The Press, March 2010

“What a load of rubbish,” was the note a friend attached when forwarding a promotional email from ASB Bank a couple of weeks ago. The missive, entitled “What makes a Kiwi bank Kiwi”, was an example of me-too marketing that does little to build ASB’s brand with customers or prospects.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a long term ASB customer, and I think they are one of the country’s smartest banks. The service at my local branch is outstanding – friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. They are a pleasure to deal with.

Then there is the technology. ASB have typically led the industry in their application of technology, being very early into services like internet banking. That has matured to a sophisticated online facility, which offers me all kinds of tools to manage my money.

It includes clever features like the vault, an online place to store all of my important information. That’s not just banking data but all those important personal details, insurance details and so on. From my perspective a bank is a very logical online place to store this important information. It doesn’t create any direct revenue for them, but adds to my experience and deepens my loyalty. It’s smart.

Not so smart is the me-too ‘we’re Kiwis’ approach, echoed in this email and in some other advertising ASB have done.

“If you've been wondering why we've been calling ourselves a Kiwi bank, it's simple. It's all about doing the right thing for customers like you, our team and the community we work in.” Following it up with some self-serving dross about their community commitment and the fact their call centre is still in New Zealand.

Patently they are not a Kiwi bank. I even checked, visiting the companies register, which clearly shows that ASB Bank Limited is owned by Commonwealth Bank, an Australian company. They can’t claim Kiwiness until the Western Force actually wins a game of Super 14 rugby, but it just doesn’t gel with reality.

My first thought on receiving this was Kiwibank must be doing very well. Their success must have alarmed the likes of ASB enough to motivate them to copy the Kiwi positioning. If they weren’t threatened by Kiwibank why would they bother?

The other curious aspect is that ASB have had a great promotional platform through the Goldstein campaign. Independently judged as the most recognised ads on TV in 2007, the series with the bumbling American has run on our screens for over 10 years. To me it has always conveyed a bank that was friendly and down-to-earth, while being smart about delivering services. All values I experienced in branch or online.

Recent reports point to Goldstein’s future being under threat. "We're looking at our branding position moving forward. We want to set it up for the next decade. Will Goldstein be the person or the campaign to take us there? I don't know yet but it will certainly be assessed," ASB marketing boss Deborah Simpson was reported saying in the Sunday Star Times, which I think is Auckland marketing speak for ‘we’re probably going to can it’.

I’m in no position to judge whether the Goldstein campaign is starting falter and needs to be replaced. But what I hope is that trying to grab on to Kiwiness is not the new strategy.

This me-to marketing undermines their position because it is hard for them to credibly defend. We know they are owned by an Australian bank, you can’t change that reality. By ASB’s logic McDonalds, Nike and Apple could all claim they are Kiwis because they invest in the local community in various ways. ASB are special, they do offer something, but ‘Kiwiness’ is not at the core of it.

Great marketing is about positioning your brand in a way that is consistent with the experience I get as a customer. That is great as an ASB customer, but not reflected in silly campaigns like this.

How can you avoid this kind of me-too marketing? The first place to look is not at your competitors but at your customers. The promise you make to them in promotional activity must be rooted in the real experience you deliver. Once you have done that you can determine how that differs from the way your competition does it.

Trying to ‘out Kiwi’ Kiwibank fails because it is neither aligned with reality, nor unique in the eyes of the customer. My perception is the campaign has the potential to do more harm than good to the ASB brand, and suggest there is too large a gap between their marketing department and the frontline reality.

ASB is a great bank, who has excellent staff delivering innovative services. That innovation needs to be applied to the way it promotes its brand to a highly sceptical market.

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