By Cassandra Giovanni
A company is essentially defined by its brand. What do people think when they see your logo or hear your name? Knowing your brand and creating an emotional connection with your customers are as important as having competitive products—in fact, they fuel your ability to create competitive products. Your brand can be a competitive differentiator. Unfortunately, brand sometimes suffers when a company is chasing after the next shiny object to try to remain relevant—that is, relevant to whom?
The reality of relevance
The shiniest object out there happens to be a particular demographic: millennials. While it’s true that millennials—roughly, those born in the 1980s and early 1990s—now make up the largest age group and are putting trillions of dollars in play in the banking industry, the fact they’re millennials isn’t what makes them profitable. It’s the behaviors these individuals exhibit that makes them ideal targets, and that’s why the behavior and not the age group should be targeted. Concentrating on millennials and relevance can often result in a brand identity crisis because this generational cohort is so diverse. I’ve observed many competitor brands attempting to be relevant and attract a younger crowd as of late.
Here comes the pink puppy parade
Pink what? Yes, pink puppies. You read it right. It’s just one of the many advertisements I’ve seen recently on Instagram. No matter what the text below the picture says, it’s lost on the reader when the picture lacks a coherent connection to the industry.
Instagram is a highly visual medium, but when you try to be too trendy—too relevant, it most certainly loses its relevance. I’m undoubtedly in the targeted age group, but what is it that millennials want? Not pink puppies.
We want banking advice. We want to know how to pay off our college debt quicker. We want to know about home financing, life insurance, and getting the most out of our money. All of these subjects are profitable to the bank, yet the advertisement appears to be looking for likes and views instead of what any advertising should do: drive sales. No one is paying attention to the bank, just to the cute dog. The advertisement says we want to be relevant but don’t know how and is made worse when combined with classic marketing ploys.
Do you remember when banks used to give out cheap toasters—you know; the ones you can get at a big box store for five bucks? Some banks are doing that again. Of course, it’s all a part of a broader marketing strategy to say that the bank still cares about its customers. A toaster doesn’t do that, though. According to a recent J.D. Power survey, what customers want is a bank to have conversations with them.
In fact, 80 percent of customers say they want to talk with their banker about their finances, but only 28 percent of customers say they’re actually engaged in these conversations.
The problem is just like the toaster, a classic one. Banks are too invested in talking at the customers instead of with them. That is especially apparent with the recent influx of marketing strategies that involve the slippery slope of slogans and archaic acronyms. Customers don’t care about a slogan, and they especially don’t care for acronyms—they want to know exactly what they’re looking at. They want something that tells them exactly what it is, so if it’s a home equity, call it that and don’t try to add extra words for fluff. It only cuts into your message, just like that fluffy pink dog, creating a distraction instead of an interaction.
Interact. Don’t react.
The customer mix is changing, and so should banking and marketing. We need to step back and take a breath before jumping on the next bandwagon. Remember Pokémon Go and how some banks became Poke Stops? For several banks, it ended up being an operational mess, as they were overrun with people who had no interest in banking services and sat in the parking lot. (There’s also the current question of whether or not Pokémon Go is still alive, only 18 months after its release. I’ll hold my nostalgic nerd flag up here; I still play it, but I wouldn’t switch banks or even go to a bank because it’s a Poke Stop.)
Attempts to be cool with cute dogs, different slogans for each product set, or having every color of the rainbow and uncoordinated digital advertising are symptoms of the same thing: brand death. They’re reactions instead of meaningful interactions. That’s what millennials want. Actually, that’s what all customers want.
Bank marketing needs to change. It needs to start listening and stop worrying altogether about being the next hip thing to a market segment it has yet to fully understand—especially at the risk of alienating other profitable segments. By interacting with customers and knowing who you are, what you do well, and what the customers whom you want want from you—you’ll achieve that goal.
Say you’re a modern bank that serves the digitally savvy customer well because you offer advanced technological solutions and diverse lending options. That can translate to an Instagram advertisement for first-time homebuyers that has a family laughing on their couch with their dog (dogs are cute, after all) and a fresh color set.
Set is the keyword here; every color of the rainbow isn’t going to help your brand. You should also keep in mind that bright pink might appeal to a younger crowd, but it may not look professional and appeal to a higher-value customer. A safer bet is to choose colors that have mass appeal with a font set that is more modern.
And ditch the slogan. Instead, start thinking about a mindset that shows who you are. At my bank, we replaced our dated slogan with the mindset “Bank Smart.” It’s not original, but you can see that this core value radiates throughout our marketing. We use this thought process when we train our new team members and every time we create an interaction with a customer.
The phrase every time is important here, because without looking at all the elements of what you’re doing, you can’t understand how your brand is presented. That’s often where the rainbow colors and cute puppies start to come into play. I’m all for cute puppies, but in moderation and not as the only thing in an advertisement—that is, unless you’re a pet groomer.
Cassandra Giovanni is marketing manager at Savings Institute Bank & Trust based out of Willimantic, Conn. Her passion for brand originates from her years of experience in marketing as the author of several bestselling novels, combined with a decade of experience in banking as a front-end employee, assistant branch administrator and financial marketer.