Bank branding. A market study.BANK BRANDING MARKET STUDY
“These tough times are an opportunity for any bank that can get out of their own way and is willing to change. Soon, it won’t matter if banks are willing. Change is coming.”
A fresh look at bank branding and the bank market
Is Stealing Share a bank branding agency?
That is a great question. And the answer is a resounding NO and a resounding YES. Call us right now.
How can that be true? Stealing Share is a new kind of bank branding agency. Stealing Share went rogue. We are turning our back on old pat answers.
We have deep experience in rebranding and relaunching bank and credit union brands; we have successfully done this for 20 years.
Large regional banks. Small community banks and more credit unions than you can count.
But never call us a bank branding agency
Why? Simple. In that same period, we have rebranded many other companies, not in the financial industry. Our brand strategists work in every category—insurance, consumer packaged goods, beer, quick service restaurants, medical device companies, and logistics.
Our experience includes government, investment services, associations, automotive, transportation, and just about every category you mention.
So. We never classify our work based upon category experience like another bank branding agency. We have ONE expertise.
Stealing Share has expertise
Stealing Share is an expert at changing and influencing human behavior.
That is our skill. And we apply that skill set in every project.
You need us BECAUSE we are not a bank branding agency
We are not stuck in a rut and continually spit out the same exact dog-eared solutions. We jump into every project with vigor and curiosity.
If you need a specialist in banking brands rather than a fresh perspective, that is good news for your competitors.
So, where are we?
Below you will find a market study on banks. But you probably don’t need to read it. You know the issues facing you. Just call us. We can help.
We don’t pretend to know what your brand needs right now. But we know how to find the answers. But that is the easy part.
If someone gave you a list of all the hurdles and obstacles to stealing market share in your category, you would have many ideas on fixing them.
The hard part in any rebranding is identifying the problems.
Stealing Share grew tired of platitudes. We cut to the chase. And we have a few tools on our bench that no other bank branding agency has.
We own our own research company
And we use them. So should you.
But fielding research, that’s the easy part. Creating the study and asking the right questions— well, that is our art.
We have a new take on branding. We believe it should be persuasive. Your brand should actively engage and attract your target audience. We call it brand persuasion, and you can read about it here.
We also created a tool to predict changes in behaviors. We call it Behavior Modeling, and it is incredible. You might want to read about it here. These skills are more important than the title of Bank Branding Agency.
Look, the financial services market is changing relentlessly and quickly. Half of the observations below in the market study are not as accurate as they were 5 minutes ago.
The banking world today
That is the world you face. A world of change. That’s your greatest challenge and, under our guidance, your greatest opportunity.
Nothing is as it was. Banks and credit unions are traditionally quite conservative in their marketing. We will give you a revolution and catch your world on fire. That’s what we do. This is who we are.
Our thoughts on banking are well documented. Reporters seek us out as experts in your trade publications, news, and editorial.
When you talk to us, don’t ask about the international bank we just rebranded or the fast-growing credit union that asked us to do the first round of TV for them and the brand strategy. This is unusual for us because we are not an ad agency in the same way we are not a brand branding agency.
Give a read below. But call us.
And so it begins…this is what a bank branding agency recommended
Bank branding and marketing have changed
Since our original banking category market study was conducted some time ago, the landscape has consolidated into conglomerates gobbling up other conglomerates. And COVID-19 has permanently changed what a bank is and how customers use them.
Yet, in some ways, it remains the same. The bank branding market landscape looked different today because, in 2018, acquisitions wiped the scenes clear. But little else has changed, including the poor advice from every bank branding agency.
Wells Fargo buys Wachovia. Chase picked up the resources of WaMu. TD Bank snaps up Commerce Bank, and PNC acquires National City. And BB&T has rebranded to become TRUIST
What has not changed is the stunning similarity of their messaging. All of them still market the table stakes. They all sound and behave just like banks.
At the top of the list is mobile banking. But these innocuous benefits include having many ATMs, keeping your money safe, being convenient, having online and mobile banking, along with low fees and better rates. How can a bank branding agency keep up?
