The Brand of You

By Cassandra Giovanni

Differentiate in a homogenous market.

Let’s face it. The financial industry is historically a homogenous market—or that’s what financial marketers have been telling themselves since marketing became a thing for the industry. We all have the same offerings—checking, savings, loans, and maybe a few other side products thrown in there—but we’re essentially all the same right?

If you’re nodding your head, then your bank might be suffering from a brand crisis. Who are we? What do we do differently? How do we differentiate ourselves?

While it’s true banks are, well, banks—the same thing can be seen across many industries. After all, a grocery store is a grocery store, but you may favor one over the other. Walmart and Target are essentially the same, but you can bet that their marketers would deny that.

That’s what financial marketers need to do. They need to start denying the fact that all banks are the same because it’s simply not true. Banks can differentiate themselves, but it doesn’t necessarily start at the product level. Most banks do offer the same products, perhaps with some unique variations, but in the end, you’re selling a checking account and a debit card. Whether or not the debit card has a picture of a cute puppy is a moot point. Where banks can differentiate is at the level of who the bank is. It’s important to treat the brand of the bank as a living breathing being because, in the end, that’s how people will connect with a brand. It’s not necessarily the checking account or the cute puppy debit card that people like. It’s the connection your bank name inspires in your consumers and, just as important, your team members. There are three simple steps, the last being the most important in the process of identifying the brand of you.

1. Know your competition (and what they do better than you).
Who’s in your local market? Do you have a mix of large banks and small banks? The bank I work for operates in seven different counties and two different states. Not only do we have a spread geographically, but our demographic also differs substantially between the areas. Some areas are highly affluent while others are economically depressed. In our market, we have a mix of large banks and small banks. We fit right in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum, which places us in a unique field—which leads to the next step:

2. Identify how you fit in the mix.
Once you know what other banks are doing, you can determine what you do best—how you stand out. The size of the bank I work for allows us to provide the technology of the larger banks, but provide the level of customer service smaller banks tend to have—that’s one difference. We also have a needs-based referral system that we’ve uniquely branded internally to our team members. It’s exactly like our ability to give our customers advanced technology—we don’t make pushy sales like big banks, but we have a sales environment, unlike the smaller banks.

3. Start from within.
I’ve encountered two different types of financial marketers. Some financial marketers want nothing to do with the branches because marketing is all about advertising externally (radio, digital, newspaper). For them, the concept of “rebranding” means changing your logo. The other doesn’t believe in external marketing at all—we can do it all with excellent customer service! Financial marketing needs to take a holistic approach and balance those two concepts. (Except “rebranding” as only changing your logo. That’s just wrong.) Creating the brand of you truly starts from within.

Now that you know what your competitors are doing and how you’re different, you need to talk to your team members. We did this at the bank I work at by inviting open and honest conversation. We asked our team members to say the first thing that came to mind when we said local competitors’ names, and then when we said ours. That helped us to understand what we needed to do to get our team members on board. After all, if your team members have no clue what the bank stands for, they won’t understand how important their interactions are from a brand level. Your team members are the starting point of your brand. If a consumer walks into a branch and is greeted by team members who don’t reflect the brand impression you’ve made externally, then there’s a good chance they won’t open an account, or if they do, they won’t stay. Once we understood our brand we made sure to create a “brand onboarding” program for all our team members—new and old—and that’s when the true rebranding began. Our onboarding program is composed of three parts:

1. Educating Existing Team Members – As the person responsible for our brand image, I went to all 25 of our branches to have a 30-minute conversation with our team members. 

2. Educating New Team Members – Within the first week of coming onboard, our new team members, both branch and support level team members, receive the same 30-minute conversation as our existing team members did.

3. Ongoing Education – This has several facets within our bank. Every month we release an employee newsletter that has a special section designated to “Brand News.” We also have a section on our intranet where we load our advertisements. It’s important for team members to know what we’re doing externally, especially since we cover such a large, diverse footprint. Another part of the ongoing education is a set media calendar that rotates on a quarterly basis—all branches have the same look and feel, which flows directly into our external focuses. Lastly, we make sure the marketing team is in the branches, interacting with the branches—which aligns directly with a core element of our brand—inspiring innovation from within.

Our onboarding program has had success because our team members feel our passion for who we are as a bank, how they help us be a better bank, and how important our consumers are to us. We differentiate from our competition because we know who we are.

Know who you are—and you can differentiate—even in a homogenous market.

Cassandra Giovanni is Marketing Project Leader at Savings Institute Bank & Trust based out of Willimantic, Conn. Her passion for brand originates from her years of experience in literary marketing as the author of several Amazon Best Selling fiction novels, combined with a decade of experience in banking as a front-end employee, assistant branch administrator and financial marketer. Email: [email protected].