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In the financial services sector it is increasingly difficult to sustain product, cost and distribution advantages.

Branding in financial services is undergoing substantial changes, owing to the dramatic increase in competition following deregulation and the threat posed by new entrants with branding experience.

Success in what is fast becoming an overcrowded market will depend on effective brand differentiation, based on the identification, internalization and communication of unique brand values that are both pertinent to and desired by consumers. [Source: The challenge of financial services branding: majoring on category or brand values? by Leslie de Chernatony and Fiona Harris; August 2000 Brand Management and Marketing Research Unit (BMMRU)]

Successful branding takes a product, service or company beyond market share. What your customers see, hear and experience with your brand becomes what your brand stands for.

If you have a product or service that is tangible, visible or measurable, it is easy to make it sell. You can help prospective customers relate it to the five senses.

But what would you do for a product or service that cannot be packaged physically or can only be viewed in a cluttered marketplace?

Take for example, a banking solution provider that consults on services like the Internet or on a software package. How will you make it sell like a Nestle confectionary or a General Motors car?

Here are a few ways to beat the competition.

Explore and identity the company’s core values and reasons for existence. Sometimes taking two steps back can take you miles forward. Scan its heritage, and the founder’s vision and thoughts. Run through its internal publications. Maybe you will stumble upon an insight or two.

Sieze upon the most important value the company promises to its customer: It may be reliability, or it may be expertise or flexibility, and it may be a niche area of operation. Use it as a sledgehammer. Drive home the point in every communication the company does. Both internally and externally.

Create an icon or a visible package that can spell out the financial service offered. The Intel Inside campaign drove home the chip’s advantage by bringing out its presence as a symbol of quality and processing speed on the PC shell.

Link the organization with a cause that it can identify with: Reebok with Amnesty International or like Kellogg with the Kids Helpline.

Be visible. Be where decision makers voice their opinions. Try to match your offering with the theme of the event.

Ride on your people's achievement. Invest in them. The value of good, resourceful employees is greater than anything a company can buy.

If you have just entered the market, or are in a large pool with the big guns, get into the considered set. Energetically voice your position.

Aim to be an opinion leader in your scope of business. When decisions are called for in your industry or in your association, the opportunity to be "top -of-mind" is high.

Differentiate yourself on the basis of unique emotional values, instead of focusing on functional category values.

If you are a financial services organization, following these guidelines will ensure that your customers correctly understand your brands’ value.

Anish V. Koshy presently handles content management for the website, Intranet and internal communications as well as advertising with i-flex solutions limited, Bangalore, India as Assistant Manager - Corporate Communications

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