So what would I do differently?

Ok, so I had my little rant about Barclays latest branding initiative. Having doled out the snarking and sarcasm it might be fair for me to propose an alternative approach.

First if I had the task of turning Barclays around, I would forget the idea of trying to come up with the big idea myself, and I would never, ever, brag about how much of my employer’s (shareholders’) money I was throwing at it. What a preposterous and vulgar way of establishing the value of an initiative.

Come to that, I would abandon the whole idea of a big idea. The notion that anyone at the top of the organisation can identify and implement a single right solution to drive change is grandiose and delusional.

I would give up the absurd notion of implementing, across hundreds of different branches, a single monolithic approach to dealing with customers. That silly sign about lovely people walking through the door might just have charm applied to one hippy-owned coffee shop. The very fact of rolling it out across a whole network is inherently absurd. It calls to mind my favourite Woody Allen quote about his desire to “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. And then see if I can get them mass-produced in plastic.”

Then I’d forget the idea of using focus groups to “test” my approaches. Focus groups belong to the past, they are expensive, contrived and create an unnecessary barrier to the conversations that need to happen between a business and its customers.

Instead, I’d invite the branches to innovate. I’d present them with the problem I’m trying to solve, and encourge them to spend time with their customers trying to work out a better approach. Not with questionnaires, but in open conversations. It’s been done before (see here).

And I’d encourage them to try lots of different approaches to improving customer service and the banking environment.

Then I’d set up a forum, online or maybe in person, where people from each branch could share with each other what they were experiencing and what they were learning. I’d invite the customers to take part too. I’d choose to have faith that good ideas would probably spread, without needing to be imposed from on high.

You see, I think the days of top-down branding are numbered. The value of consistency has been confused with a Bolshevik style rigidity. I think organisations need to celebrate experimentation and diversity. If they basically want to treat their staff and customers like unruly children, well fine. It’s not my view. I am, when you push me against a wall, an optimist. I’d trust people to exercise their freedom to create good stuff and learn from each other.

If it all went tits up, I’d take the blame. If it worked at all, I’d praise the people who tooks risks and innovated.

If I were the marketing director of Barclays, I’d try to make the innovators look good, and I’d try to make my customers look good. I’d expect Barclays to reward me with a good salary and scope to do what I believed; I would not seek to make myself famous at their expense. If I were Jim Hytner, in brief, I’d try to get over myself.

It’s probably the antithesis of what most branding consultants would tell you. So sue me.

1 thought on “So what would I do differently?

  1. Jack Yan

    How right you are, Johnnie, about the end of top–down branding. It worked for a while, but there are too many voices in a highly segmented market. Pity that Barclays doesn’t take a risk and have faith in its own brand equity standing up to any fluctuations. The rewards can be great when one is a pioneer, and a bank, with its sense and logic as part of its raison d’être, is one of the best vessels to balance both. It will say a lot about its desire to connect with people and reverse a generation of treating everyone as a number.

    Reply

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