The terms brand and branding are tossed around quite a bit these days at banks and credit unions. And while many people use them interchangeably, there is actually a stark difference in definition between the two words.
A brand is what consumers actually think about you. It doesn’t matter what you think you are — all that matters is what the members or customers say. You can think all day long that you are “friendly and fast” but if your consumers don’t feel that way, then your brand is actually “unfriendly and slow.”
Branding is that which you wish consumers believed about your bank or credit union. For example, your branding efforts may include a push towards deeper consumer engagement, more in-depth community involvement or financial education. Branding is the action verb that your bank or credit union employees to drive its identity.
Obviously, there can exist quite a gap between your brand and your branding.
The question becomes, then — how can your bank or credit union align its brand with its branding?
Quite simply, you must have a brand strategy. And your brand strategy does not merely involve a few people around the marketing table trying to come up with catchy slogans and logos. Rather, a true universal brand strategy for your bank or credit union involves every single person in every single department, front office, back office and frontline.
A great place to start in this reconciliation between your brand and your branding is the marketing audit. A marketing audit dives deeply into the functions of your bank or credit union, from its marketing collateral to its organizational structure, a deep-dive look at area demographics and thought-provoking mystery shops in both your branches and your key competitors.
Aligning your brand with your branding is like mile one of a cross-country trip. You need to know where you’re going before you start. That requires a map (or more likely today, a GPS). The marketing audit can serve as a powerful guide in directing your bank or credit union towards its ultimate brand and branding goals.
There are thousands of ways to define branding. One formal definition says branding is “the process of determining your competitive advantages, building an institutional culture, a brand strategy and a business strategy to those advantages, and then communicating that brand effectively and consistently.” In other words, branding is a strategic process and not a one-time project.
My favorite definition of branding is branding is “who you are.” It is the sum of everything you say and do.
However, branding is more than just a definition.
In reality branding is:
- How your employees answer the phone
- How you greet consumers
- How your branches look from the outside
- How your branches look on the inside
- The promises you make (and keep)
- The service you provide
- The way you treat your fellow employees
- Your on-hold message
- How your employees dress
- The way your bathrooms smell
- The attitude you bring to work
- The way you run meetings
- The speed with which you respond to a request
- How well your website is organized
- How easy your mobile app is to use
- The big things
- The little things
- Your strategy
- Your tactics
- Your culture
In sum, branding is everything.
A recent article in AdWeek magazine highlighted the importance of connecting brands with influential millennial consumers. By influential, the article means those that are more likely to express and share praises and criticisms of brands online with their peers. Think individuals that do a lot of Facebook posting, Twitter tweets, Instagram pictures, YouTube videos and online reviews. They are the creators of online brand recognition and their actions must be both respected and monitored by banks and credit unions.
While the article mentions six ways to connect with these influencers, we will briefly touch upon three.
- Quality over quantity. Millennial influencers tend to be more critical of brands that blast them with too much information. Rather, they look for quality content over a barrage of sales pitches. Seek to interact with these millennial influencers through messages that create positive experiences, such as education, that influencers in turn share with their online and off-line peer groups.
Application point: reach out to Millennial consumers with pieces that focus on education rather than an overt sales pitch.
- Social responsibility. Millennials are all about organizations (including your bank or credit union) that are into social activism. Brands that take part in their communities and work for the betterment of the people that live there are more likely to connect with millennial influencers who are then more likely to talk them up in a positive way to their friends and family.
Application point: make sure that your bank or credit union participates in events that are important to the community and that you proudly communicate that involvement to your consumers.
- Make it authentic. The old adage goes something like “people hate to be sold on something — but they love to buy.” If your bank or credit union can craft an authentic brand message that both informs and complements these influencers’ lifestyles, interests and financial habits, it is more likely to gain a bigger share of their trust and their wallet. Millennials are savvy and will see through a pushy sales pitch quickly. Make your brand message authentic and helpful instead.
Application point: don’t try to push your products or services on Millennials — rather, seek to influence their wallet share by providing education and authentic personality in your marketing.
Millennials are a demanding generation when it comes to offering financial products and services. However, they can afford to be demanding in a hyper- competitive environment in which banks, credit unions and non-traditional financial services providers are in abundance. Your bank or credit union is wise to focus on millennial influencers and hone its brand in such a way that leverages their insight and influence amongst other people of their generation.
This entry authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies
A few weeks ago, I went to a big box home improvement store in search of a new grill. Dreams and visions of family cookouts, delicious smells wafting through the air and the satisfaction that comes from cooking a delicious cut of meat outside danced through my head as I entered the store.
