They are your friend, even family

Satyanarayan Iyer | Updated on June 12, 2014


Banks vie to project themselves as people you can trust. But why do the taglines of different banks sound so similar?

Being present on Facebook or twitter certainly does not mean a bank is customer friendly. But an increasing number of banks want to enhance their presence on social media and present a more human face.

A visit to the original Facebook pages of some of the Indian banks and the record of these banks is there for all to see. India’s largest lender State Bank of India has close to 3 lakh Likes on Facebook. It is, however, the private sector banks which seem to be taking the cake when it comes to befriending patrons through social networking sites, thanks to their early start. ICICI Bank has about 2.9 million Likes, HDFC Bank has garnered about 2.2 million and Axis Bank has over 2.4 million.

While presence on social media is a relatively recent concept, banks have always tried to project a friendly face by coming up with suitable taglines, among other things.

At least four (IDBI Bank, Vijaya Bank, Syndicate Bank and Indian Bank) have the word “friend” in their taglines.

Some others want to get a step closer and even become family.

Bank of Maharashtra, Dena Bank and Karnataka Bank have the word “family” and unsurprisingly the word “trust” appears in taglines more than half-a-dozen times for different banks either directly or implicitly.

Banking on keywords

In some ways, banks have no option but to use keywords such as “trust” to further their cause.

According to Vivek Gupta, Senior Vice President - Brand Science at market research firm IMRB International, “The important thing with a bank is that people go there to save money. So, trust is the most important factor for banks and insurance companies.”

So they have to be careful about saying the right things through their communication and not take away from the trust factor. But that coin has a flip side too. The emphasis on sending out the right message is so much that banks often end up having identical taglines. At least two sets of public sector banks have similar taglines.

Punjab National Bank’s ‘The name you can bank upon’ is tantalisingly close to Vijaya Bank’s ‘A friend you can bank upon’. Similarly, Union Bank of India's ‘Good people to bank with’ almost mirrors Indian Overseas Bank’s ‘Good people to grow with’.

Explaining the rationale for such a narrow selection, Gupta says, “Banks realise that there are only limited positioning platforms available, hence you find the same words or even similar taglines among banks.”

The perception that “Banking is a boring business” among bankers gets reflected in their taglines too. Banks are chary of tinkering too much with their taglines. Changes, if any, are slight.

While taglines have been crafted to try and establish a unique customer connect, most do not reflect the organisation’s personality. Most customers will testify to sub-optimal services, or even higher or arbitrary service charges imposed by their banks. There is a wide gap between what banks put out as what Gupta calls “wallpapers,” and the real services offered.

It was only when the private sector banks came into the landscape that service quality really started improving, adds Gupta. “Now, service quality is the real differentiator among banks.”

However, in rural areas and semi-urban areas, public sector banks still continue to enjoy a high degree of trust from customers.

Fear of bad press

Given the widespread use of technology, branding must really reflect the personality of the product or service, or stand the risk of being exposed.

According to Kiran Khalap, CEO of Chlorophyll Brand and Communications, “We now live in an internetworked world; brand communication can no longer afford to be untruthful! Because the customer will not only find out but also tell others that your brand is lying.”

It is also important that banks live up to their branding not only for customers but for their employees too.

“When a brand line reflects the idea that guides the business, it is an inspiration for the internal audience too: it provides a flag under which the employees can feel proud,” reflects Khalap.

After all, bank customers choose their banking partner based on proximity, ease of operations and when they have a choice they rely on service.

And it is not just Indian banks that do not live up to the brand projection.

Khalap says, “It is not just Indian banks that are guilty of having a brand line that the experience does not live up to! The tagline of Abbey Bank in the UK was “Get on top of your money,” but it posted losses (over $1 billion) two years in a row in 2001/2002. Even today, after the bank was taken over by Santander, there are customers trying to access their money from the bank.”

Published on June 12, 2014

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