When Regis McKenna famously said, “Marketing is everything,” he was probably trying to point out that marketing, as a core discipline of business, touches every facet of an organization. And technically, he’s right. However, when I recently heard a bank marketing executive make a similar remark (in front of his team, no less) that “branding is everything,” it sent an instinctive shudder down my spine. Most people can barely wrap their arms around one thing and that’s on a good day, so “everything” might be a bit overwhelming.
But… isn’t that our job, as marketers? To connect all the dots? After all, great brands are expressed through everything we see, hear and touch. Marketers know that a holistic, ubiquitous message has the best chance to engage customers and making an emotional connection. Some experts call this “experiential branding.” Others call it “living the brand.” I just call it brand alignment.
Unless you work at Apple, Target, Starbucks or a handful of other companies that truly “get it,” building a consistent and integrated brand can be a tall order. In banking, achieving brand alignment can be particularly onerous. So many diverse elements need to be choreographed: products and services, front line service, the branch environment, the website, statements, Facebook, credit cards, advertising… The list goes on. Every product and service is intangible, and offered elsewhere — by someone — at a lower cost. The task becomes even more difficult when you work with a CEO who thinks the bank’s brand is just “our logo.”
Building any brand involves a complex calculus of stakeholders, messages and communication channels. When we assume that it’s marketing’s job alone, we make it all that much harder. Simply put: we need help. Or, more accurately, we need alignment. To quote an old African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
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Why Is Brand Alignment So Important?
Fundamentally, a brand is an experience delivered against a common set of beliefs. And for that brand to be authentic, those beliefs must be understood and embraced by the very people who deliver the experience day in and day out: leaders, managers and field staff. Brochures, websites and ad campaigns are just the tools of branding — the props in a play, so to speak. It’s the actors who really make the difference.
But alignment isn’t only about a consistent experience across communications; it’s also about consistency over time. That requires associates to align their behaviors with the brand strategy. To make that happen, we need to engage them often and involve them from the very beginning. Let’s take a look at how three very different banks engage their employees and educate them about the brand, with strategies and immersive strategies that range from high tech to high touch.
PNC is a top-ten bank with over 56,000 employees and $300 billion in assets. Like most large banks, its services run the gamut: retail, small business, corporate banking, asset management, and more. PNC has numerous programs focused on education and engagement, but Deborah Van Valkenburgh, senior VP of marketing, reports that one of the most innovative is called the PNC Experience. This 20-by-20-foot exhibit space can be deployed in hotels, conference centers or retail malls, for employees to interact with. It showcases the bank’s many service technologies, but its primary objective is to generate brand advocacy and ultimately create richer connections with customers. To date, the showcase has been primarily used in PNC markets where the bank has fewer branches and fewer opportunities to interact with prospects in PNC locations.
Huntington Bank 2020 Vision Center
With over 700 branches in six states, Huntington Bank’s footprint is somewhat smaller and more concentrated, which creates more opportunity for face-to-face alignment tactics. So Huntington developed the 2020 Vision Center, a vision gallery displaying the intersection of digital and physical for the Huntington banking network, located in a dedicated space near its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. This 3-D manifestation of the bank’s strategy includes a brand road map, a set of full-size customer profiles, and a comprehensive range of delivery technologies such as video tellers, ATMs, and smartphone apps. In all of this, the emphasis, according to CMO David Clifton, is the story of how Huntington is evolving and how these technologies — combined with excellent customer service—deliver on the bank’s brand promise. The Vision Center was first shared with leaders, board members and managers, but it’s now being rolled out to additional internal audiences.
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Rockland Trust – Internal Immersion Branding
Located south of Boston, Rockland Trust is a 77-branch community bank with about 1,000 employees. The bank strongly believes that employee engagement drives better customer service and ultimately better returns — so much so that, Rockland’s brand promise is built around service excellence and epitomized in the tagline “Where each relationship matters.” CMO Mark Gibson notes that Rockland has taken a higher-touch approach, embedding its values and service commitment into onboarding, training, and even compensation and incentives. These concepts are also reinforced through storytelling — a regular sharing of best practices, from the CEO down to field staff. In fact, storytelling has become so important at Rockland Trust that the bank is building a story database to be used across all parts of the business.
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