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Brand Promise and Customer Experience IN the Banking Industry

Brand Promise and Customer Experience IN the Banking Industry

Willem Aanen

Client Consultant, CX



The total brand value of the BrandZ™ Netherlands Top 30 has decreased by 12 percent in 2021. A sharp decline, but the Dutch banking industry has suffered even harder. Our three largest retail banks – ING, Rabobank, and ABN AMRO – have each lost more than a quarter of their value.

To be sure, declining value is a worldwide trend for financial brands. What’s more, it is a phenomenon that we have seen before. During crises, the banking industry is usually the first industry to be in decline, as Kantar analyst Elspeth Cheung has noted: “Banks are highly subject to economic situations. Usually in bad times, there will be bad loans, and banks will suffer the most.”

Going forward, each individual bank has to think of a way to stand out from the competition. That’s a tall order: Especially at a time in which savings interest rates are close to zero, it has become nearly impossible to differentiate one brand based on product offerings. Consequently, the banking industry now faces the risk of their products and services being regarded as an undifferentiated commodity. How can they turn the tide?

Focus on Customer Experience

Customer experience is what makes or breaks brands. It is no longer enough to simply provide a good product or service. Consumers want a great experience with it – and the better the experience, the more value commanded by a brand. As the research and consulting expertise of Kantar bears out, in many ways the importance of experience now dwarfs everything else (see, for instance, the “CX+ 2019” report).

People are spending more on experiences. This is partly due to the commoditization of products and services. But it’s mostly because of an aspirational shift from accumulation to access – or, in other words, from owning things to hiring things as needed. What people want from brands (and therefore what they are spending more of their money on) is experiences, so marketers must find ways to turn goods into experiences, and to find new sources of value to meet growing experiential competition.

Now, of course, this will be quite hard for banks to accomplish – meaning that the risk of commoditization is especially large in this industry. Still, there are opportunities to make growth happen, if you can articulate a clear Brand Promise and then live up to it.

The experience advantage

All businesses need meaningful ways of measuring how their brand performs against their competitors, and – crucially – against people’s expectations.

We all know the importance of delivering an exceptional customer experience. But to be a truly customer-centric organization, you must go further and consider how that customer experience aligns (or doesn’t) with the promises you’re making to your customers. Because customers aren’t just looking for the best service now – they’re looking for brands that resonate with their own values and lifestyles.

Banks in the Netherlands have recognized this. Entirely new propositions have emerged, with sustainability-driven banks such as Triodos and ASN, and with new technology-enabled providers like Knab and Bunq. These newer brands obviously have an advantage when it comes to articulating a clear brand promise – in this respect, it’s far more difficult to reposition a legacy organization than it is to build something new from the ground up.


Dutch general retail banks like ING, ABN AMRO, and Rabobank – to name just a few examples of such legacy organizations - are now shifting their brand positionings. They are trying to be known for more than just efficient processes. But what steps do they need to take in order to get there?

Kantar has developed a model to evaluate customer experience based on five key success factors – the CX+ model. Let me take you through these five steps:

1. Clear brand promise

What the brand stands for is clearly articulated and understood. This is where it all begins: having a clear promise that resonates with your customers’ values and lifestyles. For example: ABN AMRO has just launched the campaign ‘Een wereld te winnen’
(‘A world to gain’). By sharing examples of what this actually means through social media and advertisement, customers are informed and – hopefully – engaged.

But the actual customer experience merely
starts with a clear brand promise. How can you reinforce this brand promise in your everyday interactions with customers? This is summarized in the next four steps of the CX+ model.

2. Make sure to have Empowered Employees

Employees provide proactive, responsive, and empathetic service, keeping the brand promise in mind throughout all interactions.

3. Empowered Customers
Customers can “do it their way,” through frictionless and relevant digital and omnichannel excellence.

4. Lasting Memories
Positive emotional moments are created throughout the customer journey.

5. Exceptional Delivery
Deliver experiences which reinforce the brand choice. This generates loyalty, advocacy, and greater customer lifetime value. 

If a brand manages to get these five factors right, it will definitely be ahead of the competition. Among the Dutch general retail banks, there certainly is room for improvement on all five pillars – starting with a clear brand promise. If you asked a random person on the street about the promise or unique selling point of one of the three large retail banks, you would probably not get a clear answer.

But would the answer be clearer if you would ask the same question to a random employee of one of these banks? Hopefully so.

Asking these questions might be a good exercise for each company to do from time to time!