If you’ve ever worked on bank or credit union branding projects, you know it takes a lot of time, energy and investment to get one off the ground successfully. You may have the best-looking marketing collateral, vision and mission statements and even dress code around. Guess what? None of that means anything unless your staff is living the brand, every single day.
Unless all staff members, front office, back office, whatever office, believes in and lives out the brand in front of consumers as a daily part of his or her job, your brand is dead on arrival. Bank and credit union professionals are often too enamored of the external component of branding (consumers) and failed to recognize the importance of building the brand within (employees).
Here we’re talking about the internal marketing of your brand. Without that, your staff simply cannot build the emotional connection to the products and services they are responsible for introducing to consumers. If your staff cannot feel the relevance of the brand to their position and that which they are trying to cross-sell to consumers, you can forget about deeper wallet and market share.
While the human resources department certainly has a role to play in integrating employees with your brand, most of that responsibility falls squarely on marketing. It is their job as experienced communicators to not only introduce the concept of brand to staff but also to continually ensure employees understand it, live it and act it in front of consumers.
A critical component in making these things happen is bringing the brand to life for your staff. Just like a campaign geared towards your consumers, your brand must deliver as a campaign to your employees. For example, in one of our recent Brand Ambassador Program newsletters to credit unions, we discussed the importance of staff avoiding complacency when it comes to living and enforcing the brand.
Work to ensure that your staff understands how the brand affects their jobs and how their jobs affect the consumers that rely on your financial institution. For example, you could explain to your front-line consumer relationship team how living the brand and introducing consumers to your products and services helps improve their financial livelihoods. For your back office staff with limited consumer exposure, bringing the brand to life might be something more like highlighting how their support enables frontline staff to do a better job.
Your brand is much more than a printed plan. In order for that plan to work, your internal employee audience must totally buy into it. If they don’t, your brand is about as watertight as a submarine with a screen door. Don’t let your financial institution sink into the brand abyss — work now to ensure your internal market fully gets it.
A recent article in Forbes highlights the importance of “inside out branding” — or rather, the importance of considering all of the human senses when it comes to portraying your brand.
Perhaps the two most important when it comes to the brand of banks and credit unions are sight and smell. Both senses are capable of generating powerful emotional reactions from deep within consumers. Is your financial institution making the most of each?
For example, when it comes to sight, is your bank or credit union as visually appealing as possible? When doing the mystery shop component of marketing audits, we take special care to note critical visual elements of a financial institution. These include the attractiveness and visibility of signage from nearby street level, the general neatness and outer appearance of the physical facility and even landscaping. Believe it or not, if your bank or credit union has dead or overgrown landscaping (such as bushes and flowers) it’s a turn-off for consumers. It says that you don’t care about the way your financial institution looks. Inwardly, consumers then make the connection that if you don’t care about how your financial institution appears, why should you care about their business and their financial well-being? We’re not talking about a massive redesign or remodel of your brick-and-mortar facilities. But if all it takes are some well-kept plantings and attractive, visible signage to positively impact consumers’ sense of sight, it’s worth it.
We’ve written about the importance of clean restrooms. And that’s still critical. However, odor and the sense of smell go beyond just your restrooms. For example, think about the critical role of odor in certain brands. I’ve often thought Great American Cookies in my local mall as the best advertising around simply with the delicious aroma of fresh-baked cookies in the air. Walk by any local barbecue joint that cooks outside and see if that delicious aroma doesn’t draw you. Other examples such as deodorants, cat litter and perfumes/colognes are obviously big players in the aroma department. For your bank or credit union, this could mean finding some type of pleasant odor for your lobby. Obviously, you want to keep certain allergies and other health factors in mind. It could be something as simple as a few baskets of potpourri or room deodorizers set to a timer. Baking cookies, popcorn, etc.
When we think about branding, we often focus too much on the print or digital side of things. While these are important, banks and credit unions should also keep in mind appealing to all the human senses in such a way that reinforces their brand. Sight and smell are two important parts of this.
Is your brand rounded out in such a way that it interacts with human senses?
This post authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies
The Financial Brand Forum is always a terrific event for banking and credit union professionals to gather, network and learn from a diverse array of keynote and breakout speakers. This year’s event in May at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas was no exception.
One keynote speaker highlighted the up-and-coming Millennial Generation and provided the audience with a series of startling statistics. Stats, while sometimes guilty of being tedious and boring, can also help serve to give us a kick in our complacency. The following stats about Millennials should do that for your bank or credit union.
- 73% of Millennials would rather open a financial products or services account with an online company like Google, Amazon or Apple over a traditional bank or credit union
- 33% of Millennials believe they don’t have a need for a bank or credit union at all
- 32% of Millennials would give up sex before they gave up their smart phone
What can financial institution professionals derive from the statistics?
Action Item #1: You’d better make your bank or credit union as is easy to work with as Google, Amazon or Apple. With Google, a few taps of your fingers brings you the collective knowledge of the world (and quite a few cat videos). With Amazon, just a few clicks and virtually any item you might need for home or office is on its way. With Apple, you’ve got the power and status symbol of smart phones, tablets and desktops to help you accomplish personal or business goals. Your bank or credit union must strive to fill that financial products and services niche in the same way. No consumers want the hassle of lines, waiting or poor service. Your financial institution must be as fast and reliable as Google, Amazon or Apple if it wants a shot at retaining Millennials’ business.
