Banks should watch their language - Business Works
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Banks should watch their language

Neil Taylor, Creative Director, The Writer Research conducted by The Writer shows practicality trumps personality in the language of banks. The survey of 2000 people tested their reactions to a series of customer scenarios, based purely on the writing they’d encounter. It blind-tested writing samples from three leading UK retailers and three leading banks, as well as an invented sample.

Barclays’ Chief Executive, Antony Jenkins, recently announced that Barclays’ core values are ‘respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship’ and if employees don’t agree, they should leave.

But if they’re trying to regain the public’s trust, one of the easiest and most compelling things banks can change is their language. The Writer's research finds that people prefer the writing of the younger bank brand, Metro Bank, to more established brands like Lloyds and First Direct.

Personality is crucial in attracting customers ...

When people were asked their reaction to retailers’ online loyalty card ads, 40% said that they most liked The Writer’s deliberately ‘really honest’ loyalty card writing. And people were on average 20% more likely to apply for a loyalty card where the writing was brimming with personality.

... unless you’re a bank.

But when it came to financial services, Metro Bank, the newest bank, did the best with 31% of people enticed by the writing to apply for an account with them. First Direct and Lloyds came last (16% each).

When people were asked which words they associated with each bit of writing, they said:

  • Metro Bank was the most helpful (29%), useful (29%) and clear (30%);
  • First Direct’s language was condescending (14%); and
  • Lloyds was boring (20%).

"We upped the personality in our loyalty card writing to motivate people to apply," said Neil Taylor, Creative Director at The Writer. "Our ad was deliberately bold. We even said 'Shop with us (and not them)'. This approach paid off in the retail sector – but people aren’t looking for the same thing from their banks. Metro Bank appealed most to people in our banking test and was rated for very different characteristics. People are more interested in useful, informative language (especially if it’s communicating a good deal, it seems), rather than oodles of personality."

"It looks like Barclays’ values are a step in the right direction," concludes Neil. "A few banks have tried to be really pally in the past, but what works better for potential customers is honest content and a straightforward tone. But this research shows that 'straightforward' is harder to achieve in a bit of writing than it might seem."

The Writer is the country’s largest language consultancy. It does three things:
Thinking: to help organisations express their strategy or brand.
Writing: everything from customer letters to annual reports.
Training: to help people become more effective, engaging writers.
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