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The Barclays brand was established in 1896 as Barclays Co and has origins dating back to 1690 (Barclays, 2013) and is now globally recognizable as a premier international bank. The Barclays brand encompasses a wide variety of financial services which include: retail banking, credit card services, corporate and investment management services as well as wealth management services (Barclays, 2013). Barclay’s product portfolio is extremely diverse and each service area contains several sub-products that offered to both corporate and individual customers. The personal banking or retail division offers various facilities ranging from current and savings accounts, to credit card and transaction facilities. The Premier Banking division caters to clients seeking a premium and preferential service, while the business banking department offers solutions to small and medium sized businesses in addition to regular banking services. The corporate banking arm of the company deals with large corporate clients in various industries while the wealth and investment management arm of the company manages investment portfolio’s of a wide array of clients. Lastly, Barclays investment bank offers advice and solutions to clients with regards to investment decisions (Barclays, 2013). Individual customers fall within the domain of the personal banking division and customers in the UK are offered a variety of products and services ranging from the basic Cash Card Account (Article 13, 2009) to customized current and savings accounts as well as a variety of credit options such as bank overdrafts, consumer loans and credit card facilities (Barclays, 2013).
Current Brand Positioning and Values
In recent years the Barclays brand has been positioned in a manner which attempts to associate it with attributes of trustworthiness, reliability and responsible behavior. It has reformulated its core values according to its desired brand position and these are: “ respect, integrity, service excellence, stewardship.” (Parsons, 2013). According to Barclays 2013, the value of respect is defined as respect for all individuals that the company works with, this value places an emphasis on trust and the supremacy of the combined interest. Integrity relates to fair and ethical actions, while the value of service refers to its focus on customer needs. Excellence involves providing a high quality service while creating a positive working environment and stewardship deals with objectives related to innovation, community development and the enhancement of the brand’s reputation. These values are derived from the basic value proposition that has recently been formulated by Barclays, which is: “ to help people achieve their ambitions in the right way.” (Parsons, 2013). Using this proposition Barclays is attempting to position its brand as a responsible and caring provider of financial services that has high ethical standards and a deep personal interest in the customers welfare. This recent shift in brand positioning strategy has been brought about by severe criticism that Barclays as well as the financial services sector as a whole have faced due to what the public has perceived as being irresponsible, reckless and ultimately selfish behavior (Ritson, 2013). Brand positioning of Barclays personal banking division has been conducted in concordance with the positioning of the larger organization and aims to emphasize its customer centric character. The positioning strategy is centered around the proposition of “ you shaped banking” (Parsons, 2012), which essentially promises maximum flexibility and customization according to personal needs, in a bid to further dispel the perception of Barclays as a selfish institution and to position its retail banking division as an innovative and unique banking solution.
The strengths of the Barclays brand are derived from the longevity of its operations in the financial services sector. A history of operations consisting of over three centuries has allowed Barclays to have an extremely high aggregated brand value. According to Costa (2010) the value of the Barclays brand is an estimated GBP 8. 12 billion. Barclays officials feel that this can be attributed to their successful marketing strategy and the supposed reliability and trustworthiness of Barclays services in the minds of the customer (Costa, 2010). The brands strength may also be ascribed to the willingness of Barclays strategic management to continuously attempt to engage stakeholders in dialogue using a variety of measures, which include social responsibility initiatives and advertising campaigns (Costa, 2010). The pervasiveness of the Barclays brand due to the scale of its operations as well as its involvement in the sponsorship of popular events such as the annual football Premier League (Premier League, 2012) may also cause customers to regard the brand as being imperious and infallible. Lastly, the Barclays brand can be seen as having a great degree of brand elasticity (Yeshin, 2012), as evidenced by the various positioning and repositioning strategies employed by Barclays throughout its history (Ritson, 2013).