And no bank branding agency seems to understand this. From perspective of potential customers, bank advertising remains just noise that does nothing to create preference. The same is true for every single bank branding agency. It’s all just regurgitation.
Even by acquiring a unique brand like WaMu (which in terms of attitude and tone was on the other end of the spectrum from Chase), Chase remained “Chase What Matters.”
It’s an overly clever line. Feels written on Madison Avenue and by a brank branding agency. And is, therefore, not believable.
In 2018, Chase swithced to the theme of “Make More of What’s Yours,” which is at least about the customer, not the bank. However, it’s simply the reason why you choose a bank, not why you’d choose Chase. There’s no emotional element in it. Typical incomplete bank branding agency thought process. It’s like a fast-food restaurant saying, “We Have Food.” All banks have interest rates for their savings and other accounts. Who cares?
A Table Stake
Look at this recent ad for USA Bank. They call the ad “Back in Business,” and the theme is “We’ll get there together.” Complete with forgettable images and stock music playing in the background — this is what is wrong with the category.
That’s just a table stake. And table stakes, what you need to just play in the game, still take prominence among most all bank branding.
It was the same with the Wells Fargo-Wachovia merger. Wachovia was the king of an undifferentiated brand. Only a “Wells Fargo Company” listed near the bottom in red in their marketing showed any differentiation.
So stop reading here and call us. We will build you a brand that transcends the category.
If your anxious for the recap before reaching out to us, here it is:
Banks are banks are banks. The mega-branks all sound and look the same. Saccharine, and never celebratory. Regional and community banks claim to be local and connected. Credit unions do the same with an “aw shuck’s overlay. That’s it.
TD Bank is growing
TD has swallowed up Commerce by carrying Regis & Kelly over into the acquisition and, while it has an excellent feel, it didn’t create preference. (It is true, TD Bank does look different, however, but its messaging around ease-of-use and convenience doesn’t differentiate.) At least the new spot, “Dancer,” is refreshing. Of all the mega-brands, TD Bank does the best job.
Thank God TD competes with TRUIST because TRUIST (BB&T) also has nothing important to say.
Some claim to have gone through rebranding. But, bank branding as a practice by every bank branding agency is so bad that all they get for their investment is a new color palette and a TV campaign.
A wasted opportunity
Anger from the financial crisis was an opportunity for bank brands some years ago as we stated in the original study. Consumers were emotionally raw. (Let’s not even get started on the failure of credit unions.
They are still stuck in the same stories they’ve been peddling for decades.) In all the bank branding efforts out there, we could only come up with one bank that tried to take advantage. But no bank branding agency saw that terrible time as an opportunity. They played a defensive game.
That is, SunTrust, a regional bank with locations in the Southeast. Its theme line of “Live Solid. Bank Solid” was a reaction to overspending and making bad loans.
And, suggests a feeling of comfort. (“Comfortably,” by the way, would have been a better marketing word than “Solid.”)
However, our research shows banks overused “safety” in the financial crisis. It wasn’t a switching trigger nor was it emotional.
Even the Wachovia customers felt their money was safe despite the Wells Fargo takeover. They still had their money.
Imitating the market leader only helps the market leader
It’s a truth in any industry. If you copy the market leader (because you say, “Hey, it works for them!”), you only help the market leader grow share. Facing similar messaging, target audiences default to the market leader because there is no other true choice. But not understood by every bank branding agency in the US.
Interestingly, during the crisis, the only one attempting to reflect the target audience was the then market leader, Bank of America.
The banking giant went through its own evolution (we would not call it a bank branding effort). It changed its primary color from blue to red because the entire market was blue.
Kiefer Sutherland’s “The reflection of Americans” lacked importance.
Today, Bank of America defaults into marketing online banking, reward cards and other table stakes. But its position of “Better Connected” speaks to what we want from banks.
It’s not emotional enough. But when the market leader has the best bank branding, that spells doom for the rest. A market leader owns table stakes as a defensive posture.
Can’t grow market share by copying B of A. Don’t tell that to your bank branding agency. They will not know what to do.
You would assume that, with all the turmoil surrounding bank branding and the banking industry, smaller regional banks and local credit unions would be making hay on all the anger and discontent.
