Speech from the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner 2017

I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner at the Guildhall in November.

My theme was innovation, disruption and trust building.

You can find the text of the speech following:

Thank you David, for your kind introduction and to the Forum for inviting me to speak here tonight.

The Financial Services Forum has always held a place in my heart since I remember joining in the early years of my career whilst at Deutsche Bank and, of course, I was humbled to win the Marketer of the Year Award in 2008.

I remember being very nervous that night and thinking that I would never win. The chat on my table was excited especially when one of the team came back from a loo break and said that they had overheard someone saying that they had voted for me! Then another person came back from a quick ciggie and she said that she too had found people who had voted for me. So my advice is if you are up for an award tonight, and want to know your chances then I’d hangout in the loo or go for a fag!

Anyone nominated for an award tonight – I wish you the very best of luck.

Tonight I earn my dinner by taking a few minutes of your time to talk about technology and financial services. Finance has been an early adopter of new technology – from the abacus to the mainframe computer and as an industry it has always been critical to our economy. We are blessed that the UK consumer is very open to trying new things. ClearScore, my company, has taken an approach to empowering people with their credit data and we have seen fast adoption, now our product is used by nearly 5.4m users in the UK and 250,000 in South Africa. We have delivered our fair share of disruption. But as I have built my career and operated in our industry I ask myself the question:

What are financial services really for?

Obviously at some level it’s about capital. Looking after money and assets, growing them, making them flow, managing risk. But I also think that at a very deep level, especially in the capitalist democracies in which we live and that are so under fire at the moment, finance is about managing and growing a very different form of capital and that’s social capital or to put it another way trust. In the delicate eco-system that is our economy and our industry, especially in the UK and Europe, trust is in danger of continuing to diminish.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that still less than half of people trusted our industry. Financial services are the least trusted of all the business sectors and that is as true today as it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. You’ll be pleased to hear that in another survey from 2015 58% of people said all of us working in financial services were at best unprofessional and at worst dishonest.

The good news is it’s not just us. Almost every profession from politician, to journalist, to doctor, have seen decreases in trust over the past 20 years. The media is no longer respected, replaced with news of the royal wedding and Trump’s constant tweeting.

This collapse in trust is very significantly problematic for our economy. Every economy that has thrived has had embedded within it a complex mesh of bonds of trust that help to lower transaction costs. Whether it is the stock markets in the UK or US, or chaebol based families in South Korea, or the local SME business groups that are prevalent across Germany, all of these myriad structures help to make capital flow by creating trust between people.

Almost all change in financial services requires our system to work together at very many levels. We need to operate in an environment where the consumer, the regulator and the industry trusts each other. Now, of course, this mustn’t be blind trust but it also must assume a baseline of trustworthiness otherwise the barriers that we put up to working together, and winning the trust of the consumer, will become insurmountable.

Technology can help build both financial and social capital and it can do it fast. Look no further than Bitcoin. Just this week this new currency broke the $10,000 mark for the first time. The learnings from Bitcoin are numerous. The technology is opensource and transparent. The currency solves several major transaction issues for users in major industries. The system relies on multiple entities working together, competing to create coins but collaborating to innovate around use cases. I’m sure there will be lots of debate over your main course about the outlook for cryptocurrencies but what opensource distributed ledger technology has been able to do is build significant amounts of trust in a very short amount of time and captured increasing amounts of financial capital.

In the UK, for many reasons from Brexit to increasing inequality, I believe we are at a turning point for our economy. Historically we have enjoyed a particularly strong base of trust. From social norms, to our class structure and enduring entities from the Bank of England, to our courts, to the local pub, that have served us very well. And banking has contributed significantly to this system.

The profession of banker was always traditionally seen as solid and dependable. Banks were full of people who were part of our communities, working from buildings on every high street, who were known and were trustworthy and trusted. Products and decisions were simpler, and more transparent.

