Friday, March 06, 2009

Financial Firms Must Break From The Pack To (Re-)Establish Trust

by Stephanie Fierman

Here at the Garage, we believe that a more measured approach to bank and investment advertising is probably a positive development.

After all, hadn’t all the ads begun to look the same? Could every company and every investment have possibly offered the best return, and the most Morningstar stars, and the biggest retirement homes in paradise? Unlikely. Outside of just a few stalwarts, such as Vanguard with its slow-and-steady point of view and Bogle-esque approach, many of the siren calls in the newspaper, on television and online had all taken on a surreal and undifferentiated patina. That’s not effective.

Now it appears that all the bulls have stampeded in the opposite direction.

Consider the list of firms advertising in one issue of The Wall Street Journal this past week, along with text pulled verbatim from their ads:

MORGAN STANLEY: “To find the smart investments today, you need to be world wise.”

MERRILL LYNCH (aka Bank of America): “Seeing clearly. Acting confidently.” “With personal insight into your goals and an understanding of the market…” “…Find a smart place for your money.”

CME GROUP: “Rise Above the Risk.” “For more than a century CME Group has provided competitive, transparent and safe markets.” “…protect customers and ensure financial integrity by guaranteeing the performance of every transaction on our exchange.”

TD AMERITRADE: “There’s never been a better time for a second opinion.”

FIDELITY: “Guaranteed income you can live with.”

GLENMEDE: “There’s no substitute for safety and stability.”

PNC: “…It’s also a way of doing business that has strength and stability at its very core.”

Safe, smart, transparent and guaranteed: these are the adjectives to which financial firms are now rushing as they adjust to our new economic circumstances. The problem is – well, it’s the same problem as before, isn’t it? If your messages are entirely undifferentiated from those of your competitors, they essentially melt into one and stakeholders become unable to distinguish one from the other.

If the Garage held a focus group tonight, and scrambled the names of the above firms and the quoted text, we would challenge any budding Trustmeister to re-match the elements correctly.

And killing an ad’s effectiveness may, in fact, be the most benign result. Worse? Just as when every firm claimed great returns – which turned out to be untrue and, in some cases, backed by unscrupulous actions – everyone now shouting about safety looks equally as unlikely and untrustworthy.

All of these brands are more and are capable of doing more: the “more” being the hard work needed to determine exactly what it is about the brand that is unique and distinguishable from the competition.*

Without doing this work, going out with a “safety” message isn’t safe at all.

* Many of the above firms may not technically be competitors, but that’s an insider’s view. To the public and the U.S. Congress, too much of the same becomes one shapeless – and dubious – perception.

A version this post was first published on

No comments:

Post a Comment