You would be wrong I (every bank branding agency is)
Banks continue to wallow away in what they “believe” differentiates them: Knowing your name, being friendly, and being local.
Two things are wrong with this bank branding approach posited by every bank branding agency. First, it assumes that those that bank elsewhere find the employees unfriendly and treat them like a number.
Research tells us that nothing could be further from the truth. All banking is local and the relationship is ALWAYS with your local branch.
Confusion among bank messages
Secondly, they confuse those values with the triggers that cause a customer to switch. In fact, they are neither rare nor terribly important as switching triggers.
Opportunity still exists for a revolutionary bank branding effort. Citibank, for example, has an opportunity it hasn’t nabbed – but time is running short.
The biggest players will continue to look to acquisition as the only way to grow, instead of doing the smarter and less costly chore of creating brand preference.
Stealing Share will continue to update it as changes happen among the brands. So, let’s see what they were doing a few years ago and what they’re doing in 2018.
More Trouble Ahead for Banks
Bank branding is in tough times. It seems as though all the messaging and positioning came from the same bank branding agency. Certainly, the mortgage crisis has passed but the greed of shareholders continues to embolden short-term thinking.
Is another fundamental problem looming on the horizon? The answer is a resounding yes. The banking industry rebounds and everybody’s happy, right? Not exactly. For one thing, banks are facing many different challenges than they were facing years ago.
Does Safety have legs?
Safety, once a boring table stake, isn’t so boring. Getting your account hacked is a fear. It happens to people every day.
Sometimes, it’s the bank doing the hacking. The Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank set up accounts without customers’ knowledge, brings back the mistrust factor.
Everything’s changed. And, nothing has. Bank branding still lacks emotional context, with everyone using the same messages. It’s just that those messages have changed. Reward cards. Mobile banking.
Making things easier. All good values for banks to promote, but nothing that provides differentiation.
No Bank Branding Differentiation
We conduct marketing research all over the globe. We evaluate brand meanings, preference, loyalty, switching triggers, and equity. These are the starts to brand building – and the answers we are hearing are the same. You would think those that claim to be a bank branding agency might do the same?
The banking industry is in desperately bad shape. The bank branding out there today is all the same. No major bank has differentiated itself from the competitive set. As you’ll see, it’s shocking how similar the messaging is between the market’s players.
Banks are satisfied to spend recklessly on ineffectual advertising. This does nothing more than build a bit of awareness. It builds no preference.
There is no battling for customer loyalty based on definitive brand practices that create preference, As the chickens come home to roost, we can expect shareholders to hold these banks accountable. They spent huge sums on advertising and will demand some return on that investment.
Bank Branding Today, and Always It Seems
Consider the typical bank advertising (are the ad agency and bank branding agency the same entity?) you see every day. Most advertise to gain access into a new customer’s considered set of banking choices.
They seek to create awareness in prospective borrowers and savers.
Then, instill in them a preference of a bank over the competition so that bank can attract assets. Banks are hopeful that a potential customer will leave their current bank, switching or adding, for example, checking accounts.
I guess the banks are thinking?
The thinking is that most banking customers consider their primary bank to be the one in which they currently maintain their checking account.
Once the bank has your primary checking account, it attempts to strengthen that relationship by gaining more “share of wallet.” They try to establish other types of accounts. Offering CDs, savings, securities, credit cards, mortgages (gasp) to all manner of personal and business loans.
What Banks (and the bank branding agency) Need to Consider
This requires that you know and understand the answers to three questions about the target audience you wish to influence.
Questions needing answers
- What constitutes the prospects’ belief systems? How can your brand best reflect the values and precepts of that target audience?
- What is the highest emotional intensity in the category, often represented by a key switching trigger?
- Who does the customer aspire to be and what are they most fearful of?
You will notice that the subjects of all questions are customers, not the bank and its services.
This is the foundation of bank branding. Because, in commodity markets, it is impossible to differentiate yourself based on product or service alone.
In other words, you can’t grow a bank’s market share by “out-banking” a competitive bank.
