Will helicopter brands please stop hovering?

by Nigel Hollis | February 04, 2019

A post on The Financial Brand defines ‘Helicopter Banking’ as always-on, both distant and accessible, a trusted advisor available in a moment of need. But does the definition match the name and does it only apply to banking?

If, as I suspect, the idea of ‘Helicopter Banking’ was sparked by ‘Helicopter Parenting’ then I am not sure that the definition fits the name. After all, a ‘Helicopter Parent’ is defined as one who is overly involved in the life of their child. And surely the idea that The Financial Brand is trying to get across is the opposite of over-involvement? A brand that gets the balance just right, being invisible when it is not needed and on hand when it is. If so, then surely that definition should apply well beyond banking.

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In my experience hotels, retailers and airlines typically qualify as ‘Helicopter Brands’. Yes, Melia Hotels, I did stay at one of your hotels but if you keep sending me emails I will avoid staying at one again. Sean, love your clothes but I don’t need an email every week to tell me of the latest items in stock; I don’t need new clothes right now. And, Virgin Atlantic, surely you must have realised by now that I have not flown with you for over five years? Quit sending me mileage updates!

I am pretty sure I did not explicitly sign up to get emails from these brands (maybe I did, it was a long time ago). Of course, I could just unsubscribe, but I never quite get around to it. (On that note, if you feel you are getting too many email from me, let me know, or simply unsubscribe, I have no wish to add unwanted emails to your inbox.)

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while might remember this post from back in 2014 proposing that brands need to be more like Jeeves. Like the definition of the ideal banking brand I suggested that brands must be there when needed, solving people’s immediate problems and anticipating people’s needs and desires; not just responding to direct requests. However, while the comparison to Jeeves’ qualities might be apt, the word “butler” is still far too dated and gender-specific to gain traction today. If you have any alternatives, please do let me know.

My main point, however, is that in the age of smart phones people expect a brand to be there when they need it. So, a brand must be always on, ready to respond when required. What a brand should not do is try to insert itself into people’s lives unnecessarily. If it is not adding value to the customer’s life by being in contact, or worse, is seen to be self-interested in its communication, then it is going to undermine the customer relationship not enhance it.

But what do you think? Is it fair to classify some brands as ‘Helicopter Brands’? Do you see hovering as a good or bad thing? Please share your thoughts. 

4 comments

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  1. Lee Smith, February 10, 2019

    Love Jeeves vs helicopter analogy. (and if Dr Who can be a woman, couldn't Jeeves as well?)

  2. Nigel, February 08, 2019
    Carol, totally agree but do you not think we could just ask people what they wanted to hear about and how often? Why throw technology at a problem that can simply be solved by being more human? 
  3. Carol Udell, Canadian Viewpoint, February 05, 2019
    Definitely sounds like a case of marketing gone wild. It sounds more like templated, completely unpersonalized marketing that certainly isn't or the good of the customer. Personalized messages at personalized frequencies would be vastly more effective and desirable. Sounds like a case for artificial intelligence!
  4. Adrian, February 05, 2019
    Yes agreed butler is now out of date but I also concur for the 2.0 version of this description - I'd probably shoot for 'concierge'. A great article as always, thanks Nigel - I always look forward to reading your thoughts.

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