Will Your Brand Dominate as Consumers Change Their Banking Habits?

Now that digital banking has become an essential part of people’s lives, and fintech options continue to provide alternative app-based solutions, an already fragmented banking market will fragment even further. Without clarity and focus, your institution's brand could be at risk of getting lost in this brand soup.

If you’re in a bank management position today, you might feel like you’re standing at the intersection of Disruption St. and Uncertainty Ave., an outdated roadmap in one hand and a wonky compass in the other. That’s how a pandemic will make you feel.

There’s no question that the rapid adoption of digital banking has been further fueled by the absolute necessity for customers to bank from home, thus creating the most disruptive era the industry has seen in a long, long time. When and where things will normalize is anyone’s guess, but people’s banking habits and perceptions of what banking means to them are most certainly being formed — or re-formed.

So now it’s up to you and your marketing team to take the lead in effectively positioning your bank or credit union for continued success against the throngs of traditional brick-and-mortar banks, digital banking disruptors and app-based fintech offerings. All while remaining relevant to younger digital natives, delivering a best-in-class, no-contact, digital banking experience.

But your goal isn’t to just survive these times. You want your institution to thrive. In order to do so, you’ll invariably find yourself asking “Is our brand still relevant for where we are and where we want to be?” “Is it time for us to reposition and rebrand to remain relevant to the ways consumers are conducting banking today?”

A Volatile Mix of Convenience, Safety, Competition

At the end of the day, all banking products and services look the same. It’s the strength of your brand that will set your bank or credit union apart and determine whether rank high on the consideration list among your prospects. We know that people tend to change financial institutions when they reach a point of failure in their existing banking relationship. This switch dynamic is even more pronounced today as consumers are reevaluating and considering almost everything they do. So when people decide that they want a more safe and convenient way to bank, you want to be the top choice.

We’re also facing an era of consolidation driven by the need for smaller community financial institutions to achieve scale to enhance their digital banking platforms. Add to that our newly inherited economic uncertainty, and consolidation might start looking a lot more attractive to some banks and credit unions. In this type of M&A environment, the stronger brands tend to prevail. So if you’re thinking about a merger or some strategic acquisitions, you should probably be thinking about a rebrand.

When considering whether a rebrand is needed — or if you sense a disconnect between your brand, your mission and your target audiences — there are several key questions you should ask. The first is simply whether your situation calls for a refresh of your existing visual identity or a wholesale change to your brand positioning and messaging architecture.

That, in turn, leads to other questions: Is there no longer real meaning behind your brand promise? Is your brand still relevant to your customers and target prospects, or is your brand’s visual identity no longer distinctive and memorable? And with the encroachment of a whole new cadre of fintech offerings and digital-only banks, the banking category is starting to get muddied.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether your brand is making an emotional connection with consumers. In other words, is your brand still relevant to peoples’ lives today — and across different generations? We all know that consumer decision making is driven by 50% rational choice and 50% emotional engagement. Is there a disconnect between your strategic direction and your brand voice? If you’re pivoting to leverage new market opportunities, your brand identity needs to demonstrate that.

A Brand Audit Will Reveal Shortcomings

To truly know the answers to the above questions, a bank or credit union needs to conduct a brand audit, starting with an internal workshop involving front-line staff, middle management, bank leadership and perhaps your board of directors if you’re looking for buy-in from the top. It’s important that you gain perspective from all levels of the institution. It’s possible to do this internally, as long as you can ensure it will be objective. If that’s an issue, however, then an outside facilitator could be engaged.

You’ll also want to gain perspective from both existing customers and non-customers. In order to get both directional qualitative and quantitative feedback, the methodology mix might include email surveys, informal focus groups and person-on-the street interviews.

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The Need to Believe in Your Own Brand

If this discovery process reveals that your brand messaging is still relevant and aligned with your bank’s strategy, a fresh new logo and visual identity system can serve to reintroduce your brand to market in an exciting way, create a spike of brand awareness and resurrect consumer engagement.

If this exploration determines that your current brand position and messaging strategy isn’t aligning with your goals or resonating with your target prospects, then it’s time for you to consider a more holistic rebrand. Most often this requires a new brand positioning and messaging architecture, the creative interpretation of your brand message and a supporting logo and visual identity system to deliver your brand story to market in a fresh and convincing way.

With either of these approaches comes the halo benefit of reinforcing the idea that you believe in your own brand, that you’re willing to invest in what you believe and that you intend to deliver on your brand promise at the highest level. In essence, by investing in your brand, you’re signaling to your audience of stakeholders, employees competitors and customers that you’re here to stay — it’s a message that gets noticed and instills confidence.

In comparison, a complacent brand fails to attract new customers and leads to higher attrition rates, stagnant wallet share, employee disengagement and turnover.

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Serving Two Masters: Today’s Consumer and Tomorrow’s

With all the market disruption underway, combined with the recent shift in the way consumers are conducting their banking, the importance of a strong brand will continue to crescendo. Community banks will continue to merge and introduce new bank brands, and financial institutions and fintechs will partner to introduce new products — and consumers will be exposed to more brands and have more banking options. Without clarity and focus, your institution’s brand could be at risk of getting lost.

Does your brand appeal to your customers of today, or your customer of tomorrow? The answer lies in four components:

  1. Your institution’s underlying strategy, mission and vision.
  2. The new unmet needs of your customers and prospects.
  3. The environment that your bank or credit union is competing in.
  4. What position your institution needs to own in order to achieve its highest level of success.

Your brand needs to be aligned with your bank or credit union’s mission, vision and strategy. It has to be reflective of your core values, personality and place in your community. It must be relevant to your audience, be distinctive versus the competition and position you not only for today’s challenging market, but with tomorrow in mind.

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