Battered by the cratering mortgage market and beset by harrowing losses and liquidity concerns, the financial sector managed to hold its own in the branding arena in the 12 months ended in June. Thirteen of the top 100 global brands in 2008 were financial companies, according to an Interbrand study. Their rankings were: American Express, #15; Citigroup, #19; HSBC, #27; Merrill Lynch, #34; JPMorgan Chase, #37; Goldman Sachs, #38; UBS, #41; Morgan Stanley, #42; AIG, #54; AXA, #55; Allianz, #82; ING, #86; and VISA, #100.
The study analyzed the influence of branding on company financial performance from June 2007 to June 2008. “Those financial services companies with a broader footprint in emerging markets and diverse portfolios” outperformed the rest of the pack in the sector, says Andy Bateman New York CEO of Interbrand.
How can a firm protect its brand from the current economic maelstrom? “Financial companies have to quarantine their Main Street business from the Wall Street exposure,” Bateman explains. “They have to emphasize the retail end. We’re seeing a trend toward such a divergence.” Citi has taken this road, he says. The biggest issue: “At a time when economies are softening, you see a consumer flight to quality, and to strong brands. But brands are easily destroyed.” Consumers are not fooled. “They understand connectivity. It behooves [financial companies] to be transparent. This will begin to restore trust. Come clean, show honesty, and tell consumers what you’re doing to fix your problems.”
Branding is not just about advertising, Bateman emphasizes. “It’s about how you communicate and the way you organize your brand. Focus on where your strength is and where you can build loyalty. Every single touch point you have is a branding impression. The brand is the jacket a company wears—how you’re talking to customers and staff, all of it counts.” Interbrand sees “a lot of growth in the importance to consumers of service, production controls, and technology and application or leveraging technology,” he adds.