OPINION: MILLS ON ... BANKS AND THEIR MARKETING

Were I a conspiracy theorist, which, of course, I’m not, I might conclude that last week’s Cruickshank report on banks’ services and profits was yet another chapter in the Government’s efforts to root out the evils of ’rip-off’ Britain.

Were I a conspiracy theorist, which, of course, I’m not, I might

conclude that last week’s Cruickshank report on banks’ services and

profits was yet another chapter in the Government’s efforts to root out

the evils of ’rip-off’ Britain.



Having failed to brand the supermarkets as nasty profiteers, the

Government has now turned to an easier target, thus aligning itself as

the people’s champion. The timing, too, lends itself to conspiracy

theories, distracting attention as it does from the NHS, schools and the

BMW/Rover calamity.



Both of these may well be true but as the old saying goes, ’just because

you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you’. In

other words, the banks may be a soft target, but they may also be guilty

as charged. Certainly, the fact that no-one has sprung forward to defend

the banks suggests that the public is quite happy to see them dangle, if

not hang.



In marketing terms this must be almost unprecedented. Here we have a

sector that spends upwards of pounds 100 million a year on advertising -

and that’s just the stuff you can see, not all the direct marketing and

sponsorship that banks also do - to little discernible effect.



Moreover, just to rub it in, most of the advertising is designed to show

consumers just how friendly banks are. Yet the end result is that the

public is indifferent to their efforts. This signal failure to win a

place in our affections underlines just how bad most bank marketing has

been.



Unlike the supermarkets, which were able to demonstrate quite easily

that they weren’t ripping us off, the banks won’t find it so simple.

Relatively speaking, supermarket pricing strategies are infinitely more

transparent than those of the banks, which are at best opaque and at

worst impenetrable.



Whether it is a chimera or not, the supermarkets use advertising to

great effect to demonstrate that they compete with each other on price.

Collectively, they also proved themselves adept users of PR to take the

battle out of Whitehall to the public - better even than the Government,

which is itself no mean performer.



The banks, alas for them, show none of these attributes. Name me a

single bank advertising campaign that has focused on anything other than

an ultimately meaningless proposition. You can’t? Well, it’s inevitable

that if you price your services on a cartel-like basis then you have to

scramble around for specious and fuzzy points of differentiation. As for

their consumer PR, it’s inept to the point of disastrous. Witness the

farce over cash machine charges - at a time, moreover, when they knew

their prices and services were under investigation.



The question, of course, is the extent to which banks will be able to

market themselves out of this hole. In the meantime, there should be a

huge opportunity for the non-bank banks (eg Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Egg,

First Direct) which aren’t tarred with this brush to the same extent.

Maybe, just maybe, the banks will take the lessons of Cruickshank to

heart and begin to take marketing seriously.



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