Mergers and Acquisitions: A Challenge to Brand Loyalty

In the late 1990’s, I discovered ShareBuilder—an easy way to buy stocks (and even fractions of a single stock) through regular, automatic purchases online. Far from being a savvy investor, I found ShareBuilder to be the easiest and least stressful way to get involved in the stock market because, after all, how risky could a $5 or $10 weekly investment be to a neophyte like me?

In the late 1990’s, I discovered ShareBuilder—an easy way to buy stocks (and even fractions of a single stock) through regular, automatic purchases online. Far from being a savvy investor, I found ShareBuilder to be the easiest and least stressful way to get involved in the stock market because, after all, how risky could a $5 or $10 weekly investment be to a neophyte like me?

I set up an automatic transfer from my checking account to my ShareBuilder account, and picked out a few popular brand names to invest in. It took a few years, but eventually, I had built up a pretty nice little portfolio of stocks and started learning more about P/E ratios and dividends. I loved how easy it was to invest, and felt like the brand really understood my needs with easy-to-understand online content. I became a ShareBuilder evangelist—encouraged my friends and family to open accounts, started a small investment club for other neophytes, and even joined Motley Fool (another “keep it simple” brand) to gain insights into stock ideas.

ShareBuilder and ING Get Married
In 2007, ShareBuilder was purchased by ING Direct and I got even more excited. I already loved the ING brand (I had opened an account with them a few years earlier) because in my mind, they were the poster child for “financial services made easy.” It seemed to be the brand match made in heaven—the blending of two brands that truly “get it.” I could log in once, and easily click back and forth between my ING and ShareBuilder accounts.

One day, a banner ad on ING caught my eye. It basically pointed out that if I loved ING, I’d love having an “Easy Mortgage” with them… So I called, and within 30 days I had refinanced with ING. That process alone made me an ING customer for life as it was so simple and so stress-free, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t switched to them sooner! I continued to brag about the simplicity of doing business with ING in addition to my stock portfolio-building behavior with ShareBuilder.

But in 2012, everything started to change.

Capital One Joins the Party
Capital One purchased ING and its subsidiary, ShareBuilder. What happened next left me shaking my head …

First, CapOne changed the location of the ING Direct website. I know it sounds simple to those of us in marketing, but when I memorize a URL/have a link in the nav bar, it’s difficult to get me to change my behavior.

Then, I couldn’t access my account through the Capital One site, there’s no way to log into your ING mortgage, as it had been rebranded as Capital One 360 (oh yeah, I can easily remember that new brand … Not).

Next, with interest rates at an all-time low, I decided I should refinance. I reached out to ING since they had been so good to me, but the CapOne experience was less than ING-like. The online site didn’t let me upload documents easily; I was passed from one mortgage specialist to another; I went days without knowing the status of my loan; the loan doc requirements were far greater than the first time around. Net-net, the brand change was also a corporate culture change.

Funnily enough, I had assumed all along that the ING brand had ceased to exist, however, I continued to see TV spots promoting ING. And more recently, an announcement that ING had become Voya Financial. Huh?

Yet Even More Change
The final straw came just this week. An email announced that Capital One ShareBuilder is becoming Capital One Investing. I must admit, I wanted to weep. Was nothing sacred?

Thank God the announcement reassured me that they will still refer to their online business as ShareBuilder (somebody must have recognized the value of the brand name), so I can only pray that it will be business as usual.

But take this as a marketing lesson… When one company gobbles up another, customers feel a sense of loss, and the new management doesn’t always successfully replicate the brand essence.

This was overwhelmingly apparent when I was part of the acquisition team at 1st Nationwide Bank (FNB), back in the 1980’s. We purchased many failing thrifts and changed their names to FNB literally overnight.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate the stressfulness that action would have on its’ customers. Now that I’ve experienced the pain for myself, I’m hopeful it will make me a more sensitive marketer. Brands do build personas and customers feel a connection to them. Personally, I’m still pining for my old ShareBuilder and ING relationships, but it looks like that ship has long sailed.