What's Your Brand Pairing?

by Angela Markwald

Award-winning branding expert Rachel Scott shares her insights into what financial institutions most often miss when it comes to their brand.

The topic of branding has seen a resurgence of media attention in 2020, and with good reason.  Consumer and business needs are changing.  Your brand and how you express it is what connect your values to the values of your target market, but when was the last time you evaluated it?  Or talked about it as a strategic asset?

Over years of working with financial institutions to help them unlock the potential of their brands, we've seen some of the same things consistently underutilized or even left off the table completely.  When given priority; however, these things have transformative powers to strengthen relationships not only with customers, but also with employees.  To get the most out of your brand and to turn it into a tool to drive growth, consider the following:

If you've got it, flaunt it.

Recent studies show 71% of people prefer brands that align to their values.  When we conduct research for our clients and ask their customers what keeps them coming back year after year, through various life milestones, it's because they feel a connection.  A shared sense of purpose, priority and humanity. There are typically single moments that solidified those feelings.  Great news!

But those single moments came AFTER becoming a customer.  The rest of the market, those who aren't your customer yet, don't see it.  How is that possible?  What happens in many cases is that what the rest of the market sees is a website full of product information that focuses on facts and rates and what you offer, a building that blends into the surrounding environment, and stock footage of beautiful families, cars and pristine homes in advertisements.  They don't see themselves.

They see what you want FROM them, not what you are giving TO them.

Do you want someone, arguably anyone, to take out a mortgage loan?  Or do you want to provide a young family with stability & certainty?  Do you want someone to open a checking account or are you giving them a chance to rebuild their credit?  While the expression of that is most often nuanced in messaging and marketing pieces, the foundation of it starts within.  How do your employees talk about what you do and why you do it?  In most cases, the clients we work with have a strong sense of these values from the top of the organization on down, they just need to share it.

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Your market has a brand experience with you whether you manage it or not.

Every touchpoint you have with your target market makes an impression and says something about you.  From your website to your hold music, from your ATM screens to your apps, anything you have your name on is a reflection of your brand.  However, the same care isn't always taken on each channel to create an intentional, branded experience.  Some are heavily branded, while others are left to flounder.  The result is an inconsistent view of who you are, which drives skepticism in whether or not your target market can trust you (Forbes, 2016).  

One of the reasons may be that branding has been incorrectly reduced to visual guidelines, most readily expressed and easily updated on websites and other digital platforms.  Your brand is a reflection of who you are and what you stand for, which includes what you say and how you say it, just as much as what things look like.  Call scripts, guidelines for greeting those who walk in your branches, and policies for how you resolve a fee dispute all reflect your brand.  

Becoming a brand-centric organization requires a deep understanding and engagement from all stakeholders, internal and external.  Creating that kind of energy around your brand doesn't happen overnight; however, studies have shown companies can experience up to a 33% increase in topline revenues when they are able to present their brand consistently.   The work pays off.  

Let the data be your guide.

Your brand must reflect your values and will resonate with those who share the same values.  But do you know what matters most to your target market?  Have you asked?  What a consumer or business client values likely isn't represented in their transactional data or in service call issue analysis.  If you aren't someone's primary financial institution, you're even missing a key part of that picture.

Rather than limiting yourself to core or operational data, consider adding surveys or qualitative research to develop a deeper understanding of your market's wants and needs, values and aspirations.  Seek to understand the perceptions they have of your brand, along with how various channels and experiences shape that perception.   When aligned with your internal views on who you are and why you are there to serve your market, the external perspective can help you to outline key areas of focus.

Like a recipe, you'll have a better understanding of the key ingredients and how much of each to incorporate in order to serve an amazing dish.  Some ingredients are overpowering, while others don't contribute much.  Knowing this can help you create a solid foundation that can be personalized to your customers' liking the more they engage with you.  Tastes change over time and vary among your target, making it important to seek out the data and conduct brand reviews as you grow.

Don't forget the ambiance.

Even the best food benefits from being served in a thoughtfully crafted environment.  Every detail of the space, courses that build upon one another, the service, the sounds and smells contribute to the experience, and this is no more true in dining than it is in financial services.  This is when branding is most successful.  All the details of an otherwise logical, rational experience like satisfying the physical need for food can elevate someone to taking an emotional journey worthy of a memory and a story.  Rather than simply servicing a loan, give your customer a moment to remember.

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Your brand and how you express it in your remote service, self service and in-person service environments has the potential to create a lasting impression on those you serve and become an inviting beacon to those you haven't reached yet.  You don't have to radically change your brand in most cases, you just have to be conscious of it and make sure you apply it consistently and authentically for all stakeholders.  And if you need to give those efforts a boost, seek out a partner who can help you determine the perfect pairings for your brand.