Why We Know Our Toilet Paper Better Than Our Banks

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Bad news for banks: A survey conducted by marketing research firm Brand Keys found that consumers make no differentiation — none — between bank brands. “They’re still among a group of brands where there is zero differentiation,” says Brand Keys’ founder Robert Passikoff.

Banks aren’t doing a very good job of engaging their customers, he says, and they’re not rolling out any products or services that really make them stand out from the pack. “When a bank is actually running national advertising where the differentiation is ‘you can bring in your change and we’ll count it for free,’ that shows how you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for some degree of differentiation,” Passikoff says.

It’s not that consumers don’t distinguish between any financial service products or providers. Half of responding consumers differentiate between credit card companies. Online brokerages had a low degree of differentiation, at 17 percent — but that’s still better than banks at zero. So it appears that banks do an unusually lousy job of differentiating themselves.

(MORE: Fed Ticks Off Retailers With Debit Interchange Ruling)

Other products that have the dubious distinction of sharing that goose egg with banks include DVD players and motor oil, commodities for which sales are often price-driven. Many of us don’t care what brand of oil goes in our car as long as it does the job, and we don’t care what label is on the DVD player when we have a movie night at home.

Passikoff says all the buzzwords and marketing campaigns in the world won’t create brand differentiation if banks continue to offer the same services as their competitors. (Note to banks: Free checking can once again give you the edge!)

Where should banks turn if they want to find successful brand differentiation to emulate? They might start with toilet paper. Yes, 80 percent of us differentiate between brands of TP — and that’s an item we flush away, not an institution we’re trusting with our nest eggs. And 100 percent of consumers differentiate between brands of facial soap. Perhaps you simply have to work harder if you sell a product that literally gets washed down the drain.