Let’s be honest about the dark art of “branding” in the financial industry: it’s usually a big waste of time.

Now I can hear graphic designers, ad agencies and marketing directors screaming about that comment.

But it’s the truth — at least the way most financial institutions approach branding.

Typical branding campaigns focus on the graphic identity — logos, fonts, design and colors. Sometimes it’s a labored, lengthy pursuit of the just-right image, the perfect Pantone shade and just the ideal brand typeface. Other times, it’s a tweak here, a refresh there… and viola! You’ve got yourself an exciting “new brand” for the bank.

Only you haven’t.

“Marketing directors spend far too much time playing dress-up and too little time improving customer experiences.”

Graphical manipulation is the most superficial and least effective branding tool around. Have you ever visited a bank because they changed their logo? Of course not!

Putting lipstick on the proverbial pig doesn’t make it a prom queen. Even after a makeover, it’s still a pig.

Marketing directors spend far too much time playing dress-up and too little time improving customer experiences — the most powerful and long-lasting influences on brand reputation.

Kiosk & Display | Digital Merchandising for Financial Institutions

Brands are built through customer interactions which collectively define the bank. The bank’s values and its personality build the brand. Treatment of customers, interactions with organizations, product offerings, leadership, and the people we hire are the critical factors shaping a bank’s brand. Relationships, however brief, provide more substance than a logo.

But it’s easier to tweak a logo than shave 30 seconds off a teller transaction. It’s more fun to look at graphic design concepts than to investigate why debit card activations are low.

Consumers judge banks against a series of service and process benchmarks. Is my bank friendly, helpful and attentive? Does my bank understand who I am and what I want?Interactions shape an image to a far greater extent than shiny new ads and snappy tag lines.

Many marketing directors focus on communications instead of marketing.

Marketing and marketing communications are two very different things. Marketing is the set of activities between listening to customers and delivering what they want (profitably); the focus is on service delivery. Communications, on the other hand, focuses on message development and delivery via ads, emails, logos, social media, logos, etc. It’s a subset of marketing. Both are important, but in these tumultuous times when the number of banks is declining each year, financial institutions need substance not fluff.

The very definition of banking is changing. Is a pre-paid card with no link to a bank account sold by a retailer with no bank charter and used to make purchases considered a banking transaction? Is a bank with no physical office still a bank? At its core, we must ask fundamental marketing questions: How do we keep and attract market share as competition increases and consumer behaviors change? What niche will foster sustainable growth? How do we transition from the labor-intensive, pre-digital era to the new environment?

The answer lies less with communicating, than with listening. Less tweaking of logos, and more tweaking of products, services and online convenience. This is a more difficult challenge, but it’s the only way community-based institutions can save themselves.

Someone has moved our niche, now we have to find it.

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