Weird ad: can’t we all just get along?
Thursday March 12th 2015, 3:11 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,financial services

So the odd ad this week comes from Amalgamated Bank. Never heard of ‘em.

The good people at Amalgamated have clearly heard of branding agencies, though, as their website is downright winsome for a bank and their mission (yes) is to be “the preeminent bank of progressive people, organizations, businesses and labor.” Sooo hard to accomplish this when your 1-year CD rate is 0.40%, etc., but that’s a whole different post. Stephanie-Fierman-Amalgamated

So anyway, back to the ad. “Does your bank care more about limo riders than subway riders?” In an effort to be clever and “of the people,” Amalgamated has taken an off-base swipe at those who sometimes ride in the back of cars and insulted everyone reading its transit ad.  A double! And given the too clever by half approach to the copy, there is zero chance that anyone would pause to ask themselves the somewhat deep question Amalgamated is asking; said subway rider would be too busy trying to figure out WTF the ad is trying to say.

New York is also the wrong city for this ad. Too much of a melting pot.  “Limo” doesn’t have the same universal connotation it might have elsewhere, or at least it no longer does.  The bank’s site refers to helping the same kind of people who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of – hello – 1911. Today, the delineation between (think wealthy) limo riders and (think poor) subway riders isn’t all that clear. Plenty of New Yorkers who use limos for work use the subway on their own time, or when they’re paying. Then there’s the Ubers and Lyfts (limo? car? you decide)… The message just falls flat.

Oh, and one last thing? Why Amalgamated? Where’s the benefit? It’s a cheap shot to promote yourself in a serious category by dissing someone else (and not even someone specific – just “your bank”).

This is a fail, and maybe that’s a shame.  I looked at a bunch of the videos on the bank’s site, and they appear to care about things that are worth caring about. Cool. But as an advertiser? Be sure your voice, the message and the place all work together successfully.  If they don’t, you need to rethink what you’re doing.


Stephanie Fierman Suggests Goldman Sack This Idea

Marketers become accustomed to defending, documenting and demonstrating the value of marketing itself – particularly the beautiful art and science known as branding.  A lot of us are pretty good at it.  When branding comes up, I stand at the ready.

Ready, that is, until I’m not.

And so it was with the news that Goldman Sachs is considering a big, broad, very public effort to polish its brand. “Public” as in advertising, letters to the editor(s), responses to media reports… even an appearance by CEO Lloyd Blankfein on Oprah.

Can you imagine? Oprah. I picture it as a cross between Tom Cruise’s 2005 crazy-eyed appearance and her skewering of James Frey in 2006, and not in a good way.

Lloyd Blankfein

Look, I may condemn the investment banking scoundrels for their wrongdoing when I’m out having a drink somewhere, but – behind closed doors with the Goldman team – this would be my position:

Goldman executives may indeed be shocked – even hurt – by the way they’ve been treated by Congress or by the all-out vitriolic point of view on Main Street, but the fact of the matter is that these are not the audiences that really matter at Goldman… and this is the price to be paid for what they do for a living.

It’s a pretty small price, in my opinion.

Goldman isn’t nor was it ever in the business of being loved. It’s in business to be 100% rational, not emotional, and to make money for itself and its clients. That mission defines a fairly narrow set of individuals and companies that really need to know what Goldman is doing. For these people, a big initiative is (a) likely to be a grossly inefficient way of communicating, and (b) even more likely to be seen by those in the know as a silly distraction that pulls Goldman away from (make me money) what it’s supposed (make me money) to be doing (make me money).

Strike One and Two.

Then there’s John Q. Public, who may not understand a lot of Goldman’s business activities but knows the firm was at the epicenter of a series of events that were highly disruptive and that made a very small number of already rich people even richer. For most, these beliefs are almost purely emotional, and no company can promote itself out of negative sentiment. If you lay low – particularly when a bunch of abstract business concepts are involved – the public’s anger will dissipate, and soon another target will present itself.  Sad but true.  To communicate now would only inflame an audience that Goldman doesn’t need and create added stress for one the firm does need – it’s own employees.

