Designing a Unique Website

By Walt Albro

In a commoditized industry, bank websites sometimes look and feel the same. Lewis & Clark Bank, Oregon, wanted to design a unique website to express its distinctive culture and brand.

How important is culture and brand to a website design?

It’s critical, in the view of the Lewis & Clark Bank (assets: $130 million), Oregon City, Oregon. As a de novo bank founded in December 2006, Lewis & Clark created its first website in a rush, upon opening its doors and before it had a chance to fully clarify its corporate culture and brand. The bank had still not made a formulation three years later when it attempted a redesign. The redesign posed so many difficulties and challenges that the bank realized that it would have to postpone the project for 12 months while it worked on more fully defining the culture/brand.

Once the missing elements were in place in 2010, the bank revived the design project and it went off smoothly. Five years later, the bank wanted to upgrade the website and make it responsive to mobile devices. In the process, it did a second redesign, which also was a breeze compared to the 2009 attempt because the culture and brand had been more thoroughly articulated.

“Without having clear definitions of culture and brand, neither of these redesigns would have been successful,” notes Colby Schlicker, CFMP, marketing director.

Targets unique customers

Lewis & Clark was founded as a commercial bank focused on small-business lending. It has 23 employees. The main location is in suburban Portland. Two other offices are located in central and southern Oregon. The bank targets clients with unique business models that are slightly outside of the box compared with those of more typical borrowers—and thus these borrowers are in greater need of a trusted financial adviser. “We find that unique customers tend to be good borrowers,” Schlicker observes.

The founders, Jeff Sumpter and Trey Maust, co-presidents and CEOs, have their names prominently displayed at the top of the second redesigned home page, which was launched in February 2015. This makes sense since the bank promotes itself as being approachable and personal—in such a way that all customers have an opportunity get acquainted with the bank’s top officers.

The bank believes in the importance of marketing and aims to communicate a unified and integrated corporate culture, brand and positioning. Since Lewis & Clark was itself a start-up business only eight years ago, it projects an image as a sympathetic and understanding partner for other entrepreneurs. When the bank launched, its first priority was to get the business up and running. The original website design was somewhat generic and played off of the historic “Lewis & Clark” names and featured images of old maps and photographs of local landscapes.

But once the bank started tinkering with a redesign in 2009, it felt as if the project was floundering. “We couldn’t put our finger on it, but nothing felt right,” Schlicker says. “It just wasn’t telling the story.”

The bank felt that the design needed to reflect corporate culture and brand, but these two things had not yet been fully elucidated. So the bank put the redesign on hold, while it spent months on internal research and investigation. Among other things, employees were interviewed and asked to identify what made the bank special. “We discovered that there were ways in which we were special, but no one had ever articulated them before,” Schlicker says.

Partners for business

In defining its culture and brand, the bank was influenced by the philosophy of Simon Sinek, author of the book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” Sinek argues that customers don’t buy “what you do” or “how you do it” but rather “why you do it.” By “why,” Sinek means the purpose, cause or belief that is the business’ foundation (Why does your organization exist? Why does anyone care?).

Lewis & Clark managers realized that because they were entrepreneurs, they had a natural affinity for and empathy with other entrepreneurs. They invented the word “bankerpreneurs” and created the slogan, “partners for business.” Since most of the bank employees began early in the start-up phase, the bank used the sales approach that, “We are bankers who’ve started their own business, too. This gives us a unique perspective on how we partner with proprietors and assist local businesses of all sizes.”

The bank put a lot of work into putting the cultural and branding pieces in place. Once that was accomplished, Lewis & Clark felt ready to go to an agency for the redesign. “At this point, the agency understood us better and could suggest approaches that were a natural outgrowth of who we are,” says Schlicker.

The bank is lucky to be located near Portland, which is a tech hub, with many outstanding tech companies located within a few miles. “Having a local option is great,” says Schlicker. “With our very first website, we had some vendor frustrations because we could not make changes by ourselves. We had to open a case for every change, and it felt like it was not worth the price.”

The first redesign, completed in 2010, shifted the focus to the bank’s partnership approach to small businesses. The home page of the website prominently featured photos and profiles of representative clients. It contained photos and profiles of all the bankers. The site was considered innovative at the time, and the bank received compliments and positive feedback from both customers and other financial institutions.

By 2014, a lot of customers were accessing the site either from tablets or smartphones, but the bank’s Web pages were not displaying adequately on mobile channels. Lewis & Clark realized that it needed to do another upgrade, improving the technology and adding the capability of displaying more images and photography.

The most recent redesign, unveiled in 2015, was done with a vendor who provides a content management system that allows the bank to quickly update pages—deleting a photo and posting a new one, for example—while maintaining top-notch Web security.

Rather than having the primary focus on product and service information, the 2015 home page highlights customers. The top of the page contains scrolling customer photos. By clicking on a photo, the user can read the customer profile. “We want to tell stories of success,” says Schlicker. “Visually, we want to leverage high-quality graphic design and photography (that are not stock photos) to communicate what our competitive advantage is and what we can offer our clients.” In an industry that is seen as providing commoditized products and services, Lewis & Clark is using its website to differentiate itself—by promoting the bank’s problem-solving skills and expertise.

Below the customer success stories is a graphic that illustrates the bank’s five-step approach for the small-business loan process. At some banks, applying for a loan can be a painful process. Applications get lost, loan officers get transferred and updated information on the status of the loan can be hard to get. “We deliberately created a process that is simple,” says Schlicker. “We call it ‘The Journey’.” Unlike at some banks, the process does not start with questions about credit score or collateral. Instead, the bank begins by having a conversation in order to get to know the business better, to find out what its goals are and figure out what financing could do to add value to the business.

The home page prominently displays custom photos and profiles of all the Lewis & Clark bankers. To make the bankers come across as human, many of the photos feature them engaged in a recreational activity or hobby. “It took a lot of planning and logistics to get the photos,” Schlicker concedes, “but the effort was worth it to get the more personalized images.”

Products are not the center of attention. In fact, you have to scroll down the home page a ways before you see two of the more popular products showcased. To obtain more information about products and rates, the user clicks a tab. “Are people really wanting to see checking account fee information on your home page? I think not,” Schlicker observes.

The new site also makes more intensive use of videos. When a Lewis & Clark banker makes a community presentation dealing with the economic outlook, for example, the bank videos a portion of the event and posts it on the home page.

The site makes wider use of photographs on supporting pages, something that was difficult to do in the old format. One redesign goal was to emphasize visual communication. “I have found that a lot of bank sites look cluttered, like a bad brochure,” says Schlicker. “I don’t want to have to read through pages of plain text. Today’s consumers make quick decisions and so we want to communicate quickly through imagery and engagement.”

The 2015 redesign offers more flexibility for posting content as well as mobile friendliness, Schlicker notes. The photographs are more “genuine,” that is, they are customized photos of real people and not stock photos. Plus, the website more closely conveys Lewis & Clark’s major marketing messages.

Walt Albro is the editor of ABA Bank Marketing and Sales magazine, Washington, D.C. Email: [email protected].

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