You need to instill the prospects’ self-description into the brand so powerfully that they are in fact choosing an extension of themselves rather than a brick-and-mortar bank. The key to successful bank branding is alignment with the prospect.
Banks Only Sell the Process of Banking Itself
So, what do banks (and obviously the bank branding agency they hired tell you today to influence loyalty and get target audiences to switch brands? Well, as you will see, they promise that they listen to you.
They promise rewards, ATMs, competitive rates, friendly employees, convenient hours, and locations. And now they promise that you can do everything from the phone and that your money is safe. These are simply descriptions of what it means to be a bank.
We have the banking research
Research proves that most people bank online or through mobile. How do you measure one bank’s online/mobile abilities over another?
You don’t know until you sign up. How do you know if one bank is more secure than another? The only way to choose now is through the brand. Otherwise, the market remains stagnant. For target audiences, a feeling of inertia sets in.
Where’s Preference Coming From?
A bank’s first house of cards begins to tumble when shareholders asked the bank how effective are the marketing dollars? Is it creating preference?
Shareholders demand greater accountability. Bank branding is coming face-to-face with the fact that their marketing of brand preferences is a figment of their own imagination. Preference is a habit, family connections, and the odd promotion or two.
How banking customers choose
Location and convenience were once reasons to choose. In the absence of any demonstrable differentiation or preference, banks have traditionally invested in bricks-and-mortar.
Their asset deposit growth only fueled by building more branches. Therefore, growth is categorized into more locations (organic growth) and acquisition (fiscal growth). Both without brand preference supporting them, are disasters waiting to happen. Branches have become the most expensive billboards in your city.
More Branches is not the Future
Currently, real estate and construction costs are the bank’s greatest investment and main asset.
Research demonstrates that customers, who have developed a very little brand affinity with any major bank, are hoping that they will never need to visit a branch or ATM.
They want to conduct their financial business with a debit card, direct deposits, mobile banking, and direct bill pay.
A bank’s main asset quickly becomes its greatest liability. Bank branches simply become an expensive and cost-wasting expense rather than a place of needed financial transaction. All the investment in branch amenities, teller pods, and meeting rooms transformed the habitat of dinosaurs.
Major Changes Take Effect
Such pronouncements of doom? Heard it before. But they are already here. As we stand here in 2018, consumer visits to a bank branch are expected to drop 36% over the next four years with mobile transactions increasing 121% over that same period. Ignoring this trend is as foolish as offering interest-only home mortgages and ARMs ten years ago.
This is the next shoe to drop and the general population cannot wait to rid itself of the need to visit a bank, and most have already done so. It is simply an inconvenient necessity.
Bank of America
First, the main advantage is the name. Bank of AMERICA. However, you could name a bank the Bank of Dirt and it wouldn’t matter without meaning. So, what does Bank of America mean? Well, being one of the market leaders means you are among the default choices. Especially in a market with identical messaging.
While Chase and Bank of America are in a dead heat per total assets, five banks hold 40% of all deposits (Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and US Bank) in the US during the third quarter of 2017.
Banks should try to have some imagination
It’d be nice if they could differentiate themselves from each other. Or, if any of the other banks would break themselves from the pack.
For years, Bank of America stood as the Bank of Opportunity, which fit nicely with its name. As mentioned earlier, it now sports “Better Connected.” It is a defensive position because it speaks to the new way of banking.
Bank of America has nothing much to say
But without any emotional appeal. It’s a defensive position because its primary competitors (the Big Five) are also landing on connectivity, or at least the table stake of mobile banking.
Therefore, for “Better” to work, consumers would have to believe the others fail at connectivity (mobile banking).
But everyone highlights an app. We’re all connected to our bank accounts with a simple tap on our phones. And defensive posturing isn’t enough to steal market share anymore. The brand needs to be about your prospect.
“Market Leader” is not much of a brand position
For years (decades even) being a Bank of America customer meant being associated with a winner. The sole market leader. That’s not the case anymore. With consolidation, Wells Fargo and Chase are just as big and own just a large presence. Most of Bank of America’s marketing messages today are attempts to sell category table stakes.