Strike Three.

Branding, PR, advertising… none of these tools can be used to uproot deep-seated negative opinion while an issue is still hot. It’s tempting to buy full page ads in the Wall Street Journal that say you’ll make things right (paging British Petroleum) but you can’t win doing this and, frankly, it’s a bit immature and disrespectful. It’s like saying “Hey, I punched you in the eye, hard, and I can’t take it back or make it any better, but I still want you to like me.” In Goldman’s case, the firm plays hardball, it’s going to bruise some people and it’s going to make billions of dollars for its inner circle of stakeholders. Everyone knows that’s the deal, and – when the spotlight turns toward them – those involved need to be able to put up with not being “liked” in exchange for their success.

Goldman’s communications advisors would do well to make sure that its client is staying focused on what’s important to its core business and true constituencies.  I disagree with those who say that Goldman must vigorously present “its vision of the ‘right thing to do’ in the financial services industry going forward.”  To what end?  To “clarify” its point of view, or contribute to the national dialogue? Through a branding campaign? On Oprah? Please.

Take care of your own employees, talk with clients, prospects and key constituencies around the world as you normally would, and wait.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to simply live with a situation, keep going and accept that there are moments when the right kind of marketing may be no marketing at all.

Stephanie Fierman Is Thinking Of Becoming A Plastic Surgeon
Friday March 05th 2010, 10:20 pm
Filed under: financial services,luxury,women

Here’s a priceless and hilarious example of how overexposed, over-hyped, over-celebritized and Paris Hilton-addled our society has truly become.

You may have read about the massive insider trading case against Galleon Group.  A former consultant, Danielle Chiesi, was a participant in and beneficiary of the conspiracy.  Her criminal trial begins later this year.

Is she scared? Perhaps, but there seem to be more pressing concerns at the moment.

HERE is Danielle Chiesi last October, on the day the FBI led her away in handcuffs:


And HERE is Danielle Chiesi now (February 2010):


These two photos were taken about four months apart. In between, Chiesi began to morph a la Michael Jackson.  Two months in, The New York Post noted the disappearance of Chiesi’s “bloated face and dumpy sweater” (see first photo) in favor of a “slim new look” that looked like it was “straight out of central casting for a prison flick.” 

I love it. 

Next stop: Dancing with the Stars, or perhaps her own makeover show.  Assuming, of course, she doesn’t spend the next 10 years in prison.

And I would definitely believe, by the way, that Ms. Chiesi is terrified of prison…. because it’s going to be very – very – hard to keep up her new plasticized look behind bars.

Stephanie Fierman Can Pick ‘Em
Tuesday May 26th 2009, 7:02 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,financial services,stephanie fierman,US economy

Each year, the Financial Communications Society (FCS) recognizes firms in various categories for excellence in financial services advertising, collateral and (now) digital.  You can read the press release announcing this year’s winners HERE.

There are two reasons I wanted to write a quick post on this event:

(1) FCS named two of my faves as Best In Show.  The first is American Express, which was named Best In Show – Corporate Image advertising for its Martin Scorcese-Tina Fey “Timeshare” (my label) ad.  The post I wrote about this ad is HERE.    The second is E*Trade which was selected Best In Show – Consumer Retail for its “Baby” campaign – and you know how much I love this campaign.  I first wrote after its premiere at the 2008 SuperBowl, then again this past January when the second round of ads came out (“I wanna punch the economy in the face“).  And E*Trade has kept it rolling with two more greats, Singing Baby and Golf

(2) It’s a walk down memory lane. 2009 is the 15th year FCS has given its Portfolio Awards.  1995 was the very first year – and my team won an award for our ChaseDirect launch campaign.  ChaseDirect was the U.S.’ first national direct bank (even before Bank One’s Wingspan, which many remember), and we won that night.  It was a business that we all felt passionately about and my team from Chase and Wells Rich Greene were there to celebrate. 

