Want Your Financial Institution Brand Story to Pop? Start by Saying Less

In an abundance of enthusiasm, many bank and credit union marketers list every important fact about their institution. And they inevitably lose their audience in the process. A simple three-part marketing communication strategy (with products coming last) can help create a more memorable brand.

Like any good novel, a brand story should unfold in a specific order rather than all at once. Give the audience too much and you’ll lose them.

Financial marketers face two challenges in communicating their brand story: 1. Their audience may or may not be receptive to the message, and 2. the recipients’ attention is divided at best.

To avoid falling into the common trap of saying too much too soon, bank and credit unions should think of their brand messaging strategy as a modified pyramid to reveal the right information at the right time.

Start at the top of the pyramid with a short, memorable message. Then work your way down the pyramid adding to and expanding your brand story as you go. That’s how to connect with audiences, bring them along, then resonate with them so they want to hear what the brand has to say. In other words, they will ask for the rest of the story.

Here’s how to implement this simple marketing concept.

1. The Tagline

The key message shouldn’t attempt to say everything. Its purpose is to be the teaser, so it must be simple. Over time, it becomes shorthand for the entire brand story.

Nike’s tagline “Just Do It” has been in use since 1988. It takes enormous discipline — and often courage— to select a slogan that doesn’t attempt to say everything. But therein lies a key to its success. A great tagline has three important attributes:

It’s memorable.
People are inundated with a constant barrage of marketing messages, texts from friends and family, social media, news and innumerable interruptions. They don’t have the time or interest to learn a marketer’s tagline. Three words — as with Nike’s classic — make it more likely to stick.

It’s audience-focused.
“Just Do It” is oriented toward the interests and desires of people who aspire to something. That aspiration could be fashion, athleticism, winning or something else. But regardless, this tagline is about the audience, not about the company.

Key Point:

Many financial marketers like to use slogans like “We do business right here at home,” “We say yes,” and “Hometown Bankers for a Lifetime.” Those are institution-focused. They’re like the blind date who talks incessantly about himself and probably won’t get a second chance.

Audiences like to see themselves in a message. Better tagline approaches are audience-focused, like these:

  • “You first.”
  • “It’s always about you.”
  • “Happy banking.”

(Extra credit for slogans that also work as an employer brand — applying to employees, not just external audiences.)

It’s a call to action.
Nike’s tagline clearly meets this criteria. It’s a no-excuses, get-off-the-couch, overcome-the-obstacles kind of rallying cry. It’s inspiring and moving.

A financial brand can do the same thing. Money can be an incredibly powerful tool when it’s used correctly. No one is more equipped to help customers make the most of this power than you are. A few of our favorite slogans that reflect this:

  • “Bank less, live more.”
  • “It’s your future, own it.”
  • “Bank healthier. Live happier.”

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2. The Purpose

Support the tagline with your purpose. The purpose is longer than the slogan/tagline, but is still relatively short. Ideally, it’s one sentence. It begins to give a bigger picture of the brand and its aspirations. It helps people envision how their own beliefs and aspirations might align with yours.

Continuing with the Nike example, its purpose is “To unite the world through sport to create a healthy planet, active communities, and an equal playing field for all.”

Don’t Forget:

What is your institution here to do? What is your WHY? This is critically important to know and to be able to articulate. It should differentiate your brand from the myriad other choices consumers have across town and across the globe.

This is your chance to rise above commodity status. Ask if your institution’s purpose can pass these two tests:

Is it aspirational?
The bar should be set high. A strong purpose is something worthy of the best efforts of everyone on the team. As individuals, we might not be there yet, but we keep striving toward it together.

First Federal Bank of Kansas City says, “Every day, we wake up focused on guiding people down a path that leads to greater financial well being.”

One United Bank says, “Together, we can close the racial wealth gap. We can galvanize our community to share critically needed information and make financial literacy a core value of the Black community.”

These financial institutions understand the importance of purpose. They’ve established rallying cries that are being heard, embraced and shared.

Is it authentic?
The purpose can’t be a pasted-on idea. It has to be true to the values and the daily actions inside the institution. It is in sync with product development, service delivery and pricing structure.

It is modeled by leadership. It is communicated in hiring, demonstrated in training and measured in employee evaluations and employee surveys.

It’s evidenced by the blog content it develops, the social media content it shares and the causes it supports.

It is non-negotiable.

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3. The Story

Now that you’ve communicated your tagline and purpose, it’s time to get into the storytelling with more details: “What We Do and How We Do It.”

People love stories, and they love happy endings. Well constructed stories have:

  • A time and a place
  • A challenge or a villain
  • A journey
  • A solution
  • A (happy) ending

Lead with emotion, create the story, then support it with facts and reasons to believe.

Financial institutions have many opportunities to tell stories about overcoming obstacles for individuals, families, businesses, municipalities or others — depending on their focus and customer mix.

Northwest Bank of Rockford has multiple customer success stories on its website. All have customer testimonials. They come across as authentic and offer visitors the reassurance that this bank can deliver.

Stories like these with real people can be challenging to create. Many customers don’t want to divulge all the difficulties they encountered. They fear their competitors will get the upper hand or their customers may doubt them. Skilled marketers can find ways around these hurdles with some diplomacy and discretion or with a different kind of story telling format.

Unfortunately many institutions don’t take advantage of this opportunity for story telling or they do it poorly. That means there is plenty of opportunity for those who will go for it and get it right.

Financial institutions help build the American Dream. They support home ownership, small business, the local little leagues and the chambers of commerce. That’s the stuff legends are made of. There are no better stories than those.

Expertly crafted stories leave audiences hungry to know how they can apply the winning strategies to their own situations. That’s where your products finally come in. Remember, in the pyramid, the products come last.

In fact, if you think of your pyramid as an iceberg, the product details would be well under the water. Therefore, start with the parts above water, draw the right prospects in with your slogan, purpose and story. Then you’ll have greater success in selling them your products and services.

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