This reputation for trust across financial services didn’t happen by accident – it was hard won over centuries. We gather here today in the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London Corporation. The corporation is the oldest continuous democratic commune in the world – having existed for over 2000 years. From the Roman’s, to William the Conqueror, to the Stuart’s, the City has survived as a bulwark for the advantages of democracy and free trade, thriving through the rule of law and lots of social ties fostered through Freemen, and Councils, Courts, Halls and organisations like the Financial Services Forum, and of course, the very many bars and pubs that we enjoy to this very day.

But despite this history, our reputation has severely compromised. However, I strongly believe that we can use our collective will, our capital, our ingenuity and technology to redress the balance.

Today the Prime Minister, the Newspaper editor, the CEO are rarely very trusted. Much of the collapse in our reputation is connected with this lack of trust in authority. These authority figures have been replaced by “people like me”. Witness the power of TrustPilot or Glassdoor.

Technology can help bridge the divide between all of us and our customers. The social web, chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning fused with real conversations facilitated through video for example allow cost-efficient interactions with a more human feel. Experiences like Cleo which uses AI to chats to me on Facebook about my money every morning, or ClearScore’s financial education chatbots used by more than a million people – these interactions are involving, warm and funny. This can help bring back the human whilst leveraging the efficiency and convenience of a technology enabled bank in your pocket which has often removed human warmth and connection from financial services.

There is no doubt that much of our mind space whether we work for established institutions or small start-ups is dominated by the idea of disruption and disrupters. At one level this is a good thing. The regulator wants more competition, there are still very many under-served consumers, large institutions struggle with new technology, data is opening up all the time, and in many cases markets needs to be made more efficient.

But at another level disruption seem oppositional and aggressive – it creates tension – thoughts of the winners and the losers – it creates sides. And whilst we need to compete fiercely in the market for the good of the customer, dedicating ourselves to delivering better services, at lower cost, more efficiently. We also, if we are to re-establish trust in our industry and rebuild our collective reputation, need to actively support each other and collaborate more.

When I see disrupters attacking banks for over-charging on a foreign exchange transaction, or scandal after scandal from the investment banks, or the government using the regulator through PPI to redistribute money back into an ailing economy, or major financial institutions being reluctant to embrace open banking I wonder whether we are not putting short term commercial gain above longer-term maintenance of the trust that is fundamental to our success. We may win the individual battles, but lose the collective war.

What we create when we attack each other, either through our messaging or our business models, is a confused and untrusting consumer. That consumer is increasingly frustrated with the services with which they are being provided without any real understanding of why they feel this way. All they are left with is a vague sense that they are being ripped off by a system that they don’t understand and is full of bad people doing bad things.

Now whilst there are those in our industry who do the wrong things, most people I know who work for financial services companies are talented, committed people, like you and me, trying to do good things for our customers whilst operating in this sea of mistrust and confusion. Certainly the 160 people who work for ClearScore are some of the most committed and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to know – your teams will be the same.

So, we must continue to execute the obvious functions of our industry well – manage capital, be prudent with risk, help our customers make good financial decisions, create fair and balanced products. But our mission must be to work together to build back the social capital in our industry and our economy.

Tomorrow when we are back at our desks, as we think about our business and brand strategies, or develop our propositions, talk with colleagues and customers, or invent our next new innovation; whether we work for the largest of banks, or the smallest of start-ups, whether we are the disrupted or the disrupters we should take a moment to think back to this evening, to this wonderful room, and the history it represents.  We should dream big about the application of technology to solve real customer problems. But above all everyone of us should dedicate ourselves to continuing to win back the trust of our nation through hard work and our ingenuity collaborating to build a better, more trusted, more trustworthy financial services industry. To achieve this would be a true contribution of which we all can be rightly proud.

Thank you.

Google to Alphabet: smart move but not radical at all

First published in Marketing Magazine 11th August 2015

The move from Google to Alphabet is far from radical; it’s well trodden as a business model by FMCG giants like P&G and Unilever, argues Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore.

With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever

The blog post announcing the rebranding of the Google into Alphabet this morning has taken everyone a bit by surprise. The markets have generally reacted positively with a 5% rise in the stock with the normal commentary both good and bad. We should admire Larry, Sergey and Eric that for once, in our world of obsessive management of investor expectations they have actually managed to steal a march on the millions of eyes watching Google.

