Archive for March, 2011

Marketing can be complicated. But recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple. Case in point:

This week my wife scanned our monthly bank statement. She noticed a $2 charge that lacked clear explanation. Curious, she called the bank’s customer service number. After a few minutes, a customer service rep picked up. When questioned about the $2 charge, the CSR politely explained it had been deducted from our account by mistake.

She went on to explain that the bank now charges $2 for providing photocopies of cancelled checks on customers’ monthly printed statements. Based on the type of accounts my wife and I have, under the bank’s new policy we should have been passed over for the fee. The CSR apologized and offered to credit the $2 to our account.

So far, so good.

But my wife, a small-town banker’s daughter, felt compelled to ask a few more questions.

Wife: What if I hadn’t noticed the $2 charge?
CSR: It would not have been restored to your account.

Wife: Why?
CSR: We lack the ability to identify and credit accounts mistakenly charged the $2.

Wife: Will you notify customers, so they can check their accounts and let you know if the $2 fee has been deducted?
CSR: No. Again, the bank lacks the ability to identify customers who were mistakenly charged the fee.

Wife: Yet you had the ability to charge our accounts the $2?
CSR: The CSR didn’t really have an answer for that question. Perhaps because it was phrased rhetorically. And perhaps because the answer, in fairness to her, resides with someone above her pay grade.


A Micro Brand Management Case Study
Never mind that a financial services company making record profits decides it needs to charge $2 per month to help customers with their financial record-keeping by providing photocopies of cancelled checks. I know a certain small-town banker who, if he were here today, would have labelled that idea…well, a word that rhymes with chicken spit. But again, let’s leave the policy aside for a moment.

Leave aside, too, that the reason for providing photocopies is that the bank decided years ago that collecting and returning the cancelled checks themselves was too costly and inefficient a practice to continue.

Let’s just focus on the $2 mistake.  

Here’s the Harvard Business Review case study, in a nutshell: You are a bank executive. Your bank has mistakenly taken $2 from some customers’ accounts. Incredibly, your crack IT team is unable to tell you which accounts were debited $2 in error.

What’s a bank — what’s a brand — to do?

I’m pretty sure my banker father-in-law would have recognized this as a brand moment of truth. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t have used the word “brand.” He’d have spoken about the situation in old-school terms, such as “honesty,” “fairness,” and “doing the right thing by customers.”

Then he very likely would have sent out a message — a letter, an e-mail, some tweets — suggesting that customers check their recent statements, to see if by chance they were mistakenly charged $2. Those communiques would have expressed regret for any errors. And they would have encouraged customers to call or e-mail if they see the $2 charge on their statements.

Finally, the letter and e-mail might have noted that, in an era when consumers’ trust of the financial services industry could be at an all-time low, your bank is committed to earning your trust and safeguarding your money.


What Price Brand Image?
It’s possible my bank is taking steps to correct its $2 error. And it’s possible the CSR was not fully aware of efforts underway to correct the situation. Ideally, both of those caveats are the case.

If not, then this scenario illustrates that recognizing opportunities to build and maintain a brand’s image is sometimes remarkably plain and simple.

And yes, sometimes there’s a cost involved. In this case, the cost to maintain a brand image might have been to forgo the $2 fee revenue in the first place. Or, if not that, it might have been the potential expense involved in owning up to an error and refunding some customers a $2 mistaken charge.

But from all indications, at least for this bank, at this particular moment of truth, the number crunching was already done. The value of its brand image has been calculated and set into policy. And that value turns out to be remarkably low and fungible.

Two bucks a month.


Sound like a brand moment of truth to you? What would you have advised the C-suite if you were the bank’s head of marketing and brand management? Does brand image and loyalty really hang on such seemingly trivial policies and interactions? I’d welcome your comments and discussion.


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Recent events make me feel as though peace on earth, goodwill toward men (and especially women) hang in the balance — and by a thread — in more than one city and square throughout the Middle East.

Peace, by Simon Howden

Image credit: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From the safe distance of TV news, the recent protests in Egypt appeared remarkably peaceful and hopeful. But listen closely and you learned that more than 360 people died during those weeks as Tahrir Square became Liberation Square.

Inspiring video of men and women celebrating, side by side, their desire for self-determination was later overshadowed by news reports of women being assaulted by male gangs. Civil disobedience. Animalistic mayhem. A shockingly fine line.

If you’re like me, you hope, root, even pray that social and political change in Egypt and Tunisia, as it comes, takes the form of more open governments and societies, plus greater equality and respect among races, religions and genders.

If it goes the other way — as seems to be a real possibility in Libya — one shudders to think what insults to humanity the news reports will bring.

What’s In Our Words

While pondering the fragility of civility halfway around the world, I find myself increasingly puzzled by the bellicose language marketing and sales professionals often use to describe the work we do.

We slice and dice audiences demographically to target them with campaigns. Then we blast them with e-mails in hopes of driving them to squeeze pages. I read a blog post this week in which a marketer, extolling the value of lead nurturing, reminded his readers that the goal of nurturing leads was so they could eventually be attacked by Sales.

Squeeze pages? Nurturing in order to attack? C’mon, marketers. Let’s give peace a chance.

What’s say we take a cue from the Buddhist concept of “right speech” and strive for a more mindful and peaceful lingo for the work we do. Instead of targeting prospective customers like prey, maybe we approach them and strive to attract them by adding value for them. Instead of blasting e-mails, perhaps we just send or distribute those messages. Rather than drive people to squeeze pages (like cattle to slaughter?), we could simply offer registration or landing pages, where they can choose to interact with our content and further engage with our brands.

Small stuff? Absolutely. A trifle in the great scheme. Perhaps on the order of a butterfly beating its wings.

But then again, especially if you consider yourself a content marketer, don’t we pride ourselves on inviting audiences into engagement, not blitzing and bludgeoning them with purely self-serving promotion?

If so, then in a world needing all the harmony it can get, maybe we marketers can do our small part by bringing more peace and civility to our industry’s argot.


What do you think? Is my head getting softer than my heart here? Or do you have a least-favorite example of how we seem to favor the language of war and violence in marketing and sales? I’d welcome and appreciate your comments and discussion.

Simon Howden’s portfolio:

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