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Your Tagline Could Come Back To Haunt You

Be very careful when choosing your tagline – it could come back to haunt you.


This is particularly true of taglines making a big promise.


This thought immediately occurred to me last week while reading the online news reports of major computer problems at TD Bank.


Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) – Canada’s second largest bank – acquired New Jersey-based Commerce Bank in late 2007.  While the Commerce Bank branches were merged and renamed in 2008, the merging of both banks’ computer systems and websites was attempted a little over a week ago – over the October 2-3 weekend.


Apparently a major systems glitch occurred in overnight batch processing of deposits and payments.  Further complicating things, customers were unable to access account information online.  Account balances were incorrect and many customers experienced missed payments and significant overdrafts.  It seems the problems persisted for most of last week.


Needless to say, TD Bank’s call center was overwhelmed with calls from angry customers.  Irritated customers visited their local branches seeking assistance and answers, while many of them vented on Twitter.  It’s been a chaos scenario for the bank and its customers this past week.


All the while, the bank’s tagline “America’s Most Convenient Bank” haunts both employees and customers.


While it’s true that no branches were closed and the call center continued its 24/7 operation with live staff, the bank’s website was down periodically for most of the week.  Last week, TD Bank’s U.S. customers were most likely questioning the validity of the bank’s tagline.


Your bank’s tagline should serve one or more of the following seven purposes:


  1. Provide a leadership position.
  2. Provide a heritage position.
  3. Explain exactly what your company does.
  4. Deliver a promissory message of value or quality.
  5. Inspire your employees and customers.
  6. Identify your target audience.
  7. Differentiate your company from your competitors.


Unlike other tagline purposes, the promissory tagline can come back to haunt you if not carefully worded and supported.  Two examples will make the point.  Both are based on my first hand experience at two major banks.


The first one comes from Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company in Chicago.


When this very large commercial bank got into the retail banking business in the 1960s, it adopted as a mascot a female kangaroo with a baby kangaroo in her pouch.  The baby kangaroo symbolized the small retail bank inside the large commercial bank.


The bank’s new tagline became:  “It’s the big bank with the little bank inside.”  In the early 1980s, a decision was made to discontinue using the kangaroo mascot and its now famous tagline.


It was replaced with the promissory tagline delivering a quality and value message: “We’ll Find A Way.”


The media agency presenting the new tagline had even put it to music…hiring musicians to write and record a song utilizing the new tagline.  Everyone at the bank’s agency and most of the bank’s senior officers and marketing folks loved the fresh new tagline.  Of course, there were a few skeptics, including myself.


When you think about the four simple words of the bank’s new tagline, you’ll see immediately they are extremely promissory.  They make a value statement to the bank’s employees, customers, and prospects.


Within a year the bank was forced to abandon its new tagline as a result of customer backlash.  Frequently, when a customer contacted the bank, either in person or via the phone, with a problem, he or she complained long and loud if the problem was not resolved in his or her favor.  And guess what they immediately told management:  “I thought you said you could find a way.”


From the customers’ perspective, the tagline meant the bank would do everything possible to find a way to make sure the customer was happy – that all problems would be resolved to the benefit of the customer.  Unfortunately, it seems the bank had not planned on customers taking the tagline literally and insisting that the bank honor its promise to them.


The same thing happened almost 20 years later at a bank in California – California Federal Bank.  The bank had gone through several taglines, none of which seemed to resonate with its customers and prospects.  But the promissory tagline that caused the bank the same problem as that caused in Chicago was:  “You have more power than you think.”


Like the customers in Chicago, the bank’s customers in California took the bank at its word.  A bank customer experiencing a problem that was not resolved in his or her favor, often told management:  “I thought you told me I had more power than I thought I had.”


In fact, the bank’s customers had very little power to ensure their problems were resolved in their favor.  They only had the power to close their accounts and bank elsewhere, which many did.


The lesson to be learned here is to make sure any promissory tagline can be supported 100% by the bank and its staff, especially the frontline staff in the branches and those working the customer service phones. Unfortunately, these employees are typically the least empowered to resolve customer complaints and problems.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against promissory taglines.  In fact, I tend to favor them.  One of my favorites was used by Walmart for 19 years – “Always low prices.”


The primary issue with promissory taglines is that you must do everything possible to deliver on your promise every day of the year – NO EXCEPTIONS.


What really bothers me are banks without a tagline.  Talk about a missed marketing opportunity.

  • 2010 Customer Service Hall of Shame (MSN data released May 2010) « Digital and channel-based marketing information and inspirationMay 19, 2010

    [...] see the taglines for some of the biggest brands around, and see how they deliver, try this link.