The old Bank of Opportunity bank is now just a bank with credit cards, many locations, ATM Machines, online banking, and investment services. And an app.
Now we’re going to sound repetitive. Because, as we’ve seen with Bank of America, the response to the changing banking environment is to go all mobile advertising on our asses.
So, banks strain to find ways to explain why their mobile banking is better. Bank of America has “Better Connected.” Now comes Chase with “Make more of what’s yours,” which doesn’t even make much sense.
Chase. (Morgan Stanley Chase)
We presume it’s just that you can DO more now that you bank with your phone. (The ballet leap is meant to be aspirational.) More promisingly, the current campaign encourages you to log onto a URL with WayYouBank at the end. That certainly speaks to the process of how you bank. Type in the URL and the message is a bit stronger. “Save time by banking from almost anywhere.”
That touches on what bank customers really want. Simplicity, speed, and no fuss.
But scroll down and you see this headline:
Wow. So, Bank of America’s “Better Connected” isn’t all that unique. Of course, Chase isn’t using it as a theme, but you get the drift. “Stay connected” develops into the go-to message for ALL banks.
With that in mind, why would anyone switch? At least Chase dumped the overly clever theme, “Chase what matters.”
On its surface, it purports to be the promise of “The Company You Keep” (from New York Life). But here the wordplay became just plain trite. By including the corporate name in the theme, Chase reduced it to a Madison Avenue substitute for a strategy. It has raised barriers to sincerity.
Why what Chase embraced is bad
In fact, one word about cleverness. If you go to an advertising agency for brand work, you get clever. And, clever is your bank branding enemy.
It feels written by an advertising agency. Not in spoken language. (That’s one of the few positives with “Make more of what’s yours.” While it could lose the rhyming scheme, it’s at least closer to spoken language.) Therefore, it becomes harder to believe. It’s ignored.
If there was one brand that desperately needs to address security, it’s Well Fargo.
Not because of the hack. But, breaking the public trust. The Wells Fargo scandal didn’t go quite far enough for brand repair, but it needs addressing.
So, what’s Wells Fargo doing? As you’ll see in the ad below, they went the technology route, throwing security features like Eyeprint ID into it to strengthen its case.
Is it smart branding?
Is it effective? Not really and there’s a simple reason why. Being the best in security (a dubious claim if there ever was one) simply doesn’t fit the West Fargo brand.
For years, the bank diluted its equity markers by making their tagline trite and a bit tongue in cheek. “The Next Stage” reminded us that we are moving ahead.
And, intended to reinforce the brand equity marker of the Wells Fargo Stage Coach.
We see no brand equity. Except for familiarity.
In our market research, however, Wells Fargo returns no significant brand equity, in that it was not associated with any important precepts and excites no switching triggers.
However, it did return strong signal equity in that its customers and their competitor’s customers alike recall the stagecoach.
No real value was associated with it. But, it was recalled. To everyone, Wells Fargo was simply a bank. And, unfortunately, their brand does nothing more than reinforce that claim.
Wells Fargo could own heritage
Today, Wells Fargo uses “Building better every day.” We’ll give you 50 guesses of what that means in terms of banking, security, or, most importantly, what emotional trigger it addresses.
And we’ll get back 50 different answers. The bank could claim “Building better every day” means increased security, but it lacks any real emotion.
For it to be a switching trigger, it needs to hit you in the gut. Needs to be powerful. This just falls flat.
Boy oh boy. Here is Ground Zero for where bank branding stands now.
Few banks have run through more brand positions than Citi, with widely varied success. Here in 2018, it settles on “Welcome what’s next,” which is ALL about mobile banking and technology.
True, that’s what banks are becoming now. A virtual bank. The key to making “Welcome what’s next” work is in how Citi fulfills that promise. How does Citi fulfill it? Like everyone else, through a secure app.
Citi once owned something of value
Curiously, Citibank once held an astounding brand promise many years ago when it promised that customers who bank with them “Live richly.”
That position carried many of the important qualities of an effective brand theme. First, it was about the customer, not the bank. Secondly, it was just awkward enough to make the target audience stop and notice. And “Live Richly” spoke to an aspiration.
