Thursday 16, February 2017 by Nabilah Annuar

What’s in a colour?

James Packer, Managing Director at Industry discusses the determining factors in positioning GCC banks for success in a digital-first world.

For banks in the UAE, standing out from competitors has become increasingly difficult, but vital. With over 50 local and foreign lenders, competing to serve just nine million people, the country's banking sector is vastly overcrowded.

"There are a lot of licenced banks, but the population isn't that big. It's unusual for so many banks to be in a country that has the population that the UAE has," said Shayne Nelson, CEO of Emirates NBD, recently.

As the old brand mantra goes, to stand out in the market you need to own a shape and own a colour. But, can colour help these bank brands to differentiate and does it matter? Colour can be just as important as words in conveying brand values and ethos. A study carried out at the University of Winnipeg on the impact of colour in marketing revealed that it takes roughly 90 seconds for someone to form an opinion of a brand or product. In that time, between 62 per cent and 90 per cent of decisions are influenced by colour alone.

In addition to being a differentiating factor between a brand and its competitors, colour can greatly influence moods, feelings and attitudes, both positively or negatively. Evidence, therefore, suggests that making the wrong decision on colour could greatly hinder a brand's chance to make an impactful first impression.

In banking, we see certain patterns of colour use, from which it’s possible to derive meaning. Perhaps most conventional colour choices are the ‘trust building’ colours of blue and green.

Strongly associated with confidence, strength and loyalty, these colours are widely used both locally and internationally. Regionally, green is overwhelmingly favoured by Islamic financial institutions, followed closely by purple, because of strong religious significance.

Similarly, colours such as orange, yellow and rust have gained popularity in the local banking landscape, noted for communicating warmth, generosity and down-to-earth values. In the GCC these tones also tend to promote familiarity and trust, alluding to the hues of the desert geography of the region.

Conventional banks tend to opt for safer colour palettes, which is why the colour blue, which communicates feelings of calmness, serenity and trustworthiness, features prominently in the brands of 28 of 42 UAE banks.

Conversely, challenger banks often choose colours that are the polar opposite of what people expect, making them easier to spot in a saturated arena. In the UK, a new breed of digital challenger banks is making digital-first and mobile-only banking a reality. Banks such as Monzo, Atom and Starling are redefining the parameters of retail banking, outfitted in disruptive, youthful and energetic shades of neon pink, vibrant red and purple.

In the context of building customer-facing digital platforms, the use of colour is especially important to promote ease of use, create the desired user journey as well as increase conversions.

While digital banking is still in its infancy in the GCC, industry experts foresee significant growth potential for a fintech ecosystem due the existence of a strong potential market.

Technologically savvy and better informed ‘digital natives’ make up over half of the population in many GCC countries. Though not the wealthiest, this demographic which is made up of everyone under the age of thirty, is less loyal to legacy banks and expects the best of both digital and traditional banking services.

GCC banks, however, need more than a unique colour story to prepare for the seismic shift in the market and the needs of this dynamic customer demographic.

When formulating a clear brand proposition, they must consider the core values that will form the foundation of their brand, and how the visual identity and overarching brand experience can be used to articulate them effectively.

For a challenger bank who wishes to communicate innovation and first-mover advantage, a bright palette of primary colours, more closely associated with brands such as Google or Ebay, may be appropriate. But, more important is how the brand experience can bring the brand values to life at every touch point, from the design of a digital interface to the way customers are greeted in the branch.

A youth-oriented bank which claims to be ‘tomorrow’s bank’ for example, may employ unorthodox tones in its visual identity, but if they fail to offer dynamic customer service, state-of-the-art digital banking services and a relaxed in-branch atmosphere, their brand promise will fall flat.

While aesthetics is often prioritised in communication, the most attractive brands will be those underpinned by carefully crafted brand strategy and positioning.