Everything on ‘Brands’

Banks focus more on user experience

In the last 5 years the banking sector has changed significantly. We’ve previously needed banks for mortgages, to receive our salaries, pay our bills or get cash to do the groceries, etc.. The financial crisis made it clear that even the largest and most trustworthy banks could not guarantee to be here for good. At the same time, alternatives grew strongly in both numbers and maturity. Newcomers like PayPal, AliPay, ApplePay, Google Wallet, BitCoin and even Octopus provide new disruptive technologies that could in time overturn the whole banking landscape.

Traditional banks also face competition from so called neobanks. These banks without branches provide a (small) range of traditional banking services and distinguish themselves with transparent cost structures, low or no monthly fees, large ATM networks and easy to use and always up to date mobile apps. With their limited product portfolio they focus on service above product.  

From selling products to managing user experience

How do banks respond to these trends? The way forward for the traditional banks is to focus more on service and improving their user experience, thereby reducing the need for consumers to seek alternatives. Some banks employ design talents to ‘pimp’ their online platforms. The design is indeed an important aspect of user experience. However, other aspects of functionality (how many banking tasks people can do with the platform) or usability (how fast, easy and pleasant the platform is to use and to understand) are equally or even more important.

Recent research in the UK found that mobile banking apps of five major UK banks, including HSBC, failed their user experience test. Even though some of the user-interfaces were visually attractive and user-friendly, they only provided functionality for a limited number of banking tasks. Consumers expect more. Traditional banks have the organization and infrastructure to provide a much wider range of services than neobanks or the new technologies. The opportunity banks have, is to provide access to all these services on their website and mobile platform in a user-friendly way that (re-)imbues trust.

One of the challenges being faced is security. Banks traditionally focus on security and compliance. And security measures, when overdone, are annoying to users. New payment technologies either provide inherent security or security issues are of limited consequence, for example because of limited transaction amounts. On the other hand, fingerprint scanners and front camera face recognition now enable banks to provide a great user experience while guaranteeing their customers a minimum required degree of security. This requires a drastic change of focus, though: away from proven technology like security devices.

Cultural aspects of user experience

Cultural and legal differences are also relevant. In Common Law countries agreeing with detailed terms and conditions is often required. In Western Europe consumer protection and the reasonableness and fairness principle are dominant (including the reasonableness that endless terms and conditions or fine print may not always be assumed read or agreed upon). This reflects in the way that apps may deal with transaction confirmations and it directly impacts the user experience.

Apart from this, cultural aspects cannot be ignored when optimizing user experience: a red colored user interface that seems cluttered to some will (on average) not be appreciated in the same way in Europe as it would in China. Basing new apps or websites on generic usability guidelines is therefore not a guarantee for the best user experience for the target group. Every good development process is iterative and includes incremental improvements based on testing with real users. The Rabobank for example has a dedicated user experience lab in The Netherlands where existing functionality and improvements are extensively tested. 

User experience beyond the online platform

Managing the user experience does not only involve websites and mobile apps. A customer experiences the products of a company via all available channels. The travel distance, waiting line, employee expertise and tone of voice suddenly become relevant when customers wants to visit a branch office instead of use the app. Cost transparency, simplicity of terms and conditions and an option to circumvent the automated telephone answering system all contribute to a better user experience. Although banks face fierce competition from new technologies and neobanks, there are enough opportunities to out-compete them and leverage existing strengths, but it does require a paradigm shift.

(This article first appeared in the Dutch Chamber Magazine, publication of the Dutch Chamber in Hong Kong)

BrandZ: Apple overtakes Google as most valuable brand

In the brand value ranking maintained by BrandZ, Apple has now succeeded Google as the most valuable brand with a value estimated at $153 billion. That’s a 859% increase since 2006, the year before Apple introduced one of it’s biggest hits until now, the Iphone (announced in January 2007). In the BrandZ ranking IBM remains third.

Comparing Apples with ‘peers’

It’s interesting to remark that in another ranking by InterBrand, Apple scored only 17th in last year September’s assessment with a value of only $21.143 billion. That’s almost 8 times less. This should all have to do with the methodology differences in measuring the brand value. » More: BrandZ: Apple overtakes Google as most valuable brand

10 things not to do when dealing with China

The Chinese market is unique

The Chinese market is unique

Hong Kong television station Pearl showed an insightful lecture by a J Walter Thompson consultant about marketing in China. Most important lessons: traditional marketing principles don’t work and don’t listen too much to Chinese experts.

Here’s his list of “10 commandments”, as he called it, which I enriched with some examples:

  1. Don’t take your CEO to dinner in a rich neighborhood of Shanghai » More: 10 things not to do when dealing with China

Would you buy her apples?

Evil witch offering apples at Albert Heijn

Evil witch offering apples at Albert Heijn

Like most kids, when I was young, I learned not to buy apples from evil witches. I normally buy my apples at the Albert Heijn supermarket, but today I decided not to. See the picture at the right.

This supermarket has a temporary Snow White promotion, during which you can collect miniatures of all 7 dwarfs and other characters of Snow White’s fairy tale. It’s kind of weird to associate the apples you want to sell with an evil witch and the poisoned apple that caused Snow White to suffocate.

Small seats for tall people

Well equiped train in Taiwan

Taiwan train with large comfortable seats

Last week I enjoyed a perfect holiday in Taiwan. We encountered nice weather, nice people, and nice landscapes. For a two day trip to a national park we took a train. Expecting a typical Asian train as you (used to?) see them in the movies, so prepared for the worse, Taiwan again brought me a very good experience. Used to the Dutch trains with uncomfortable chairs with very limited leg space, if there is actually a seat available, I considered that the fact that Taiwanese people on average are less tall than Dutch people would not benefit me. I was pleasantly surprised » More: Small seats for tall people

Was playing with Twitter bad for Habitat?

In June this year, Habitat caused quite some fuzz when an intern misused Twitter by using keywords related to the Iranian political situation to promote posts about special offers. This was generally seen as wrong decision which has damaged their brand. However, I’m not sure this is the case.

Habitat generated quite some attention for its Twitter channel, its brand and its website. One might argue that this attention was negatively focused. And that is mostly true. On the other hand, as many others at the time of the incident, I was not a Twitter user and I heard about this in a less detailed way. I was told that this English furniture brand Habitat (which I knew from some nice shops here in The Netherlands) had accidentally messed up some online campaign. My association was not of a negative nature. Actually I thought it’s funny that a typical offline brand like Habitat (with it’s nice shops) makes mistakes in it’s online activities.

Most people probably don’t associate Habitat with ‘online’. In general people tend to try to put things in their context. The default context of Habitat is furniture, which is a relatively traditional kind of product, usually not bought online. (I for one would first want to experience the sitting comfort of any sofa I’d buy.) The Twitter incident does not relate to the most likely context of the brand. It does not say anything about the quality of its products. Also the overall ethics of the company are not really in question either.

Therefore it seems unlikely that the mistakes Habitat made with Twitter have damaged the company or its brand. They might even have benefited it. Most people might not have associated Habitat with ‘online’ before, but maybe some more people might now. And probably not even in a negative way. They might even visit the website.