A few years later, the bank rolls out “Citi never sleeps.” It accurately stated Citi continues to sleep-walk. Citi decided that “Live richly” was just a tagline, not a brand promise. “Welcome what’s next” is better than “Citi never sleeps.” But, it’s a theme for the entire banking category.
We interrupt examining the nation’s largest banks by analyzing SunTrust, a Southeast bank headquartered in Atlanta.
It still ranks in the top 20 largest banks in the nation.
But, has long been one of the industry’s most confusing brands. It rebranded a decade ago, trotting out banal messages like “How can we help you?”
Then promptly telling audiences one way it helps is by asking you to use their credit cards more… “Use your card more, you get a chance to win miles every time you use it.”
Different by being the same
In bank branding, this is a textbook example of branding yourself as a commodity. Today, its mission is “Lighting the way to financial well-being.”
Whoa. Boy, that just hits you in the gut, right? Sarcasm aside, it represents a typical bank branding effort. The use of “Lighting” plays off SunTrust’s logo and name. But it just comes off as clever and, if we’re honest, completely forgettable.
So, just when we were going to either make ridiculous fun of SunTrust or simply exclude it from this study altogether, its OnUp campaign shows up.
Where is the emotion?
This campaign attracts our attention for a few reasons. On the positive, this ad is EMOTIONAL. It plays on the fears all of us have about our financial lives.
Not just our future, but what’s happening to us right now. Yes, we consider our futures every now and then, but it’s only human nature to think about the present.
Humans, at their core, are selfish creatures. We first consider how events affect us and the present is always the most urgent in that context. In addition, the tone of this ad is perfect.
The ticking clock sounds eerie and works powerfully with the images. The narration still says, “Lightening the way to financial well-being,” but it’s de-emphasized.
But…there is a downside
On the negative, SunTrust brands this effort as the OnUp movement. Why brand it? Why not embed it into the SunTrust brand?
What if being concerned with the here and now identifies the SunTrust customer? Branding it as a sub-brand makes it feel like marketing, less believable, and temporary. Now, the only believable thing about it is that OnUp will go away at some point because it’s not about the SunTrust brand.
If it was, then audiences would feel it’s a permanent movement on SunTrust’s part. The bank really blew an opportunity here, one that could steal market share and shake things up.
But it got too cute, listening to marketers wanting to show how clever they are. So, no, this movement isn’t permanent. But “Lighting the way to financial well-being” is. Thank God for that, huh?
TRUIST (formerly BB&T)
Here’s another Southeast regional, headquartered in North Carolina. Let’s be blunt here.
With the market leaders espousing the same messages over and over, the regional banks reside at the front porch where the door is wide open to be different. All they must do is walk in.
That’s why it’s so flummoxing that Banking and Trust Company (BB&T) simply stands there. It is the blandest and expected brand in the market.
TRUIST is also hard to figure out
It confuses expansion and growth with brand success. BB&T has not differentiated itself from any of its competitors and instead has satisfied itself by building more branches and locating them across the street of its many competitors.
What this says is that they fundamentally understand that they have developed no brand preference. And, if they are located more than 300 yards up the road from a competitor, they will lose business.
Here’s the disconnect. TRUIST is the 15th largest bank in the US by total assets. Yet, it owns the sixth most branches, with more than 2,000 in just 17 states.
TRUIST is a BIG bank
It has more than double the number of branches as Citibank. How does TRUIST even remain profitable? In today’s landscape, in which customers dread walking into a branch, what kind of nonsense is that?
Well, there’s this nonsense. This may simply be the most generic bank advertisement you’ll ever see. What’s it about? Um, banking? What’s the promise? Uh, focusing on the customer. “All we see is you” is just another way of saying “We focus on you.” It’s the most overused value, phrase, or slogan in advertising.
There’s even a cleaning company in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that uses it. Hell, you could substitute a few words here and there, and it’d fit right into TRUIST’s language.
Growing market share in banking
Remember the key questions to grow market share:
- What constitutes the prospects’ belief systems and how can your brand best reflect the values and precepts of that target audience?
- What is the highest emotional intensity in the category, often represented by a key switching trigger?
