Three banks in search of an image

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(Published in Aurora, September-October 2009 issue)

By Jahanzaib Haque

Pakistan’s banking sector has long been a cutthroat market, with many players (small and large; multinational and national) competing for a broad range of customers. In such an environment, it’s not just the products and services that draw people to one bank or another – it’s also the perceived image which determines where one will bank.

Given the economic downturn and the public’s increasingly cautious approach to financial matters compared to the economic boom of 2005-06, this issue of leveraging a strong image to attract and retain customers is especially important for those banks that have recently entered the market or changed ownership within the last few years.

Three banks in particular – Silk Bank (previously Saudi Pak Bank), JS Bank (previously American Express) and Allied Bank (previously Allied Bank of Pakistan) – fall within this category, and all three have launched corporate campaigns to build new/revamped identities.

Within this image building exercise, each bank has taken different approaches to achieve different objectives. As smaller players in the field, Silk Bank (with 65 branches) and JS Bank (with 77 branches) have opted to focus on the upscale market, and their image building campaigns have been designed accordingly.

Yes they can?

For Silk Bank, the challenge has been to overcome their previous image as Saudi Pak Bank, which had wrongly created the perception that it was an Islamic bank.

According to Goharulayn Afzal, Group Head, Marketing & Strategic Planning, Silk Bank, “Prior to re-branding, we conducted a survey to see where Saudi Pak Bank stood. It showed that TOM recall was zero. There was no brand equity and the perception was of an Islamic bank although it wasn’t. We had to move away from this completely.”

The importance of choosing the rather unconventional name, ‘Silk Bank’ highlights this desire to avoid further confusion. Additionally, Afzal explains that the properties of silk (strong, reliable, rich, upmarket) align closely with Silk Bank’s corporate values. More importantly, Afzal felt a connection between Silk Bank and the Silk Route could form the foundation of the bank’s image as “our country has a relationship to the Silk Route which was the corridor of trade and commerce for centuries.”

The properties of silk and the connection to the Silk Route were then incorporated into the media campaign developed by Evernew Concepts.

While the outdoor and print ads emphasised copy such as, ‘strong and reliable’, ‘dependable’, ‘talent and innovation’ and the tagline ‘yes we can’, a major focus of the campaign has been to visually link Silk Bank with the Silk Route in the minds of the public.

According to Mohammad Zeban Syed, Group Account Director, Evernew Concepts, “It was very important for people to understand the storyline… The TVC featured scenes from the Silk Route, and that created the TOM.”

Syed also believes the key decision to sponsor the T20 World Cup paid off in a big way towards establishing Silk Bank in the minds of the public as, “literally the whole of Pakistan watched the final.”

Common sense

While Silk Bank went down the Silk Route in terms of its image, ‘success’ was the big idea for JS Bank.

Similar to Silk Bank’s trouble with its initial image, Tariq Ziad Khan, VP and Head of Marketing & Corporate Communications, JS Bank explains that JS Bank was perceived as “a small bank, peer grouped with very small players, although our orientation is completely different…”

“We wanted to be seen as a bigger bank aiming to achieve a critical mass of customers, go into more areas and products. That perception wasn’t there and awareness was low, so this campaign needed to tell people what JS Bank stood for.”

Consequently, JS Bank took The D’Hamidi Partnership on board in developing a campaign built around, ‘common sense uncommon success’ which featured across all ATL media except TV (“to avoid the clutter and fragmented nature of TV,” explains Khan).

As a part of the campaign’s core strategy, a number of the bank’s (modestly) influential customers were depicted with quotes highlighting different values geared towards achieving success.

As Faraz Maqsood Hamidi, CE and Creative Director, The D’Hamidi Partnership clarifies, the real image building component of the campaign was to show potential customers that JS bank was an institution which would aid anyone in achieving a level of “real success”.

“We showed individuals who weren’t clichés. Rather than picking national heroes and milking them, we took heroes and made them national… there’s something wonderfully egalitarian about such a pitch. It says whatever our customer’s values are, we will promote them. We are the bank that values values.”

A lot has changed…

Unlike either Silk or JS Bank, the trouble with Allied Bank’s image has been long standing, as its privatisation in 2004 did not yield the expected change in image. According to Farooq Khalili, Marketing Head, Allied Bank, research conducted prior to the corporate campaign showed that “the TOM recall of Allied Bank was not there. People called it an old bank; well trusted but not a bank for the people of today.”

As Allied Bank was (and still is) going through a major overhaul internally, the need to express this change became paramount, and working with Spectrum Y&R, a corporate campaign was developed around the tagline ‘A lot has changed. And more is about to’.

Here too the difference between Allied Bank’s image building objectives and those of the smaller banks becomes clear: with a history dating back to 1942 and with hundreds of branches spread across the entire country, abandoning or cutting away from the past was not an option.

“They (Allied Bank) couldn’t really afford to change into one of those modern, high street banks because their original customer base would have been alienated, as a lot of them are used to the old systems,” explains Zohra Yusuf, Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.

“Yet at the same time the customers the Bank hopes to attract are younger, more urban based. So in recreating or recasting the image we had to strike a balance between modern and contemporary. That is why the campaign promises not revolutionary change but balanced change.”

A full 360-degree approach was taken in bringing this message to the public, with the conceptual focus of the campaign being the narration of aspirational stories about individuals who accepted change and continued to build towards a successful future; directly analogous to Allied Bank’s own journey and aspirations.

“It’s not flashy, it’s not glamorous. It’s not over-promising anything… we’re just saying there is change happening and there’s nothing wrong with accepting that,” says Khalili.

Back to business

While playing off these different concepts, all three banks hope to see the largely intangible results of such image building exercises translate into better business. Although it is perhaps early to judge, all three banks claim success in terms of feedback and changing perceptions in the market. They also claim surges in accounts being opened and products taking off is a sign that they have been effective.

The future challenge all three institutions face is continuing the image building process to ensure the piqued interest of customers becomes a sustained identity.

As Yusuf explains, “The objective is not to attract immediate business. It’s about laying the foundation of the bank image. The next time that bank is offering you something in a competitive environment, though the products look similar, it is the corporate image building which determines which bank you will go for.”

To this end, a lot will depend on future campaigns in terms of corporate image building and the integration of corporate identity with the promotion of products and services.

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