Action Item #2: You must also prove your relevancy to Millennials. Give them a reason to use you and need you. More importantly, give them a reason to like you. Let’s face it – banks and credit unions just aren’t sexy. But they can fill a need in a consumer’s life (especially a Millennial) that warrants keeping them around. Maybe you’re the only place that will give them a second chance checking account, or maybe it’s financing for that much-needed vehicle. Or it could even be credit score counseling and education. However you can do it, you must prove to Millennials that they not only need you — but they should also like you.
Action Item #3: Good luck with this one. Priorities, people!
Most of the speakers at this year’s Forum spent at least some time talking about Millennials. Your bank or credit union is wise to prepare for their full-blown financial arrival soon.
It is a fairly well-established fact that in order for banks and credit unions to succeed in branding and marketing, they most focus on specific niche consumer groups. Long gone are the days when financial institutions could simply spray a message using mass media and hope for a great return on investment.
Have you ever stopped to consider who you are targeting and why? These niche groups will, in large measure, determine whether your brand sinks or swims.
Here are a few examples of potential target groups and reasons for going after them.
People that live near your physical branch locations. The closer they are to your branches, the more likely consumers are to do business with you. It’s simple geography. If people have to drive a long way and fight traffic to get to you, they’re less likely to use you. So targeting those that live near your branch locations (and you must set parameters here – such as within certain zip codes or square miles) makes sense for your brand.
Digitally-connected young professionals. These are primarily Gen X and Gen Y. For these consumers, the physical location of your branches isn’t nearly as important as your digital offerings. In order to target and reach these consumers, your website, mobile-responsive website, app and social media presence must be top-notch. These young professionals will expect to conduct the majority of their business with your bank or credit union using their smart phone or tablet — without ever actually having to meet you or come into a branch. Targeting these consumers, while low-touch, offers the added benefit of decreased overhead when it comes to certain additional staffing and brick-and-mortar locations.
Young families. It’s often said that the best way to reach parents is through their children. If you don’t believe that, check out your local grocery store breakfast cereal aisle and look at how many toys they cram into those boxes of sugary snacks. When you target young families, you must offer something of value to every member — including children. Kids clubs and specialized savings accounts can still make a difference, but many banks and credit unions now dig deeper. Some employee age-appropriate educational programs and even checking accounts, debit cards and first-time auto loans for some young consumers to help get them on the right track. Targeting young families is a terrific way for your bank or credit union to leave the brand footprint indelibly in the minds and wallets of your future membership.
There must be a rhyme and reason to the niche markets your bank or credit union targets. Often, these markets are determined as part of your strategic planning or branding processes. Once you decide upon these groups, make a concerted effort to focus your energies and marketing resources on connecting with them and developing relationships that last a lifetime.
For additional emerging niche markets, check out this video.
Branding touches everything. From the boardroom to the break room to the bathroom. Branding is also your most valuable asset.
As Fred Smith, CEO of Federal Express once said, “One of the things we recognized about 10 or 12 years ago was that probably of all the assets on our balance sheet, none was more important than the brand, even though it wasn’t capitalized at all.”
Successful financial institutions recognize the importance of branding as well. Ray Davis, the CEO of Umpqua Bank said in his book Leading for Growth, “If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that your brand is just about the most valuable asset you’ve got.”
Although your brand is an asset, all too often at most credit unions and banks we actually treat it (and marketing) as an expense. How do you make sure your brand is treated as an asset and how do you develop a successful brand?
You focus on the three “Bs” of a successful brand:
- Build—To keep with the “b” theme, remember that your brand begins with building This includes creating a brand plan with elements such as a captivating vision statement, a focused target audience and consistent brand standards. You can’t simply say “we need a brand.” You have to build it. One way to build a brand is to use a brand triangle. With that model there are three legs to the triangle: leadership, employees and consumers. In an ideal world, management leads the brand, employees live the brand and consumer love your brand. Here is a quick video that demonstrates how to build your brand. When it comes to your brand, build it.
- Believe—Unless your brand stands for something, it stands for nothing. You (and your employees) must understand what you are trying to build (see first “b”). Your vision, values and goals must align in such a way that people can understand the essence of your credit union or bank. They must believe your brand. Do some soul searching. What are your core values? What do you as an organization believe and why do you even exist? If your employees believe that they only reason they are coming to work is to collect a paycheck then you will have a disengaged staff. When it comes to your brand, give people something to believe.
- Bleed—In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what plan you develop or what you say your vision is if your board, executives and front-line staff don’t live it every day it doesn’t matter. One of the challenges with branding is it can simply become an exercise in words we use. However, branding is more than words: it is the daily interactions with consumers. Your employees must see a direct correlation between their jobs and your brand. They have to bleed your brand (not with an injury that will need band aids, of course). Bleeding your brand means everyone will do whatever it takes to live your brand. When it comes to your brand, don’t just say it: bleed it.
If you deliver on these three “Bs” then you will experience a fourth “B”: Best. You will develop a credit union or bank that is best in its market.