Banks at a Party: Using AI for Brand Perception Analysis and Art Fun

Photo of Paweł Stężycki

Paweł Stężycki

Updated Sep 28, 2023 • 12 min read

Qualitative research vs AI - Banks as seen by ChatGPT - Portraying brands in seconds - Limitations - Are we all doomed?

I can't resist the temptation to experience new technologies hands-on. Having had a few hours available, I thought I'd take ChatGPT and Midjourney for a research spin. The outcome was somewhat surprising.

Tested hypothesis: Widely available AI can deliver decent brand perception research.

Brand perception - by the book

Back in my days in research, I did a fair amount of brand perception studies. It's not rocket science. We would start by running a few focus groups with representatives of target users, trying to provoke them into sharing insights on brands within the category. For qualitative research, it all depended on the sample and the facilitator's skills. (Quantitative studies are a different story).


DBS Bank - who wants an account?

This research was neither fast nor cheap, since it required gathering 2-3 dozen people and chatting with them in the cozy focus group rooms of the Kantar agency. Zoom brought some progress in logistics, but it still means a few days of work.

Most users tend to be very rational and enigmatic when expressing their attitudes toward brands. This is why we use projective techniques - they break the ice and enhance group expression capabilities.

One of the well-known methods (not without its share of criticism) is the Chinese Portrait.


What brand would turn up at a party like that?

The method involves imagining brands as if they were people/cars/drinks etc. As a facilitator, I could ask my group:

Imagine X and Y Brands are people at a party. Who would they be? How would they look and behave?

Can chat GPT 4.0 nail the Chinese portrait for fintech and bank brands?

ChatGPT amazed humanity (and me) with its language skills. By default, its brain is the aggregate "wisdom" of the internet. It should be good with simple tasks such as Chinese portrait - I thought.

Being part of the financial industry, I decided to test my hypothesis on the top financial brands. Can ChatGPT 4.0 generate a decent brand description? How good would Midjourney be at visualizing it?

The initial prompts looked promising...

Meet the icon of British banking and global trade

I started with HSBC - biggest bank in Europe, supporting global trade for over 150 years but now betting heavily on innovation.

Here is some of the output:

  • HSBC would be a well-dressed man in his mid-50s, wearing a classic tailored suit, possibly with a red tie and a lion pin as a nod to its logo. His hair would be perfectly groomed with a touch of grey, reflecting both maturity and experience.
  • His expression would be serious and calculative, but with a hint of a warm smile, showing that he is approachable. Given HSBC's British roots and its global reach, especially in Asia, he might have a blend of British and Hong Kong heritage, speaking with a subtle British accent but fluent in several Asian languages.
  • HSBC would be prudent, conservative, and disciplined. He is very detail-oriented and cautious. However, his lengthy experience makes him adaptable and knowledgeable in various cultures and international matters.....

Not bad - I thought.

To adapt the portrait for Midjourney, I followed up with two more prompts, asking ChatGPT to imagine a portrait description. I also asked for specific brand colors and style matching the brand perception.


Is that how you would impersonate HSBC?

I got impressed by the striking beauty of both portraits and ChatGPT descriptions. A pure pleasure for the eyes and soul.

Also - I'm kind of buying into the visions as plausible for the HSBC brand (although its up to their brand research team to validate this)

However, upon second thought, two issues bothered me:

  • Midjourney couldn’t handle most of the details that ChatGPT envisioned (although I've simplified and limited the output).
  • Three sets of prompts ended up with pretty diverse outputs. With Midjourney adding its diffusion, this all ended up with three different brand portraits.

Take a look at these outputs from identical prompts to see how different were the answers I got.


The old banking world

Encouraged by the output on HSBC, I spent the better part of Saturday visualizing icons of global banking.

So who is this Citi guy?

I admit I've enjoyed this feast for eyes and mind, generating more personalizations. It soon turned out that if it wasn't for differentiation of art styles and colors most of the bank brand personalizations would end up as same looking men in suits. Chat GPT would also recommend a map or a compass as a standard attribute for the global banks and a smartphone for those that try to be more innovative. Midjourney would usually miss out on these symbols so you want to see them in pictures.

