Banking titans compete for consumer loyalty and trust in an era of increased bank fees

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Banking titans compete for consumer loyalty and trust in an era of increased bank fees
Banking titans compete for consumer loyalty and trust in an era of increased bank fees

Citibank
1,000+ U.S. branches
2011: 5.1 billion in retail banking

Chase Bank
5,500+ U.S. branches
2011: 6.4 billion in retail banking

Banks have faced more than their share of marketing challenges of late. Consumer confidence and trust in big banks have taken a big hit over the past few years, so they've  had to work hard to regain that trust—and their marketing efforts have to work doubly hard to deliver relevant communications to wary customers and prospects.

Two of the largest U.S. retail banks, Chase and Citibank, have attempted to retain customers and acquire new ones by rebuilding trust and boosting brand loyalty through cohesive marketing across their respective websites, in-store creative, direct mail, email, loyalty marketing, and social media channels. The websites for Chase and Citibank often serve as prospects' first interaction point with the brands, as well as many customers' primary one. According to Richard April, VP of marketing at AG Salesworks, in terms of website branding, Citibank comes out ahead.

When April visited Chase.com, “I thought it was a mistake,” he says. “The site is not well-designed. It has small print and it's mostly just advertisements.” He added that because of the small print, it's not user-friendly. And if something isn't user-friendly, he says, customers won't be enticed by it. “I'm surprised that a major corporation would put this as one of their front-facing images,” he says. Conversely, April calls the Citibank website “very user-friendly.”

Keith Kochberg, CEO of iMarketing LTD, agrees with April's assessment. “Clean design, clear navigation, nice tight search…. To me, [Citibank] followed best practices.” The best practices Kochberg refers to include ease of use and consistent branding.

“Chase uses a more straightforward, rational approach, focusing on the tangible financial benefits of its products, without the emotional perspective or bold images Citi uses,” says John Tedstrom, managing director of insight and strategy at hawkeye. “Perhaps a missed opportunity: The Chase site doesn't use much of the familiar branding and messaging so familiar in Chase marketing in other channels,” Tedstrom says.

When it comes to social media, analysts claim that Citibank takes a more cohesive approach. Chase has separate Twitter and Facebook accounts for its different products and initiatives, diluting overall brand recognition. As of this writing, @Citibank has 10,860 Twitter followers and @AskCiti has 8,405 followers; @ChaseNews has 2,612 followers and @ChaseSupport, the bank's customer service feed, has 4,261 followers. Kochberg notes that Chase Sapphire and Chase Freedom, two of the company's credit cards, also have branded handles, but that this only makes sense if Chase plans to break out all aspects of its company, rather than create cohesion around the brand.

Kochberg adds that on Twitter, Citibank follows about as many people as it has followers, which indicates that it uses Twitter to listen to customer feedback and chatter. “There's a best practice [wherein], generally, you want to reciprocate,” Kochberg says of Twitter following. “As a brand, it's [generally] a good idea.”

Citibank's Facebook page has lots of “likes,” April says, which indicates customer loyalty. This Facebook presence includes tips that link back to the bank's official site (“Summer is all about keeping things simple. Learn how Citi money management tools can help simplify your life.”), outreach to upsell products and services, and contests that reinforce the Citibank brand (“Everyone loves trivia! Our next branch opens soon. Can you guess where it is?”). However, Eric Johnson, founder and president of Ignited, applauds Chase's Facebook page, noting its focus on the company's community giving program.

“Unfortunately, banks are getting a lot of kicks in the shins lately,” Johnson says. “[Chase] has at least tried to create an image of giving back. They've been actively maintaining the page and have been doing good things.”

On YouTube, Citibank has a more extensive presence with 311 videos uploaded as of our deadline. Chase has uploaded 11. Citibank's YouTube channel videos include company news, community involvement, welcome information for new customers, and more. Chase posts ads, instructional videos, and the like.

Johnson says that Chase has the edge when it comes to in-store and outdoor marketing. Johnson, based in Los Angeles, says he's impressed with Chase's campaigns in his area.

“Chase has done an extensive outdoor and TV campaign that they have pulled into the store well with a good look and feel,” he says, adding that Chase was particularly effective at promoting its check-deposit app via television and print ads. “Chase What Matters” is better integrated than Citibank's campaigns, he says. Simply keeping with the recognizable blue motif, he adds, helps build consistent brand recognition.

Tedstrom, who visited both Chase and Citibank locations in Dallas, commended Citibank for the forward-looking approach of its branches. While Chase branches are clean and simple, Citibank locations near him have engaging electronic displays and kiosks.

Chase, he says, scores points for “featuring their community giving program,” with in-store signage, but loses some because “we didn't see evidence of strong tie-in with products and services offered in other channels.”

Chase's direct mail strategies fall short, AG Salesworks' April says. He dislikes Chase's occasional practice of including a fake check in mailers. “I find that suspect,” he says. “I don't like those, but I guess it resonates with some people. I would never do that as a marketer.”

Both Chase and Citibank engage in targeted email marketing campaigns, but only for current customers—which meant that our analysts couldn't review them. As a result, their email campaigns weren't considered for this “battle.”

Both Chase and Citibank have extensive loyalty programs, particularly for their credit card customers. Kochberg believes that Citibank spends more of its loyalty marketing assets touting new tools and offerings, while Chase focuses on points and rewards. Neither bank is necessarily better, Kochberg says. Tedstrom added that although

Citibank originally had the edge when it came to points with its ThankYou Rewards, Chase has quickly caught up. “Both Chase and Citibank have created innovative tools to meet customers' needs,” Tedstrom says.

Because it typically breaks down its marketing by brands within Chase itself, Chase declined to comment on its broader marketing tactics for this story. Citibank was unavailable to comment as of this writing.”

Brand Champion

While both brands use integrated marketing strategies to acquire and retain customers, Citibank comes out as a clear winner for its well-designed and nuanced marketing. Although both companies use social media as an aspect of their marketing strategies, because Citibank's strategy is cohesive, the brand earned major points with our analysts. When choosing where to bank, customers have a variety of options. Citi's unified, company wide marketing strategy wins over Chase's more fragmented approach.

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