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.

How Much Would You Pay For Stephanie Fierman’s Money?

The Web has a wonderful ability to make historically opaque businesses and transactions far more transparent and accessible.

The Internet did this for car buying years ago:  between Consumer Reports,, CarsDirect and a myriad of other sites, the shopper who would have previously driven to whatever dealerships happened to be local now has a lot more bargaining power… and can buy a car from anywhere in the country if the (online) price is right.

To that end, I recently commented on a TechCrunch story about a new company called DriverSide.  Like RepairPal, intends to help cash-strapped consumers more effectively maintain their cars instead of having to sell or replace them.  My point was that these sites will only begin to reach their real potential when a user can write his/her need and have mechanics compete for the work via online bids, a la an eBay auction.

Almost right after I posted this comment, I stumbled on a unique application of this concept from the Netherlands: Spaarbod.  You thought Bankrate made it easier to shop for interest rates?  Spaarbod permits Dutch consumers to specify how much money they’d like to bank, for how long and on what terms, and the site (like Bankrate) returns the best rates publically available at the time.  You can accept one of these offers immediately, or Spaarbod will send your request (minus your personal information) to participating banks who can then bid on your money.  Within 24 hours, you get an email listing the five highest bidders. 

The service is free to use, and winning banks pays Spaarbod a commission when bids result in new deposits.stephanie-fierman-spaarbod-logo.jpg

It’s not difficult to imagine these auctions going live, where each participating bank would have an employee bidding in real-time for a user’s deposit.   

Heck yeah!  And why do I have to shop around for the privilege of giving you my money anyway??

Such a seemingly simple idea but  on a marketwide scale  this model has major implications for advertising and marketing overall.  If engaged consumers (buyers) approach marketers (sellers) when they are in the market for a seller’s services, those sellers could potentially spend far less money on spray-and-pray mass marketing… and pass the savings on to the customer in the form of lower prices or, in this case, higher interest rates.  The advertiser is likely to spend less and the customer gets a higher-value, more customized outcome. 

Doc Searls (who also may have been the first person to use the word “conversation” in a marketing context) first coined the phrase “intention economy” to describe the idea of markets designed around engaged buyers instead of message-pusing sellers.  I’ll explore the intention economy in another post.

Stephanie Fierman Says AIG PR Guy Missed His Shot
Thursday March 12th 2009, 6:22 pm
Filed under: financial services,US economy

As you may know, there is a dust-up going on between – no, not Jim Cramer v. Jon Stewart – I’m talking about Burson-Marsteller v. Rachel Maddow.

AIG opened a Pandora’s Box when it sent a media advisory to MSNBC notifying the network that the company was adding a new shop to its list of PR firms. List, you say??  This peaked MSNBC’s/Rachel Maddow’s interest, and she has twice run lengthy segments this week regarding the firm at the top of that list:  Burson- Marsteller.

And aside from being absolutely beside herself that AIG is spending taxpayer money on spin, she offers a quite lengthy history lesson about BM, including specific references to the following Burson-Marsteller clients (Oh yeah:  she’s irritated):
– Blackwater after it killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad
– The folks at Three Mile Island post-nuclear meltdown
– The Bhopal people after the disaster that killed thousands of people in India
– The Romanian dictator Nikolai Ceauşescu
– The government of Saudi Arabia three days after 9/11
– The military junta that overthrew the government of Argentina
– The government of Indonesia, accused of genocide
– The government of Nigeria, accused of genocide and Biafra
Philip Morris? *cough*
– A silicon breast implants manufacturer
– The government of Columbia after killing unionizers
– They Aquadot people, after it was found that the toy produced the date rape drug.

She concludes this first segment with the following statement: When Evil needs public relations, Evil has Burson Marsteller on speed dial.

