Bank marketing reviewed, become more relevant

Bank Marketing? Who cares anyway? Big banks, in my view, are seen as impersonal, not to be trusted, only in it for their own interest. But I had some interactions with one of the largest banks in the Netherlands the past few months. In those interactions we had discussions about how to be relevant as a bank for your customers. So what should banks do to be trustworthy again? The answer that my counterparts gave was: ‘The right product at the right moment”. They focused very much on database marketing. Trying to see patterns in the usage of your bank account, but also in your online presence. This means that when you have had several jobs, something they can find out on Linked-in, they will offer you a pension product to make sure you have built up enough savings when you retire (Dutch: pensioen gat). Another example is that when your house is for sale they try to persuade you to discuss a new mortgage for your new house. While I could not agree more that ‘The right product at the right moment’ is very important feature of making a sale, I don’t think this will solve the trustworthiness of the Bank. On the contrary, it could customers give the creeps about all the data the Bank knows about you.

So what do I think does relevance mean? In order of importance:

  1. Brand Recognition
  2. Knowing the story of the Brand
  3. Does the product fulfill or exceed expectations
  4. The right product at the right moment
While brand recognition is probably not the biggest problem for the three big dutch banks (ING, Rabobank, ABN-Amro). Banks suck at story telling. Sure I can give some pointers what they do and stand for, so I give it a try:
  • ING:  The bank for dutch people
  • Rabobank: The bank who helps you
  • ABN Amro: The bank for ambitious people

But does this stories engage you, and above all are they believable? They could be, but the way the brand story is told is impersonal. Every commercial has too many actors, photo models or other safe looking people. But the point I want to make is that the stories are really broad. It tries to appeal to everyone and everybody. I must say that the Bank I talked to had chopped up their customer base in life phases . For example: teens, students, young professionals, marriage/moving in, retirees. It is at least a good start. But the next phase should be to claim that life phase: to tell stories, as a bank, how you can help out with those stages. A bank should create content about that life phase and keep on telling stories until everybody knows, when I am getting Married I have to go to ABN-Amro, when I am buying a new house I have to go to Rabobank. And I can not express more that these stories should be helpful at first and secondly they should be entertaining.

How would this work out on a practical level, lets say as a Bank you want to claim the life phase for moving in together or Cohabitation (dutch: samenwonen). I can imagine you would put together a news bureau with an editor which on a regular (daily) publishes news about ‘moving in together’. So what would the content look like:

  • The Cohabitation checklist (and not only the financial part)
  • Interviews with couples
  • Styling tips for your new home
  • How to announce you are moving in together
  • Financial stuff: joint checking account, insurance
  • How to deal with annoying habits of your partner
  • Questionnaires
  • Quizzes and sweepstakes (win an interior design!)
  •  etc
At least stuff that matters for people who are in that phase. But when you create that content it can be used in all ways possible. Not only can you put it on facebook, twitter or your website. You can make a magazine or use it on television. The content can also be recycled in any way or shape. People move in and out of that phase. I read a great example yesterday in the New York Times of an entrepreneur who sells swimming pools just by making and publishing content that answers the questions people have about swimming pools. But when a banks choose to claim that life stage maybe they should consider launching a new brand all together. I know people don’t switch bank easily but you should always keep that option open. A famous, now bankrupt, bank in the Netherlands called DSB bank had so many brands that it was really hard (almost impossible) to enter their market segment of short term credit.


What I did not discuss yet is the quality of the products that banks offer. I have actually not a very clear opinion about that. I have the feeling that in the Netherlands the three big banks offer more or less the same products with same quality. And that is probably more reason to make story telling and good marketing central to selling more products.


Another thing I said in the conversations with my banking friends was that you could easily ask for permission to send information to your customers. Seth Godin wrote a great book about that called Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers‘. The response was that the bank did not need permission because they could already see in their database that you were moving in together or selling your house. I was really a bit stunned about that answer. In my opinion it is more powerful to ask permission to send information then to send unsolicited information. There is some middle of the road here. ING has a marketing/sales program called Next Best Action (NBA). In an example I read, a customer contacts the ING service desk with a question. When the question is solved the NBA kicks in. From the customer database the service desk employee gets a product suggestion for the customer. For example you call about your insurance, the database sees you have a lot of money on you checking account, the NBA is to suggest that you move your money from you checking account to a savings account. But when the customers contact you…It is kind of permission to talk back..

So concluding lessons learned for bank marketing:
  1. Claim a life stage, claim a product, claim something by telling stories (making content).
  2. Talk to your customers and ask permission
  3. Offer the right product at the right moment (database analyses)
  4. Contemplate the launch of several brands



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