While the Barclays brand can certainly be considered to be extremely valuable and highly marketable worldwide, it still suffers from many weaknesses due to mismanagement and unpopular decisions taken by its strategic management as well as the inconsistency of its brand positioning policy. Over the past decade Barclays has had to weather several public relations disasters which have served to severely undermine the brands reputation as well as rendering many previous positioning strategies as useless. In the year 2000, Barclays announced the closure of 200 bank branches in an attempt to decrease costs and divert customer focus towards its online banking services, this move proved to be highly unpopular due to the loss of jobs, and the absence of banking services in many areas that arose from this decision (BBC, 2000). Further closures in 2007 were met with a similar public response (Jones, 2006). In the year 2007, an appallingly low liquidity ratio forced the bank to attempt to borrow billions of GBP from the Bank of England (Sieger et al., 2007), another move which hampered the respectability of the brand. The company was dealt another severe blow in 2012 when it was implicated in the LIBOR rate rigging scandal where the bank was found guilty of misconduct and forced to pay a GBP 290 million fine (Ritson, 2013). Furthermore, the current financial crisis and its origins have further compounded the mistrust that the public feels towards financial institutions including Barclays, and the current social environment has been blamed for decline in brand value by Barclays officials in the past (Costa, 2010). In addition, Ritson (2013)is heavily critical of Barclays branding strategy due to its inconsistency and the introduction of several brand positioning strategies and associated advertising campaigns which were abandoned prematurely. Ritson feels that building and positioning a brand image requires patience and persistence as well as time (2012).
A brand with the marketability that Barclay’s possesses still has room to grow and expand despite the many hurdles that it faces because of recent developments. There are opportunities available for the company to pursue and these lie in the markets that the company has been aiming to capture or recapture with its recent positioning strategy based on trust and reliability. This opportunity can be further explained using the example of Cooperative Bank, a bank in operation in the UK. The bank has a policy that is centered on ethical behavior and sustainable environmentally friendly business practices, and has indulged in values built relationship branding (Donaldson and O’Toole, 2007). Due to constant stakeholder engagement, accurate financial reporting and quantifiable sustainable development practices Cooperative Bank has managed to be viewed more favorably than traditional large banks such as Barclays in the minds of the consumer and has achieved a great deal of financial success due to this (Donaldson and O’Toole, 2007).
The threats faced by the Barclays brand arise largely from the socio-cultural factors which have come to the fore due to the recent financial crisis afflicting the West, which was largely blamed on financial institutions and banks by large segments of the public. The single biggest threat the company’s brand image faces relates to the loss of credibility due to the financial crisis and the bank’s involvement in activities which were seen to be against the public interest as well as a now defunct division of Barclays which dealt with advising clients regarding tax avoidance. Secondly, competitors such as the above mentioned Cooperative Bank are well positioned to claim significant amounts of Barclay’s business particularly in terms of the retail banking market due to its cleaner brand image and other competitors such as Santander are attempting to consolidate nad further strengthen their brand image (Thomas, 2010).
An analysis of the Barclay’s retail banking brands contemporary industrial and social environment suggests that while the company has managed to build a largely successful brand over the past three centuries, a further evaluation of its brand positioning strategy will be required in order maintain its presence and brand image as one of the world’s leading banks in the future. This strategy must focus on regaining customer trust and rebuilding a brand image shattered by the global financial crisis as well as irresponsible behavior on the part of the bank. While the current positioning strategy as evidenced by the reworked value proposition and value structure is a step in the right direction further amendments and additions will be needed in order to regain public confidence. Possible strategies have been proposed below.
Barclays is involved the provision of financial services and service providers are largely defined by the quality of service and human action. While Barclays reformulated brand ideology attempts to distinguish itself as a trustworthy and reliable organization that can be depended upon in an era of financial uncertainty the actions of its management and its operations have largely been in contradiction these principles. This creates a significant dissonance in the stakeholder and or customers mind regarding the capability of the brand to carry out its promises. Therefore, it is possible to work within the framework provided by the existing ideology and positioning strategy (Ind et al., 2012) in an attempt to solidify the impression of trust and reliability that the brand wishes to create. This can be done by positioning Barclays as a brand that publically acknowledges its past mistakes and shows a willingness to reform and transform into the bank that its value proposition portrays. Barclays can demonstrate this by highlighting reforms and changes that the company is undergoing in order to ensure that past mistakes are never repeated.