Wow.  So I waited with interest to see Burson-Marsteller’s reaction… and think the shop missed an opportunity to sound like the grown-ups in the room.

After reading Mark Penn‘s (BM’s President) response, which includes a great deal of “for 50 years” phrases and chest-clutching indignity, I posted the following comment on

—- Penn had a shot here at a succinct, fact-based response, but blew it with a reaction that IMHO comes off as self-promoting, and his “mock outrage” mutes the core of his message. Phrases such as “our corporate values over the past 50 years”and “never forget over the past 20 years…” are entirely irrelevant and, more importantly, causes the reader to wonder as to the actual intent of this response.

From the way this is written, it appears to me that Penn felt he needed to address at least four different audiences: MSNBC/the cable news business, employees, clients and potential clients. I would propose that the firm would have been better off with shorter and more customized messages to each rather than this rambling catch-all that had to do double or triple (or four-ple??) duty.

And one last thing: I only read the entire statement because Penn’s statement that B-M wasn’t hired to help “burnish [AIG’s] image” caught my eye. As a long-time marketing/mgmt exec, let me be clear: regardless of the specific task my team may give an agency, it is ALWAYS a PR shop’s job to help build (or “burnish,” if you will) a client’s image 24/7. If I were under siege at AIG, this comment alone would make me wonder, “What am I paying these guys for??” —–

And in a Penn v. Maddow mud wrestle?  My money is on Maddow.

Stephanie Fierman’s Bank In Diapers? Not A Pretty Sight
Friday March 06th 2009, 2:00 am
Filed under: advertising,customer service,financial services,Twitter,US economy

I follow Jeffry Pilcher‘s on Twitter and have enjoyed his insights.

Recently, Jeffry caught something that tells us just how bad the financial situation is.

Yes folks, these institutions are so upset, and have become so unstable, that they are literally peeing their own metaphorical pants.  And their grammar stinks.  Oh, I know:  it’s shocking!


Jeffry points out something that shouldn’t be a surprise, however:  anything that represents a financial company today that is viewed or experienced by the public – even signage in a local branch – deserves additional scrutiny.  The smallest failure in personal service can undermine costly efforts elsewhere.

Did I mention that this sign was posted on the door of a credit union inside the U.S. Capitol Building?

Stephanie Fierman Sees More Of The Same. Again.

It is a good thing that bank and investment advertising no longer touts high-higher-highest (!) returns, Morningstar stars, 40-something couples retiring to their house(s) in paradise, and the like.   Outside of just a few stalwarts, such as Vanguard with its measured point of view and Bogle-esque approach, many of the siren calls in the newspaper, on television and online had all begun to (or already did) sound and look the same.  That’s not effective.

Now we appear to have swung all the way to the other extreme.  Take a look at a list of advertisers, all crammed into today’s Wall Street Journal, along with text pulled verbatim from their ads:

MORGAN STANLEY:  “To find the smart investments today, you need to be world wise.”

MERRILL LYNCH (aka Bank of America):  “Seeing clearly.  Acting confidently.”   “With personal insight into your goals and an understanding of the market…” “…Find a smart place for your money.”

CME GROUP: “Rise Above the Risk.” “For more than a century CME Group has provided competitive, transparent and safe markets.” “…protect customers and ensure financial integrity by guaranteeing the performance of every transaction on our exchange.”

TD AMERITRADE: “There’s never been a better time for a second opinion.”

FIDELITY: “Guaranteed income you can live with.”

GLENMEDE: “There’s no substitute for safety and stability.”

PNC:  “…It’s also a way of doing business that has strength and stability at its very core.”

Safe, smart, transparent and guaranteed: these are the adjectives financial firms are now scrambling to use, as they adjust to our new reality  The problem is – well, it’s the same problem as before – if you sound like everyone else, the messages essentially melt into one and stakeholders become unable to distinguish one from the other.  If I held a focus group tonight, and scrambled the names of the above firms and the quoted text, I would challenge anyone to re-match the elements correctly.

