As sponsors of West Bromwich Albion football club, the building society’s logo appeared in photographs of the team’s star player, Lee Hughes, accompanying stories of his court case and subsequent imprisonment for a fatal car crash.
Poor old West Brom had just got over another high profile branding nightmare after it had used former West Bromwich Albion manager Ron Atkinson to launch a new mortgage promotion, just days before Big Ron made a racist remark live on television.
This was particularly galling for the building society because it has a well-deserved reputation for supporting equal opportunities and challenging discrimination.
Of course no company or marketing department could ever anticipate such headline grabbing catastrophes when setting up sponsorship deals and promotions, and to be honest it is unlikely that any West Brom customers will take their business elsewhere as a result of the actions of Hughes and Atkinson.
But what these incidents do point out is how vulnerable an organisation’s brand can be and the potential for damage caused by incidents outside of the company’s control.
As a marketing professional you would expect me to champion the value of the brand and its importance in building the perception of a business and reinforcing its reputation. But Kensington is a textbook case of how brand and reputation are linked.
When Kensington set up business over a decade ago, the non-confirming sector did not have a very good reputation. What Kensington and other pioneering lenders did was strive to make non-confirming mortgages respectable by providing borrowers with good service and decent rates. We still have that reputation today and all of our activities – from our marketing and customer service to the products we offer – must reflect and protect that reputation.
This philosophy is what helps create a strong brand presence in the marketplace and in the minds of our customers.
Any activity that is at odds with Kensington’s reputation, whether through our own making or not, could potentially hurt our brand and stay with us for a long time. Just look at the damage caused to brands such as McDonalds or GAP when their more controversial business practices were revealed.
In the mortgage industry, because we deal with people, their money and their homes, we are particularly vulnerable to situations that could reflect badly on us if not handled carefully and sensitively. For example, a family that ends up homeless because their property has been repossessed by a lender is rocket fuel to newspaper editors. So the lender has to show compassion, make the facts clear and prove they tried their hardest to find alternative solution if they are to protect their brand and reputation.
And if you are wondering whether a brand is really that important after all, then consider this: in a market that is overflowing with different products, but all pretty much offering the same thing, which company do you think consumers would choose? The one that has a reputation for fairness and good service, or the one splashed across the news pages for dumping its customers on the streets?