LONDON: UK banks are failing in their above-the-line efforts to promote themselves as socially responsible organisations, new research suggests, but owned and earned experiences could be a more effective way to achieve a similar outcome.

A study from insights and analytics company MESH Experience involved 5,000 participants and 23,000 experiences collected over the last 12 months, covering all touchpoints – paid, owned, and earned experiences, from TV to online to word of mouth – across all major banking brands, and included detailed qualitative diagnostics.

This observed how banks are converging around variations on the theme of human relationships and investments in causes, but, MESH reported, “in most cases, we found the push towards purpose has yet to translate into true brand meaning”.

That’s at least in part because of continued cynicism around social trust, and concerns about the inauthenticity of cultural affinity.

“All these trends speak to the need for banks to create a sense of relationship and wider purpose in a different way,” MESH argued.

The study highlighted Nationwide as a “star” of cultural affinity, largely because it is one of very few major financial institutions left in the UK that operates with a different business model to the norm.

As a building society it stands in a unique position “and it reinforces this through experiences from campaigns through to in-branch experiences”.

MESH noted that retail banks continue to be adversely viewed through the prism of the 2008 financial crisis and more recent reports of banking failures and misconduct.

But, it added, “this is countered by the positive day-to-day experiences of customers who often share stories of good customer service, banking offers and promotions and products and rates with family, friends and colleagues: that is where banks can do more to control their earned experiences”.

Resolution of a problem via a call centre generated the most positive and persuasive experiences of all owned touchpoints, the study showed.

It also suggested that the branch is an underutilised asset and that banks might rethink their role as consumers read a constant drip-feed of news about branch closures.

Paid media proved largely ineffective at generating positive sentiment, the research found; statics ads in print, OOH and online generated below average positivity, but video and audio advertising elicited more positive responses.

Sourced from MESH Experience; additional content by WARC staff