In the final round of the TV gameshow Wheel of Fortune, contestants used to pick six letters. But almost everyone always picked the same six letters — S, T, R, N, L and E — and often in the same sequence.

It became so common that STRNLE grew into it’s own acronym, pronounced “stroonle” (sounds like “strudel”).

By 1988, the show’s producers changed the game’s format to address this predictability. Since then, those six STRNLE letters are gimmees. Now contestants get to pick four letters in addition to the ones provided.

The world of financial brands are way overdue for a STRNLE overhaul. Invariably, when you ask a financial institution what differentiates them, you almost always get the same answer: “It’s our caring, responsive and personal service.”

You know what acronym that makes? CRAP.

Reality Checks:

  • Warm, friendly, personal service is the bare minimum in financial services. It isn’t enough to build a brand around. It just gets you to first base.
  • “Service” may be one your organization’s core competencies, but it’s highly unlikely that it’s at a level much different than your competitors.

For most banks and credit unions, saying “service is what differentiates us” would be like Nike saying quality shoes is what differentiates them. Nike may be in the shoe business, but that isn’t what differentiates them. Similarly, if you’re in the financial services industry, you better have quality service because that’s what you’re selling.

The STRNLE reflex feels good because it’s totally safe. It doesn’t require an ounce of courage, so it never gets questioned — always lots of head nods, “That’s right! It’s our service!” The trouble is, it leads to CRAP brands. You simply can’t distinguish yourself by merely meeting people’s basic service expectations.

Besides, everyone is delivering CRAP service. At least that’s what they all say they’re delivering.

Key Takeaway: Avoid the pseudo-safety of CRAP traps. Find your own niche. Focus on a narrowly targeted audience and meet their specific needs. That’s how great brands are built.

Further Reading: Service Is Not What Differentiates You

Jeffry PilcherDon't miss THE FINANCIAL BRAND FORUM 2018 — three days jam-packed with the big ideas and latest strategies that are transforming the industry today. Over 1,750+ of the best and brightest minds in banking will be there when the Forum 2018 kicks off in just a few weeks. Banks and credit unions that register now will SAVE $200.00 Don't wait, this offer ends soon and time is running out. VISIT THE FORUM 2018 WEBSITE

All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Tim McAlpine says:

    Good post. I especially like your use of the word CRAP. My mom used to be a Wheel fanatic so it played in the background of my youth. Until I read this I had completely forgot about the flip to giving you STRNL and E automatically. Great analogy.

  2. Service isn’t all Umpqua’s brand is known for. You can add innovation and style.

    For a pure “Service Brand” strategy to work, the level of service needs to be legendary (at or above Nordstrom). It’s a brand strategy that hinges on the actual sales experience, so if someone isn’t “in the market,” they may never know what the brand is really about. That’s part of why Umpqua’s strategy works — they don’t just hope they can get by with quality service.

  3. J,

    I totally agree with your analogy that “CRAP is as easy and safe as STRNLE- BUT I know a bank can differentiate with service, if they actually do it. The problem is just that – everyone says it, very few actually measure and manage it.

    Umpqua Bank has done it. It may not be perfect, but they have definitely set themselves apart from every other bank in there market. Isn’t that the point?


  4. Tony Mannor says:

    How did I miss this post? This is AWESOME!

    I have always said “What else have you got? when a marketer lays “CRAP” out on the table.

    The only way service becomes a differential element ion a brand is when the term “Exceptional” is defined. When exceptional becomes the standard, then it is standard and no longer exceptional. To be exceptional means constantly pushing the boundry further out of the reach of your competition.

    In one market it may be exceptional to call a member before they get an overdraft fee. In another it may be sending an auto detailer out to a members home on the one year anniversary of their auto purchase at no charge as a way to talk to them about a new car purchase.

    Its not having exceptional service that makes your brand. It is defining what exceptional is and then exceeding it that makes your brand.

  5. Thanks for the feedback Tony. With your experience, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Speak Your Mind


Show Comments