Thought Leadership

Change Is Constant: Change Your Attributes Before You’re Left Behind

June 25, 2019
Change Your Attributes Before You’re Left Behind

The only constant is change, or as alternatively stated, “you cannot step twice into the same river”. Yet, all too often, brands are measuring success on a static list of attributes. Times change. Strategic priorities change. The standards by which your brand, product and/or service are judged change. And in spite of us all knowing this to be true, brand managers’ attribute lists often get stuck in the river muck of “but we’ve always asked it that way” instead of shifting to navigate the swift current of change.

Banks, for example, are investing millions of dollars into tech to digitize nearly every aspect of their business. They need to compare how robust their digital platforms are relative to their competitors’—and it’s no longer a yes or no question such as is an app offered to check my account balance? Instead, it’s a nuanced set of attributes from “transactions are more real-time” to “a more personalized experience.” Banks are no longer competing just with other traditional banks (e.g., Wells Fargo, Bank of America), but are also up against an explosion of new players such as online-only banks Chime and Empower as well as mobile payment platforms Venmo and Cash App.

But, what about the changes that are not in-your-face revolutions of an entire industry? What about the more gradual societal opinion shifts that are no less impactful but far less obvious? If you are not accounting for these shifts, you are not measuring what matters most, leaving you stuck in the river while your competitors sail by.

Financial Services: Tech Expediting Change

The financial services industry has traditionally lagged when it comes to change. Modifying risk management practices is nowhere near as easy as reformulating the flavor profile of potato chips. Furthermore, it is a part of many financial services companies’ DNA to have a relatively conservative nature to protect assets. Innovation almost always travels through vetting and legal departments, leading to lengthy timelines. We see a reticence to change impacting everything these firms do, including sticking to outdated and lackluster attribute lists for far too long.

Today, thanks to FinTech, the river of change runs through the financial services industry just as much as it does with any consumer packaged good or retail experience. New digital technologies and agile financial services challengers are springing up regularly as larger institutions consolidate in the marketplace. Business models are changing and the attributes to measure all of these changes must keep pace. Consumers want to know that your banking app will support more transaction types compared with other banks. Consumers want to know that your credit card does more to protect them globally as they search for their next great adventure. They want to know that influencers with strong social media followings have a high opinion of your robo-investing platform or ESG mutual fund product.

Digitalization is greatly impacting customer behavior. This is equally true for financial advisors, institutional investors, high net worth investors and your everyday credit cardholder. Tech enables real-time transactions at the touch of a finger, greater personalization, faster response times, multimode accessibility and more to feed the “what’s in it for me” customer-centric trend. In fact, tech has made not changing more of a risk than changing. Financial institutions that don’t try to keep up will be quickly left behind.

Change the Questions

So, how can we update the questions we ask in our research to account for the changing times rather than measuring the same stale attribute list ad infinitum?

  1. Take the path of least resistance. Let brand managers make educated assumptions to decide what customers must want and populate closed-ended lists for research purposes. Unfortunately, this is what tends to happen most often. It leads to outdated and/or off-target inputs that can only hope to achieve outdated and/or off-target outputs. In the end, this leaves those brand managers continuing to struggle to maintain (or gain) relevance in their ever-changing industry.
  2. Work harder, not smarter. Spend an excessive amount of time and money testing and refining your attribute lists in multiphase research projects each time you plan to use them. In our experience, research projects are typically strapped for time, budget or both. So, despite the best intentions of such pretesting, it tends to get cut before it ever goes into fieldwork.
  3. Find the happy medium. This is the “just right” river brands would want to swim in. Bring the voice of the customer (VOC) to your attribute lists in a way that can be regularly recurring and yet seamless with your full-scale research. Be confident that you are monitoring for change and measuring what truly matters to consumers as they judge your category as well as your product and/or service.

Keep a Few Buoys

Don’t do away with your existing, traditional attribute lists entirely! There is a lot to be said for tracking across repeated measurements. For example, you’d want to watch for any dips in an attribute such as “is a brand I trust” over time. But, marry those old benchmarking attributes with modern ones that could help you move the needle, such as “effectively enables all my mobile banking needs.” Cut anchor with those attributes that have sunk to the bottom of the river and no longer resonate with customers.

Navigating Attribute Changes 

If you’d like to learn more about how the financial services team at Escalent helps its clients navigate attribute changes over time with a “just right” approach, contact me or Lindsey Dickman. You can also download details about our Catapult approach to propelling your attributes forward.


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Heather Mitchell
Heather Mitchell
Vice President, Financial Services Qualitative

Heather is a leader in the Qualitative space with over 18 years of research experience and a true passion for advancing methods and moderating techniques toward an end goal of well-informed business decisions. From eye-tracking analysis to System 1 techniques, Heather takes projects to the next level. She specializes in our financial services sector, conducting informed sessions with the full gamut of investment experts to entry-level banking customers, of business decision-makers on 401k or health insurance plans to end participants. She is an in-demand problem solver for many repeat clients – a strategic partner who aligns the right approach and techniques to quickly investigate the underlying causes of issues and deliver actionable insights. Heather has a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce with concentrations in Marketing and Management from the University of Virginia, and a Masters of Research from the University of Connecticut. She is a RIVA trained and Unilever accredited moderator.