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.

List-building 2.0: 7 Tips for Using ‘Power’ Polls For Prospecting

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

But from a search engine marketing (SEM) standpoint, the benefits are clear and measurable: More traffic and frequent interactivity (or posts) equal better organic (free) rankings in search engine results. Getting good organic rankings is a powerful way to find qualified prospective customers.

So what online tactic encourages Web 2.0 principles as well as helps with search engine results page rank, visibility and listing-building efforts? Targeted online prospecting polls, also known as “acquisition” or “lead generation” polls.

Based on the specificity of your poll question, online acquisition polls can help you: collect relevant names and email addresses; gauge general market (or subscriber) sentiment; and generate sales (via a redirect to a synergistic promotional page). Polls also allow for interactivity, where participants can sound off about a hot topic.

I’ve been including strategic acquisition polls in my online marketing strategy for nearly a decade now and have rarely been disappointed with the results. Some websites, like surveymonkey.com, allow members to set up free or low-cost surveys and polls. However, it may not allow you to include a name-collection component or a redirect to a promotional or “thank you” webpage, which is essential for a success.

If that’s the case, either ask your Webmaster to build you a proprietary poll platform or use a poll script. You can find examples at hotscripts.com, ballot-box.net/faq.php, and micropoll.com.

Here are seven ways to help create a winning prospecting poll campaign:

1. Engage. Your poll question should engage the reader, encourage participation, pique interest and tie into a current event. And be sure to have a “comments” field where people can make additional remarks. Sample topics: politics, the economy, health, consumer breakthroughs, the stock market, foreign affairs.

2. Relevance. Your poll question should also be related to your product, free e-newsletter editorial, or free bonus report (which can be used as incentive). This will greatly improve your conversion rate. Let’s say your free offer is a sign-up to a stock market e-newsletter and the upsell is a redirect landing page promotion to a paid gold investment newsletter for $39/yr. In that case, your poll question should be tied with the editorial copy and product, something like “Where is gold headed in 2013?” Investors who favor gold (your target audience), will respond to this question … and engage. You are gaining these qualified prospects as leads and perhaps buying customers.

3. Incentive. After people take your poll, tell them that to thank them for their participation, you’re automatically signing them up for your quality, free e-newsletter or e-alerts … which they can opt out of at any time. To reduce the number of bogus email addresses you get, offer an extra incentive free “must-read” report, too. And assuming it’s your policy not to sell or rent email names to third parties (and it should be, based on email best practices), indicate your privacy/anti-spam policy next to the sign-up button on your email sign up form. This will immediately reassure people that it’s safe and worry-free to give you their email addresses.

4. Flag. Having your poll question somehow tie into your product makes the names you collect extremely qualified for future offers. Each name should be flagged by your database folks according to the answer they gave by topic category. You can create buckets for each product segment. Using our investing e-newsletter example, categories could be gold, oil, income, equities, etc. Segmenting the names into such categories will make it easier for you to send targeted offers later.

5. Results. Use the poll feedback for new initiatives. In addition to collecting names, online polls will help you gauge general market opinion—and could help you come up with new products.

6. Bonding. Strengthen your new relationships. You need to reinforce the connection between the poll people just participated in and your e-newsletter. So make sure each name that comes in gets an immediate “thank you” for taking the poll. This could be via autoresponder or redirect “thank you” page. On your “thank you” page/email, can be a link for the downloadable, free e-report you promised. Consider sending a series of informational, warm and fuzzy editorial autoresponders to help new subscribers get to know who you are, what you do and how your e-newsletter will benefit them. This will help improve their lifetime customer value.

7. Results. Gratify participants with the results. Don’t just leave poll participants hanging. Make sure you tell them the results will be published in your free e-newsletter or on your website (to encourage them to check it regularly), and then upload the results, as well as some of your best, most engaging comments. This is great editorial fodder, as well as helpful to increasing website readership and traffic.

Marketers have used polls internally (on their own company websites) for years. But now more than ever, with its cost effectiveness and efficiency, polls can be used to collect targeted leads and interact with prospects.

Polls aren’t just for finding leads, either. They are also great for measuring market sentiment, doing competitor analysis and new product development; which, in turn, can help customer retention, customer service and sales.