I’ll also say this:  killing your ads’ effectiveness may, in fact, be the most benign result.  Worse?  Just as when every firm claimed great returns – which turned out to be untrue and, in some cases, unscrupulous – everyone claiming safety now looks equally unlikely and untrustworthy.

All of these brands are more and are capable of doing more: the “more” being the hard work needed to determine exactly what it is about the brand that is unique and distinguishable from the competition.*

Without doing this work, going out with a “safety” message isn’t safe at all.

* I am aware that many of the above firms are in different businesses and are not competitors per se.  It does not matter, because it does not matter to the public. For individual investors (and Congress…), too much of the same becomes one, amorphous perception.

Stephanie Fierman Doesn’t Care For Fickle FICOs
Wednesday February 04th 2009, 3:55 pm
Filed under: customer service,financial services,Internet,US economy

Do you remember the 1970’s Fifth Dimension song, “One less… FICO to answer.  One less… FICO to fry…”  You don’t? Well you may start singing it when you go to collect your three FICO scores and discover only two available.

As of Valentine’s Day, Experian will no longer make its credit score, or FICO, available to individual consumers.  So while you previously could have gone to and purchased any or all of three scores from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion there will now be only two.

Given what’s happening in the economy, it seems an odd time from a PR point of view to take such an action.  Lenders are raising their credit standards, and a yes/no decision can sometimes come down to a matter of a few points on your FICO.  If you are in the market for a loan, you want to see all the same information that lender is seeing:  particularly because individuals often find errors in their credit records that must be corrected.fico_score.jpg

The stakes are particularly high because Experian itself will continue to sell (your) FICO scores based on its data to lenders, such as banks.  This means that the lending institution will see a score that you can no longer see for yourself. 

Fair Isaac expressed surprise at the action at a time when consumers are particularly “concerned about their credit standing.”  Of course, there is some competition between all these parties, and Fair Isaac actually sued Experian in 2006 on an unrelated matter.  That lawsuit is still outstanding, which probably doesn’t exactly create a spirit of cooperation between the two firms.

If you are in the market for a loan or credit card, I would recommend buying your Experian-based FICO score while you still can.  And always pull your other FICOs once a year for free at

Stephanie Fierman Presents: The Tone Deaf Ad Of The Week
Friday January 23rd 2009, 10:23 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,financial services,US economy,Wall Street Journal

Now don’t get too excited – I hope that this is the first in a weekly series presenting tone deaf ads, but we’ll have to see. Companies are scrambling so crazily trying to figure out what to say in this economy that I think the odds are in my favor, but the proof will be in the… tone deaf ads.

Let’s knock it out of the park this first week, at least, OK?

May I present to you… Bessemer Trust. Henry Phipps founded Bessemer over 100 years ago to manage his family’s proceeds from the sale of Carnegie Steel. Today, the firm’s website states that Bessemer manages in excess of $50B in assets for over 1,900 families, and that its “history of serving wealthy families affords us an understanding of the issues that matter to you.” 

Really? Let’s review some of the issues that are, in fact, on everyone’s minds these days with regard to the financial markets:  Economic meltdown.  Uncertainty.  Greed.  Irresponsibility.  Misrepresentation.  Anxiety.  This means that any financial firm today has a choice to make:  either don’t advertise – which is a perfectly acceptable option for now – or advertise a message that is very, very carefully crafted to take these concerns into account. 

So I was shocked when I saw Bessemer’s ad in The Wall Street Journal yesterday:  a half-page ad with huge type, saying “We invest your money right along with ours.  Needless to say, you benefit from some very careful thinking.”


