Taking your brand on the road

Whether sponsoring large-scale events or supporting local-level initiatives, banks can strengthen their brand presence and attract new customers while demonstrating a genuine commitment to their communities.

By Sue Dowd

I have long contended that, to a customer, the branch is your company headquarters, and the branch manager your CEO. The branch is still the place where customers have an opportunity to meet your brand in person. Branch transformation teams are keenly aware that, to the branch visitor, the experience inside those proverbial four walls IS your brand.

That said, by replicating some of the same customer-driven strategies used in-branch, banks can effectively extend their brand’s reach beyond traditional retail locations through sponsorships and community outreach.

Whether sponsoring large-scale events or supporting local-level initiatives, banks can strengthen their brand presence and attract new customers while demonstrating a genuine commitment to the well-being of their communities.

So, what happens when customers encounter your brand outside of your brick-and-mortar outpost? Is the impression consistent, both visually and experientially? Does that even matter? Here are five quick tips to keep your brand impressions aligned:

1. Be selective and true to your brand

Don’t jump at the first opportunity simply because a marquee sponsorship slot opened up. Be disciplined in selecting sponsorships and charitable events that align with your brand and company values. If your bank conveys a serious, conservative vibe, sponsoring a casino-style event could be construed as inauthentic and even confusing. For example, a jazz fest may make more sense for both your customer and your brand.

2. Choreograph the experience

Once a sponsorship is selected, bring it to life in a manner consistent with your in-branch and digital banking experiences. Most event contracts include an activation opportunity. Typically, this means a tradeshow-like space which you may choose to fill in with a booth, a tent or a variety of physical and digital elements to support an experience.

Just as you have done with your branches, first brainstorm how to engage guests and draw them to your space. Plan their experience considering traffic patterns and touchpoints, such as which direction will folks be moving through the venue? Will they only pass by your booth before the event, or will there be opportunities to engage during intermissions?

Learn what you can about adjacencies ahead of time. What will your activation be next to and across from? Will another brand’s booth block sight lines to your space? Plan your layout accordingly, and do not be afraid to request an alternate site. Lastly, if something is not working as intended (if your queue line is backing into the adjacent beer tent, for example), be ready to quickly shift activation elements to encourage a better traffic flow and happier guests.

3. Empower front-line associates as your on-site ambassadors

So often we see the corporate marketing department and local executives staffing events. Why not leave guest interaction in the hands of local branch staff, the folks who already do this on the bank’s behalf day in and day out?

Of course, corporate representatives should be present to train the activation staff and ensure the event goes off without a hitch. But empowering branch personnel to use their customer engagement skills outside of the branch environment can be quite powerful, bolstering their own commitment to the brand while providing a more authentic experience for guests.

4. Make sure you pass the sniff test with the guest experience

Focus less on why YOU are there, but more on why GUESTS are there. Let’s be honest. Folks visiting a baseball game or a charity road race with their family will have no interest in stopping by to discuss debt consolidation. The moment they think you want to “talk shop,” they will likely make a beeline past your booth as they seek out a lighthearted, low-commitment experience.

Remember that this is a brand play. And while you may be encroaching on your target audience’s personal time, supporting the events and charities your customers care about gives you an opportunity to have genuine, side-by-side conversations. This all leads to a positive impression of your brand and puts you in the consideration set next time they have a financial need.

5. Observe … then adopt or avoid

How are others extending their brands from retail to event activation? Create an inspiration board and include out-of-category examples of brands who are activating their events successfully. And take note of what misses the mark. We do this as a practice at the onset of every large project to help guide us, bring stakeholders on board and to learn from the successes and challenges of others.

Conclusion: Put on your brand hat, wear your customer’s shoes and take the leap beyond the four walls.

Extending your brand’s influence beyond the branch is a low-risk proposition when banks maintain consistency and continually evaluate impact. By assessing community involvement efforts through collecting and analyzing customer and staff feedback and tracking brand awareness, you can refine and enhance your outreach strategies, ultimately creating a seamless and impactful brand experience for customers and prospects alike.

Sue Dowd is SVP of Retail Strategy at Miller Zell.