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Perils of plain vanilla

If your bank doesn’t have strong brand equity, it had better scoop some up

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  • Written by  Bruce T. Jensen, CCG Catalyst Consulting Group
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  • Comments:   DISQUS_COMMENTS
UNconventional Wisdom is a periodic guest blog where the conventional wisdom is held up for fresh inspection. If you have some "UNconventional Wisdom" to share, email UNconventional Wisdom is a periodic guest blog where the conventional wisdom is held up for fresh inspection. If you have some "UNconventional Wisdom" to share, email [email protected]

Most financial institutions allocate generous sums to marketing and advertising. Yet despite this commitment to messaging, acquiring new customers typically remains a challenge.

Why? Photographer Ansel Adams’ observation on his craft offers a partial explanation:

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

A bank’s image, or messaging, may be front and center, but would-be depositors and borrowers won’t respond if they can’t perceive a well-defined or differentiated “concept.”

Anonymity of the herd

The level of awareness and acceptance of a bank’s concept constitutes brand equity. Powerful brand equity in today’s banking environment is difficult to achieve. After all, there has to be a compelling reason to move a loan, or to unwind all those bill-pay items.  

One of the reasons that attaining strong brand equity is so arduous is because of the herd mentality that’s developed among industry players. With the plethora of competitive information and data now available to every bank, each feel compelled to keep up with the Jones’s to remain competitive.

This causes a leveling of the playing field, and, well, … a pretty vanilla marketplace.

For example, all physical bank branches pretty much look the same. If you took down the signage and removed the personnel, you wouldn’t know what bank you were standing in.

And then there’s the marketing. Almost all banks claim that their people are the difference, and their advertising all tout the same products as brand X.

Taglines may be clever, but do they really set a bank apart from others? And few banks offer an omnichannel of delivery that matches up with other touchpoints of the institution.

But what’s really missing from the brands of most banks? The emotional draw that causes a new customer to align his or her values with the values of the bank. That’s the differentiation that most banks miss.

Don’t deliver what bankers think customers want; deliver what customers say they want.

Plan for a brand

For a bank to gain strong brand equity, there needs to be a master plan. It should start with the realization that the bank’s concept and brand need to reflect the values of the customer demographic it seeks. All elements of branding need to align customer expectations with what the bank can deliver.

A focus group made up of both business and retail customers can help craft a very distinctive brand by answering a very simple question: What would it take for them to move their accounts to another bank?

When we tried this recently, we received a variety of answers

• One customer said he would switch “if he did not ever have to stand in a teller line again.” So the bank implemented concierge universal banking. For people who didn’t want to stand in line, they received a private banking experience, with courier pickup of deposits and documents—and augmented with remote deposit capture.

• From other focus meetings, we came up with “Town Card,” an ATM-debit card that gave time-of-purchase discounts at 250 merchants based in the hometown of the bank.

• We also established a unique homeowner association improvement loan program and a women’s banking group that bundled together many existing products and services for women-owned business owners and entrepreneurs. The bank held women’s conferences, published women’s newsletters and formed a women’s banking advisory board.

Like follows like

Branding is for every touchpoint—it even comes down to choice of font. Bank marketing needs to have the same look and feel as the bank’s target customers.

Say you’re a bank that goes after medical practices, then your bank ads ought to look like ads for a dentist or a pharmacy.

Branding also has to be conveyed throughout all of your major core areas of business, including insurance, brokerage, or wealth management services if your bank offers those.

Rebooting your brand

You may want to consider rebranding your bank. Don’t forget that everything from the logo design and color to the art on in-store walls to the flavor of digital delivery need to tell a unified story and reinforce the bond created with your customers.

As the term “community” in community banking becomes less geographical and more of a niche identity, and as the customer “convenience” factor takes on more digital convenience rather than brick-and-mortar convenience, your bank needs to work toward a comprehensive, omnichannel branding strategy.

It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your community—whatever form that community takes—because what worked for your bank in the past may not work in the days ahead. You’ll need to understand what the evolving emotional values and needs of prospective customers are at this very moment.

As Ansel Adams said on another occasion, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

If your bank is there to click the shutter when potential customers are ready, your institution’s brand equity—and market share—will soar.

And, you’ll be able to demonstrate to shareholders why your marketing budget is vital.

About the author

Bruce T. Jensen is practice director, senior consulting, CCG Catalyst Consulting Group

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