My reaction: “They’re joking.  Bessemer is an honorable and discreet company.  Why would they get down in the mud  with a bunch of other companies that followed this same practice and scr**ed over their investors?”  Investing your own funds is no guarantee of anything – it’s not a guarantee of wealth, intelligence, integrity or the “alignment of interest” explained in Bessemer’s ad.  Lots of categories currently in the hotseat invest their own funds:  venture capital firms, investment banks, mortgage companies…  Enron invested its own funds alongside clients, for goodness sake!

To make matters worse, the small type does actually call out some positive characteristics and benefits of being a Bessemer client “as the credit crisis loomed.”  Unfortunately, I can guarantee that no one who saw this ad ever read the small type.

Does the firm have an executive tuned in to the American zeitgeist today?  If not, they need one; if so, that person needs to get his hearing checked.  This is truly a frustrating example of a company deliberately and needlessly putting itself in harm’s way.

Stephanie Fierman Wonders About Santa’s Credit
Thursday November 20th 2008, 9:39 am
Filed under: branding,financial services,Internet,Wall Street Journal

So… what do we tell kids this year about Santa?  Is there a lesson to be taught here about financial responsibility?  Some parents and cooperative mall Santas think so. santa.jpg

I think that not overpromising a kid is a good idea and there are various articles and blogs that give parents ideas of how to manage kids’ expectations.  But telling your kids that, while Santa makes and brings the toys, he sends the bills to mom and dadWow, that’s harsh!

Then again, Santa himself is looking for a second job this year, so all bets are off.

Stephanie Fierman On An Untapped Not-So-Niche In Banking
Wednesday October 29th 2008, 4:21 pm
Filed under: branding,financial services

According to The Telegraph, Credit Suisse is the first big bank in the UK to create a custom private banking service for homosexuals.  Founded by gays, for gays.

Credit Suisse’s service will cover not only deliver standard private banking products but will also provide counsel tailored to this customer base pertaining to civil partnerships, adoption and estate planning.

Stephen Connolly, the chap leading the new Credit Suisse business service, says, “Clients with us have no need to explain their lifestyles or – as we know happens in some cases – almost feel the need to justify the way they choose to live their lives.”

Britain’s average gay man earned a full 20% higher than his heterosexual counterparts, and will frequently have fewer expenses associated with raising a family – thereby becoming a great target for cash management, investment and retirement planning, as well.

It’ll be interesting to see how they do.  Merrill Lynch in the UK is dialing back a custom service they established for gays a few years ago, and there have been other similar services across the pond that have gone away because their founders determined that the need for such services had passed.

It may be, in fact, that the service’s core target is well-educated singles, in a fashion, who don’t have children and may or may not be in relationships.  We’ll see.   The basic insight is that there is still money to be made by finding underserved – and sometimes, well off – populations.  As always, their success will come down to prospecting and execution.

Credit Suisse gays    

Stephanie Fierman Finds The Softer Side… Of Your P&L
Friday September 05th 2008, 7:14 pm
Filed under: cmo,financial services,Internet,retail

What on Earth is going on at Sears Holdings?

I admit it.  Back in 2003 and 2004, I was reading articles about brilliant activist shareholder and financier Edward Lampert and thinking about the fun, challenge and money that could be mine if I worked for his $9 billion private investment fund, ESL.   I try to remind myself that, at the time, everyone was pretty much thinking the same thing.   In a long, mostly-glowing 2004 profile, BusinessWeek wondered whether the savvy businessman was our “next Warren Buffett.”  In 2006, Fortune raved about Lampert, knighting him “the best investor of his generation” and the “Steve Jobs of the investing world.”

And now?  Not so much.

He bought the once-bankrupt Kmart and used the free cash flow to purchase Sears.  Even for the struggling retail industry, the combined entity – Sears Holdings – has been in a weird tailspin every since.   Poor results, a total and utter online dissection of Lampert’s conduct (“In a quarter where the dismal is the norm, Eddie Lampert went out and basically told everyone to go f*&k themselves”) and claims of manipulated, “squishy” earnings reports.  