The recent public perception of the financial services and banking sector has been poisoned by recent economic developments. Banks are seen to be large impersonal organizations that have no regard for the customers and the community’s well being. Stakeholders are feeling increasingly isolated from financial institutions who they feel are only concerned with profit maximization. In order, to dispel this impression and to position the bank as a friendly organization that genuinely cares about the stakeholder’s well being it will be necessary for Barclays to attach a human face to its positioning strategy. Lower operational level employees of the company must be incorporated into this attempted strategy, in order to display the beneficial effects the company has on the lives of ordinary individuals that are associated with the bank. Furthermore, the company needs to actively demonstrate that the organizational culture and each individual is perfectly synchronized with organizations brand ideology and mission, in order for the strategy to have favorable results.
The preferred brand positioning strategy is the portrayal of an organization that accepts it mistakes and is actively working towards becoming the ideal bank. The honesty that is inherent to this approach will have a potentially large impact on the stakeholders psyche in terms of regaining trust and will in effect be an apology for past wrongdoings and a promise of change. This will also aid the organization in distancing itself from the large traditional financial institutions which have faced the brunt of public anger over the financial crisis. If perceptual mapping was to be conducted in terms of Barclays brand positioning based on the above mentioned strategy with variables including trust , than the eventual aim of Barclays would be to place itself closer to Cooperative Bank rather than the larger traditional British banks such as HSBC.
The framework for this strategy will be based on the brand concept management (BCM) framework proposed by Park et al., (1986). This framework involves three steps which are introduction, elaboration and fortification (Park, et al., 1986). The initial step that involves selecting a brand concept based on the needs and wishes of the customer has been conducted and the image that Barclays will be required to portray will be that of a company willing to learn from its mistakes, therefore the concept of honesty will be added to the pre-existing concepts of trustworthiness and reliability. The brand can be reintroduced to the public using the additional positioning factor of honesty through a series of media campaigns including advertisements and careful usage of promotion. This stage is designed to provide knowledge of the brands positioning and to create awareness in the minds of the customer and stakeholder. The stage of elaboration is meant to stabilize the brand image and or to add to its significance using a variety of marketing activities. The final stage of fortification is meant to achieve the solidification of the brand image and to create a fixed position in the minds of the customer (Park, et al., 1986).
The specific activities that will need to be conducted in order, to implement the above mentioned framework have been explained in detail below, according the relevant stage:
The introductory stage of the brand positioning strategy requires the dissemination of information to the required target market. The target market in this instance will not be a specific demographic segment, since the retail banking sector deals largely with the masses and therefore, steps will be needed to be taken that inform a mass audience of the new positioning of the brand. These steps include a vast mass media campaign that involves all mediums. This will include advertisements on television, newspapers, magazines, billboards and social media, in an attempt to target a population that is sufficient for required purposes. The advertisements are meant to convey the genuine regret that Barclays feel over past incidents and their desire to change and to distance itself from the aggressive and selfish culture present in financial institutions. These advertisements will portray a human face and a simplified message that displays the new found values of the company.
The elaboration stage is designed to enhance the image of the brand using a series of activities. This can be achieved by continuing the advertising campaign of the previous section but with a longer message that effectively elaborates on the initially states position, advertisements can demonstrate the specific actions that they are taking in order, to transform themselves into a socially responsible bank. The bank can simultaneously begin a series of public relations and social responsibility related activities that will reinforce this image.
Barclays can fortify its brand position only through action, in that it will have to prove itself to customers and stakeholders by avoiding any major public relations disasters in the foreseeable future, this will require a genuine change in the culture of the organization and its practices particularly in terms of the company’s tendency to downsize and its high turnover rate of employees. Other actions that Barclays can take include initiating sustainable development policies that are strictly adhered to and by continuing to involve itself in socially responsible corporate initiatives for the betterment of the community.
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