Differentiation: The Key to Branding

Human beings are hard-wired to notice things that stand out.

There are only a few basic principles that drive all successful brands. You must be able to consistently deliver something relevant to consumers. And hopefully, your strategy isn’t something your competitors can easily copy, in other words it is difficult to duplicate. The more your brand meets these criteria, the more successful you will be.

But of all the components fueling a strong brand, the most critical is differentiation.

Reality Check: Most financial institutions look, sound and act almost exactly alike.

The overwhelming majority of banks and credit unions have similar-sounding names, use similar slogans, share the same values, offer the same products and use the same basic look-and-feel. (If your corporate color isn’t blue and you don’t use pictures of smiley, happy people, chances are you are way ahead on the “Differentiation” curve.)

Key Takeaway: When financial institutions look, sound and act alike, consumers will dwell on whatever differences they can find. That means when it comes time to make their decisions, rates, fees and locations will be their deciding factors.

Financial institutions constantly bemoan that “price is the only thing that drives consumer decisions” and “big banks get business because they have branches on every corner.”

Reality Check: Financial institutions commoditized themselves. They have no one to blame but themselves. Rates, fees and locations are the only tangible, relevant points of differentiation most financial institutions offer consumers.

This also explains why marketing research in the financial industry always reaches the same conclusions: “It’s all about rates, fees and convenience.” Who needs to pay $50,000 to find out that the only thing consumers want is better rates, fewer fees and more locations?

Bottom Line: You must be different. If you can’t actually be different, at least look different. Differentiation — even if only achieved on a cosmetic and superficial level — will at least get you noticed, and that’s the first step on the way to building a strong brand.

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