In a highly commoditised market, retail banks need to stand out. Add the digital disruption this industry is facing, the pushback from consumers and politicians on some banks’ behaviour, and the highly competitive interest rate and fee structures on offer – brand differentiation is essential.
Customers look for the same things from banks – being secure and reliable, being treated as individuals, being treated fairly, as well as having what are now hygiene factors such as the latest technology and best in market rates. Customers want great customer service, being recognised through their different life stages, for their bank to be able to support their needs as they change and helping them make the right financial decisions.
In the past, retail banks around the world have differentiated in a variety of different ways (with varying degrees of success) – we’ve seen everything from Commonwealth’s backpack bomb hoax ad to Umpqua Bank’s inspiring short film. An example from more recent times was UBank’s advertising campaign, launched in October. Titled ‘Real estate tips from the terminally ill, it features terminally ill patients who encourage Aussies to reconsider what’s really important in life. In early November, ASB had received nearly 20 complaints about the ad being ‘in bad taste’. The last time UBank’s justification for wanting to be disruptive and confronting was understandable, but did they go too far? Is the use of terminally ill people to put across a message that is ultimately about choosing one bank over another, unethical or an opportunity for us to have an honest look at ourselves, how we live our lives and our spending priorities? And will this result in the desired outcome of increased customers and increased funding for the bank?
While the UBank campaign tells us to think more carefully about choices that impact our financial wellbeing it doesn’t address the issue of facilitating good financial management for people. It’s a lot more complex and multidimensional than being told to avoid a large home loan. In reality, most of us do avoid crippling debt, with a desire to repay loans and become mortgage free as quickly as possible.
UBank says it’s the bank of ‘home truths’. Home truth is that customers expect branches close by, even in today’s online banking world. UBank doesn’t have branches. Home truth is that if it doesn’t have branches, does it offer face-to-face customer service? UBank has online contact services but for many customers, these are not the service channels of choice. Is there really a choice between an electronic brush-over and a face-to-face meeting about one’s finances? Home truth is that without an in-person relationship, can it really offer the quality of customer service and real advice? Home truth is that if it’s telling us to buy a smaller, cheaper house with a small mortgage it should be investing in the people to support the message. And while its rates are competitive, they aren’t the lowest. Lowest rates would help consumers to reduce debt.
So is UBank trying to position itself as a compassionate brand? Or attempting to drive social change? Will it make a direct contribution to Australian communities that inspire us? Or is this a cynical attempt to gain awareness of a fledgeling bank in a crowded market?
When it comes to bank advertising it has to be about delivering a true brand promise. There don’t appear to be any promises to customers in this campaign, just a controversial attempt to take the limelight while challenging our very sense of being. It has created interest and debate. But is the sell too harsh? It does make one promise – more to come in this campaign. I hope the market is ready.
Alison Green is a Group Account Director at BCM