Manulife has had a tough couple of years. The overall business has seen sharp declines in revenue, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) and margin performance. As a result, overall brand value has decreased significantly. However, it soldiered through admirably compared to direct competitor SunLife, which fell off our list this year.
Manulife’s commitment to marketing through turbulent times is a testament to the strategic importance of brand and its ability to drive future earnings. In fact, Q4:2013 results slightly missed EPS expectations with higher than expected marketing expenses cited as a major reason.
While Manulife did a good job of maintaining awareness, it did so in a very generic and undifferentiating way. Manulife talks about being strong, reliable, trustworthy and forward thinking. These attributes aren’t wrong – they’re just not unique. Most financial service institutions resort to some or all of these descriptors. By staying in line with them, Manulife fails to stand out in any meaningful way.
If Manulife aspires to compete with the Big Five banks on the investment management and retail banking businesses, the brand must swim clear of the financial services sea of sameness and define their brand on truths that resonate deeply with consumers.
First mover advantage goes to the financial services institution that defines a unique brand strategy and consistently brings it to life across all touchpoints. As a potential challenger brand, Manulife has the opportunity to listen intently to people and react to new consumer trends. Others are surely pursuing a similar strategy, so they need to get going.