Antes vs. Drivers: 3 Steps to Find Relevant Differentiation

About ten years ago, some very smart folks at branding firm McKinsey developed a very elegant system for assessing the impact of an organization’s brand messages. The structure is brilliantly simple. In this article, The Financial Brand shows you how it works, and how you can put this branding tool to use at your bank or credit union. Maybe it’s something you should try at your next strategic planning session?

Ready to get started?

Step 1 – Make your list

Make a list of everything you can say about your organization. Be sure to include everything you actually have said in your marketing and advertising materials. Comb through your website, brochures, ads and press releases. Look for statements you make about your brand, what it offers and what it represents. For example, a start to your list might look something like this:

  • friendly, personal service
  • FDIC insured
  • top 100 local employer
  • free checking
  • free online bill pay
  • mobile banking
  • iPad app
  • innovative
  • wer’re on Facebook
  • etc., etc., etc.

If you get others involved (employees and managers), you can get a lot of different ideas for your list. The more raw material you have to work with, the more likely you’ll find gold.

Step 2 – Evaluate each statement

For each item on your list, ask how different it is from what your competitors offer. Take each statement and rate it on a scale ranging from “identical to the competition” to “no one else in the world does it.” Then determine how important each item on your list is to your target audience. At the bottom of the scale is “no one cares at all” on up to a “vital issue of utmost importance” at the top.

Statement or Fact Different? Important?
friendly, personal service no yes
FDIC insured no yes
top 100 employer yes no
free checking moving yes fast yes
free online bill pay no yes
mobile banking yes, moving no moving yes fast
Facebook not really no

Step 3 – Map it out

For each statement in your list, figure out in which quadrant it belongs on the grid below.

This grid has four quadrants, each representing one of four different types of messages you can use in your marketing and advertising — the statements you can/do make about yourself. The more important a message is to your target audience, the higher up the vertical axis it goes (relevancy). Similarly, you plot the message further out on the horizontal axis as fewer and fewer competitors can also lay claim to it (differentiation).

Neutrals (lower-left quadrant)
Things you can say about your organization that are neither important to your target audience, nor different from what anyone else has to offer. With Neutrals, every competitor could make the same claim about something that doesn’t matter to consumers anyway.

You’re on Facebook? So what? Isn’t everybody these days? Who cares? It’s not something that will drive consumer decisions and doesn’t differentiate you very much. It’s a Neutral.

Antes (upper-left quadrant)
Things that are very important to consumers but do nothing to set you apart from the competition.

An Ante is the minimum price of entry — any expectation that must be met. These things are so essential to your target audience that almost everyone provider offers them. Antes are the chips you must throw into the pot just to play in the retail banking space, and there’s a lot of them. Consumers expect financial institutions to be trustworthy. To have integrity. To be accurate. They expect these things 100% of the time. Fall short, and you’ve got a big branding challenge. FDIC and NCUA insurance are other good examples of Antes.

Points of Distinction (lower-right quadrant)
Any aspect of your organization that differentiates you from competitors but doesn’t drive consumer decisions. These are aspects of your organization that may be unique to you, but have little relevance to your target audience.

You may be one of the top 100 employers in the area, but that’s not really important to most consumers. They aren’t going to chose you because of it. You may be innovative, unlike many other financial institutions. But consumers don’t care how creative you can be; they only care if your innovations make their lives easier.

Drivers (upper-right quadrant)
Things that are of high importance to your audience that you can say about your brand that the competition can’t. These are very important to your target audience — their hot buttons — that only you (and maybe a handful of others) can deliver. This is the stuff that really drives people’s decisions and fuel strong financial brands. Some things that may fall under the category of drivers include:

  • A credit union that pays annual member dividends
  • A relationship pricing/rewards structure
  • Offering a courier for document pickup and deliveries

The trick is identifying the Drivers behind your financial institution’s brand. Don’t feel bad if you can’t come up with a long list of Drivers. Few organizations have that many…if any. It can take a lot of work just to identify two or three, and those may be aspirational at that.

Conclusion & Key Takeaways

All too often, financial institutions build their brands around the other stuff – the Antes, the Neutrals and Distinctions. You hear them talking about things consumers don’t really care about, and things most financial institutions offer.

The most powerful messages you can use to build your brand are both highly relevant to your target audience and very distinct from your competitors. These are your brand Drivers. Identify them and focus your brand around those. If you can’t find anything you deliver today, then you’ve got some work to do if you want to have anything to talk about tomorrow.

Editor’s Note: An older version of this article originally appeared on the CUES Nexus blog in August 2008.

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