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Positioning Banking brands

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A.S.M. Sabbir Hossein Khan :

Rashida lives in Debigonj, an upazila in Panchagarh, a far away district from Dhaka. Her only daughter works in Dhaka and sends money to her mother regularly for her smooth living. But sending money to a comparatively remote location like Debigonj has never been easy for her. So she always looks for a safer and better solution rather than sending money through an insecure media like the grocer next door in her village who visits Dhaka once a month for buying his required goods for sale.
One fine morning Rashida informed her daughter that she found a Good Company (banking channel) in her vicinity and it is now easier to provide her money in a safer and easier way. Her daughter may send the money from Dhaka directly to her and she can withdraw the money without toils. The Good Company is bKash. Through the Mobile Banking Service anyone can transact as well as transfer a certain amount of money anytime, says delighted Rashida.
The recognition given by Rashida is called ‘Positioning’. To define in a formal way “Positioning is a marketing strategy that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct position, relative to the competing brands, in the mind of the customers.” Therefore, positioning is “molding the target customers’ brains positively toward the brand”.
Basically, ‘Positioning’ is a perception, a mindset that places a brand on top of the mind (ToM) of its target customers. The perception is created by different strategies, i.e. positioning by presence, positioning by quality, positioning by price, or positioning by a mix of these factors are quite commonly done by the companies/brands. But among the positioning strategies in the world, ‘positioning by presence’ is the most practiced strategy; and ‘Being the First’ has proved to be the best strategy till today.   
Dimensions of positioning
In today’s world, being the first in any industry or market through a product or service is such a daydream. Every industry or market has got numerous products and services of similar types. Still companies and MNCs are doing positioning of their brands every now and then to stay on ‘top of the mindshare’ [ToM] of the mass customers’ segments. And to tell you the truth, it’s still possible.
Being the first is the best positioning strategy but not the only hope to create market for your products and services apart from the other competitors in the market/industry. Positioning is also possible in an already existent market.
Jack Trout & Al Ries clarifies the fact more simply, “the basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different. But to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind. To retie the connection that already exists.” This clarification gives us a clear direction to the dimensions of positioning of your brand.
Positioning a Banking brand
Being probably the biggest industry, I believe the best & befitting sector to discuss on positioning a brand would be the Banking Sector of Bangladesh.
Having 59 scheduled banks with more than 10,000 branches across the country, Bangladesh is a land with bounteous economic opportunities as it is one of the most emerging economies of the world. The Banking Industry of the country is growing bigger day by day, by adding up its customer base and networks through opening new branches, kiosks, booths and service centers, etc.
According to Industry information, more than 40% of the Retail banking market of the country is still untapped in the country. The regulators of the Industry, namely Bangladesh Bank, the Government, and the Ministry of Finance have been relentlessly trying for the financial inclusion of the mass people in the banking channel and henceforth taking numerous initiatives to make the banking channel more efficient and popular. Mobile Financial Services (MFS) and Agent Banking are two revolutionary additions of the banking industry of the country in this regard.
In a market like this, Banks and NBFIs have got a huge opportunity to position themselves and grab maximum mindshare of the bankable people across the country which will in turn bring them expected level of business revenue in future. Therefore, the new banks should work hard for ‘Positioning’ of their brands; and the existing banking brands should deploy their strengths on repositioning and  revitalizing their brands in the markets across the country. ‘Positioning’ keeps the business revenue consistent over time. In a vast banking industry with 59 scheduled banks, 34 NBFIs and innumerous microcredit companies, there’s no scope to be the market leader singly. So a banking company will have to make sure that the company revenue doesn’t go downwards over the time by way of a better ‘Positioning’ itself.    
The products and services of the Banking Industry in Bangladesh are almost same in every segment of businesses, i.e. Retail Banking, SME & Corporate Banking. The generic products and services offer almost same benefits to their target customers. Their service charges, rates of interest, tenure, and sizes of return, etc. are almost same or a very little different from each other. So there has to be something else to offer that makes the customers think of a bank for a particular goodness.
