How to destroy your brand at warp speed

I don't have millions of dollars to spend building the Knight brand. But if I did and poured a small fortune into a branding exercise, I'm sure I'd do everything in my power to protect my investment. That's why I can't...

I don’t have millions of dollars to spend building the Knight brand. But if I did and poured a small fortune into a branding exercise, I’m sure I’d do everything in my power to protect my investment. That’s why I can’t figure out what’s with VISA and certain not-for-profits. They invest a bundle to establish their brand, then let someone else destroy all they’ve built.

Take VISA. I give them a lot of credit for the job they’ve done building their brand. Their current TV spots featuring animals getting their paws on a VISA card are not only captivating creatively, they demonstrate clearly the value of their plastic. What more could you ask for? Maybe that the VISA folks stop allowing their licensees to create negative vibes about their product among the populace they’re trying so hard to entice.

Example: A Scotiabank customer named Beatrice recently received a piece of addressed mail from her bank. She tore into the envelope because it looked very much like they were sending her a cheque. And, sure enough, there was a Scotiabank cheque, complete with her name as the payee, a bank employee’s signature authorizing payment and official-looking computer code numbers at the bottom.

Attached to the cheque was a letter with a headline urging her to ‘Cash or deposit this cheque today – you’ve earned it!’ Bold type crossheads declared ‘Cash your cheque for $1250 today!’ and ‘Use your cheque for anything.’ Copy said things like ‘Simply cash or deposit your cheque into your bank account just as you would any other cheque…This is an approved cheque – so you can cash or deposit it today and start enjoying the money immediately.’

Understandably, Beatrice thought she’d been handed a windfall from her bank. More understandably, she was less than pleased when she discovered the true nature of the offer.

When you read all the text carefully, you discover what Scotiabank is really doing is foisting an advance from your Scotiabank Classic VISA on you. And you’re going to pay the money back…with interest!

Deceptive as the ‘cheque-is-in-the-envelope’ technique is, some would say it’s OK to use it when you’re out to acquire new customers. After all, it’s going to people who aren’t your customers now, and who cares if some of them get PO’d…as long as you attract a sufficient number who don’t take offence. But if you’ve ever heard of lifetime value, you never try to pull something as trickery-laced as this when you’re dealing with your own customers.

Maybe Scotiabank’s VP of credit card products (the signator of the letter in question) doesn’t care about the impact his mailing may have on the larger Scotiabank. And maybe he doesn’t care about the negative effect it may have on VISA. But if I were Scotiabank or VISA, spending millions of dollars to build a credible brand, I’d sure care.

‘Poor’ George?

Then there’s the case of another VISA licensee, Home Trust. They sent my friend George a personalized appeal to take their VISA card because ‘The Home Trust VISA card is your best chance for credit card approval.’ The headline in the letter stated ‘Everyone else said NO. We say APPROVED.’ They then told him that, to get their card, ‘you don’t have to earn a lot of money and you don’t have to have a good credit history.’

Excuse me, says friend George. I earn six figures, have no shortage of assets and have an enviable credit rating.

And just what are they offering him? The opportunity to have a Home Trust VISA card with a $1,000 limit (yes, one thousand). But to actually get the card, he’d have to pay a one-time fee of $99 and then $10 each month. So, at the end of his first year, he’d have paid $219 for the privilege of having access to $1,000 in credit. He’d also pay 19.95% on balances unless he missed a payment; then he’d pay a $19 fine and be bumped to 24.95%.

Neither George nor I can figure out why Home Trust is wasting its money trying to get his business. Have they never heard of requesting an income select on their list rental? Or maybe one based on IQ? And why is VISA is allowing a licensee to affront someone to the point where he’s considering cutting up his existing VISA card?

One more thing – the Home Trust letterhead features its Web site URL. Why? Anybody who has to pay $219 to get a $1,000 in credit surely can’t afford twenty bucks a month for Internet access. And if somebody’s dumb enough to go along with the company’s back-of-envelope claim that credit is as important as air, water, food and warmth, he or she probably doesn’t have sufficient smarts to turn on a computer anyway.


that are not for me

With so many worthy, as well as unworthy, causes asking for donations these days, a growing number of not-for-profits are recognizing the importance of branding themselves to ultimately create a bond between themselves and donors.

So in addition to their usual direct mail and community events efforts, they’re investing in PR and sometimes in print ads and even TV commercials. Then they go and blow their hard-earned goodwill over the telephone.

There’s a telemarketing technique that traditionally has been the preserve of small and questionable charities. You know how it goes. Somebody with an ever-so-earnest voice calls and says something like, ‘Mr. Knight, this is John with the Canadian Association for the Preservation of Legume Eaters in Guatemala, and I’d like to thank you for your donation last year.’ Quicker than you can say ‘you’re welcome,’ they’re onto you for a ‘renewal’ donation. (I put renewal in quotes because you never gave to them in the first place; in fact, you may support the antithesis of their cause, the Society for Carnivores in Honduras.)

Why do these not-for-honesty associations tell you that you’re a past donor? Because people are more inclined to give to one of their existing charities than a new one.

I’ve accepted it as par for the course with small-fry implorers, but never expected it from some of Canada’s leading charities. Yet, in the past couple of weeks, two large, well-established not-for-profits have pulled the same stunt on me. Thanks to my Legume Eaters experience, I haven’t fallen for it, but I have taken some action as a result – I’ve vowed never to give to anybody who tries to turn my prospect status into one of renewal when I haven’t made my first donation.

But there’s a worse goodwill-killing exercise – handing your donor and prospect list over to a telemarketing company without providing them with one inviolable guideline. I’m talking about letting telemarketers call your list and refuse to send information about your organization to anyone who doesn’t guarantee a donation over the phone.

I can’t count how many telerequesters have called, aroused my interest to the point where I’ve asked to be sent info by mail, and then been told me there’s no way they’re spending 47¢ on a stamp unless I donate at least $15 or $25 over the phone right then and there.

Sure, you’re really good folks just trying to help the world. Sure, you want me to know about your cause and how important it is. Donate? ‘Sure,’ I tell them. ‘My cheque is in the mail.’

Bob Knight has a VISA card with a limit in excess of $1,000 and has been known to make charitable donations with it. You can make it possible for him to donate more often by calling on Knight & Associates the next time you need help with an integrated, direct marketing or e-campaign. He can be reached at