A journey into the mind of the consumer – perceptions of financial services in the UK.
An innovative new market study from The GreenField Organisation.
Executive Summary of Findings.
Traditional methods of market research into consumer buying behaviour are limited in their effectiveness because they only reach the conscious mind. That is because our decisions are so strongly influenced by subconscious thinking that standard analytical approaches can provide an incomplete picture. These omissions can have very significant consequences, as strikingly illustrated during the 2015 UK General Election, when polls failed to predict the outcome.
Colour Word Association (CWA) is an established and patented technique that reaches the subconscious mind. It is a simple yet powerful method that allows much deeper analysis of consumer preferences and behaviour than has been readily available to researchers to date.
This research was conducted using Colour Word Association (CWA) analysis. The insights gained into consumers’ underlying attitudes towards financial brands demonstrate the power of the research technique to more deeply understand and explain consumer preferences and buying behaviour.
In this project the sensor captured consumers’ subconscious feelings towards fifteen leading financial brands, fifty relevant keywords, and a sample of six recent television commercials.
- Perceptions are made up of both emotional and rational elements. The CWA technique enables subconscious perceptions to be accessed and measured. This has major implications for company strategy as well as how a company communicates with consumers on all levels, particularly in branding and marketing communications.
- In the UK’s retail finance sector we identified what the perceptions that matter most in the subconscious mind of the consumer really are.
- Consumers revealed that their primary motivators were heavily biased towards emotional factors. These included terms such as fair, honest, caring and helpful. These are the things that matters most to consumers, and are used in assessing the attractiveness of existing or prospective providers.
- Consumers revealed a smaller set of functional factors also of primary importance; these included acceptable pricing, a wide-range of products, online-banking, and nearby branches.
- Most of the factors from both sets will become increasingly important in the future.
- Attributes such as arrogant, gimmicky, pushy and the perception that they [retail financial firms] are all the same were all in the set of primary de-motivators, and consumers reveal that these perceptions will become even more important to them in the future.
- Overall, the findings show that female consumers feel much more strongly about factors such as ethics and security than men. In other words, female perceptions of such factors are likely to play a more dominant role in their assessment of finance firms.
- On the other hand men feel noticeably less repelled by the perception of factors such as gimmicky and assign far more value to the range of products on offer.
- For Generation Y (under 35 years), their perception of approachability is a point of distinction and features strongly in their assessment of both existing and prospective financial service firms.
- For the over 35s, the perception of simplicity is a distinguishing characteristic.
- Incidences where charges are either not transparent or unexpected can ignite negative emotions amongst consumers out of all proportion to the amount charged.
- This may be because, when unexpected or the reason for their levy is unclear, such charges are perceived as an imposition and a breach of trust in the relationship. They also reinforce the perception that it is the provider who is in control, leaving the consumer feeling relatively helpless.
- Whilst consumers revealed that easier switching was one of their prime motivators, the perception remains that the process is not easy especially in relation to the perceived benefits.
- Consumers still feel that they lack a different and compelling choice of alternatives. Account switching reluctance therefore appears to be driven more by the perceived quality of choice than the amount of choice.
- The perception of trust is naturally of high value and importance to consumers. The consumer’s perception of attributes such as peace of mind and nearby branches, are closely linked to trust.
Channel – Branch Network
An accessible physical presence therefore plays a major part in bringing the company closer to the consumer, and helps to improve the perceptions of approachability, flexibility and human face that are all highly valued by consumers.
Channel – Telephone Banking
- Whilst there is evidence that this channel is valued it appears to hold little appeal
- The first clue comes from the consumers’ strong subconscious association between telephone banking and keywords such as unhelpful and unresponsive. These negative connotations may be due to experience with financial service firms, or be ‘carried over’ from their experiences in other sectors. Whatever the root, consumers are revealing that a subconscious link is there.
Channel – Mobile (App-Based)
- Consumers appear to have strong latent negative associations towards the term mobile banking which were not limited to the issue of security. Results also indicated a significant level of resistance towards it.