Tradtional and well proven model

Many commentators have hailed this as a “radical” restructure adopting a model akin to Berkshire Hathaway. However, from a brand management perspective the move is treading a traditional and well proven model. With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever: that is a holding company with a wide portfolio of businesses and brand assets. The manifest benefits of this approach that has served the packaged good behemoths for over 100 years will deliver undoubted benefit to Google going forward.

Nobody likes companies that are too powerful, witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control

There are consumer benefits. Nobody likes companies that are too powerful. Witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control. Imagine if the brands we buy from P&G were not Ariel, Fairy, Pantene, Pampers, Gilette, Max Factor, Oral-B, Duracell, Lenor, Clearblue, Vicks but all of them called Procter & Gamble? We would start to freak out that one company could be so pervasive and dominant in our lives. As Google has broadened their offerings from search to email, to office apps, to mobile phones, to laptops, to household control, to cars; all of these being linked very clearly to the Google name creates the same concerns and worries. Moving to a house of brands under Alphabet will help manage some of these risks and drive growth.

Privacy concerns will manifest at Alphabet

The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going

Next, whilst taking the brand benefit, the establishment of a central infrastructure for Alphabet with central management and resources will allow assets to be shared across the different businesses. It is in this sharing that I think the most concerns may arise. Collection and manipulation of data, often playing close to privacy concerns, is hard-wired into Google and will therefore manifest itself at Alphabet. The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going. If I use Google search is this going to be shared with my separately branded self-driving car or my central home control unit?

Google has struggled with transparency

I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months

Brand trust is built through transparency and openness. Google has struggled with this in the past and many people don’t trust the brand. This potentially becomes much more complex in a holding company structure. For perspective, the consumer packaged goods companies have wrestled with this as well. They know a huge amount about their consumers across different brands and have experimented with cross promotion by using this understanding at a holding brand level, exploring whether consumers want a direct relationship with the P&G or Unilever brand. Results have been very patchy – people tend to be more suspicious and wary, rather than welcoming. In our hearts we like products and brands that do one thing well, rather than interacting with huge mega-corporations that know rather too much about our habits for comfort.

Alphabet is an engineering company, not an ad business

The last reason why this strategic change shouldn’t surprise is that it is a natural fulfilment of the vision that Sergey Brin and Larry Page outlined 11 years ago when they founded the Google. They have always wanted Google to be an engineering company in the broadest sense. Google is now an information and advertising business. The move to establishing Alphabet allows them to build different competencies and leverage different structures to solve a broader set of problems. Given the astonishing rise of Google and the undoubted benefit that it has brought to the world and all of us in such a short space of time this could be really exciting.

I predict that the move to Alphabet will be successful and create value for shareholders, and hopefully the world. I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months!

The fight for the future of the Labour Party is obsessed with the past

For nearly two decades I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party. I was attracted by the values and intent of a political party that could challenge the status quo and seek to balance benefit for all sides of society. A party with a caring, empowering and not paternalistic attitude to those less able and more vulnerable in society. I was inspired by the humble, kind and strong vision of John Smith and found Tony Blair’s New Labour electability seducing.

“What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country.” 
What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country. The over characterisation, the lack of debate, the absence of any real clarity of thinking or new ideas and so little belief being displayed is – all playing out on embarrassing public display. The choice between the different candidates is presented, even by themselves, in the most puerile of ways: back to a pre-free market economy with Jeremy Corbyn or back to “Blair-lite”. Why is there no forward just back?
“The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.” 
The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.  They achieved it by doing something which almost no current politician, and none of the current Labour leadership candidates do, which is lead us on a truly new path. Pensions, mass house building, the NHS, minimum wages, better working conditions, first female cabinet minister, creating the conditions for female MPs to succeed, gender equality, greater rights for gay couples, greater regulation, and free public schooling are all significant achievements of the Labour Party. When at its best the Labour Party brings new ideas and concepts to the table and wins the national argument. For example the concept of an “ethical commonwealth” powered the progress of the socially radical post war Attlee government and gave hope to the nation.
“What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together.”
What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together. The British people are inherently fair and they want a government that balances outcomes for all. The only route to this is radical leadership.
Those supporting Jeremy Corbyn are on a mission to reclaim what they see as their party. They are being successful because their position comes, not from a compelling new vision, but from guilt and fear: guilt because they feel they sold out to Blair’s electability in a desperate grab for power, and fear because they don’t have the experience or insight to understand and work with a radically changed world order and disrupted working world. At least Corbyn has a deep passion, although misguided, for his proposed policies. The fact that they are out of date and won’t work in today’s interconnected and market driven world is tragic, but at least he is going for it.