And as for a warning bell specific to this blog, Kmart, Sears and Sears Holdings all have their top marketing spots open.  Sears Holdings’ Chief Marketing Officer, Maureen McGuire, announced her departure due to “personal reasons” two weeks ago (and two weeks ahead of Sears’ announcing its second fiscal quarter results).  Her resignation comes just two months after Kmart’s own CMO, Bill Stewart, left – also for “personal reasons.”

To have three choice CMO jobs go wanting in this kind of market?  That is truly ominous.  Let’s assume Lampert is still the genius that he once was.  I am not a stockholder – so I can afford to not be angry – but I am perplexed.

ESL Lampert   Sears Holdings   Kmart   Edward Lampert   Sears CMO

Stephanie Fierman Resume: Bank Of Whatever, 1990-2000
Monday June 02nd 2008, 8:07 am
Filed under: financial services,stephanie fierman

Banks spend so much money on advertising, branding, PR…  And given that I’ve worked for a couple, I take very little joy in the discovery that no bank made it on to a list of the Top 100 brands in the world.  There are financial services companies including American Express (13), Visa (36) and Schwab (51), but no banks.

Since 1990, Corebrand has used annual surveys of 12,000 financial decision-makers, a long with a bunch of data, to determine the “brand equity valuation” of over 500 companies in 45 industries.  Brand equity valuation is defined as the % of a company’s market cap that Corebrand calculates is due to the company’s brand.  It’s interesting and people do pay attention to this list.

Anyway, banking has never done very well.  A five-year comparative study betweek 2002 and 2007 showed the overall banking industy’s brand equity valuation at 4.63% in 1Q07: flat to its score in 1Q02 and down from 5.76% in 1Q04 and 5.11% in 1Q06.  I’m glad to see that my alma mater, JPMorgan Chase, enjoyed the largest brand growth in this same 5 year period.  Corebrand actually believes that this was due to the merger between Bank One and Chase, with Corebrand’s CEO Jim Gregory seeing it as one of the few times when  merging the names of two companies seems to be creating more overall value for the combined entity.”

Chase continues its rise in 2008, moving up 4 spots to become the highest-rated commercial bank on the list at a “Darn, we were so close!” ranking of 101. 

With me-too products and services dominating the financial services industry, banks can ill afford to live without a strong mindshare and reputation among consumers (or fellow financial experts).  As always, I believe that it’s about doing better with target segments – genuinely making an impact – than it is about flooding the airwaves with cash.

Stephanie Fierman Delivers Some Good Advice From AmEx
Tuesday April 29th 2008, 5:01 am
Filed under: advertising,financial services

The May issue of Fortune offers a “Three-Minute Manager” lesson on how to handle growth without losing focus.  The issue also tried to say something about CEOs based on how they comb their hair… but I digress.

Given that I’m a hardcore build-the-brand-through-customer-engagement person, I thought Ken Chenault’s insights were particularly useful – and American Express has certainly had its distractions in the past.

1.  Watch for high turnover among new customers.  This goes for consumers as well as business clients.  I’ve been consulting for a company in the email marketing space.  This company signed a new client… who then did not hear from the company for over 30 days.  The new client exited the relationship.

2.  Be careful of growth that comes from price promotion.  While you’re ramping up to handle the new volume you may (a) neglect loyal ones and (b) lose these price-chasers the next time another firm offers a better deal.

3.  Work hard to ensure that every business you enter has a natural connection to the brand and business model.  Chenault offers the American Express Advisors spin-off (see above link) as an example of exiting a perfectly decent business but one that became a drag on the core of the company.

4. Never take your eye off innovation.  American Express has set aside a $50 million innovation fund and employees win seed money for ideas approved by the management team.  The multiples of good karma here are obvious.

5.  Push forward when everyone else is holding back.  This is good advice for companies that know they’ll weather the storm.  The same actions and dollars spent will allow you to gain more competitive ground than in good times when everyone is equally geared up.