After a few attempts, I would say:

  • Citi stood out for its race diversity and innovation
  • ING seems to be more dynamic and gender diverse


I’m sure ING’s marketing team would be happy to see the result

Santander more of a friendly financial advisor, less tech, and likely suffering from a mid-life crisis.


Is Santander suffering from a mid-life crisis?

DBS Bank seems to stand out as the only established bank brand that did not end up wearing suits most of the time. (The white-man banker stereotype did not fit here?)

BNP Paribas tends to be depicted as a dull, old guy.

Not my idea of BNP Paribas but I like the TinTin comic style

I can't say how aligned these brand personalizations are with how the general public sees them. In the same time I'm pretty sure most PR teams would be happy. AI personalizations seem to be reflections of the values these banks communicate and company heritage.

Hot new banks - do they differ?

Perhaps the heritage of these established brands lays heavily on their image and perception, hence the suit jackets and limited differentiation?.

What about more recent hot-shoots, the neobanks of Europe? They have pretty distinctive brand features and a short history. This should be different?

Hey AI, introduce me to Mr/Mrs Revolut, bunq!

Revolut is definitely a man. Young, more modern than established banks but the portrait here did not differ that much from Citi. Chat GPT would always visualize these young gentlemen with a smartphone or smartwatch but Midjourney chose to ignore that "detail".

bunq on the other side was like a breeze of fresh air on this party dominated by of white and suited man. Check this out:

Cubizm & Bunq? Maybe that could be an inspiration?

Hey, but aren't these pictures painted too rosy?

I looked at my beautiful gallery with pride. But then, this thought struck me.

Banks are not that perfect. They make mistakes.

And believe me, people are far from seeing banks that perfect.

Or maybe I've just picked such great brands. Perhaps I should try with brands that have a more tainted image .... like frauds or bankrupted ones.

First I went for SVB and FTX.

Business as usual here

I don’t know about you, but to me, these guys don’t look like a portrait of a fraudster and broke gambler.

But there is a good explanation for that. ChatGPT 4.0 was fed only with data prior to October 2022. For AI there is no World after the cut-off time. It has no idea of the more recent events that wrecked the brand perception of these brands.

So perhaps I should use some earlier examples, brands that failed prior to October 2022?

Fortunately, we have some of these. A well-known fintech fraudster Wirecard and the symbol of bankruptcy Lehman Brothers seemed perfect.

I was optimistic seeing ChatGPT mention both - a fraud and bankruptcy as a stain on brand reputation of these two (really ;-)

Have the mortal sins of Wirecard and LB been translated and visualized on brand portraits ? ....

Is this how you would imagine a fraudster and a broker?

I'm not convinced by these. Not really.

Beautiful lies, where will this take us?

I'm sure I could improve a few things in my little experiment. To start off - models should be fed by better quality of data - eg: output from interviews with the users. But this takes time and money.

As a generation of Google, we like to get the answers instantly and for free. Google (or Bing) algorithms provide us with a few pages of alternative data sources to follow up on each topic. We research Wiki - may not be perfect but I like to think is good enough 9/10 showing different points of view.

  • On one hand, I am mesmerized by the beauty of the output I got in my little experiment. Despite limitations, it stands out as a powerful tool of support for brand marketers, designers and researchers. Great inspiration for workshops and brainstorms but to be used by professionals, who will notice the shortcomings.
  • On a more general level, I'm terrified to see how easily the output was simplified, ignoring possible criticism and blemishes in brand perception.
  • I'm under the impression that, when fed with online resources, the combination of ChatGPT and Midjourney was far more likely to echo the corporate PR narrative than reflect the brand perception as seen by clients.

Personally, I will stick to my research patterns.

At the same time I am tempted by the beauty of the output. Perhaps someday I will repeat my experiment with more controlled data.

Photo of Paweł Stężycki

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Paweł Stężycki

Former Senior Fintech Innovation Consultant at Netguru
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