By Mike Sells
If you want to grow your brand strength and position your bank to gain market share, all you have to do is market your brand, right?
Not so fast.
I’ve seen banks launch major advertising and marketing campaigns with great, award-winning creative elements and significant dollars spent on media, social media marketing, content marketing, direct mail and PR efforts. And then months later, I’ve seen market research showing that some of these big-budget campaigns don’t have anything to show for their efforts—at least not in their ability to change consumer perceptions and preferences.
How could a major marketing campaign not move the needle? How can so much time, effort and money be spent on a marketing campaign that looks good, sounds good, got approved by senior management, and still have no perceptible impact on the market?
There are two primary answers to that question. The first answer is that some campaigns aren’t designed to change the brand perceptions of a broad target audience of retail banking consumers. Some campaigns are intended to accomplish something that can’t be measured by consumer research—like driving small business accounts and loans.
But the second answer—one I’ve witnessed multiple times—is that the message was wrong. In short, it didn’t compel consumers to think about their brand or to think anything different or new about their brand and it didn’t persuade consumers to believe something or do anything.
If your messaging is not compelling and persuasive, you’re wasting your time and money.
When our marketing messages don’t have a powerful influence on consumers and don’t induce consumers to believe something about our brand by appealing to their reason and/or emotions, then those messages are not effective.
How would that play out with a real bank?
A mid-sized bank was battling in the marketing arena with two aggressive competitors who were outspending it by a margin of 3-to-1 and 2.25-to-1. The two competitors had significantly more marketing muscle and it showed in their ability to get their branding message out in the market.
All three banks were marketing to gain new customers, new accounts, new deposits and new loans—primarily in the retail-banking segment. At the end of a four-year period, the results these marketing efforts had on consumers became clear. And they proved that the most important part of your marketing isn’t your budget, it’s your message.
The bank that outspent 3-to-1 had the same amount of unaided awareness at the end of 2013 as they had at the beginning of 2009. And their brand preference (the percentage of consumers who said that if they had to change banks in the next 90 days they would change to this bank) had risen from 2% to 3%.
The primary marketing messages of that campaign were:
- We are involved in the community.
- We aren’t afraid to get out from behind our desks.
- If you ever need us we’ll be here for you wherever you are.
The second bank, which outspent 2.25-to-1 had the same results—no change in awareness and an increase in brand preference of one percentage point. Their primary marketing messages were:
- We do our part to make your life better.
- We’ll take care of you and the communities we serve.
- You can feel secure because we’re here.
Meanwhile, the mid-sized bank experienced a 12 percentage-point increase in its unaided awareness and a four percentage-point increase in its brand preference which, by the way, was five times the brand preference of its competitors.
The main marketing messages were:
- We have convenient locations all over town.
- We are open long hours to make your life easier.
- We have free online bill pay.
- We have a new, secure mobile banking app that makes banking easier than ever for you.
A simple presentation of tangible products and services—and how these make life easier for their customers—did a better job compelling consumers to think differently about the bank’s brand. And it persuaded customers to prefer the brand above all others by appealing to their rational selves. Meanwhile, the bank’s competitors had outspent it by wide margins with a paltry result because their messages failed to compel or persuade consumers.
What can you do to compel and persuade consumers to do business with you?
Here are five simple ideas that will help ensure that your marketing moves the needle:
1. Know what consumers care about when it comes to banks.
If you don’t do custom research to help you understand consumers in your specific markets, you can find third-party research that will give you insight. From a big picture standpoint, think convenience (because people are busier than ever), ease of use (user-friendly technology and access), value, good service regardless of channel, and treating customers fairly. Those are almost universally what consumers care about in choosing a bank.
2. Don’t focus on things consumers don’t generally care about.
Your community involvement, how long you’ve been in business, who your new lender or vice president is, or the strength of your balance sheet are less important to others. Some target audiences may care about some of these, and it may make sense to market these points to certain communities…just not to everyone.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle here can be a bank’s board of directors, owners or managers. They are justifiably proud of their community involvement and think everyone else should be, too. But they may not recognize that what’s important to them is different than what’s important to consumer households.
3. Have a plan.
Prior to developing a new marketing campaign, write and get approval on a competitive brief that answers the question, “How will this campaign competitively position our bank against our major competitors?”
It’s great if the answer includes products, pricing or servicing where you have a clear competitive advantage. But that often isn’t the case in bank marketing. It may not matter that what you offer is demonstrably better than your competition as much as it matters that your competitors are promoting something completely different. In other words, I don’t have to have the longest hours to convince consumers they should bank with me—especially if a competitor with longer hours isn’t communicating that with as much weight as me. My mobile app doesn’t have to be the newest app in the market to persuade consumers that I have a great mobile app.
4. Define your brand personality and then stick to it.
If you change your brand personality too often, your message has a harder time sticking in the mind of consumers. If I feel like I already know you are, I will listen to and absorb your specific message better. Too often, we get tired of our brand personality or voice way before our target audiences do. Decide your brand persona and then stick with it over the long haul.
5. Deliver the proper message.
Recognize that what is compelling and persuasive to one consumer segment may not be either to a different segment. What is considered convenient to millennials can be very different than what is considered convenient to baby boomers. The good news here is that the new, fragmented media world we operate in makes it easier than ever to deliver different messages to different segments.
The bottom line? You won’t move consumers to prefer your brand simply by launching a new marketing campaign, regardless of the resources you have to deploy it. If you want to change consumers’ perceptions and preferences and gain new customers, you must start with a message that is both compelling and persuasive based on what consumers want from a bank.
Mike Sells is the owner/CEO of the Sells Agency, Little Rock, Ark. The firm is a full-service marketing, advertising and public relations agency with an emphasis on bank and financial services marketing.