And fyi, AmEx took its own advice, bucking the trend among credit card issuers to cut marketing efforts.  While spending for the overall category was down in 2007, American Express spent 3% more than it did in 2006.

stephanie fierman says (again) that Women need to get on the financial stick, and fast
Monday April 14th 2008, 3:52 pm
Filed under: financial services,stephanie fierman,women online

This blogger is not at all happy to find out that women are less likely than men to begin saving for retirement before the age of 30.  A Rasmussen/Country Financial poll found that 42% of men vs. 35% of women start saving for this goal before the big 3-0. 

This is even more troubling when one discovers that women are becoming far more pessimistic than men regarding the ability of the average middle class family to retire.  Of the 50% of Americans who now believe that a middle class family cannot successfully save enough to secure a comfortable retirement, only 29% of women vs. 44% of men overall believe the same.  The gender gap is even more dramatic for married individuals:  just 32% of married women compared to 53% of married men think a middle income family can save for retirement. 

And just to beat a dead horse a little more…  Men are most concerned about ending up with enough money to “do what they like to do ” as they age (47%), while women are closely split between the same concern (37%) and worrying that they will run out of money altogether (36%).   Run out of money altogether!  And yet, men are more likely to say they have taken steps to alleviate their concerns (61%) than women (48%).

So women worry more and do less.  This is not entirely new information, of course, and we are aware of its social, educational and cultural underpinnings, but the numbers are alarming. 

Those of us in the financial services sector need to do better.  I’ve talked about women and financial services before.  At the event that sparked that very post, I met Linda Descano, the talented COO of Citicorp’s Women & Co.  Women & Co is a smart, savvy resource that’s free for select Citibank/Smith Barney clients and $125 a year for others.  Worth every penny.

We need more more more.  High school graduation rates in this country are a mess, we know.  But college?  When we’re in charge, no one gets out of college without taking a required series of mini-courses every year on how to save, invest and build credit.  Yes, when we’re in charge…

stephanie fierman on credit card rewards and the recession
Friday April 11th 2008, 12:22 pm
Filed under: financial services,loyalty marketing,stephanie fierman

Loyalty marketing is a hot topic for me, as – broad strokes – the very definition of said process is to take actions that bind a consumer more readily to your brand than another over time.  That gets into all the sexy (I’m serious) issues such as CRM, behavioral targeting and datamodeling, or at least it should.  TowerGroup, a research and consulting firm that works with nearly all the banks, estimates that reward programs are a factor in nearly 70% of all card transactions in the U.S. today – so loyalty programs and rewards (costs, administration, appeal, redemptions, etc.) are a big deal. 

I recently blogged on the topic of retail/QSR loyalty programs and mainstream credit card technology here – take a look. 

Now Tower is proposing that drastic economic challenges offer credit card firms an opportunity to adjust their reward programs to reflect benefits more in line with pressing consumer needs.   So while some consumers may still want to pile on points to earn a Hawaiian vacation, there are many more who may respond to offers that help them improve their credit and pay off debt.

This approach might include an emphasis on cash-based credits that could be used to pay down card balances – perhaps the spend-to-point translation could even be set at a higher level if the cardmember agreed to apply the points to his/her balance vs. getting an HD television. Other incentives could include heavily discounted credit report subscriptions (that the issuer would subsidize) and tiered breaks on APR if the consumer is willing to spend down his/her balance quicker. 

I’m inspired by this approach because it’s practical and reflects the realities of the U.S. economy.  Hawaiian trips are great, and maybe a consumer who just lost his job will someday be able to once again aspire to such a reward but – today – you show that consumer you’re paying attention and that you care about his well-being by making adjustments accordingly.  Done well, this will set an issuer apart from the pack.

There are plenty of trigger behaviors, too, that can help an issuer identify vulnerable consumers in its portfolio.  It’s also good defensive behavior as consumers consider spending less or shifting to cash or debit.

So right on!