The chilling fact is that compared to other countries, our market is relatively small and has many players fighting for the same customer and the biggest differentiator and the key to survive and solve real customer angst.
The battleground includes non-traditional competitors such as fintechs, insurance houses, asset managers, and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). To attain competitive advantage, banking brands pursue either a differentiation strategy or garner for first mover advantage through pushing products to the market. Good move, but some of these products and services become disastrous misses that are not preferred by the market and the uptake is very low despite heavy investments in terms of capital, resources and skills.
I shall resist the temptation of giving such examples as I do not want to throw any brand under the bus, but the list is certainly long, and these are great lessons as to why we should be market-led and not product-led as banking institutions. We have had situations such as “the market was not ready for this product, hence the failure to take off”. I vehemently disagree because we can’t fault the market. People only buy or use what makes a difference or solves a problem. The onus is on us service providers to do thorough research to determine customer preferences and tastes.
A transition from being product-led to a market-led entity can take the headache away. The overarching definition of a market-led organisation is the deliberate unwavering pursuit of placing the customer at the centre of everything. For a product and service to be launched, thorough investment in research and market intelligence take precedence to establish if the market will receive the new product or service well.
Organisations and businesses that undertake intensive market research to create products that satisfy customer needs enjoy more success in how their products are received by the market. The delivered product or service is exactly what the market ordered. The same development applies even to existing products and services. Not only is the product or service performance tracked but there is continuous monitoring of these products and feedback from the end user to further improve the customer experience.
Research and Development (R&D), as one of the important components for the success of any business, must therefore move to the front row. Any company or organisation obsessed with keeping the pulse on the needs of its customers must explore R&D initiatives, no matter how big or small. Without prejudice and without any intention to offend, how many banks in Botswana have a fully operating R&D department or function, or at least a minimum and executable and implementable R&D process?
Yes, indeed some banks operate locally as subsidiaries. Is it for the corporate parent across the border to perform this function for all to drive costs down and avoid duplication of efforts? But we cannot assume that consumers are similar and a dynamic such as demographics can result in a massive hit or miss. Therefore, such developments must be subjected to local nuances and be customised to the most granular level in ensuring that a business case prevails for such a product or service.
To support my argument further, and using Apple as a case study, the original mission statement of Apple was, “Dedicated to the empowerment of man to making personal computing accessible to everyone to help change the way we think, work, learn and communicate.” Its current one is, “To bring the best personal computing products and support to students, educators, designers, scientists, engineers, businesspersons, and consumers in over 140 countries around the world.”
The point to note is that customer-centricity is held in high esteem and research and product development is the key to knowing and unlocking customer taste and preferences. Innovation is at the heart of improving the customer’s experience with the product and that experience becomes galvanized to Apple through research. The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, stated in 2015 that Apple Inc was not the first to introduce an MP3 player and was not the first to introduce a tablet or to launch a smart phone. But Apple is arguably the first modern smartphone and it can be safely assumed that Apple is the pioneer and innovator of most leading products. We have come to know Apple as one of the most innovative brands of our time.
How did Apple get the formula right? According to Statista, Apple Inc spent a record USD21.91 billion on R&D in its 2021 fiscal year, increasing by about USD3 billion from its 2020 total. The company’s massive R&D budget has led to the release of various famous and successful products, including the Iphone, the Ipod, the MacBook and the Ipad. Apple is certainly not alone in this category. Other big spenders on R&D include Samsung, Alphabet, Volkswagen, Microsoft and Huawei. In banking, international brands such as Bank of America are the leading the pack. BOA decided to take an unprecedented step in the conservative banking industry and created an “innovation market’’ within the bank’s existing branches. This is simply a test bed for creative ideas to increase customer satisfaction and grow revenues.
In the final analysis, banks should be more market-led and product-led, and this is not to thwart creativity or innovation. Customer inputs, insights, preferences and needs must lead the process to attain an uncompromised value. A big ask for some maybe that it is an important direction to follow and serve our communities better with relevant products and services to remain visible and run profitable and sustainable businesses or organisations.
LinkedIn: Gomolemo Kololo Manake