Financial crisis: What can you say (as a marketer)? ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Financial crisis: What can you say (as a marketer)?

Tricky. How to walk through a minefield in the middle of a hurricane? What should financial marketers be doing and saying right now?

Not to pick on anyone in particular but let's take a look at Bank of America. I saw one of its new print ads yesterday. Its headline: "A new opportunity to bank with confidence, security and a higher interest rate." with an offer of a 0.25% interest bonus for new deposits over $10,000. It doesn't have the humor of the best-in-class WAMU/Chase ad and it's probably going to annoy current customers who won't get the higher rate. But it seems about right in terms of acknowledging the crisis and its customers needs for reassurance without dwelling on it.

On the other hand, as a BofA customer, I've not (to my knowledge) received any specific communication by mail, email or otherwise talking about what's going on. And the website is blissfully unchanged.

On the other, other hand BofA has just reached a settlement with 11 states that had sued Countrywide (which it acquired) over its predatory lending practices. This settlement puts it in a leadership position in dealing with the mortgage crisis and scores one in the "actions speak louder than words" column. Overall, not bad with some room for improvement.

Some thoughts from reading various articles and posts over the last couple of days:

1) It's not business as usual: Carrying on, ostrich-like, as if nothing has happened and nothing is happening is not the right approach. Trying to take advantage of the situation in a crass way, even worse. Every ad and piece of communication should be filtered through the lens of: Does this still make sense? Ron Shevlin takes one bank to task for its recent ad that carried the headline: "Confidence is good. Earning it is better." As he says: "You do not earn confidence by simply offering a good rate. This is true even in normal times. But what what makes this ad so insulting is that these are not normal times."

2) Customers want reassurance: Elizabeth Glagowski points out in Think Customers: The 1to1 Blog consumers that customers are feeling jittery and are hungry for information. As she says of her bank: "I will get 100 offers for credit cards or ID theft protection every month, but when I want to hear from it about if it's staying in business, I get nothing." It's, of course, very difficult to craft the right message--the last thing that customers need is a "everything is OK, trust us" approach. That will definitely get them worried. What they want is candor.

Charles Schwab seems to be doing quite well in striking the right tone and addressing its customers concerns. It takes advantage of the already-established rapport and connection of Charles Schwab (the man) with his customers with ads and website featuring open letters from the Chairman giving his perspective on market conditions.

3) Survival tactics in troubled times: Tom Peters lists 44 tactical rules for weathering the storm. They are general rules, sort of a pep list, but some are worth bearing in mind especially: K.I.S.S., hammer on the basics, way over communicate (with everyone) and transparency.

1) Ads That Soothe When Banks Are Failing: The New York Times

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