The Press, July 2008

Banking is not usually seen as the hotbed of marketing innovation, but Kiwibank are starting to change that. In a sea of sameness Kiwibank is becoming an outstanding success partly by building a brand that stands out.

Brands help people choose. In crowded markets a brand, that picture you hold in your mind of a company or product, helps you filter out all the noise and choose your preferred option.

Brand typically equals bland in the banking sector. A group of lumbering heavyweights have traditionally dominated our banking sector and taken a safe, predictable approach to building awareness. Take these descriptions from the websites of the main trading banks.

ANZ is “one of New Zealand's leading banking and financial services groups.”

National Bank’s “vision is to be New Zealand's leading bank through quality people, quality service, quality performance.”

ASB Bank “has a history of over 160 years of service to New Zealanders, and is proud to be one of the country's leading banks.”

Westpac “is New Zealand's largest bank, helping more Kiwis to manage their money than any other bank.”

If you mixed those up, would you be able to remember which bank they applied to? Contrast this with Kiwibank’s description. “Kiwibank is different to those other big foreign banks because unlike them, we do things the kiwi way.”

This brand positioning flows through all of their promotional activity. Kiwibank’s “join the movement” TV campaign is bold and brave, mimicking a World War Two resistance movement. It really stands out because it makes an emotional connection with the audience. We all identify with the little guys against the big Australian bullies.

None of the major trading banks come close in terms of strong story around their brand. ASB is probably closest with its entertaining Goldstein series, which positions them as a ‘smart bank’ the Americans want to learn from.

What can you remember from any of the other major banks who spend millions on advertising? ANZ is about the colour blue, BNZ is pigs, National is a black horse and Westpac stick figures. None of them make the clear, attractive promise of Kiwibank.

In the Sunday Star Times recently Kiwibank CEO Sam Knowles said he wasn’t worried if the cheeky campaign annoyed his competitors. "They find it quite irritating because they have to up their game to compete with us.”

Importantly, Kiwibank have built this differentiation on strong foundations. They have all of the ‘table stakes’, the basic elements needed to be a credible bank. They provide competitive, often cheaper, prices. Service is good. Their network is extensive. And they are backed by the government so tick the box for safety.

Of course all this counts for nothing if it isn’t helping Kiwibank succeed. It won last month’s Sunday Star-Times Cannex Banking Awards, claiming five of the 17 categories, and placing second or third in four others. They passed the 600,000 customer mark in February.

Kiwibank show what great marketing is about. Understanding the customer’s need and connecting with it strongly – and then flowing that through all of your market activity. You can even take the opportunity to bomb Aussie bankers with pavlovas on the Kiwibank website.

The critical thing to get right is being bold around something the customer values. You can stand out if you scream loud enough or are weird enough, but unless you are promising something the customer desires it won’t help you much.

The ‘join the movement’ campaign doesn’t implicitly promise any better banking experience, but it does offer appeal to our patriotism and our growing dissatisfaction with being a branch office economy of Australia.

Most of the major banks, the Aussie banks, are simply too large and conservative to be brave enough to do something different. So into the vacuum can step cheeky upstarts like Kiwibank and TSB Bank.

It is a lesson from which many Kiwi exporters, especially in the technology sector, could learn. Many compete against giant multinationals with enormous marketing budgets. But while they are powerful, they tend to be conservative and take predictable approaches to marketing their products. There is a lot of room for our exporters to take a brave, smart approach to differentiating their brand.

That courage is not just about having a strong, emotional message to the market. It is also about being willing to invest in marketing once your product is ready to take to market. With a smart approach you can achieve far more than your giant competitors, but you still need to be prepared to spend a significant proposition of your turnover on sales and marketing activity.

Kiwibank have shown the benefit of being courageous enough to take a different approach and then investing to get that message across. Good on them for giving the Aussies a taste of Kiwi!

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