The Bar Is Set Kind Of Low, No?

According to American Banker, Berkshire Hills Bancorp of Pittsfield, MA is billing itself as “American’s most exciting bank.” The article says that:

“The slogan is the centerpiece of a multimedia marketing campaign Berkshire launched early last year to win over potential customers and energize its work force. The bank put big red buttons on desks throughout its branches that play a few bars of the Pointer Sisters song when pressed. Bumper stickers and cheerful phone greetings reinforce the theme. Individual branches, which are free to plan special events, have had Halloween parties and cookouts, and branch employees helped create their own incentive program.”

My take: America’s most exciting bank? The bar is set pretty low on that criteria, no?

But seriously, Berkshire Hills’ approach begs the question of whether or not trying to be the “most exciting bank” is a sound strategy.

There’s certainly a strong argument that both consumers and employees want a differentiating experience — especially one that’s based on something other than the tired old “best customer service” or “most convenient” claims that many banks have made for ages. Claims without much merit, by the way.

But there’s also a strong argument for why the “most exciting” strategy might be doomed. In his 1999 book The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine discussed the opportunity for firms to differentiate themselves based on the customer experience. Pine discussed the strategy of the Rainforest Cafe restaurants which offered decent food (I guess) but with a truly unique dining experience.

The problem that Pine foresaw Rainforest Cafe having to face was figuring out Act Two. After a critical mass of customers had tried Rainforest once or twice, Pine believed the uniqueness would wear off. In other words, after the thrill is gone, what’s next?

When the Rainforest Cafe opened up in the Boston area, it wasn’t uncommon to find 3 hour waits. Today, it’s more like 3 minutes.

What does this mean for Berkshire Hills? It means that the bank is going to have to continually come up with new approaches and tactics to maintain their excitingness. Put differently, the bank is going to have to develop a strategic competency in being — and measuring — exciting. And it’s not like it has many successful or even unsuccessful acts to follow and copy from.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Berkshire Hills’ approach will resonate with a segment of customers — initially. But what happens if the bank focuses too much on being exciting, and not enough on (yes, Colin) innovating and improving core service, transaction, and channel delivery capabilities?

Time will tell if it’s a successful strategy. But for today, kudos to Berkshire Hills for being America’s most exciting bank. I can’t even begin to imagine who’s in second place.

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