Sales Obsession Stains Brands…

Posted on January 23, 2008



This morning, when I was in a meeting, a person I can’t describe with any other term but ‘Muppet’ calls me up from HSBC’s credit card sales department. Using a masked caller ID which prevents me from identifying the caller’s number, I have to answer.

Having excused myself from the meeting, he hits me with his first question is: “are you currently a HSBC card member?” The person interrupting me at work from HSBC doesn’t know because he hasn’t bothered checking, or he can’t access the database at his bank that would give him this information. But I couldn’t care less as to why he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. I was already potently irritated with his organisation’s ignorance. I even remember thinking that this Muppet I had on the line had to be a conman of some kind. You know the kind who doesn’t work in a bank. The whole experience was just so unprofessional, so unbanklike. Well, that’s actually a fantastic thing normally, but it wasn’t in this instance.

When I politely told him that I, using bank speak, was a ‘member’ of the bank and wondered why he didn’t know this, he ducked the question and went on to deliver a well-rehearsed piece on this referral program HSBC was running. It works like this, he told me. For every personal referral that leads to a new card customer for the bank, you can get $20 in return. Twenty dollars!

So, can you give me the contact details to five people on your mobile phone, he asks me.

No, I can’t, I reply.

And I continue to tell him that he’s just disturbed me in an important meeting, expecting me to help him do his job at the expense of my friends’ time and irritation for twenty dollars. I ask him if he has any idea what this ‘sales program’ does to the reputation of his organization. All I get is silence from the other end. Then ‘click’.


I think this little experience of mine points to a number of perennial problems that are holding brands back:

1. Short-term financial goals and performance evaluations [commercial reality] often have a devastating effect on long-term brand building goals.
2. Compartmentalised structure/thinking in companies leads to fragmented brand behaviour in the marketplace. Every department has its own set of KPIs, which are rarely aligned with a brand vision in any way.
3. The lack of understanding about fundamental human nature and organizations ability to ‘empathise’ is severely lacking in most places.

Everyone who deals with brands in one way or another are aware of these issues and yet so little is done to resolve them. With the risk of sounding cynical [which is a virtue for some of my friends], I don’t believe there are any long-term solutions other than having a visionary leader at the very top; a CEO who understands people and gets brands. Brands who get it right, such as Tesco, Ikea and Virgin all have leaders who build their businesses based on their empathy and understanding of people and what they want/need. Every CEO talks about how important this is, but few do anything about it. Not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how to.

Tesco’s senior management make a point about it by spending at least two weeks a year stacking shelves in their supermarkets, talking to customers. IKEA’s Kamprad is a genius when it comes to understanding people’s ‘living needs’ by traveling around the world, talking to people, visiting them in their homes. Branson has built Virgin and expanded into new categories by figuring out what people are unhappy with, what they hate about the category in hand. His strategy is then focused on addressing these problems directly with his product/brand. Brilliant simplicity!

HSBC clearly has no clue about what I’m talking about.

Posted in: Planning-related