For a More Effective COVID-19 Response, Let Your Brand be Your Guide

By Hillary Kelbick 

In these strange, unsettling times, it might seem a little frivolous to suggest taking a moment to view the coronavirus pandemic through the lens of your bank’s brand. But actually, just the opposite is true. Especially in times like these, seriously evaluating your own brand statements can guide you to the most effective responses your bank can make to this outbreak. 

Below are a few hypothetical brand promises, along with an exploration of what those promises should mean in our virus-riddled world. See if these solutions resonate with you. Then them a try with your own brand language. You may find that this exercise will lead you to a stronger, more cohesive response to the pandemic, one that is truly reassuring to your customers.  

“We’re a safe and secure place to bank.” 

Safety is a foundational brand promise in banking today. But in the world of COVID-19, safety goes beyond protecting customer deposits. It means the ongoing health and safety of your customers and their families as well. So how do you convey safety in a way that is authentic, compassionate and believable?  

Most U.S. banks have already defined the steps they are taking to protect customers from the virus when visiting branches and ATMs. My advice, however, is to go beyond these basics. Consider creating FAQs to answer questions customers may never have thought of. What if I have to get to my safe deposit box? How do I make an early withdrawal from a CD if I need to? If I need a loan, can I apply remotely, and how quickly will I get funds? Provide these real-world solutions to customers on your website, and, just as important, to your employees. The more you can anticipate questions like these, the more confident your customers will be that your bank is ahead of the curve in protecting them.  

If you can make safety more personalized to each customer’s needs, then you will make it more valuable and meaningful. For example, don’t just remind customers about the obvious advantages of using remote deposit in the age of the novel coronavirus. Take an extra step: Identify high-propensity customers who do not currently use this service, then devise a more targeted outreach program via email, interrupt pages within online banking, or initiate an outbound calling campaign. Be more proactive in reaching out with individual assistance and you will prove you have your customers’ best interests at heart. 

“We’re here for you, your business and our community.” 

Your bank may already be participating in the groundswell of support our industry is providing to assist customers with their immediate cash flow needs, from fee waivers and deferred credit payments to assisting in accessing Paycheck Protection Program funds to loan modifications and more. These are wonderful, compassionate steps, and we’re all in favor of them. But once again, by looking to your brand promises, other responsibilities in this time of need may become clearerstarting with the communities, the constituencies and the organizations you have supported historically. These are the groups who may need you the most right now. Demonstrating loyalty to these groups should become a primary focus.  

And don’t forget that in situations like these, targeted local assistance can sometimes be deeply meaningful to customers. Can your bank become a clearinghouse for donations to local charities? Can your branches organize the donation of needed medical supplies to local health care workers? Grassroots steps of this kind can be high-impact ways to make your presence felt, while also building strong bonds of trust and esteem that will remain long after this crisis is gone.  

“Our team has the focus and expertise you need.” 

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about coronavirus-related initiatives, but I’m going to conclude, paradoxically, by telling you when to focus on the exact opposite. Sometimes, the best way to help people in this time of need is simply to be a great bank. 

Right now, the advertising world is awash in feel-good sentiments. We’re all in this together, say the car companies and the software conglomerates. But for your bank, the messaging needs to be different: it’s all about the safe and dependable flow of each customer’s funds. And in the current moment, it feels like many banks have gone overboard, turning every business-as-usual message into a coronavirus message.  

So, don’t be all virus, all the time. If you’re writing a letter about updates to a customer’s checking account, keep your focus on the updates. Don’t piggy-back on a coronavirus message. Instead, put a teaser at the bottom that guides readers to a centralized page concerning the pandemic on your website. Right now, efficient, dependable business as usual is the most reassuring thing customers can get from their bank. They want to know you’re focused on the job at hand so that they can worry about more important things. 

Someone far smarter than I am once said that within every crisis is an opportunity. So, grab your bank’s brand statements and give them a close read with this crisis in mind. You will discover that this actually is a splendid opportunity to prove once and for all that you’re really the kind of bank you say you are. 

Hillary Kelbick is president and CEO of MKP Communications, a New York-based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications.