As someone who is focused on the financial sector, it makes pretty depressing reading. Only two brands appear in the top 50 – PayPal and Mastercard (the latter I find a bit odd). You might expect the top 100 to be a bit more promising but you shouldn’t hold your breath because only one more company makes it – Santander.

Opinium puts this down to the 2008 financial crisis –

“It should come as no surprise that financial services brands are few and far between with our top 100 most connected brands…as the sector continues to grapple with the impact of the financial crisis…it has some way to go in rebuilding trust and confidence”.

I am sure this has some validity, but then why would a credit card brand do well in that context? I think the issue is more complex and stretches back much further.

The research wasn’t just a beauty parade. It evaluated brands against 5 criteria – Prominence, Distinction, Emotional Connection, Popularity and Buzz. This begins to shed light on some of the issues at play. The top 5 brands are also interesting – Amazon, Google, Heinz, BBC and Apple. These are extraordinary brands, so it’s not surprising they have scored well, but this isn’t true of all of the companies ranked in the top 50.

I thought perhaps that the poor rankings for this sector are perhaps due to a degree of ‘ageism’? Most financial brands are long established. But this doesn’t wash, some of the best connected are classics such as Tesco, BBC, Disney, Birds Eye, Sony, Dove and Cadbury.

So, what keeps these brands relevant, particularly as they operate in highly competitive fast-moving markets?

Opinium highlight 5 trends which I think boil down to 3.
Successful brands are those that:

  • Do good
  • Understand their customer and meet their needs
  • Are adaptable (‘shapeshifters’)

How many financial brands fit this mould comfortably?

I can hear a few voices in in the background saying, “financial brands are different” or “it’s easier for those companies to do well against those criteria.” But I just don’t buy that.

I believe the financial service industry is full of dangerous assumptions like this which lead to nowhere but long term failure.

So, do we do good? – Trend 1
We recently heard that being a loyal customer to most financial brands is counterproductive. The industry rewards the promiscuous, and sadly I assume this is based on spreadsheet analysis showing it is better to take advantage of the loyal. But it also reinforces that long held perception that financial brands are driven by self interest and not deserving of our trust.

Do we really try as an industry to understand and respond to consumer and other stakeholder needs? – Trend 2
I think a lot of very well meaning research reports end up gathering dust rather than sparking positive action. Most ‘customer focused’ initiatives are relatively superficial.

Are we adaptable? Trend 3
There are some exciting new companies like Monzo (probably too small to register in this survey yet) that appear to be responding to real changes, so maybe the future is looking brighter. However, how may of our biggest financial brands in banking, lending, insurance or investment are responding to the huge changes we have seen in recent years?

Many financial brands should score well against Prominent but, how many are – Distinct or Emotional Connected or Popular or creating a Buzz?

We think this is an interesting marketing challenge. How about you?

Opinium’s report -