Branding a bank

By Tom Dougherty

Branding A Bank — Where to start?


Branding a bank requires a meaningful strategy

Citibank had gold but did not realize it


Branding a bank is no small undertaking. All good bank advertising starts with a complete analysis of the market. That means considering the banking competition, the bank customer, and the bank advertiser.

Quantitative research is the only projectable way to accomplish that.

Once the analysis of the research has been completed, you can develop a brand position. A position that is different and better than the competition.

The personality, purpose, and position of the brand must be included in the creative brief. And, the brief is a strategic blueprint that defines the bank’s objectives.

The overall intent is to give the creative team as much strategic traction as possible.  And help them understand the bank’s brand, the banking target audience, and the financial marketplace.

Out of this starting gate comes the bank’s advertising messages that define the bank’s brand to the customer.

The Brief

To prepare a brief that will steal share for your bank brand, you must take this approach one step further. And, step into a complex realm.

The strategists at Stealing Share have a process we use in ripping a market apart. It’s a process that relies on the ageless wisdom of Socrates and the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes.

Borrowing from the Socratic method, the bank branding process begins by asking intuitive questions.  And progresses, by using the sleuth’s skills at discovering the hidden messages. We look at the bank brand meanings. And, opportunities that rise up as a result of well-formulated questions.

The creative brief starts with an audit of the bank brand. Which, is an assessment of the current meaning of a bank’s brand.  All within the context of competing banks and credit unions in the marketplace.

This process requires making as few assumptions as possible. Because existing marketing wisdom is baseless to what is important and meaningful to the banking customer.

Branding a bank: Defining the brand


Bank of America thinks branding a bank is effective with category benefits

Bank of America wins by default


After the audit, the brand strategist continues by defining the bank brand. This starts with deciding what the bank brand has permission to do. And, determines who the bank customer believes he is when he buys into the brand identity. And, therefore uses the brand.

The strategist begins this definition by plotting the banking brand landscape as the bankers see it (inside-out view). And, then again as the bank customers see it (outside-in view).

When it comes to growing bank market share, and branding a bank, the latter is all that matters. The outside-in perspective is more important and profitable. To get banking insight we ask ourselves basic questions Such as, why should the bank customer care?

What emotions do they bring to the decision-making process?  What are their banking assumptions? Who do they believe they are when they use the bank’s brands? What other bank brands might they use to accomplish the same result? (Read our market study on branding a bank here)

The opportunity emerges

When the questioning process is done right, the bank market space is important,  fresh, and new.

Opportunity prevails when we find differences. Differences between the bank’s customers’ emotional needs and the bank market’s promises.  And we position the brand in a way that takes advantage of a mismatch.

This is how you brand a bank.

Often, when evaluating banking brand messages, we find that the brand promises are benign.  And they are as meaningless as a restaurant category’s promise of “we sell food.”

Restaurants. Only a few enlightened brands define themselves further by stating that they serve “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” In such banking cases, it is impossible for the customer to distinguish one brand of bank from another. So they surrender and choose the banking market leader.


Bank branding is usually done poorly

Branding is complicated. Brand is simple.


The next step

Next, we need to analyze the category of banking messages. One of the hard rules in branding a bank is to be different and better. The temptation, however, is to copy the market leader. After all, haven’t they been a hugely successful bank?

The problem with that thinking is that the market leader wins. it is possible that the market leader is often successful because of the current brand messages. If the advertisers are all selling category, for example, if the banks are all saying, “We have many ATMs,” the customer will choose the bank market leader.

It is a fatal mistake to attempt to “out-Intel” Intel.

If I am a customer that needs “Intel Inside” I won’t feel the level of satisfaction buying something that says “AMD Inside.”

The meaning of AMD needs to be felt before I place AMD inside my PC. You can’t beat the bank market leader by shadowing and you cant brand a bank by imitation.

Make choices

You simply need to choose a brand position that has meaning to the customer.  And, a position that out-maneuvers the leader. We must know how the banking market is being messaged.  Before we can clearly characterize what the bank brand advertising is intended to achieve.

We must find the single most important thing that causes the bank’s target audience to change their minds. And in response, use the bank’s brand. To do this, we plot the existing banking messages.

We look at the entire universe of choices. And, seek to understand the banking trends. Are the competitive banks using humor? Slice of life? Testimonial? Exaggeration? Irony? Are they building the bank brand through music? Are they using imagery or wordplay? We need to know because being different requires knowing where everyone else is the same.

Branding a bank requires no less.

When the creative staff is finally briefed, the process is anything but brief.

They leave the briefing room as experts on the bank brand. They are experts in the banking category, messaging, and bank marketing. And, most importantly, the target audience and its emotional and physical needs. Armed with this knowledge, the creatives are ready to produce work. Work that steals share and brands the bank to win.

Read more on branding a bank here:

Increasing a bank’s market share


The Bank Market

Bank Preference

Credit Union Markting

Rebranding banks