The Cocktail Party Disease
I’m not sure when it hit me, but at some point in my long bank marketing career it occurred to me that sometimes the bank president, and most likely other members of the senior management team, are stricken by the cocktail party disease.
This may, or may not, include the senior marketing person.
This disease manifests itself in decisions that are made relative to products offered and the extent to which they are marketed.
Sometimes the disease results in jumping on a bandwagon and throwing lots of time, money, and effort at something new in order to be viewed as an early adopter.
At other times, the disease prevents the aggressive marketing of a product or service that is in high demand by consumers.
The poor, maligned free checking account is an example of the latter situation.
At one point in the not too distant past, the free checking account was the most popular checking account in America – perhaps it retains this distinction.
Yet, even during its prime, you could find banks and credit unions that:
- Refused to offer free checking.
- Offered free checking but refused to name it free checking.
- Offered a “Free Checking” account but did very little to aggressively market it.
- Offered free checking and abandoned it at the first opportunity.
What would cause normally rational bankers to behave like this?
I believe one reason is the dreaded cocktail party disease.
You see, the cocktail party disease creates a sense of embarrassment about offering an account like free checking. It can bring about a feeling of inferiority that comes from being chided for aggressively marketing such a working class product.
Remember, free checking was shunned by the nation’s biggest banks for many years before reluctantly offering it in the late 1990s. And we’ve witnessed how quickly they dropped it when the economy went south.
Given all the negative press about free checking over the past couple of years, the cocktail party disease remains a concern for many bankers.
Ironically, there’s a flip side to the cocktail party disease.
An excellent example is the recent mad rush by bankers to jump on the social media bandwagon before knowing if there’s a payoff down the road.
After all, you don’t want to be at the cocktail party trying to defend why your bank or credit union is still using newspaper ads and direct mail while everyone else is throwing gobs of money at Facebook in an attempt to get more people to “like” the bank.
It’s both shocking and disappointing that so many senior-level bankers are more concerned about peer pressure than what really works best.
If you’re not familiar with the cocktail party disease, perhaps you know it by another name – the country club disease.
Regardless of the name, it can make usually rational people do some strange stuff.