Monday 24 July 2023

Coutts, Farage and the inclusivity paradox


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled Your customers choose you. At the time, I believed that it was nigh-well impossible for a brand of any size to pick and choose its customers. Much as they’d like to. Coutts for example, state on their website that “Coutts clients are trailblazers and pioneers, the disrupters and challengers who help to shape the fabric of UK society.”

Dream on, Coutts, I would have thought a few weeks ago. You may have a few photogenic dazzling young movers and shakers, who you’ve displayed prominently on your website. But you’ve also got a heck of a lot of retired brigadiers and boring old conservative farts. And, people like Nigel Farage.

Well, we all know that didn’t end well. But while FMCG brands from bog cleaner to baked beans would have difficulty stopping Mr Farage, Mr Trump or anyone else from buying their product, banks can close accounts. Social media platforms, too. What has been revealed in the case of Farage is that the resaons were nothing to do with insufficient funds in the account, or being a politically-exposed-person. It was a case of Farage’s views and opinions - as catalogued in a multi-page dossier - “not aligning with the bank’s values.”

I’ve done a lot of work on brand (rather than corporate) values, and the challenge was always three-fold. First of all, finding descriptors that could legitimately be described as “values” - generally nouns. Secondly, for the combination - and I’d advise not picking more than four - to be distinctive and fitting to that particular brand. And finally, things that weren’t so vague, intellecually airy-fairy or obscure that no-one had a clue how to put these into practice.

Whether it’s the B-Corp/ESG movement or the interest in Purpose, I don’t know. But values - whether applied to corporate or brand - seem to have become simultaneously samey and vague over the last years. Many companies don’t divulge what they’re for, rather what they’re against - all the usual suspect -isms and -phobias along with hate and toxicity in general.

Is “diversity” a value? I don’t think so, any more than “equity”. These words have taken on very particular meanings in corporate-speak. 

And when it comes to the third member of this particular trio, then Coutts are really tying themselves up in knots. Even putting aside the financial requirements to become a customer, just take a look at the screenshot from their website. Under the section on “Inclusion” comes the text “when you become a client of Coutts, you’ll be part of an exclusive network.”

To me, it all illustrates a lack of that good old-fashioned brand value, integrity.  

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