhaps because they have never known them. All this has some jumping on the gloom-and-doom bandwagon and even suggesting the ubiquitous death of brands – or at best a dwindling relevance for the art of brand management.

It is called brand ‘management’ because it is about developing and implementing a strategy best to use the limited resources available to maximise value. Unfortunately many brands often no longer have a cohesive, defined brand strategy. Often the brand strategy has been replaced by a collection of tactics and promotions to deliver short-term objectives such as immediate sales.

Short termism is often blamed for, or implicated in, the demise of the brand. Brand building is a long-term strategy beyond the quarterly or annual financial reporting of most companies. In fact, it is not an either/or decision as both can sit – and should sit – together. The credit card providers such as Visa and Mastercard are a good example of this.

Like consumer packaged goods brands, they promote brand to consumers to raise consumer awareness and creating desirability to attract bank customers and support their sales teams ‘sell’ into the bank distribution. One is long term and always present, and the other is immediate and transactional. Like so much in marketing these days, people say that the funnel is dead as a model, but it is still useful to visualise the way brand and sales work together at either end of the funnel – brand filling it up and sales maximising conversion at the base.

The recent call for marketing to drive ‘growth’ has been caught up in the confusion over short-term sales and always-on brand, with many marketers moving resources (and particularly budget) from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel where cause and effect is more immediate.

Here is where digital media has been a huge diversion with the appearance of being directly responsible for sales through ‘last click’ attribution. But at the bottom of the funnel is where price promotion discounts thrive (how often do you see online ‘your’ bank offering you an interest free credit card transfer, only to be disappointed when you read it is for new customers only?) and drive sales – and revenue – at the expense of margin and profit.

However, is it really growth to get a sale at the expense of your profit? Sure, you get the sale and revenue – and can attribute this to the click on the digital display ad or the online video ad. But at what cost? These transactional discounted offers only encourage customer churn while discounting the price and value of the brand.

The other issue is the common belief that brand building is simply raising awareness. This is the role of the advertising section of the marketing department. Last century mass media was the technique of choice with high priced brand advertising the weapon of choice. There is no denying that mass media such as television still delivers audiences and awareness. But there is an ever increasing number of ways to get awareness from the traditional sponsorship, media relations, public relations, sampling and the like to search, content, digital advertising, brand events and promotions and more.

But the internet and particularly social media has delivered a significant opportunity as consumers now have an increasingly powerful word of mouth. Remember when WoM marketing was all the rage? It is not enough just to talk about a particular brand experience or promise in your communications.

Brands are being held to the promises they make, and need to deliver that experience at every step or be called out by disappointed consumers through social media criticism plus poor reviews and feedback. This is a big issue for the major bank brands who find themselves raising customer expectations with their brand promises that are rarely delivered in reality.

Brand experience is not new, but it has taken on an all-new importance when it comes to brand building. Relying on mass media alone is flawed when we are increasingly seeing brands being managed and built through customer experience of the brand online and in the real world, especially when the brand does not have the resources to leverage mass media.

Of course mass media and targeted media and all of the other options are still available and useful to brands. Take Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay. All three are leveraging the master brand to move into the category. But while Apple and Samsung have traditionally used mass media for their brand messages, all three are using mass media to claim market awareness and share as quickly as possible in this highly competitive category.

How long will it be before more of the fintech disruptors also start leveraging the power of mass media to amplify their brand experience proposition?

Darren-Woolley_Headshot_M360-Asia-2017

Woolley wants to see more brand building

Darren Woolley is CEO and founder at Trinityp3, a consultancy firm with a presence in Asia, Australia and Europe – and he will be on a panel session titled ‘Building a Brand When All Around You are Losing Theirs’ at the Mumbrella Asia Finance Marketing Summit in Singapore on August 29

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