Monday, January 12, 2009

Branding for MFIs

After years of abuse, my much-loved digital camera died. I needed a new one – something that was reliable and would enable me to take high-quality photos. As I am not a professional photographer, I hesitated for weeks, baffled by the wide selection of available camera functions and features. I haunted camera stores, poured over web reviews, and asked friends for recommendations.

Then I saw a new Kodak camera promoted on a television shopping channel and in 60 seconds, without ever handling the camera, I called the shopping channel and bought it, spending more than I’d planned. Why? I knew the Kodak name. One of the best cameras I’d ever owned was a Kodak, and I trusted this new camera would be just as good.

In short, I bought the Kodak brand (and so far am happy with my choice).

So what is branding? Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing at Kellogg University, describes it as “a seller’s promise to deliver a specific set of features, benefits and services consistently to the buyers.”

Companies make this promise through a consistent message delivered by their employees, in their promotions, and through their products and/or services. Consistency is critical to developing a memorable brand. We remember things through repetition. For this reason, it’s a bad idea to change your MFI’s colors or slogan on a regular basis. A changeable brand image is a forgettable or confusing one.

But what exactly is your brand remembered for? Kotler’s idea of a promise – of trust—is key to successful branding. Therefore, your MFI’s brand should stand for something real and true, rather than being another clever motto or tag line. (Your motto can be clever, but it should be REAL). This authenticity builds trust.

Is trust important to the clients of an MFI? You bet! MFIs are financial institutions and let’s face it – the interest rates aren’t cheap. Taking out a loan is a big decision, and though we MFI managers tend to focus on our risk as lenders, you’d better believe your borrowers are thinking about the risk to them as well. Is it worth taking on debt from an MFI, or should I just borrow from my Aunt Sally? What if business is bad and I don’t make a profit on this loan?

Clients need a certain comfort level to borrow. Your loan officers should provide this by making sure clients aren’t taking on more debt than they can afford. However, your MFI’s brand image stands behind your loan officers, helping or hurting their message.

What’s your brand saying?

Action item:

Review your promotional materials, including company letterhead, business cards, brochures, and any other advertisements. Is the message consistent? What sort of “personality” does your brand have? Are the colors, fonts, and graphics consistent across your materials? How frequently are your slogan and brand graphics repeated (and can you use them more)?

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