An Opportunity to Chase Business

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JPMorgan Chase announced earlier this week that it plans to hire 1,500 new mortgage and small business bankers by the end of 2010. I think this is a tremendous branding opportunity.

"We have invested in new systems, aggressively grown our capacity and are now looking to increase our sales force," said its head of home lending in a statement reported on CNN.

Up to now, you could have fooled me.

Ever since the economic meltdown began, the communications from Chase and its competitors have been just shy of criminal: no details, no insight, no evidence of any action other than page after page of paternalistic, insulting branding blather that amounted to little more than saying "don’t worry, we’ve been through tough times…just trust us."

Financial firms received billions and billions of dollars because their very stuctures and ways of doing business were suspect, if not revealed to have failed outright. The few actions we learned about — paying one another giant bonuses, raising fees whenever possible, and resisting government exhortations to please, loan money to customers so the rest of the economy can get out of the crush of your ineptitude — told us much more than the branded communications. Oh, and we learned from the government that the firms were actively working to stifle any efforts at improved or increased oversight.

We still don’t know what has changed, if anything. I’ve written before that there is an ugly, nagging, gaping hole in the spot where customers used to place their trust in financial institutions. No creative slogan could restore the qualities of credibility and authenticity upon which these firms once relied. I am shocked that none of them have done anything to repair their reputations.

This is why I find the news from Chase so encouraging. Hiring staff is doing something other than hiring branding gurus to invent nonsense marketing. It might not be terribly strategic, and rather simply a staffing up for an anticipated uptick in loan applications, but if I were advising the bank, I’d find a way to make it a catalyst for communicating real change:

  • How will its loan offerings be different?
  • Who will they be targeting (i.e. will it be more selective)?
  • Will there be different vetting processes for approving loans, whether mortgage or commercial?
  • Are there lending goals for regions and/or sectors, so people can feel involved?
  • What are the loan servicing changes that will help make borrowers feel more secure/less likely to default?
  • Could there be real, meaningful synergies between Chase financial products, instead of treating customers as targets for cross-selling exploitation?
  • If there are new or improved regulatory and reporting conventions supporting this new phase in the bank’s growth, what are they and how could they matter to borrowers?

Again, I could be reaching for straws here — Chase’s strategy could be to change absolutely nothing and just wait for new customers to come calling — but the hiring announcement could be a great opportunity to start seeing its brand as a set of actions, not just words and images. I have to believe that people will be more likely to fork over their money, and commit to loans, if they’re given proof that it’s not just business as usual.

The Bulb Asks:

  • Did your last financial or operational news announcement support the ongoing narrative of your brand?
  • Do you identify & communicate things your business does differently than your competition vs. what positioning differences you want your customers to know?
  • How can you translate your corporate news into terms that matter more to your customers than to your branding?

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