This article written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

Consider the following scenario — you are a small “boutique type” brand up against fierce local and digital competition and in a seemingly constant battle with federal government over-regulation at the hands of a specific agency.

Sound like your bank or credit union? In a lot of ways, it probably does. However, this scenario also aptly describes the conditions a small upstart cigar brand faces as detailed in a recent issue of Cigars and Spirits.

Far too often banks and credit unions think only in terms of financial institutions, so taking a look at an outside example offers invaluable insight and expertise. In this particular article, a cigar company executive described the challenge his brand faces in a way quite familiar to most banking credit union professionals: “I knew that … this storytelling construct was a perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish with our brand — an iconic narrative that would stand the test of time.”

This lesson is directly applicable to banks and credit unions. We, too, face an oversaturated market full of traditional and non-traditional competitors (think online startup financial institutions like Simple Bank or Ally). We, too must establish iconic brand narratives that tell the stories of our financial institutions and give consumers a reason to stick with us.

The question becomes — how?

The cigar example gives additional terrific “outside the financial institution box” direction. If you have ever walked into a well-stocked cigar humidor, you know the feeling. It can be overwhelming. Hundreds of different brands offering thousands of different shapes, sizes, flavors and textures. Successful cigar brands find their niche, establish an iconic narrative that tells the story of their brand and rely heavily on consumer word-of-mouth and testimonial in order to thrive and survive.

Your bank or credit union brand can learn from this example. You must first accept the fact that you cannot be all things to all people. Any financial institution that tries this approach to branding will only succeed in being mediocre. Find your niche, what you do well and your best target audience and stick to that formula. Develop your own iconic narrative that is true to who you are and what you offer consumers. And strive to develop vibrant positive word-of-mouth testimonials from consumers that they in turn share with family and friends.

While it may seem a stretch comparison at first, the world of boutique cigars and banks and credit unions are very similar when it comes to branding. By taking a closer look at this outside-the-industry example, bank and credit union professionals can learn a valuable lesson.

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