Warning — Avoiding This Word Is A Mistake
Every so often a major social, business, or economic movement occurs which seems to defy all logic. Generally, it starts small but for some reason quickly gains popularity to the point where everyone has jumped on the bandwagon for fear of being left behind. I refer to this sort of mindless behavior as the “lemming” mentality.
Recent excellent examples include the tech bubble in the last half of the 1990s and the massive housing bubble in the first half of the last decade. In both instances, millions of people began believing something that simply wasn’t true.
Currently, there are a couple of movements underway – both of which may someday prove to fit in the same category. One is global warming – now referred to as global climate change – and the other is the green movement. Yet, unlike the tech bubble and the housing bubble, both of these movements seem to be experiencing difficulty gaining traction for a majority of consumers.
On the other hand, there is another – albeit much smaller – movement that’s been underway since The Great Economic Correction began in late 2007. And unlike the struggling green and climate change movements, this one quickly caught hold – sweeping through the consumer banking arena like an out-of-control wildfire.
Oddly enough, it centers on a single word…a word that for years was worshipped by many as the most powerful word in marketing. A word that was the subject of Joe Swatek’s blog yesterday.
The word behind this powerful movement is FREE!
It’s a word that’s been used successfully since 1982 to describe the country’s most favored, sought-after checking account. A checking account so desirable that millions of consumers switched banks to get one and continue doing so today.
Yet now, thanks to the irrational behavior of the four mega-banks and a handful of minions, a growing number of smaller banks and credit unions are treating the word “free” like it’s a leper.
Even many community banks and credit unions offering free checking are reluctant to advertise the account. It’s almost impossible to find a newspaper ad or billboard promoting free checking today.
And most disturbing are rapidly growing banks like Ally Bank and ING Direct (recently acquired by Capital One) that offer free checking but refuse to use the word “Free” in naming the account. Here’s a full-page Ally Bank ad for its free checking account which appears in the current issue of The Week magazine.
By simply adding the word “free” to the account name or including it in the copy, this ad would have much stronger appeal to consumers scanning or reading this magazine. There’s absolutely ZERO downside to using “free” to name or describe this account – ZERO.
What’s most unusual about this movement is that, unlike the other movements mentioned above, this one is totally void of consumer support. The only support behind this movement comes from senior management running a handful of the nation’s largest, bailed-out banks and a legion of greedy consultants peddling expensive checking account realignment services. Helping grow the movement are the occasional ridiculous media stories predicting the demise of free checking, free debit cards, free rewards programs, and free anything that has to do with banking.
For some strange reason, the actions of a handful of people with a particular agenda have managed to scare a majority of other bankers into avoiding using the word “free” when naming or describing a checking account or other product or service.
Right now, if you work for a community bank or credit union you should be toiling overtime convincing senior management that using the word “free” will not only differentiate your institution from the greedy big banks in your markets but will enable you to grow market share at the expense of these same bad actors.
Remember, Michael Moebs, CEO of Moebs Services, estimates that four million customers left the nation’s 30 largest banks in 2010 because of fee changes. And, he’s expecting an additional 11 million to leave their banks in 2011.
Because these larger banks started by dropping free checking and are now testing dropping free debit cards after already throwing free debit card rewards programs under the bus. Anything free has to go – the sooner the better.
All this and yet not one consumer has gone on record as supporting the actions of these banks.
Talk about the tail wagging the dog in this movement.