Unfriendly times for financial challengers

Friendly society Liverpool Victoria’s rebrand as LV= raises the question of how small mutual societies can successfully promote their brands in a financial services sector dominated by big banks and insurance giants.

LV= is understood to be seeking an advertising agency to promote the rebrand (MW last week), but the minnow will have to compete with the huge marketing budgets of established brands.

A key challenge facing the organisation, which was founded in 1843, will be to shed the musty, poor value-for-money image of the mutuals as it attempts to build the brand in an already congested sector.

The society, which has 1 million members, aired its first TV campaign last month to support its car insurance products in a campaign created by Designate. The brief was to reinvigorate the car insurance market by announcing the arrival of a “dynamic” new player.

As Designate managing director Tim Addison says/ “We wanted to build an ownable brand personality that connects emotionally with consumers.” 

Thoroughly modern mutual
Some industry observers are confident that the small mutual societies are well placed to compete with the publicly-quoted giants. Leagas Delaney managing director Elliot Moss believes it has never been a better time to do so. He argues that the idea of mutuality can be made modern at a time when consumers are embracing ethics in their business dealings.

While Leagas Delaney client Nationwide is arguably the only mutual able to compete on a scale with the banks, Moss argues that by targeting specific services and products all mutuals can be competitive “but with a conscience”.

“Nationwide has the scale, but it is doing well because it is showing how the company is different to the banks. You don’t play where the banks are going to win. You have to pick and play to your own strengths,” he says.

Now is the time to promote mutuality, not as an outdated 19th century concept, but as something fresh, relevant and modern, according to Moss.

“Modern mutuality is capitalism with a conscience. In a world where everyone wants you to have a soul, mutuals can live and breathe ‘values’.” 

Shifts in consumer attitudes, such as moves towards fair trade and the growing interest in environmentalism and ethics, mean it is a particularly good time for building societies and friendly societies to sell themselves. 

However, David McCann, planning director of financial services specialist Team Spirit, says mutuality can be a hard sell. “Promoting ‘mutuality’ is always tricky, because unless it is demonstrable or tangible, it doesn’t exist,” he says.

“But, from a brand point of view, the smaller high street mutual outfits have got to accentuate the factors that make them stand out – the fact that they are not big, and they are not a plc.” 

McCann points to his client The Coventry Building Society, which is a small, mutual concern. A recent campaign brought to life the brand promise of “TLC, not PLC”. Product differentiation is another key area where mutual finance brands can “triumph” over their larger competitors.

Free thinking
One area that is currently under the spotlight, the potential demise of “free” banking, is such an opportunity. “It’s time for the smaller mutuals to ask their members to vote for the continuation of free banking, and out-manoeuvre the financial behemoths,” says McCann.

Liverpool Victoria, or LV= as it is now known, was established to allow people with limited means to bury their loved ones. It now offers products and services including savings, investments, life insurance, home and motor insurance, banking and financial advice. The breadth is necessary, it says, to meet its members’ needs.

Now it must prove that the concept of mutuality – and friendly societies – is not dead and buried.

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