- To what does the customer aspire and what are they most fearful of?
Banks see things from the inside-out
TRUIST wants us to believe that the beliefs of the target audience are how much we care about TRUIST. We can tell they want our business.
As far as key switching triggers, TRUIST believes they are trust and contact with human beings. The problem with this thinking is that almost everyone we survey already believes that their bank is trustworthy.
We have a rule for this: Don’t ever believe your own internal press. All that really matters is what the customer believes to be true. What you believe to be true does not matter. Belief controls preference, even if the belief is false.
USAA bank plays emotionally
More than a bank, USAA is a full-service holding company with everything. Investments, banking, and insurance.
Looking like a credit union, USAA grabs the emotional intensity of membership. Membership in the US military. By all counts, the highest emotional intensity for that target is exactly that. Of all the banking brands, USAA does it right.
“We know what it means to serve” is more double entendre than the brand deserves. But, for this target audience, most sins are forgiven
A few more banks
Here is the problem for any bank branding agency. We dropped in a few logos here, but we all know we could add hundreds to the list.
But there would be nothing more to say. The story in bank branding is all the same. All the brands claim the same space, and all of them talk about processes.
Think about this for just a second. We think about it (if you want to label us a bank branding agency) all the time. Every bank regurgitates the same messages.
If this were a category of restaurants, all the marketing would say is, “we serve food here.” And that would be the long and the short of it.
At least restaurants generally focus on cuisine. So, they tighten up the considered set by that.
A few years back, Ally tried to do that. But they never gained enough traction. After all, all bank branding is about online today. Everyone is a virtual bank.
So, Ally lost its identity.
When we put on our bank branding agency hat; it is easy to see why. Ally claimed a process as their brand. Not an emotional hook.
Instead of that overused claim about online, Ally should have identified an emotional description of what it means to be an online bank—thoughtfully executed as the brand’s reason why.
But, like all banks in the world of bank branding, think of themselves as a bank, not as a reflection of the customer they need to influence. There is no WHY in the equation.
Even a mediocre bank branding agency (and there are as many of those as there are banks) must see this emotional intensity is missing.
All Ally had to claim was that it was the bank for smarter people. A target audience that used resources and did not have the time to waste them. Now that would be a position upon which the brand might stand.
Bank Branding End Notes
There is more opportunity in the banking market today than in almost any other industry. The major banks remain undifferentiated and deliver little to no brand meaning. And, like the lazy Susan of NBA coaches, banks seem to get answers from the same old bank branding agency.
Even Bank of America looks vulnerable. Like B of A, banks currently define themselves and their brand in terms of commodity products. And they expect customers to switch banks so that they can have “all the things they currently get from their current bank.”
A bad category speaks opportunity to the savvy
The ability to impress customers with convenient locations and spiffy lobbies is becoming less and less important, especially as technology improvements allow customers to never go to the bank.
The banking industry needs a new and more vital brand strategy to deliver importance. Importance is directly connected to how much the brand reflects and speaks to the customer. And not how much the brand speaks about the bank.
Who Is to Blame?
Are banks responsible for the brand mess they are currently in? Sure, they carry responsibility for thinking that “if you build it they will come.” And every bank branding agency digs in the same old mud.
That same thinking is leading them to more problems in the very near future. If they continue to behave and market themselves as if they are commodity banks, the target audience will continue to think that way until a competitor wakes up and wins. When that happens, the other banks will fight for the crumbs.
Banks need a new brand promise. One that is a reflection of who the target audience aspires to be. And positioned against the competition. The problem now is that the players in the market say the same thing. So, they are not positioned against anybody.
Take the test
Is it as bad as we have said? Take the test. Take any bank you can think of and insert its name here-
- (Insert Bank Name Here) has many ATMs
- (Again) has convenient hours and locations
- (Once again) has free checking
- (One more time…) has friendly employees, online banking, credit cards, give you more, really wants my business, and has competitive rates
These times are an opportunity for any bank that can get out of their own way, but they must be willing to change. Soon, it won’t matter if banks are not willing. Change is already coming. Change has come to this bank branding agency.