Delusions Of Brandeur

Bank branding efforts are in full force these days. Frost Bank of Texas launched a brand building campaign in April designed at improving awareness of its full range of services, including banking, investments, and insurance (wow, isn’t that a surprise!). Flagstar claims to be the “new wave in banking” (interesting choice of terms when you consider that “new wave” music went out of style more than 20 years ago). And WaMu launched its effort to be an iconic brand, by eliciting a whoo-hoo from its customers.

My take: First off, these banks are failing to support these branding efforts with their Web sites. And second, that might not matter, anyway.

For all the efforts that banks make to tell their customers and prospects that the bank is different (or better), their Web sites just scream “we’re really the same.”

Sorry, Flagstar, but your site — with its top nav-bar menu tabs, large banner ad mid-center page, and product links below the banner ad — is not the “new wave in banking.” Sorry, WaMu, but a link on your home page that promises help with mortgage payments, but only goes to a page that provides your phone number does not elicit a “whoo hoo” from this bank customer. Sorry, Frost, but while I like the notion of asking your site visitors “how can we help you today?”, simply providing a list of products is often not what a customer needs help with.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your bank’s Web site. See the login boxes on the left? The product-focused banner ads in the middle? The links to every product the bank offers below that? And the major line of business links along the top-nav bar? Of course you do.

The dilemma that bank site designers face is deciding between familiarity and uniqueness.

On one hand, when a bank Web site follows certain conventions about navigation and design, it make it easier for a site visitor to know what to do and where to go.

On the other hand, though, when you spend millions of dollars in advertising telling the public that you’re “different,” a site that conveys “sameness” creates brand discord.

Should banks overhaul their site design conventions to support their branding efforts? If they do, they should look at the site for Marriott‘s St. Kitts property as an example of how to be different. Granted, the loading time isn’t desirable, but the design as a whole is in line with the kind of image the hotel is looking to portray.

My take: Instead of changing their Web sites, banks should rethink their branding efforts.

NetBanker reported recently on the success of BancVue’s Rewards Checking product. According to information that BancVue supplied to NetBanker, 381 FIs are live with BancVue’s checking account. Overall, there are 610.000 accounts open with $5.5 billion in those accounts — or about $9k per account. In addition, BancVue reports that more than 13,000 accounts are opened each week.

Put that in context with the success that ING Direct has had in the US market over the past few years with a simple savings account that pays above average market rates.

What does this tell you?

That rate matters (a lot). That having a branch on every corner might not be the “cornerstone of a customer relationship” (Vernon Hill, ex-CEO of Commerce Bank, said that). That some (many? those with money?) consumers might not want a range of products from their bank, but simply be looking for the best particular financial product that meets a need that they don’t want or need advice on, or other products to go with. That some consumers might not care about going whoo-hoo after visiting their bank, and simply want the bank to get things right in the first place, so they wouldn’t need service in the first place.

And that spending millions of dollars to create a brand image that isn’t supported by the online experience (and in many cases, the offline experience) or a solid understanding of the kinds of relationships that consumers want with their banks may be a poor use of scarce resources.

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