Once I reached the grill section, I was completely taken aback by the selection. Row after row of powdered black and shiny stainless steel grills leered at me. It’s almost as if they knew I was in over my head and didn’t really have a clue what I wanted. After just a few moments of stumbling zombie-like amongst the grills, I was approached by a smiling sales associate, complete with a blue apron.
She asked if she could help me pick out a grill. Here’s where I have to make a confession: I made a snap judgment about her ability to do so. She was young, and — there’s no other way to say it, not a man. My chauvinistic side would not allow for the fact that maybe a younger person, and a female at that, might know a little something about grills.
I gave her some very vague terms about what I was looking for and she sprang into action. She asked me a series of probing questions about the kind of cooking I’d be doing, the space I had, charcoal versus propane, etc. She even shared that she had attended an in-store grilling class and training so she could help advise customers on the best possible purchase for their needs.
In other words — this bright young lady gave me a complete education in the world of grills and I walked away with one that more than satisfied my needs.
How does this apply to your bank or credit union? In many ways.
In order for financial institutions to succeed in this hyper-competitive age, they must empower their employees with the training and know-how to engage with consumers in meaningful ways. My grill expert was able to speak in great detail about the pros and cons of different models and never had to refer to a product manual or cheat sheet. She was the living embodiment of product guide for every grill on the floor.
So must it be at your bank or credit union. Your staff must experience full indoctrination into not only your bank or credit union culture but also the intricacies of its products and services. And most importantly, they must then be prepared to explain to consumers why and how these products can help improve and empower their financial lives. Without that, all you have is a teller or customer service rep reading bullet points off a brochure and that rarely sells anything or endears consumers to come back to you in the future.
We can learn a lot about better ways to serve our members or customers by looking outside the financial institution industry. In this case, a bright young woman working in the grill department at a big box home improvement store gave me an education not only about grills but also about inaccurate stereotypes.
This entry written by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies
There’s an old saying in business development and marketing — “features tell but benefits sell.” In other words, your bank or credit union will do a better job cross-selling products and services if your employees focus more on the benefits consumers will realize by using them and less on the nuts and bolts of the product or service itself.
A terrific case in point — introducing the Little Griddle. We are heading into the warmer time of the year and like many suburban dads, I’m grilling outside more. A few days ago, I came across the Little Griddle at a big box membership store and decided to give it a try on my grill. I’ve been impressed by how easy it is to cook with and clean. Just this past weekend, I did bacon and eggs, hashbrowns and pancakes for my kids — all outside on our grill using the Little Griddle.
This isn’t a plug for the Little Griddle. Rather, it’s a cautionary tale for banks and credit unions to try to promote product and service dreams over specific features. Take a moment to look at the following video from Little Griddle.
Did you hear them talk a lot about its construction? Its metallurgy? Its history? No. Instead of boring you with these details, they went for the emotional appeal. They sold you the dream. In this case, it was the dream of a parent cooking outside, facilitating invaluable family time all because of a little hunk of stainless steel.
Consumers may come to your bank or credit union for an auto loan, a mortgage or a second chance checking account. But what they are really looking for are dreams. The dream of independence that comes with a vehicle. The dream of family that comes with a new home. The dream of financial improvement after a stumbling block. You will serve their needs in a much better way (and improve your bank or credit union product penetration at the same time) by focusing more on how these products and services can make their dreams come true and less on the boring specifics.
So the next time you are visiting with a consumer and attempting to engage them in a cross-sell opportunity, think about the Little Griddle. Remember, the important thing is not that it’s made of stainless steel. The important thing is that it brings families together outside around meals. The same thing applies at your bank or credit union. The important thing is not that your auto loan, for example, comes with a great rate or extended payment terms. The important thing is that it empowers your consumers to help fulfill their dreams.
All this from a little griddle. Now I’m hungry. I think I’ll fire up the grill and make some fajitas.
Most credit unions and banks have a business development department. A person or group of people responsible for going out into the community, working with businesses, serving on various committees or a doing a myriad of other “external” contacts.
While it helps to have dedicated individuals responsible for these key duties, thinking that only having a few people doing business development will work is a false assumption. Why?
Because everyone is in business development.
Successful business development starts with a mindset: the attitude that no matter what position you hold in the financial institution part of your job is business development. Whether a teller, loan officer, accountant or any other title you can do some type of business development activity.