The others – Kendall, Burnham, Cooper – are again seemingly devoid of new ideas and the ability to argue for anything. Their lack of ability and passion are a major reason Corbyn is doing so well. They can’t even argue against a set of policies which would take our economy back 30 years. Perhaps, despite their many years in politics, they haven’t thought about the arguments for and against ideas like nationalisation or uncontrolled public sector investment through printing money. If that’s true its rather disappointing given that none, yes none, of them have any ‘real world’ experience having been in politics almost all their working lives.

“How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?”
Finally the lack of leadership and belief in the Labour Party goes deeper than just these four candidates and is profoundly disappointing and disheartening. Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis who perhaps could have provided the required leadership are surely positioning – cynically betting that this next leader will be a “transition” guy with no chance of election success. They conclude therefore better to stand back and let party division play out using failure to drive necessary cohesiveness rather than radical ideas and passionate argument. This leaves the country, and the millions who are desperately struggling with austerity and inequality, alone and without an effective voice representing them. How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?

It’s been said that The Labour Party is facing an existential crisis. But that’s not true: no one is fighting for the future just the past.

Unicorns and wizards: #LDNTechWeek

This week has been #LDNTechWeek and London has been buzzing with conferences, talks, events and exhibitions.

The week started with the announcement that London has produced 13 tech unicorns which are Tech companies that have reached a >£1bn valuation. They include Farfetch (clothing marketplace), JustEat (online food ordering), Skrill (payments) and Zoopla (property search). These companies prove that finally we are creating a sustainable and world class technology sector in the UK. These companies also prove that we are creating an environment in the UK where finally entrepreneurial ventures aren’t something the mad or American do but it’s a mainstream choice in the UK. The media has a lot to do with this: Dragons Den, The Apprentice and more generalised positive coverage of entrepreneurs for over a decade now means being an entrepreneur is cool. If I look at my kids they are always talking and thinking about setting up new businesses.

I shared the stage with a wizard of tech in Dan Cobley, CEO of BrightBridge Ventures one of my investors at ClearScore  at the LDNTechWeek conference on Tuesday. Dan was talking about his venture building approach which has really helped to turbo charge the speed to market of ClearScore and is a model of investment which is certainly worth considering if you are looking for investment that also comes with added value.

On Wednesday I took part in a fascinating session at @TechUK with the newly established National College for Digital Skills. This college is launching next September and hopes to bridge the digital skills gap in the UK. They are now in business outreach mode and wanted the views of startup/scale up community as they put together their curriculum and engagement strategy. The most shocking stat shared was the collapse in sixth form students taking ICT / Computing since 2001 to 2013 the numbers have halved. This at a time over which computers and technology have become entirely ubiquitous and all consuming for the same age group. This is a problem.

IMG_0782
It was great to see so many companies attend and share their views. It was also interesting that many of the companies around the table had successfully used apprenticeship schemes. At ClearScore we have a Level 4 apprentice on the team and it’s proving a valuable programme both to her and our company.

Finally yesterday afternoon I took part in a webinar (recording here) organised by Fospha on creating personalised digital experiences. The Fospha technology allows site owners to tailor content and experiences to a specific users mindset in real time. For example if someone is in wish-listing mode then showing them lots of options is great, if someone has take the time to choose items and are about to check out offering that pair of shoes in green could give them a moment to reconsider and you might lose the sale. I was talking about trust and how important it is to create trust and rapport if you are to drive conversion based on my book “Why should anyone buy from you?” which is available on Why Should Anyone Buy From You? on Amazon.

