Jan 31, 2001
SUMMARY: While undergoing its own re-branding exercise, Accenture (the former Andersen Consulting) conducted and released the results of “Beyond the Blur: Correcting the Vision of Internet Brands,” its first-ever eBranding survey, in November 2000. Conducted in conjunction with Online Insight, an eCRM technology company, the survey examined the online buying habits of 2,000 U.S. consumers across 17 industry segments in order to find the facts behind brand value online.
We spoke with Kelly Dixon from Accenture's eBranding Group to learn how the results could affect online bank and brokerage marketing.
Q: What do you think the biggest myth has been regarding the profile of the average consumer online?
Dixon: Contrary to conventional wisdom, online shoppers aren’t young and hip. The most frequent online buyers are between 35 and 44 years of age. [Note: So much for the ongoing courtship of Generation Y!] The second surprise is that it’s not all about price: pricing contributes no more than 10% to the eBrand value. The other 90% has nothing to do with price but everything to do with website features and brand availability.
Q: What is the profile of the average online investor or borrower online?
Dixon: We studied four financial services areas: auto insurance, brokerage, credit cards, and mortgages. In the brokerage area, we found that 41% of online investors fall into the categories of “Variety Seeker” and “Netizen.” [Note: Accenture identified a total of five needs-based online buying segments.] Variety Seekers need brand selection and category breadth, with price almost being a non-issue. Netizens look to customer information privacy, site speed, and overall interactive experience with respect to their buying needs. Both Variety Seekers and Netizens are price-indifferent.
Q: Isn’t that strange, that online investors prefer a variety of brands? Doesn’t everyone only want to invest in one place?
Dixon: Again, people look for total customer experience. If they like one site for stocks but another for CDs, then they will manage multiple accounts so as to have access to multiple online experiences.
Q: Knowing this, what should online banks and brokers do to better target the most profitable customer?
Dixon: In general terms, companies can realize dramatic returns from online marketing efforts if only they targeted their marketing to the 10% of the population that buys 70% of all products online. With financial services, the larger segment two years ago was day traders; this has declined significantly and now online brokers and banks are going after savers and long-term investors—-which has traditionally been the largest group who purchases financial services.
Q: What should the marketing efforts for online brokers and banks be relegated to?
Dixon: Instead of barraging the consumer with massive brand advertising, Internet marketers should first and foremost, strive to provide a rewarding customer experience. This may take longer to brand the company than engaging an advertising agency for some quick media buys, but in the long run, the online firms will find that the best customers will keep coming back for additional purchase occasions.
Q: So where does that leave “branding?”
Dixon: For many people, a brand conjures up thought of company logos, product packaging, or images and feelings associated with a particular product or company. Yet brand is so much more. A brand should be defined as the sum total of the customer’s experience with, and perceptions of, a product or service.
It’s a highly competitive marketplace and companies must move quickly to protect their digital brand. As quickly as a brand is built, can that brand crash, painfully. Our research proves that understanding how consumers make decisions is key to survival.
Q: Is it wise that the already-mammoth size financial services companies are only getting bigger? How can they “own” the customer?
Dixon: No one can really “own” the customer online. There are a number of personal information and account aggregation strategies underway at large retailers, media companies, and financial services providers, but in the end, people will prefer to do business according to preference. That another online buying site is only a click away, and not another mile’s drive away, is a comfort to most shoppers online. People will return to those sites that provide the best selection and service time and time again. Realize that the survey found that with the exception of the most experienced shoppers, online buyers want speed and convenience—-not a media-rich and interactive extravaganza.
ADDENDUM: Dr. Patrick Moriarty of Online Insight developed and directed the eBranding study with Accenture. Regarding branding within the financial services industry, Dr. Moriarty says that, surprisingly, privacy concerns are muted, “which sounds counter-intuitive. People are used to sharing personal information with financial services providers, so investors and borrowers already possess a high level of security with the industry.”
Brand reputation in financial services has a larger role than in the total market, according to Dr. Moriarty. And what of the growing financial services giants? “As long as financial supermarkets keep offering a variety of brands and categories, Variety Seekers will be satisfied,” he says. He cites E*TRADE as a good example of site that evolved having built a reputation starting with Netizens and early adopters of online investing. E*TRADE then moved on to targeting Variety Seekers, while appealing to another category, Brand Reliants, or those online investors who are price-sensitive and brand-obedient.
Contact Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr. Moriarty at email@example.com.