While everyone is in business development, there are three particular positions that absolutely should perform those duties as part of their weekly tasks:
- CEO—Long gone are the days where chief executive officers sit behind a desk, crunch numbers all day or hold boring meetings. The CEO sets the tone for the entire credit union or bank. There is also one major plus CEO involvement brings to the organization: there are certain conversations they can have with fellow CEOs that a business development officer simply can’t have. Your CEO can open doors and relate to key decision makers inside the companies are you are trying to reach. Your CEO is (or should be) a major asset in business development.
- Executives—Just like the CEO, every “chief” should work some aspect of business development. Even the chief financial officer and chief information officer. They too can build key relationships inside the community. One CEO told me that after he saw the positive effects of serving on a chamber of commerce board he then required all his executives not to attend chamber or civic functions, but to serve on boards and committees. “Serving inside an organization is where you really raise your own company’s profile,” he noted.
- Branch Managers—The branch managers provide a local touch that only they can offer. They put the personal touch in your business development activities. Many times they actually become the “face” of your financial institution. One of the biggest challenges facing branch managers is that too often their job requires them to be “in” more than “out.” Help those branch managers by giving them time to perform those all important business development activities.
Business development is a team sport. Make sure you are involving all your key players in it.
The role of marketing teams is changing. A recent study – The 2016 State of Marketing – published by Salesforce Research indicates that high performing marketing teams are shifting their mindset and tactics, taking a more intelligent approach to stay ahead in changing times. These teams are moving away from marketing at customers and toward connecting every touchpoint into a cohesive customer journey. According to the study, these are the top five things high performing marketing teams do better than their peers, with tips from us on how financial institutions can apply them.
Adopt a customer journey strategy
The study defines the customer journey as all interactions customers have with a company’s brands, products or services across all touchpoints and channels. High performing marketers are mapping these journeys to better understand what the buyer does and how she thinks along each step of the buying journey.
Financial institution application: Compare your brand’s delivery channels. Do your marketing materials, website and branches all have the same look and feel? Also, study how easy it is for your consumers to find something (rates, loan products, checking information, etc.) on your website. Research what it’s like to use your bank or credit union’s mobile applications. In other words, look at how your consumers interact with your financial institution from their perspective.
Integrate the customer experience
By bridging the gap between marketing, sales and service, high performing marketers create a single view of the customer’s buying (or in your case banking) behaviors and deliver a unified customer experience.
Financial institution application: Give your customers or members a memorable, unified experience at every touchpoint, be it phone, app, e-mail, online chat, text or in person. If a customer or member initiates an online chat about a loan, capture that conversation so it can continue if the consumer chooses to call or apply in person. Start creating a behavior profile for each consumer by documenting customer service issues, sales conversations and marketing interactions all in one system.
Invest in the latest technology
Top performing marketing teams are more likely to use marketing analytics and predictive intelligence, among other technology tools. According to the study, “72% of top teams will increase spending on marketing tools and technology in the next two years.”
Read the remaining tips in the April newsletter posted on our website. Also read about “grocery store karaoke” and what version of that you can adopt to enhance your financial institution’s brand. When you have the right atmosphere, consumers will respond.
Love it or hate it, it’s definitely full-swing political campaign season in America. Candidates on both sides will spend ridiculous amounts of money and time trying to sway voters in their favor.
To differentiate amongst ideologies and compete for limited media sound-bite time, candidates often develop a core branding message. Republican 2016 front-runner Donald Trump, for example, has cornered the market on “Make America Great Again.” Bernie Sanders favors “A political revolution is coming.”
We also touched briefly on this subject early this year before primary season hit full-swing.
While discussing presidential campaign logos, a New Republic article gives three tips that could just as easily apply to the brand message of your bank or credit union.
- Your brand must embody an “essence of personality” and evoke an intended emotional response. In other words, your bank or credit union brand must offer the completely distilled, 99-proof version of who you are and what you do. Are you fast? Are you reliable? Are you friendly? Whatever your brand professes, your staff must live it. And the brand itself must also elicit some type of emotional response. Yes, emotions in banking are tricky, but not impossible. Your angle might be consumer relief in finally finding an institution they can trust, excitement over that first home loan or the warm fuzzy that comes from successfully saving for your childrens’ college education.
- Your brand must be timeless and memorable. You don’t want a brand that sounds terrific today but won’t work in a few months or few years. You can’t tie your brand to something date-specific or topical, cool or trendy at the time. For example, if you tied your brand to a “swinging disco” feel in the 1970s, it might not translate well today. Go for the ephemeral.
- Regardless of the medium, your brand must perform in a wide range of formats. Your brand must translate into all possible mediums. For example, does it perform well in print? How does it work on broadcast media? And how does it look and feel when positioned on social media platforms? Finally and most importantly, how does your brand translate through that most important of mediums — your staff?