The key point was that technologies exist today that allow you to “de-average” the digital customer experience and the process of de-averaging almost always creates value but I’m going to blog about that next week.

Thanks for reading, leave comments if you liked this blog.

Justin

ALL WE CAN SEE IS THE DARK

This morning as I was waking up my 3 year old daughter Jemima came into bed for a cuddle. It was cold and she snuggled under the covers putting her head under the duvet. I heard a little voice coming up from beside me, "Dad come under the covers with me." So I dutifully dived my head down under. 

I said to her, "we can't see anything in here," and she replied, "all we can see is the dark."

This reply struck me. How many times do we encounter situations where we dismiss a situation and don't try to see in the dark? How often do we shut down lines of exploration or thinking because we feel we are in the dark and deprived of sensory input or data?

What about trying to understand how people are responding to your website, landing page or proposition? How many times do we just default to, "we need another tool and more data." Sure this is sometimes the right answer but most often it's an excuse not to really think and use our intuition to determine through the darkness an answer to the problem. You'll probably get it mostly right by seeing through the dark and even if you don't pushing yourself will help you develop new ideas of hyptheses to test with your new tools.

What about a difficult relationship issue with a colleague or peer? How often do we make assumptions and not take the time to see through the darkness and really understand what is being said. One of the values that I was taught by Procter & Gamble was; Seek to understand, then be understood. High emotions can create darkness, clouding issues and hiding true feelings, being able to sense effectively through this darkness is not just a work skill but a life skill.   

Even in the dark there are always things to see.

Justin

Rebranding lessons of hibu / yell.com

Over the last couple of weeks yell.com has been rebranding as hibu. This is the latest example, in a very undistinguished line, of such rebranding failures.

When the best a CEO can muster about his companies' latest rebranding is this quote below you know the company is in deep, deep trouble. 

'don't read anything into it….It doesn't have any pure meaning behind it. It needed to be short, easy to pronounce and to sound edgy and innovative. It doesn't mean a lot by itself, but if you turn the clock back, neither did Apple and Google or Yahoo!' 

Mike Pocock is the CEO of hibu which in the latest example of rebranding has became the new name for Yell.com. Yell.com has been through at least a couple of major rebrands as it struggles to make any sense of it's Yellow Pages listing business model in the internet age. They recently acquired Moonfruit.com as a way of trying to help SMEs and their internet presence. hibu or as the company might have us write: hibü is the latest work from Landor – that purveyor of snake oil to companies with more shareholder money than sense. I am sure that the Landor team are seething as they read the quotes from the CEO on their beautiful retina displays. 

The rebranding of hibu illustrates some of the key mistakes that are made far too often as a company makes the decision to rebrand and change name: 

1. The new name doesn't mean anything to anyone:

This is most likely to have been dressed up as a benefit by the inventors of the brand hibu. It isn't. Given the companies massive financial issues they are not going to be able to afford a huge marketing budget to vest this meaningless word with brand associations. They may think that it is a positive move dropping all references and equity built up in Yell.com or indeed Yellow Pages but to eschew these assets is foolhardy. The fact that they have gone for the immediate rebrand, rather than a phased approach, again make the journey to establishing the new brand very hard. The rebrand has very little logic – this taken from the hibu website exemplifies the problem: 

To meet the ever changing needs of our merchants and our consumers, we are transforming our business to be more digitally led. We are making it possible for our consumers to connect with our merchants how they want, whenever they want. We are developing innovative new products and a dynamic new brand signals that we are a digital business of the future. When people connect, communities thrive, and we are a vital connection in an ever changing world. That's why we have changed from Yell to hibu.

Now I may be missing something but this paragraph makes no sense as a logic for the rebranding. There is no reason why the move of the business into digital has delivered the name hibu, argubly Yell.com is a more digitally led name. 

2. A brand optimised for the internet age and search?

I bet this was a big part of the pitch for rebranding. I'm sure Landor will have rolled out a 28 year old 'internet and search expert' to bamboozle the board with promises about how this name because of it's construction and newness was going to deliver exceptional power in ranking on Google. This is of course generally an absolute load of old tosh but is so common to hear now – it's the reason for the rash of names with a double "o" in them for example. There was an idea floating around that Google somehow favoured certain combination of letters because they were less competitive to rank on hence Ooyala and the like. The secret to ranking on Google is to deliver high quality content and make your pages search friendly – if anything non descriptive names make it harder to rank not easier. 

