Not the Kitchen Sink!

By Hillary Kelbick

In a parity industry like banking, it’s not easy to develop competitive points of difference. You’re usually working with a series of small, incremental advantages—a slightly more affordable checking account, an overdraft policy that’s a bit less aggravating, a few more bundled services for customers with higher balances. Often there’s no big wow factor that sets you apart.

Unfortunately, that often leads to the dreaded kitchen sink syndrome: the temptation to conclude that your marketing advantage is the sum of these small advantages, and the more of them you can throw in, the better. So you create promotions that are brimming with bullet points. Your online banners are so copy-dense, people have to hit the zoom button to read them. And you’re constantly calling your ad agency to say, “I’ve got one more thing to add! You can make it fit.”

But please, not the kitchen sink! If I had to name one pivotal lesson that applies universally to banks large and small, it’s this: simplicity and consistency are the keys to getting your message across. Believe me, your bank’s bottom line will be the better for it. Here are a few tips to de-clutter your communications and create simpler, more effective, more memorable messaging.

Come up with one key advantage per product line.

Have you ever been guilty of a headline that says something like, “Why Business Banking Is Better at [Yourbank]”? It’s an approach that forces readers to wade through your supporting arguments, and in most cases you’ve lost them before they get to the second advantage. Nothing’s memorable, nothing sticks, and potential customers remain unpersuaded. In effect, you’re asking them to do the work of selling themselves on your bank. And readers have better things to do.

Instead, think long and hard about the one customer benefit your bank can deliver most effectively for that set of products. For business banking, maybe it’s your expertise or your ease and convenience. For personal banking, maybe it’s the breadth of your lineup or your economical choices. For private banking, maybe it’s your personal service. The point is, you need to begin carving out a consistent niche for yourself in each competitive marketplace. Think of this exercise as the marketing equivalent of an elevator sales pitch: if you can’t sum up the key selling proposition of each product line in five words or less, you’re not focused enough.

Does that mean you can’t mention other kinds of benefits or innovations? Of course not. Say you’ve just launched a great new cash management platform for business customers. That’s not just a technology innovation. It supports your claim of greater ease and convenience. It supports your claim to deliver economical banking choices. Conveying new selling points through the lens of your overarching advantage is easier than you think. And it creates an instant hierarchy of messaging. Your communications become clearer, more consistent, more organized and more memorable.

Stick to your message, over and over and over.

What you say and how you say it needs to be in one voice wherever you communicate. Whether your message is viewed only in one channel or in several, your viewers need to experience surround sound—meaning the message is reinforced and is consistent everywhere.

It’s important to recognize that consistent does not mean the same—messages must be customized with different levels of detail and served up appropriately within each channel. One of the great advantages at our disposal today is the sheer breadth of channels available to us, from traditional advertising and direct mail to digital and social media and even guerrilla marketing. But with this opportunity comes the challenge of creating cohesive messaging across all channels. What you say in a banner ad or an email is different from what you can say in a direct mail letter or a Facebook ad.

And that’s where your brand voice comes in. Needless to say, all of this messaging must be delivered in the same voice—and that means your brand needs to offer you a certain level of flexibility. Not only do you have new channels to consider, but you may also need the ability to compete on price when it comes to one set of products, and service when you’re promoting another. If your brand is too limiting to allow you to do that, you may need to consider making some adjustments. Because it’s your brand that must deliver consistency and cohesiveness across all touch-points.

So spend a few moments reviewing your recent communications efforts with a critical eye. Are they delivering a consistent set of benefits across all channels? Are they focused on a few clear, simple advantages that customers can really appreciate? Or are you just throwing lots of separate benefits at customers willy-nilly, hoping a few of them will stick? Remember, the kitchen sink is good for washing plates and glasses (and maybe for cleaning vegetables if you’re feeling ambitious). But for your marketing efforts, you’ve got better things to throw at your readers.


Hillary Kelbick is president of MKP communications inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications. Email: [email protected].