Remember podcasts, those affable, here’s-a-way-to-use-your-iPod talking audio files? Well, I heard a great one the other day — by accident. See, they download automatically to my iPod and as I was wheeling around my Nano during a long flight home, I hit play on this June 17, 2008, podcast from Ad Age. It was a smart move.
In this podcast, Joseph Jaffe, who runs the Jaffe Juice blog, spoke about social media. Well, at least that was the title. What he was really talking about was the need for contact with customers. Strike that — “contact” is not the right word. “Communication” is better. Corporations need to communicate with their customers, and this communication needs to be the centerpiece of every marketing initiative. It is a tough lesson for big-league banking to learn.
Jaffe told the story about a Starbucks customer named Winter. For whatever reason, Winter decided that he wanted to have a cup of coffee in every single Starbucks, no matter where it was. Jaffe, who calls Winter “everyman, he is you, he is me,” says Starbucks had its Jared (the Subway spokesman). Instead, Starbucks apparently contacted Winter to “find out what he was up to, what is alterior motive was, whether he was trying to profit from all [Starbucks’s] brand equity.” Winter’s response via Jaffe: “I don’t know. I wanted to have a cup of coffee, because it was — like — cool, you know.”
Jaffe explains that Starbucks missed a grand opportunity.
“Give him a Starbucks mobile, a little Mini Cooper with a spinning coffee cup on top — I don’t know,” said Jaffe. “Figure out how to make good. This is marketing that is non-linear and adaptive and course-correcting, being able to spot opportunities and change ship.”
It is a humbling story for Starbucks, I am sure. What does it say about banking? A lot. Here is Starbucks, a marketing juggernaut, completely botching it. How many times do banks botch it? The challenge to “communicate” with their customers is so much more acute for banks for so many reasons. Even if a customer does “communicate” with a branch officer, anything resembling a decision is conducted so far from that branch that the communication is merely social. Marketing is strictly superficial.
I argue that banks need to break down these walls today for a couple of reasons. First, customers are increasingly going to expect it. As Jaffe said in the podcast, “every customer deserves a response, and if you don’t have the expertise to provide that response, hire someone who does.” The more we social network, the more we expect communication that is not, well, marketing-speak. All any bank needs is a Winter and they’ve instantly got egg all over their brand. And this kind of egg smells.
Second, the financial crisis has stained every bank’s brand. Just think about AIG’s tagline: “The Strength to Be There.” Uh, right. Banks have no choice but to go that extra mile to “communicate” their value proposition to their customers. As some of you know, I am a Citibank customer. Right now I am in the middle of an interaction with the bank. Oddly, it is the first time someone from the bank has followed through to call ME back! When the bank branch rep said someone would call ME, I thought to myself, yeah, right. But I got that call. Where it leads is another question, one which matters so much more than the quality of Citi’s next TV ad. Eggs, anyone?
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