It seems like we are always in some kind of political season and the 2016 general election is still months away. So hunker down and get ready for lots of mudslinging. In the meantime, give some thought to how your brand can learn from the presidential branding examples of the past and present and how you can use these ideas to better it.
I admit it – I am an adult fan of SpongeBob SquarePants. It doesn’t hurt that my kids love the show and that it seems to be on the television all the time. But I get a kick out of it, too. There’s enough adult edge in it to keep my interest and it offers the type of zany comedy that appeals to me.
There’s a ton of goofy and lovable characters in the world of Bikini Bottom, but amongst my favorites is the irascible Mr. Krabs, money-obsessed founder of local burger joint the Krusty Krab. Krabs, somewhat like the old Jack Benny radio character, values money above all else. He is also an absolute defender of all things Krusty Krab. The way it looks, the way it is run, how the food is cooked and presented, the way customers are taken care of — all of it. Mr. Krabs is, in many ways, the ocean world’s ultimate brand cop.
Following are a few examples of the way Mr. Krabs protects his brand.
- The Krabby Patty. Amongst all the fast food of the sea, the Krabby Patty and its secret formula are the stuff of legend. Mr. Krabs goes to great lengths to protect not only the secret ingredients to his patties, but also to ensure he has those ingredients on hand at all times to service customers the same addicting food.
Action Step: In many ways, your secret formula is your brand. You must work hard to protect the integrity of your brand and also ensure that it cannot be duplicated by a competitor. Your brand is the secret ingredient in what makes your bank or credit union unique in an ocean of competition.
- Uniforms. Much to Squidward’s chagrin, there is a required uniform at the Krusty Krab, right down to the nametag. Frequent uniform inspections help ensure all (two) employees are up to scratch.
Action Step: Presenting a unified visual front for all consumers is an important part of your brand integrity. Whatever route your bank or credit union takes (shirt and tie, business casual, logo wear, etc.) make sure that every employee is aware of the dress code and is also held accountable to it.
- Training. Krusty Krab employees are put through regular training that includes a manual and video depicting exactly what is expected of them as brand ambassadors.
Action Step: Training is not a department. Trading is a mindset that must permeate every level of your bank or credit union. While training may start with human resources on the first day of employment, it must continue in some way with all employees throughout their tenure at your bank or credit union. Employees that stop training stop learning and employees that stop learning stop caring.
All animated fun aside, there are definitely branding lessons for banks and credit unions here. For example, can your consumers expect the same treatment from every employee in every interaction? Is your staff attired in such a way that represents the brand in a positive manner? And are your employees regularly trained to the brand and held accountable to his standards?
If not, you could learn a thing or two from Mr. Krabs and his successful brand experience at the Krusty Krab. Make it the Best (Brand) Day Ever!
For a while we’ve heard about the importance of developing an “elevator speech” for your bank or credit union. The thinking here is that, as a brand ambassador for your financial institution, you should be able at all times to describe who you are and what you do in a few brief moments to anyone. In other words, you should be able to give an eloquent brand statement to a stranger in the amount of time it takes to get between floors in a high-rise elevator.
While there’s nothing wrong with elevator speeches, maybe it’s time to update our thinking. As an avid Twitter user, I can tell you that it is sometimes difficult to condense your thinking into a 140 – character tweet. The beauty of it is, though, the strict size limitation really requires you to pare-down your thinking to the essentials.
Therefore, it’s time to ditch the elevator speech and think more in terms of Twitter when it comes to your financial institution brand.
Using that 140 – character limit, how would you describe your bank or credit union to a complete stranger? With every character precious (including commas, spaces and punctuation) how would you choose to invest your space and words?
When writing your financial institution Twitter manifesto, consider the following:
- Link back to your bank or credit union website. This is a gimme. It takes little space and zaps the reader right over the plenty of information about your financial institution.
- Consider hashtags. These symbols give your tweets context and can help solidify brand concepts in just a word or two. Examples might include #memberserviceleader and #fastestloanreplies.
- Use images. Tweets with images really pop and you definitely want your brand to pop. Images also lead to greater social media engagement. What kind of picture would you include with your brand tweet? The logo? An ecstatic consumer?
Again, there’s nothing wrong with the traditional elevator speech. Just like there’s nothing wrong with the traditional eight track player. Both had their time and place and both are dated in a fun and quirky way. To bring your brand into the digital age, consider exactly how you would tweet and present it to consumers.