Let’s say you’re given an extra ten thousand dollars to spend on your brand this month. What do you put the money into? A mammoth billboard on a highly frequented, traffic-heavy road? Increased advertisements on radio or television stations, broadcasting to your brand’s geographical target areas? A new digital marketing campaign? More importantly: how do you decide?
That’s where your brand strategy comes in; like business strategy, brand strategy is anchored in economic metrics and is informed by analytics, not just by creative marketing processes.
It has become routine for companies to spend vast sums on marketing their brands. But the shifting economics of brand strategy are making it worth challenging the routine. Should you spend your next dollar on making your brand disseminate its promise through advertising or other marketing tactics, or on keeping your brand’s promise by ensuring that your products and company deliver what customers want?
Here’s a quick look at some low-budget, high-impact brand strategies that can help you better answer this question.
Invest in research
Far too often, companies skip or discount the importance of the research step entirely; they figure they already know who their target audience is and what it wants, and that’s about all research is good for. But research is a critical component of success: it provides businesses with hard data to base their strategies on.
Here’s a look at a few key areas brands should focus their research on:
•Market – study the trends that currently dominate the market, the dynamics that make the market in question tick, and the capacity of the market segment you’re looking to integrate your brand into.
•Competitors – how can you make sure your brand is positioned correctly against competitors if you don’t know how they’re doing business? You can’t. And that’s why being familiar with your competitors is just as important as being familiar with the market.
•Consumer behaviour – when it comes to buying decisions, consumer behaviour is the single hardest factor to predict. That’s why insight into the consumer’s mind – the values that control his or her choices – is important.
•Company and product – how are you looking to position your brand in the market? What benefits do you want consumers to associate with the brand? What values would you like to incorporate? These are some of the questions a company answers about itself through research.
On a side note, brand research isn’t a one-time thing. Brand research must be ongoing for your brand to continually build equity and gain value in the consumer’s mind. Remember, the world is changing faster than ever and that means your brand needs to keep up with consumer needs, market evolutions, and so on.
Create a memorable brand identity
First and foremost, let’s clear up the biggest misconception about brand identity: your brand is not just your product. You brand is the sum total of its name, its logo, its slogan, its website, its packaging, and its reputation, to name a few aspects that really count.
For instance, when asked to envision a brand, quite often, consumers will call the packaging to mind. Not only that, they will recall specific visual aspects of the packaging. That’s why packaging plays such an important role in the marketing mix. Even though advertising helps to build brand recognition, purchase decisions are ultimately made at the retail shelf.
And after a new brand identity has been launched, it’s important to monitor and care for it, as it interacts with your customers on a daily basis. Over time, if your target audience shifts, the market evolves, or the brand’s products and services change, it may be time for a rebrand.
Communication is key
Your brand’s communication strategy is quite important: it tells consumers what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors.
For a new product – or one that’s not yet distinctive in the minds of consumers – advertising to promote awareness can have substantial value. For mature brands, however, awareness advertising often devolves into an expensive competition. In contrast, call-to-action advertising, such as limited promotions, can help generate traffic for a short period.
A holistic communication strategy is something of a rarity. It necessitates greater effectiveness of communication, within limited budgets. There needs to be a consistency between the communication budget and the objective for communications. The best way to design an effective communication strategy is an effective brand strategy, based on thorough research.
Is 2016 the right time for social media to move out of the marketing shadows and be recognised as a relevant and valuable business tool for retail banks in the Middle East?
I popped into my bank today to check my balance and withdraw some cash for the weekend but not before the bank manager showed me photos from the cleaner’s birthday party and an Instagram video of the cashier singing his favourite karaoke, followed by some random positive quote of the day and a snapchat of someone’s lunch. Then I had to take a selfie (bankie?) of me using the cash machine, tweet it, and once I reached 500 RT I could withdraw the cash. It may sound ridiculous, but isn’t this how the majority of leading service-oriented businesses are behaving everyday on social media?
If you are a digital brand manager in retail banking, please stop trying to be my friend and start being my bank of choice.
In 2015 First Direct once again topped the MSE Banking Service Poll with 92% of its current account customers rating its service as “great”. What’s interesting is that First Direct is a direct bank (it has no physical branch offices) and has consistently topped the MSE poll since 2008. A case study by Cranfield School of Management* reveals that its success with customer service may be related to how/why First Direct was created.
A MORI survey of British Banking in 1988 indicated that 48% of customers had never met their bank manager and 51% would prefer to visit their branch as little as possible. It stated that 38% felt banking hours were inconvenient and 20% had not visited their branch in the last month. Finally, 27% wished they were able to conduct more business over the phone. Bank managers were no longer the pillar of the community. The role of retail banks had changed but the banking system had failed to adapt. This information was publically available to all banks, only one chose to act.
Midland Bank (one of the four largest UK high-street banks which was later acquired by HSBC) launched First Direct in 1989. It was the first telephone bank in the UK and one of the first in the world. Instead of using technology to replace people, an approach adopted by many large companies at the time, First Direct created tools to empower their staff. They recruited staff based on their ability to empathise with people, with the majority having no prior banking experience. This approach delivered results with 90% of customer requests being handled at the first point of contact.
What we can learn from First Direct is that exploring the value of new technology and understanding our customers can lead to the inception of successful new business models and the evolution of existing ones. Incremental changes to your business will only keep you afloat for a limited time; a perpetual policy of ‘adapt and evolve’ is needed to thrive.
In 2014, Commercial Bank of Dubai became the first bank in the region, and one of only three worldwide, to enable banking transactions via Facebook for their online customers. Unfortunately, other banks are reluctant to follow and pundits predict security risks and an unwilling consumer will lead to the inevitable failure of social media banking.
Fortunately, data disprove this prognosis. The consumers in the region are more than willing to embrace convenient ways of banking. Today 81 per cent of banking transactions already happen outside the branches and this number is set to grow up to 90% in the next three years according to Emirates NBD. In the UAE 31% of population use mobile banking, which is a higher number than in the UK.
People’s attachment to their smartphones is helping retail banks in the Middle East to find ways to soothe the fear of insecurity. And that is through mobile banking apps. Just a few months ago being able to deposit a cheque via your phone or getting a queuing ticket before reaching the branch was inconceivable. It won’t take long for mobile banking apps and the astounding convenience they deliver to override the fear of security risks and open up new customer relationship and transaction channels with social media leading the way.
With over 80% of Internet users in the Middle East being active on social media and direct messaging services (according to the 2015 survey by Northwestern University in Qatar), perhaps now is the time to ask your customer ‘would you rather we use our bank Facebook page to share images of our recent staff day outing, or allow you to bank in a way most convenient to you?’ If the customer chooses the latter, is your bank ready?
Authored by Olga Kudryashova, Head of Strategic Planning at Cheil MENA