Banking Brands, Digital Media and Sloganitis

Traditional banking has relied on personal contact and convenient locations. Digital media threaten to render both moot. What’s a bank marketer to do?

People sometimes like to refer to “digital media” as if they were one single channel. But digital media are very much plural. Computers and internet-connected personal devices are like TV, radio, print ads, and direct mail all rolled into one. Moreover, they bring something new to the marketing party: instant interactivity. The best you could hope for with media in the old days was delayed interactivity — e.g., toll-free numbers and business reply mailers.

While old media are by no means defunct, digital media have knocked them from their perch, forcing the older dogs in financial marketing to learn new tricks. But those of us who grew up in the digital age can’t afford to be smug or relax either. Moore’s Law, that says computing speeds double roughly every two years, is just as true today as it was back in 1965 when it first debuted. We can count on newer, bigger, faster, and more capable applications to be a way of life from now on. None of us will ever be able to say, “I have arrived; now I know it all!”

This fast-morphing world presents challenges for bank and credit union marketing in particular. Banking tends to the conservative, traditional side of things, and most senior bank leaders are products of the pre-digital era. Banks used to open branches purely to establish personal relationships. Digital media have largely obviated this strategy. As more and more clients opt for internet-based transactions and interactions vs. walking into a branch to deal with a real live person, the value of personal relationships and proximity of branches are threatened and all but moot.

Read More: Poof! Branch Transactions Drop By Half in 20 Years

So what’s left to differentiate your financial institution? Two things:

1. Cutting-edge technical know-how.
2. Brand substance.

Today’s top performing, best branded financial institutions are successfully implementing everything from online and mobile advertising to SEM/SEO and social media marketing to win the battle for market share. And nothing is stopping you from joining their ranks. A vast array of digital weapons is at your disposal, each possessing tremendous power to generate new loans, new accounts and new relationships.

From what I’ve seen out there today, many banks are going to be in trouble if they hope to elevate their brand substance up to a level where it can replace personal contact and convenient locations.

Consider the number of financial institutions bragging about being “The Friendly Bank,” “Big Enough to Fill Your Needs Yet Small Enough to Care,” “Tomorrow’s Banking, Today,” “Putting People First,” and “A Different Kind of Bank.”

Take a look… here are all the common words banks and credit unions like to stick in their taglines. The larger the word, the more frequently it’s used.


What comes to mind when I mention Nike?

“Just Do It.”


“Finger Lickin’ Good.”

Las Vegas?

“What Happens Here Stays Here.”

But a slogan doesn’t make a brand. For most banks and credit unions, it’s little more than a puff of hot air. If you don’t believe me, try a test. Have an independent research firm phone a few thousand people, pronounce your bank’s name, and ask respondents what comes to mind. If a substantial number can immediately recall your tagline, I shall stand corrected. But most of you won’t get that result. More likely, you’ll get, “Huh? They’re a bank.” Which isn’t quite the same thing.

It is easy to get caught up in sloganitis — mistaking your tagline for a brand — when you still have personal contact and convenient locations to carry you. Good luck to you when all that’s left, besides a product array that looks pretty much like any competitors, is “The Friendly Bank” on your business card.

The good news is that your organization already has a brand. Step one is to figure out what it is. Step two is to strengthen it or, if it needs changing, change it. Step three is to live by its principles.

If you live and breathe your brand every day, you won’t even need a tagline. Think about Nordstrom. I bet what comes to mind is the over-the-top, great personal service they are known for. And yet you won’t find any such claims anywhere in Nordstrom’s advertising. But that’s the brand they have. They took ownership of it the old-fashioned way: by living it.

As I said, I bet you have a brand. Some of you have established and are promoting it, while others are at work discovering it and letting it speak for itself. But Adapting and strengthening a brand is not an easy undertaking. That is why most companies prefer to claim they are different vs. actually being different. Today’s bank marketing environment — and the tech toys that come with it — will continue to change at breakneck speeds. As they do, the need for technical ingenuity backed by substantive branding will only increase.

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