Cutting through the clutter in customers minds to establish and sustain a strong brand is difficult. Yet a recent survey of 500 senior business executives on best-of-brand across 12 industries found that The Chase Manhattan Corp., Citibank and NationsBank outpaced Bank of America, Bank of New York, First Union and J.P. Morgan as leaders in business-to- business banking. Visa and State Farm ranked highest as credit card provider and insurance company, respectively.

The ImagePower survey was jointly conducted by Landor Associates and Louis Harris & Associates. The data rates the brand strength of 86 business service companies in the hotel, airline, consulting, credit card, telecommunications, insurance, computer hardware/software, package delivery, office equipment, car rental and banking businesses.

Reaping share of mind

Of the 12 sectors surveyed, the banking category was the least differentiated in the eyes of executives, indicating a real lack of success in creating and sustaining strong, distinctive banking brands for business audiences, says Landor Associates Susan Nelson, executive director of research. That NationsBank was able to position itself as a perceived peer of Chase and Citibank says much for its success in building brand strength, she adds.

The survey focused on five criteria: share of mind (awareness), share of heart (regard), value (for the money), momentum (potential for growth) and uniqueness (overall business choice). Scores for the five measures are statistically merged to form the ImagePower Index, which is an indicator of the current and future potential strength of brands. The methodology enables competitors within specific industries to be measured against each other, as well as comparing total brand power across different industries.

In a comprehensive ranking of companies from all industry categories, Chase was rated 22nd, Citibank ranked 24th and NationsBank 31st. The three banks trailed companies like Microsoft, UPS, Visa, AT&T and FedEx (ranked first through fifth, respectively).

The biggest problem for banks is that they don t connote value to consumers. Banks think in terms of we re safe, we re secure, we re everywhere not how much value can I offer? , Nelson says. On the whole, financial services did poorly. When we asked which bank, of seven surveyed, has the greatest value, 30 to 40 percent of respondents said none.

This has to do with how institutions approach image building, Nelson stresses, noting that branding should not be confused with advertising. Image is a very multidimensional thing. What is your essence? she says. Her language includes references to developing inner specialness, without which institutions don t have much of a brand. That has to be supported by sales and service.

Traditionally, financial institutions, particularly banks, have been slow to grasp the concept of branding, thanks in large measure to their regional focus, Nelson says. That s changing as deregulation, mergers and data mining technology speed the plans of many large banks to build national franchises anchored by aggressive marketing campaigns to acquire and retain customers. They know the importance of branding, but what do you do about it? she says. How do you build and sustain a brand like a Disney or a Coca-Cola?

For one thing, approach your customer much more aggressively, says Citibank s Anne MacDonald, managing director of global branding. Successful branding creates a bond with each customer, she says. Translation: Let customers know that the institution can help them figure out their financial strategies.

MacDonald, who previously worked for Pepsi, says that Citibank s objective is to keep its eye on customer s needs someone with a new home, baby or business, for example. We try to meet a life need, she says. Also crucial to Citibank s branding strategy is senior management support of the company becoming an icon brand, she says.

Like Citi, Visa also scored very well among business executives, ranking third of all 86 companies in the survey. Eighty percent of executives surveyed claimed to know the Visa brand very well, ahead of MasterCard (72 percent) and American Express (68 percent). Asked which credit card company was likely to succeed in the future, half cited Visa; 20 percent named American Express. It s no surprise, says Visa s Harvey Bondar, senior vice president for strategic marketing. It looks and feels the same everywhere you go. That provides a sense of security around the globe.

visa s global, local feel

Focus groups clarify how customers perceive Visa and its products. It s a non-pretentious brand, very approachable, all-embracing and welcoming, says Bondar. Visa officials are careful to combine a global image with local identities. When we ask people in Singapore where they think Visa is from, they say Singapore. We ve been able to balance global and local in a very powerful way, he says.

Similarly, State Farm s branding success is attributable to its positioning, a result of the insurer changing its motto to Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is there, says State Farm s Bruce Petersen, associate advertising director. We re all about personal service, he says. We re there to help people. As such, advertising and marketing campaigns stress high-quality customer service delivered by State Farm agents.

With 37 million autos insured in North America, State Farm officials recognize that brand counts most when pricing is an issue. Says Petersen: We have to have that extra value they re looking for because other companies can beat us on price.

C.Kelly

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