Advocacy and Recommendations
- Consumers revealed that the issues that drive recommendations are largely emotive showing a strong positive association between recommendations and attributes such as friendliness and helpfulness.
- With deeper analysis however consumers revealed that far from being happy to complain many of them feel that the idea of complaining is so unpleasant that they will, in most cases, avoid it at all costs. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the current levels of complaint may fall well a long way short of revealing real level of discontent amongst customers.
- Considering the significant penalties metered out following recent mis-selling scandals the idea that consumers still perceive staff to be pushy should be a cause for concern from both a commercial and regulatory standpoint.
- A wide range of products is highly valued by consumers, but it was notable that none of the leading brands were strongly associated with any particular type of product indicating that none of them are seen as the ‘go to’ place for a specific product.
Brand Positioning and Communications
Using the Colour Word Association technique it is possible to evaluate how appealing an advertisement is, how important it feels to consumers and whether it links in their minds to the key messages the brand or advert is trying to communicate. The technique can also measure the extent to which an advertisement is associated with the key motivators that matter so much to consumers, and also assess the ads ‘staying power’.
In this study we measured the impact of six television commercials and for comparative purposes a thirty and sixty second version of the same advertisement was included.
Key findings include:
- All of the ads held relatively little appeal though one, by Santander, scored higher than the average
- Modest associations were found between some of the ads and consumers’ primary motivators (caring, friendly etc.)
- None of the ads had any lasting appeal nor would consumers have welcomed seeing them repeatedly
- The longer sixty second ad did not appear to be any more effective than the shorter 30-second version
Rational vs Emotional Perceptions
From this study it can be seen that some brands including Lloyds and Yorkshire Building Society are perceived on a more rational basis whilst some such as Virgin Money and Santander are perceived on a highly emotional basis.
This sort of information can be very useful for marketers who must take account of how their brand is perceived in order to tailor the content of their communications to be as effective as possible. Although most marketing communications use a mixture of both rational and emotional ‘arguments’ it is the proportion of the two which must be right in order to influence the consumer.
The psychological technique used here makes it possible to assign a ‘defense’ or resistance score on a scale of 0-100 (where 0 is low and 100 is almost total resistance) for any of the stimuli used. In this study these stimuli comprised keywords, brands and advertisements.
This score has major implications because the higher the score the more likely it is that consumers will filter out or possibly even disregard completely marketing and sales messages before they reach the decision-making part of the brain.
Key findings include:
- Established high street banks all had very high resistance scores with the exception of the Co-operative Bank
- Consumers feel slightly less resistant to new ‘challenger’ banks
- Building Society brands also had high resistance scores overall, although two brands, Nationwide and Yorkshire were noticeably more moderate
In short, as consumers are moderately or highly resistant to all fifteen brands tested and it will be challenging to penetrate these deeply entrenched feelings.
The CWA technique is capable of examining specific resistance levels and to make recommendations on strategies to reduce this resistance. Using some of the findings from this work and undertaking further research projects applying this methodology could be a valuable help in tailoring key brand, marketing and sales campaigns to improve their effectiveness.
The CWA technique has enabled us to probe more deeply into the subconscious thoughts and feelings of UK consumers in the financial services sector. Whilst we recognise that there is a plethora of information already available, these insights generally rely solely on traditional survey methods which are dependent on people’s conscious response and ability to explain themselves. As such these methods only reveal conscious and rational thought processes but do not uncover what really drives consumer behaviour, or indeed what will drive it in the future.
These findings have enabled us to put some reasoning behind what is currently happening in the marketplace. Using this technique (and in some cases probing more deeply through further research using CWA) will also enable us to make detailed and specific suggestions and recommendations to help financial service firms in their quest to create more meaningful relationships with target consumers.
To obtain a copy of the full report, which includes insights, solutions, opportunities and commercial implications, please email email@example.com
10 May 2016