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Dogged relationships.

Dog owners who agree that their dog "is just like a family member and just as important" has risen from 55% in 1995 to 84% in 2003 ... 67% admit to bragging about them.

--Harris Interactive. 2007

It was only a matter of time. I pulled into lane one at the drive through--you know, the one that sidles right up next to the branch. As I was making a deposit, the teller's eyes lit up, and she excitedly reached over and pulled out something plastic and placed it in the drawer and pushed it to me. As I reached to get it, I noticed it was a dog-bone shaped container housing several dog biscuits. She pointed to the back of nay Tahoe--"It's for your dog."

First of all, I was relatively pleased with how quickly I was able to rule myself out as the direct target of the gift. Now I know what you are thinking. Yes, there have been times when I was a little concerned as to exactly how they view me, and there was that split second when past treatment on a couple of occasions did seem aligned with the gift offered, but I moved with dispatch beyond that. It was for my dog.

My next thought was the bank had given up on a relationship with me and decided to go after my dog. They were going around me or perhaps over my head. They had moved from the influencer (me) to the decider (her).

Sure enough, as I tossed one of the dog biscuits back to Emma, our canine rescue shelter special, she looked like she could be had. I could see from the look in her eyes she was all about relationship banking. The deal had already been closed sole source provider of choice--signed, sealed and delivered. She was a raving fan for life and if looks could refer, she was ready to spread the word. Any influence I might have wielded was gone. The banking relationship was no longer in my hands, it was in her paws.

All this caused me to reflect on just how much relational ground I have lost. I harkened back to an earlier time when my station in life as a family member was a bit more elevated. You know, we humans used to occupy a special place in the kingdom. Dog used to be a disparaging term, but boy have they made up a lot of ground. Remember, dog spelled backwards ... but I digress.

And just look at the research: Now 84 percent consider their dog just as important as a family member. You know there is a different way of looking at it. Yeah, you can say dogs are really moving up, but you could also say humans have really moved down. A different way of viewing the research is that family members deemed to be more important than the family dog has dropped from 45 percent to 15 percent. It is a difficult time to be a human family member.

And as if things weren't tough enough at home, now my bank has gone and piled on. I must say that I was surprised, even shocked. I did not realize just how viral this whole relationship decline was. First it was the subprime lending crisis, and now this.

Then it struck me. This is not personal. The banks are going after the dog relationships for some very sound business reasons. They represent a potentially more profitable market segment. I mentally checked off a whole list of bank costs that could be eliminated: stadium naming rights, media advertising, direct mail, teaser rates, billboards, signage. Surely these are cost reductions that dogs care nothing about.

And what about the revenue side of the equation? Attraction in the canine segment has been pretty much mastered. The real difference would come with that bugaboo everyone has been dealing with in recent years: loyalty. Let's face it, dogs are known for their loyalty. Once you establish a relationship, they are really good about hanging around. I think it is safe to assume that defection rates would plummet. Yeah, you might have to give them a dog biscuit from time to time, but once the basics are met, they are pretty much in it for the relationship. Stay in touch, make eye contact, call them by name, don't beat them up, and give them a pat or rub from time to time and they are pretty much committed for life.

Yep, I could see where they were headed with this dog relationship banking. Spend less on stuff that dogs don't value. Treat them well. Maintain the relationship.

That would surely work with dogs. In fact, the more I thought, the idea sounded rather appealing to me. It reminded me of a prayer I once heard. "Oh Lord, make me as good a person as my dog thinks I am." Then it hit me what I wanted from my bank: "Oh Lord, make my bank as good as my dog thinks it is."

Robert Hall is author of "The Street Corner Strategy for Winning Local Markets." E-mail:
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Title Annotation:Marketing Solutions
Author:Hall, Robert
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2008
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