3. Lack of engagement from the top down?

From the comments from top management in the press they don't seem that committed to the rebranding and this makes me suspect that the organisation hasn't been engaged in the hibu rebranding process. This is the most common mistake that is made when trying to change a culture, a name, or a business model. It's the people within the organisation that should feel vested in the new name and making it's promises come alive. However most engagement processes start with the brand book or internal roll out campaign once all the decisions have been made. Rebranding and brand renaming needs to come from within and this requires engagement in the process from the very beginning. 

4. A brand name just trying too hard… 

Like Consignia or Monday, hibu is a name that is just trying too hard. I know that's a very difficult thing to substantiate but there is something in these names that come from a process that is vested in focusgrouping and whiteboarding – they lack authenticity. They are artificial creations rather than really coming from a place of organisational difference. Apple as a brand name works for that organisation (or it used to) because it encapsulates the "think different" logic that was Steve Jobs' brilliance. Google works because it somehow embodies the geekiness of that organisation based on algorithms, advanced maths and technology. hibu is just trying to be cool and doesn't embody any of the attributes of that organisation.

Given their latest results are flatlining I think rebranding yell.com is very unlikely to be the knight in shining armour coming along to rescue and somehow give meaning to the company. Yell.com was a smart way of attempting to link the past with the future – it had a logic and could have had a personality. hibu doesn't mean anything to anyone and because of this it is facing an uphill struggle. 

What do you think of this rebranding and renaming? Do you like the name hibu? Leave a comment below and get involved. 

Justin

BBC Interview about identity theft and ALLOW’s advice

 

Towards the end of last year my company ALLOW commissioned Professor of Ciminology Martin Gill to research how criminals use online information to gani our trust in order to scam people. Martin and I were on various radio stations up and down the land talking about this interesting and worrying research. 

Perpetuity Research, Professor Gill's research group has posted the interview from BBC Radio Leicester.

Perpetuity Research, Professor Gill's research group has posted the interview from BBC Radio Leicester.

We alos created a video of a criminal speaking about his technqiues which you can see below. 

If you are interested in these issues then check out ALLOW www.i-allow.com, the UK's leading privacy and information privacy company. 

Thanks

Justin

BUSINESS VISION – LEARNING FROM SUCCESSES & FAILURES (Screencast)

Business Vision: I was recently asked by a major corporation to prepare a talk on "Business vision" and how to create them. I told two stories one of Citigroup a massive bank and it's flawed vision and one about a much smaller clothing business Patagonia and it's inspirational leader. 

This screencast is a 20 minute version of the hour presentation buts gives you the key points of the stories. 

The key points illustrated by these compelling stories of success and failure around setting a business vision are: 

  • Business Vision requires leadership that listens and learns but can also lead from the front
  • Business Vision requires head and heart to be compelling
  • Business Vision needs to be creative but also pragmatic to be effective 

Here is a great article from inc.com about creating business vision that is well worth reading. 

What do you think of business vision?

What do you think about business and brand visions? Do they inspire you to feel great about the business you work in or run and it's business vision? Leave a comment!

If you want to see the full presentation including the videos then visit the presentation on Prezi.com.

You can also see me speaking here.

Want me to speak at your business or team event? I regularly speak about trust, business vision, brands, marketing or a wide range of topics tailored to your event – please get in touch.

Thanks

Justin

ING DIRECT “CAMPAIGN FOR A BIT OF DECENCY” – DECENT OR DECEITFUL ADVERTISING?

ING today splashed the latest instalment of their 'Campaign for a Bit of Decency' onto the front and back covers inside and out of the Metro. ING Direct has quite a prolific history of copy led advertising. I commented on a mortgage advert of theirs a while back questioning whether simplicity and speed of application was really a desired or desirable benefit when advertising a mortgage.

