As some who writes about the banking industry, consumer issues, branding, and PR, I found many of my writing pursuits converging this morning with a thoughtful article by Brad Tuttle at Time MoneyLand about the merger of the much-beloved online bank ING Direct with Capitol One.
For many of those familiar with both companies, and for those with ING Direct accounts, this created a wave of panic.
The Capitol One takeover of ING Direct, according to Capitol One sources named in Brad Tuttle’s article, is not supposed to affect ING operations. Tuttle writes,”…Capital One says it has ‘no plans’ to make changes, which is not the same as a guarantee.”
He also adds something quite important about branding. Capitol One apparently plans to re-brand ING Direct as Capitol One, which in the eyes of many is a gigantic mistake–the ING Direct brand is well-loved, trusted and respected.
Capitol One does not necessarily share that love or command that respect with its own products, practices, or services. Worse yet, ING Direct has made a point of branding itself as a customer-focused alternative to the practices of companies like Capitol One.
Tuttle writes, “The ING Direct ‘Savers’ blog is known for posts that mock banks that hammer customers with fees. Recent example: A call-out to readers asking them to end the sentence, ‘You need checking fees like you need …’ But the blog is mum on the Capital One merger, offering no insight as to what customers can expect down the line in terms of fees.”
Capitol One officials give non-answer corporate doublespeak when asked directly about the addition of the new fees ING Direct so staunchly opposes.
Branding is very important, and as Capitol One execs are about to learn, the pro-customer/anti-fee stance of ING Direct is a critical part of its brand. Will ING Direct customers depart once the Capitol One brand takeover is complete? Will they wait and see whether “the fee monster” comes to get them once ING orange is replaced by Capitol One blue?
Time will tell.
Capitol One’s business practices may or may not at all mirror what ING Direct has established as its customer-friendly bottom line–altering ING Direct’s much valued customer service policies could be a fatal blow to the trust levels associated with the ING brand.
But of course, Capitol One has eliminated that “problem” because it’s eliminating the brand altogether. The trusted ING brand will be gone. What does Capitol One plan on replacing it with?
And what can freelancers learn from any of this?
It’s critical to insure the changes you make to your brand as a freelancer don’t damage the reputation you’ve tried so hard to build. Even if you need to change gears in your freelance work–slowing down or changing the type of freelancing clients you’re after–it is very important to keep your current customers in mind when making the switch.
Newcomers to your freelance work might not even know the difference, but the effect your branding changes have on your current clientele should not be underestimated. Announcing and implementing your changes should be done with great care.
Any changes in branding, approach, or operations should communicate you as a solid, reliable, dependable resource. Capitol One’s shortcomings in the takeover of ING Direct have as much to do with their lack of reassurances for the current customers as it does the elimination of a very successful brand in its entirety.
Capitol One’s behavior implies–right or wrong–that it does not care what ING customers think. That’s the wrong approach, whether by accident, omission, bad timing, whatever. Don’t make the same mistake by forgetting your past and current client base. Let them know they can still rely on you for services rendered, future work, or at the very least, that you stand by your previous work even though you may not be available for new projects.
You might be changing your mission statement, your focus, your deliverables, or your industry…at the very least you owe it to your clients to let them know what they can expect from you in the future.