The Banking Industry of the country has passed 48 years after Independence. In the last two decades, modern banking systems have come long way, indeed. The paradigm of banking business has changed; it shifted from manual to machine, human to technological. People of our time want more techno-savvy banking services than manual and physical ways of doing. It’s time to offer them something new and modern. This is an era of delighting customers with more and more extraordinary service delivery. It’s a call of time to create customized service quality and deliver as & when & where they want it. In 1998, Wells Fargo Bank of USA had set up an ATM in Antarctica for its customers.
High Quality Service Delivery is a great way of positioning a banking brand; especially in an emerging economy like Bangladesh. The government is initiating digitalization of the country; the people and organizations of the country are stepping forward by being more techno savvy day by day in their day-to-day works; and lastly, the use of banking channel by the people is increasing every day. In an economic environment like this, banks must do their positioning through promising and delivering the high quality technology based banking services to the mass customers segments as their primary task.  
Banking now a days has taken a new shape of one-to-one service. An international bank in Canada believes in the phrase: “whenever, whatever I need”. Therefore, the bank will stand alone that appears different in its approach toward every type of customers; that will position itself as a ‘bank as you need’. That is what the word ‘Positioning’ actually mean. Positioning is an approach, a perception, an identity or you may consider it an image. It is an entity that acquires a particular location into the mindset of a customer.
How would a Bank do its positioning ?
Being the first is the best positioning strategy. Offering a new product in the market, opening a new branch as the first bank in an area, pioneering a new customer centric service, etc. are very basic positioning strategies for any bank in the world.
But at an age of nearly 50 years of Independence now, the banking industry will really find it very tough to offer anything new to the customers that can contribute to strong positioning of the Bank. Because, banking in Bangladesh started formal journey much earlier to the Independence. What to do then? Good number of the banks are almost sitting idle and trying to earn money through only relationship marketing. At one time, they’ll realize that relationship marketing is just another way to establish a strong Brand. It doesn’t contribute anything to create or change perception of the mass customers’ segments about the bank.
In Bangladesh Prime Bank, BRAC Bank, Eastern Bank, Bank Asia, Mercantile Bank, United Commercial Bank, etc. share high Positioning in the market across the country. The new banks are still to create their marks in the markets across the country. Positioning is about building trust among the customers other stakeholders of the Brand. Therefore, putting less emphasis on it is like letting your brand reduce to rubble day by day.
Increasing customers’ cognitions toward the brand is vital. Increasing recall of your brand among the mass customers’ segments doesn’t happen automatically. You must increase your visibility to the people; as they say, “out of sight, out of mind”. Customers must see you, your movements and your customer-centric activities to remember you, off and on. And that will create positive recall for you when they need banking services.
‘Positioning’ is a kind of recall; recognition by the customer and other stakeholders of the brand regarding the brand’s quality of products, service quality, brand image and brand value, etc.
Only service quality or brand value doesn’t create or establish a brand’s ‘Positioning’. The brand image among the mass customers’ segments is also vital. Positive brand image may be created by befitting ATL & BTL activities on a regular basis. Strong brand image helps create strong brand loyalty among the customers and other stakeholders.
Presence in print and electronic media, sponsoring souvenirs, magazines, various local and national level events, supporting causes as part of CSR, organizing customer meet, child art competitions, sports carnivals, billboards in the commercially important places and junction points, tapping new markets by campaigns that attach mass customers’ segments, customer-centric gifts, etc. contribute heavily to create higher Positioning of a banking brand. Prime Bank, BRAC Bank, Mercantile Bank, and some other banks in the country have created such high Positioning of their respective brands by doing such activities.
High positioning relates brand visibility, brand recall, brand value, brand recognition, brand essence, brand loyalty and so on among the customers and other stakeholders of the brand.
Therefore, comprehensive brand promotion activities are necessary to achieve higher positioning of a brand, a 360 degree brand promotion plan does it for the brand. On the contrary, a reluctant brand with very few or no activities does the opposite.
Positioning directly affects the business outcome. After a certain age of every business, growth stops or diminishes day by day if a brand doesn’t care about its positioning. Every brand in any industry needs to differentiate to some extent to stand alone among others at a particular point of time. If it maintains to be one among all and never work out on being recognized by its target customers and stakeholders, it must pay the price of getting very weak recall and recognition.
And the business growth is never steady for such a brand.
(The writer is Principal Officer & Brand Manager, Mercantile Bank Limited. khan.sabbir@gmail.com).

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