For Bank Marketers, the Value of Keeping it Simple

By John Oxford

There’s an old saying in communications and operations that’s called K.I.S.S.–keep it simple stupid. Although I do not like the harshness of the word stupid, sometimes we as banks and bank marketers, through all the hands that must touch marketing campaigns and products, create a complicated end result that inspires a need for us to remember to K.I.S.S.

One start-up got this message correct. Simple, which has been discussed and written about many times, especially in the bank marketing and product world, hit a soft spot in the marble banking fortress of complicated products and onboarding processes.

I’m going to assume that as a bank marketer, you are aware of Simple. If not, and for background, please read this recent deep dive from Riley Manning of the Mabus Agency. For our column, we are not focusing on the story of Simple but more what it could mean tactically for bank marketers.

First off, clients like easy and clear choices. This requires balance. If your bank has 100 checking accounts because they have been through 20 M&As and multiple product changes as well as lots of niche accounts, a clean-up would be your first move. I know this from experience as we ran into a similar issue at our bank. It’s not only confusing to clients, it’s confusing at the platform level and creates massive confusion when your bankers and call center team members have to deal with so many account names and choices in managing relationships. So in looking at your checking strategy, keep it simple. Analyze your client base and create two or three accounts that meet customers’ needs. Make it simple for them to keep it simple for you.

Be bold in marketing your accounts and choose an angle to make your communication different. Simple used the frustration with banking services as a touch point in its branding. All of us have checking accounts and most banks that have simplified—there’s that word again—offer three or four core choices. In most cases, THE ONLY WAY you can make your checking account different from your competition is through marketing.

If you’ve not watched the episode of “Mad Men” where they discuss marketing cigarettes, this exact same lesson applies to checking accounts. In choosing your approach, analyze your market, clients, message and capabilities prior to honing in on your product marketing. Then be bold in setting your brand messaging apart.

Lead with the benefit and value. Too often when we market bank products, we lead with the fees, disclaimers, restrictions and language that was the very reason Simple’s message worked. Yes, we must be compliant and do not hide fees. There is no wiggle room. But unless your key benefit is free checking, your message should not be about the presumed consumer negatives of bank checking products. Lead with the digital efficiency it will create, the convenience of mobile, the affinity to a sports team, the interest it might pay or the rewards the client will receive.

Because we always give three thoughts in these bi-weekly columns, finally, recognize that design matters—for the most part. Although I wasn’t just over-the-moon amazed with the “Apple light” design packaging style Simple presented—it was, after all just packing you would throw away after putting your debit card in your wallet—it was about the experience they were trying to build. As a marketer I did find the effort impressive. And even if customers do not necessarily appreciate the packaging, they will notice if the packaging, in many cases a poorly written letter with rubber glue holding their new precious debit card, is a sloppy presentation of their first new customer experience with your brand.

From the design of your card, to the message and your digital experience—and, as cliché as it sounds, your client journey—design-aware bank brands can punch above their asset size. You don’t have to be a $10 billion bank to have a cool design. And to quote Andre Agassi, when it comes to marketing, image is everything. For Simple, it really was.

To close out our “simple” column, remember to make the choices easy and clear for the consumer and the people managing relationships, be bold in marketing your checking accounts differently from other banks and take into account that design matters.

To hear more about Simple and its bank marketing rise and fall, check out this week’s Marketing Money Podcast with Josh Mabus of the Mabus Agency and me.

John Oxford, director of marketing at Renasant Bank, and Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, are co-hosts of the Marketing Money Podcast.