Make Your Financial Brand Meaningful


Quick, think about a bank or credit union ad … What do you imagine?

A smiling young person with keys to their new car? An older couple gardening or biking? A photograph of their new mortgage loan officers? The heartfelt promise that their people make all the difference?

How about a little less buttoned-up? Maybe you’re the “fun” brand. So, you probably use an image of the team at a local nonprofit event, with a message about how the financial institution has been a part of the community for decades.

The fact is that most financial marketing gets lost in a sea of sameness.

The last thing any financial marketer wants to do is take a risk on anything, especially when it comes to their marketing. The fear is that if you do something different, you won’t get recognized as a bank.

It’s OK to want to look and feel safe and trustworthy. However, safe and trustworthy without any personality isn’t going to be the way to people’s hearts.

When you say that your people truly make the difference, and you put your people in every ad to help illustrate that, you end up with ads that blend in with every other financial institution, financial planner, real estate company and medical provider that does the exact same thing—with the exact same promise that their people really are the best.

So, what do people really want to know about your financial brand?

When asked, financial consumers say that they want the basics from their financial institution: low fees, great rates and good customer service. These features are consequentially the focus of nearly every bank or credit union’s marketing and product development—because “it’s what the people want.”

But there’s a problem—and it’s a big one. Those are the features financial institutions have trained consumers to expect. So, when we ask about wants, consumers parrot back exactly what they have been trained to value from their banks and credit unions.

Banks are asking the wrong questions, making decisions on the basis of answers they’ve trained consumers to give, and then wringing their hands worrying about the fact consumers see them just as providers, instead of partners. 

But that’s not all. Here are some sobering facts for FI leadership:

  • When asked “what is crucial to the future of your financial success?” only one percent of participants in a FICO study mentioned their financial institution.
  • In a different study, only 29 percent of survey respondents say that they trust their financial institution to look after their long-term financial well-being, down from 43 percent in 2018. [2]
  • In a 2020 Accenture study, only 29 percent of survey respondents say that they trust their financial institution to look after their long-term financial well-being, down from 43 percent in 2018. [3]
  • In February 2021, FICO released a market research study that looked at what role individuals see banks and financial services having in their financial future. The results should make any bank leader shake in their shoes. When asked “what is crucial to the future of your financial success?” only one percent of the study participants mentioned their financial institution. [4]
  • 70% of the FICO study participants said that they would be “likely” or “very likely” to open an account at a competing financial institution if they offered products and services to meet those big macro-scale unmet needs.

There’s a clear path forward, though, and it’s all about the emotional connection people have with their money.

Looking beyond just accounts, you have people who are completely invested in your brand. These are the customers or members who will say “oh my gosh, I love that bank!” when they see someone with a debit card they recognize. People who give you a 10 on every NPS survey, would attend every annual BBQ, and might just have you on their holiday card list.

These promoters can be your best asset, and those relationships are worth nurturing. They’re the people who will help defend you when things go wrong and promote any changes you make—if you give them the tools to do so.

But you have detractors, too. And competitors. And whole new categories of people you must attract to your FI over a staggering amount of options—all searchable and discoverable 24/7. No pressure, right?

What if you stopped singularly messaging your brand via promotions and rates … and thought harder about what your organization stands for, how it’s being received, and what it should mean to your target audiences?

Those are big questions—but the first step in any significant strategy is identifying where growth is likely to occur. And it always pays to go back to your brand roots. Consider these questions:

  • What is our brand “why?” Is that something that anyone in our organization, at any level, can articulate?
  • What to do we stand for? What should we represent? Hint: “great customer service” and other features- based responses don’t qualify as an answer here.
  • What was the reason behind our latest four promotions?
  • Who are we most often mistaken for?
  • What are the wild ideas we didn’t implement? Why didn’t we?
  • What feels most freeing about our brand?
  • What feels most limiting about our brand?

Once you really start digging, the opportunities to build your brand (and your business) become hard to miss—and the long-term results become so much more valuable than one promotion or offer.

Ready to unlock the true potential of your brand? It’s not about showing your people and saying they’re knowledgeable and focused on service—that’s what everyone else is doing.

Learn how understanding people is always step one.

[1] FICO® Research Infographic, What Do People Really Want From Their Banks, 2021

[2] Ron Shevlin, American’s Shadow Financial Lives, FICO/Cornerstone Advisors, 2020

[3] Making Digital Banking More Human, 2020 Accenture Global Banking Consumer Study, 2020

[4] Anna Hamilton, What Do Customers Really Want From Their Banks,, February 10, 2021