Does your organization have a brand strategy? If so, how do you know it’s really doing what you need? If not, how can you get started? Simple. Start with two basic questions.
Here’s the first question you need to tackle:
1. What makes our financial institution better than others?
You could change the question around a bit and ask, “How are we different than everyone else?” Or, “What makes us unique?”
Seems easy enough, right? Here comes the hard part. You can’t use the words “friendly,” “people,” “personal” or “service” as part of your answer. Why? Well, for starters, nearly every bank and credit union in the world thinks its service or people is what differentiates them. It probably doesn’t. Second, banking is a service business, so saying “service is what differentiates us” is like Chiquita saying its bananas are what makes their brand special. You have to dig deeper. “Friendly” doesn’t get you anywhere because if you’re anything but friendly you’ll go out of business. And words like “personal” are just feel-good corporate clichés that will continually prevent you from finding the true heart of your brand.
The second fundamental question of branding — a fill-in-the-blank — seems as equally simple and straightforward as the first:
2. We are the only ones who _________ .
At first, the two questions might seem similar. But the first question is more subjective than the second. In the first question, you’re exploring subjective territory — why do you think you are better? — whereas the second question attacks the issue of differentiation from a more concrete and objective perspective. Answers to the first question may be debatable. Answers to question #2 are not.
If you aren’t the only source of something — anything — then you are replaceable. Dispensable. Interchangeable. Consumers can easily swap you for another brand — any brand.
If you’re really interested in learning the brutal truth, go out and ask consumers these same questions. Do some market research and see what they think of you, your competitors, plus one or two big banks.
As these two questions illustrate, the process of branding presents difficult challenges. Your organization could spend month’s meeting just over these two questions. And you still might wind up with nothing. Then what? As Tyler Durden might ask, what will you do when you find out you are not “a beautiful and unique snowflake?”
That’s when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get ready for some hard work. So you don’t do anything that’s mcuh better or different than your competitors today? What things might you be able to do and deliver tomorrow? How might your products and services need to change? Your branches? Your core data system? Your staff? Your internal culture? Even the heart of your business model?
You may be wondering why differentiation is so important in the first place. Good question. Because if consumers can’t recognize any relevant points of distinction between you and your competition, they’ll fall back on the one objective measure they can always use to evaluate any company: price. If you and your team struggle to identify the ways in which you are different from other financial institutions, how much luck do you think consumers are going to have.
Until you deliver a differentiated brand, don’t be surprised or disappointed when consumers continue telling you the only things that matter are “rates,” “fees” and “branch convenience.” Financial institutions haven’t really given them any other basis of comparison. Why should they expect anything else?