Conventional wisdom holds that Greg Smith, the apparently principled ex-Goldman Sachs exec whose recent resignation was accompanied by a now-famous New York Times Op-Ed piece, is never going to find work in the investment industry again. So what? This guy should switch to being a financial branding consultant, as his Op-Ed diatribe is a virtual branding manifesto on how to kill brand trust in the financial service sector (or any other sector, for that matter).
HOW NOT TO BUILD BRAND TRUST, BY GREG SMITH
- Screw the customer
- Destroy your employees’ belief in the brand
- Repeat #1… again… and again
NUMBER ONE: SCREW THE CUSTOMER, OR… WHAT’S THE OPPOSITE OF CUSTOMER-CENTRIC?
Smith goes on at some length in his Op-Ed about just how anti-customer-centric his former employer has become, explaining the keys to success in the firm:
“What are three quick ways to become a leader [at Goldman Sachs]? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.”
So much for how to create brand loyalty by putting the customer first.
NUMBER TWO: DESTROY YOUR EMPLOYEES’ BELIEF IN THE BRAND
As any decent branding consultant will tell you, it’s impossible to deliver on brand promises if your employees don’t believe them. And yet, despite all the money spent on employee branding and engagement, creating true believers remains a huge challenge for many, if not most, marketers. Even from inside firms that are, to use Smith’s word, less “toxic” than Goldman, I frequently hear employees grumble about the disconnect between corporate promises made from on high and what’s actually delivered “at street level,” to customers or, for that matter, to employees. Smith encapsulated his experience this way: “I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or belief.”
NUMBER THREE: REPEAT NUMBER ONE AGAIN… AND AGAIN… AND AGAIN
Smith goes on to mention “meetings where not one minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients,” the routine denigration of clients with monikers like “Muppets,” and “how callously people talk about ripping their clients off.” He makes a core truth perfectly clear: once you start focusing first on your own firm’s success, it’s not long until the customer is the last thing on your mind.
MAKE THE CUSTOMER FIRST IF YOU WANT YOUR BRAND TO LAST
But Smith is not entirely the naysayer – he does conclude with what is perhaps the most basic truth about how to create the brand trust that produces brand loyalty and, ultimately, long-term success: “Make the client the focal point of your business…”
Greg, I wish you well in your new career in finance… as a financial branding consultant.