Confusing the brand message with what the customer wants

A colleague tipped me off to a branding effort in the financial services industry.  Ameriprise is the former American Express Financial branch which is trying to stake its hold in the consumer finance sphere.  You may have seen their ads where Dennis Hopper clearly speaks to the Baby Boomer generation.

Chronicled in a Star Tribune blog, a young professional wrote this comment:

“Oh goodness, that dreams stuff is just a bunch of tripe. My wife and I were looking for a financial advisor, met with someone from Ameriprise, and the guy just kept asking us about our dreams, which we made abundantly clear wasn’t our interest – we wanted to talk numbers and percentages, but this guy just kept blabbing about the dream book.“It’s probably fine for less-than-financially-literate boomers, but they’ll need a different approach if they want to get in early on the 25 and under crowd…” 

Seeing their ads on TV there’s no doubt the company is shooting for the Boomers who (1) identify with the rebel spirit, (2) are focused on financial results over the specifics of how they’ll get there, and (3) are about to retire.  Fair enough, that’s good marketing:  clear targeting and positioning.  But I wonder about this sales rep who wouldn’t change his tune when this younger, financially-savvy customer showed up.  Why didn’t he change?  Are Ameriprise uninterested in the under 25 age segment? Was the sale person unable to adapt the message? 

Translating the brand message into a sales message can sometimes be challenging particularly if there is not good alignment between the brand message and a certain customer segment as it appears to be in this case. A good sales person should be able to translate the brand message or value proposition into customer terms and adapt to what the specific customer in front of them is saying. In our training course, “Creating Effective Value Propositions,” we work with clients to identify the range of segments that may respond to their product/service and to develop a multi-faceted set of value messages that speak to which ever customer comes through the door. I am sure Ameriprise would benefit from our course as it requires the marketing professionals to think deeply about the type of customers they have and how to address their specific needs.  Although as a non-Baby Boomer, Dennis Hopper’s thoughts on the power of dreams does not resonate with me, I am sure it could be a powerful message for its intended audience. The question for Ameriprise is how do they more effectively manage their unintended  customer segments?

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