Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The brand promise and client savings

Branding for MFIs: interesting in theory but not so necessary in practice? On the contrary! For commercial microfinance institutions that mobilize savings, branding is critical.

I just returned from a microfinance conference in Nigeria, where Mariama Ashcroft of Women’s World Banking discussed microfinance commercialization. An important point she raised was about trust. When an MFI makes a loan, it must trust the borrower. But when a microfinance bank (MFB) solicits savings, the clients must trust the MFB; this is why savings mobilization is a struggle for many commercial MFIs.

Building trust can be a challenge, and here lies the importance of the brand promise. Your savers must believe that your MFB (and their savings) is here to stay – that your bank is strong and reliable. This belief is created through your brand, which must promise to provide a secure place to keep savings and to pay interest on that savings.

How can an MFI build that brand promise?
  1. Consistency. This includes consistency in promotional messages, customer service, and in every interaction your MFI/MFB has with the public. Is your mission and vision communicated to clients and employees? Do your promotional materials look and “feel” alike, communicating the same message? Can clients expect the same type of service every time they interact with your employees?
  2. Keeping your promises. “But of course we keep our promises! After all, we have contracts, don’t we?” Of course you honor your contracts, but do your loan officers show up at meetings on time? When they say they’ll call a client back, do they? Are your policies communicated clearly, simply, and consistently in order to avoid misunderstandings? If your staff members don’t follow through on the “little” promises, clients will find it difficult to trust you to follow through on the big ones.
  3. Delivering excellence. Good customer service is to be expected. “Good” is a satisfactory grade – a bare minimum, if you will. However, an MFI with a brand promise that stands out from the crowd goes beyond “good” to “fabulous.” How can you delight your customers? How can your loan officers go above and beyond the call of duty to demonstrate that your MFB is worthy of holding the client’s savings?
If these steps sound simple, it’s because they are! However, it’s easy to start a brand campaign with high enthusiasm and good intentions, and then gradually forget about it over time, returning to old habits. MFBs need a marketing department (preferably an integrated one) that can ensure these practices continue over time. After all, in branding consistency is the key.

Action item:

Hold a roundtable with key loan officers and members of every department that interacts with the public (including tellers). Ask participants the above questions and develop a one-page, three point plan to deliver consistency, keep your promises, and deliver excellence. Integrate it into your marketing plan, and ensure someone is responsible for it.

1 comment:

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