Brand building by association

classic marlboro advertising

This latest campaign is a good example of a currently very common approach to financial services advertising that uses the classic 'benefit by association' form of persausion. This advertising technique tries to get the man on the street to associate two particular ideas, for example a brand and a benefit, by juxtaposing them regularly to force the association into our poor overloaded brains. You know the kind of thing – think of the classic advertising of Marlboro with their image of a cowboy riding on the wide open plain which was very successful at getting people to think that this particular cigarette was "cool, independent and masculine….".

So why is this type of advertising in such favour by financial services brands at the moment? It's because almost all financial services brands are caught between a rock and a hard place. The simple fact is that as consumers and citizens we loath these brands and businesses for all they stand for and have put us through over the last few years. But unfortunately due to a combination of desperate need to quickly make lots of money (from us as consumers in order to pay us as taxpayers back – ironic eh?), almost total lack of leadership, continued regulatory confusion, and a complete lack of empathy with people (both employees and customers) banks have very little that is meaningful to say about themselves. They equally have virtually nothing that is different and/or better to sell. Therefore they have to rely on the flim-flam associative brand campaign. For Natwest it's emergency cash, for Santander its a range of cashback or offers to tempt us through their doors and with ING Direct 'The Campaign for a Bit of Decency'. So let's look at whether it is good or bad?

Fashionable advertising but how effective?

Well certainly it ticks all the current fashions of advertising and I can see the marketing team and ad agency getting excited:

  • It's social – builds from people and their stories – 'hundreds of us responded' apparently
  • It's eminently Facebook-able and twitter-ified – note the liberal sprinkling of hash tags and urls
  • It's cheap and easy and can fly the banner of "corporate social responsibility lite" – they've picked 10 'decency' winners each of which get £1000 each. "Well that's nice" you may say, good for ING giving money to these very deserving people. This is fine until you realise that the advertising cost for the ads will have been many tens of thousands of pounds – so it seems a bit topsy-turvy – more shouting than actually being on the side of decent people.
  • It's local – celebrating local heroes and stories – they even managed to get a link to the Olympics – ticking another current trend box 

Short term success, long term failure

So what will it achieve? I'm sure the brand tracker will jump up against key equities of trust, friendliness, on your side or whatever combination of words are being tracked by Millward-Brown. Internally employees will probably like it – what's not to like? It's positive, it's 'nice', heck it's even got medal to give away. Bet they've got a programme running internally to celebrate employee decency – and if they don't they should.

But once the bit of decency campaign has been put to bed, the metro ads are in the bin, will it really make any difference to the standing of ING Direct or the financial services sector overall? I don't think it will and in fact it will probably do even more damage to trust in the brand and sector. This type of advertising whilst in vogue is essentially the same approach to marketing and advertising that has been practised over the past 20 years by financial services brands – it's just a more modern and fluffy version.

Trust will only be restored when the hard work starts getting done

The reason that almost all financial services brands wallow in the toilet of consumer apathy, resentment, even hatred, is because the products and service are boring, difficult, unfair, give poor customer service and are focused on extracting as much money out of system whilst delivering as little benefit as possible. The real repositioning challenge in all financial services businesses is to reposition the business model, the internal culture, creating values led vision and letting employees lead with their hearts and heads to deliver better service and better products.

Unfortunately this is just too hard. This road doesn't have the backing of top leadership. The need to try and reinvent the way banking works and both extracts and contributes value to society is just too fundamental a change to tackle. Therefore we continue to get advertising and marketing that just focuses on sleight of hand, diversion, association and playing the same game that got us into the mess we are currently in. We continue to get products that are poor value, difficult to understand and mired in crap service.

…and if that wasn't enough it doesn't matter anymore because ING Direct is dead!

Oh and if you needed anymore evidence that the "Campaign for a Bit of Decency" is a pleasant but diversionary sham, ING announced on the 29th November that it is to sell ING Direct UK to Barclays – so all those customers who started to believe in 'decency' even by association will be thrown back into the mainstream of UK big 3 banking where decency is in very short supply.

What's your view? Please leave a comment!

ING Direct Campaign for a Bit of Decency

ING Direct's Campaign Advertising even has a medal