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Changing perceptions… from the wardrobe up?

Given that it’s 4 days to Christmas, I was sipping some egg nog, going through the news when I came across something a little amusing.  And it had a small marketing moral to boot.  Thought I’d share it.

UBS… back in the news

It’s been a rough couple years for poor UBS.

Back in 2008, they were one of the worst hit banks in Europe as financial markets gave way under the weight of a sub-prime credit derivative avalanche.

Wrote down something around $49 billion.  Their stock tanked by nearly 65% .

Later in the year a top attorney with them was forced to pay $6.5 million in fines and penalties to settle insider trading allegations.

By the end of 2008 they had laid off 11% of their workforce and were eyeing up another 6% for the chopping block.

And 2009 didn’t bring any better news…

In February, they paid the US $780 million in fines, penalties and restitution for allegedly aiding and abetting tax cheats.  Additionally, they disclosed thousands of client names to the US government, whether or not they had been accused of any wrong doing.

In November they were sued by a California public utility claiming they rigged sales of municipal derivatives and collected illegal profits in the form of kickbacks.

In December two former officials were declared fugitives in the tax cheat case. And if that weren’t enough, they shut down an international real estate fund that had collapsed roughly 60% since 2007.

Billions in client capital fled the bank.

Like I said, a rough couple years for the gang from Zurich.

For sure, they weren’t alone in the suffering, but it seems like they held more than their fair share of the spotlight.  That kind of publicity leaves quite a blotch on your brand.

Fixing broken perceptions

And like I’ve mentioned before, fixing your public persona when you’ve let your flock down so badly is a monumental task.

That’s why I chuckled a bit when I read their latest headline.

“Dress to Impress, UBS tells staff.”

They recently sent their retail banking staff an exhaustive 43 page memorandum on “how to impress customers with a polished appearance.”  Sort of a list of style do’s and don’ts. As cited in the Wall Street Journal:

The Do’s for women include:

  • Wear your jacket buttoned
  • When sitting the buttons should be unfastened
  • Make sure to touch up hair regrowth regularly if you color your hair.

For men:

  • Store your suit on a large hanger with rounded shoulders to preserve the shape of the garment.
  • Schedule barber appointments every four weeks to maintain your haircut shape.

The don’ts…

  • Eating garlic and onions on the job
  • Smoking or spending time in smoke-filled places
  • Wearing short sleeve shirts or cuff links
  • Wearing too short socks
  • Allowing underwear to be seen
  • Over-perfuming
  • Using tie knots that don’t match the shape of your face

The whole thing left me scratching my head as I refilled my egg nog.

In the first place, if their staff needs to be told these things, perhaps they shouldn’t be working at the bank in the first place.

But taking an active role in trying to rebuild the bank’s brand image is a good thing. (Even the little things are important.)

On the other hand, focusing in on this kind of minutiae when the rest of your world is falling apart around you seems a little over-zealous.

But I guess, you gotta start somewhere.

Will they succeed or are they tarnished forever?

Who knows.

Point is, as always, protecting the perception of your brand is as important as cultivating it.  Once it goes negative, getting it shifted back can be a long road.  And one of the best ways to do both is through continued and careful communication.

I’ll be taking a little time off to head home to the tundra of Chicago for a few days over the holiday, so this’ll (pretty much) wrap up the blog for 2010.

But I did want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and joyous holiday season.  To say thank you for your support this past year.  And wish you all the best in 2011.