Inside every branch, you should create three tiers of marketing messages: brand-level, semi-permanent product signage, and campaign promotional locations.

Every year, fewer and fewer people set foot in branch lobbies. Between now and 2022, lobby traffic is expected to drop 36%, and the typical consumer will visit a branch only four times a year.

Nevertheless, lobby visitors still represent the best opportunity for selling additional products because they are both engaged and loyal. Yet few institutions have a formal strategy to capture their business.

Until recently, Liberty Bank for Savings, a $850-million institution in Chicago, probably managed the placement of lobby posters, signs and brochures like most other banks and credit unions, which is to say there was no strategy. It was totally willy nilly.

Ultimately we had to concede that there is actually extensive science behind the placement of marketing messages in branches, so we hired an expert to help us maximize sales to this diminishing yet highly desirable customer segment.

We retained Laurence Minsky, Professor of Advertising at Columbia College Chicago, and a specialist on in-store marketing and cross-channel communications to review the lobby environment at each branch and recommend a signage strategy.

A prolific author of marketing textbooks, including The Activation Imperative and Audio Branding, his experience with clients such as McDonald’s, PetSmart, and United States Postal Services, among others, brought a valuable retail perspective. For financial institutions, Minsky has identified the following goals for lobby signage:

  • Deliver the right message, in the right place, at the right time
  • Help visitors efficiently fulfill the purpose of their visit
  • Convey valuable information that advances their financial objectives
  • Express the organization’s brand (for Liberty Bank, that includes positioning that’s approachable, helpful, friendly, warm, and community-oriented)
 

Minsky says successful messaging is based on recognizing the frame of mind customers bring to the bank. Visitors come to execute a specific task. They enter with a low level of anxiety and are focused on achieving a goal. As they get closer to completing their task, they start to relax and become receptive to product information. When leaving, retailers should leave them with a positive message

For Liberty Bank, Minsky conducted a photographic audit of our branch lobbies. The audit was a bit embarrassing, revealing a haphazard placement of signage. Instead of messages coordinated to the consumer’s journey, there was a random series of assaults on the eye. Upon entering, visitors were greeted with a bulletin board bearing a dozen community notices — hardly a “helpful, friendly, warm” atmosphere. Take a few more steps and posters shouted out conflicting messages about insurance, mortgages and interest rates. While waiting for a teller, electronic screens and brochure racks promoted a variety of products. The exit path was littered with random messages, too. Visitors walked past security advisories and checking brochures (why?). Signage was different at each branch office. And sometimes, there was no signage at all.

Minsky’s solution was to match messages with the consumer’s mindset at each point in the journey. As they took steps to complete their transaction, Minsky said visitors should receive messages that reflected their changing frame of mind, which started with “anxiety” and ended with “satisfaction and receptivity.” Big box retailers have been using this same kind of “zone strategy” to place messages, highlight sale items and locate products for decades.

In a banking environment, when someone enters the branch, they should be welcomed; it’s a good opportunity to remind them of the organization’s brand and promise. Minsky recommended we place a narrow graphic ribbon displaying corporate logos, colors and tagline at handle-level across the doors. This introduces the Liberty brand. It also brings some continuity to otherwise architecturally diverse branch designs.

Inside the doors, a welcome sign conveys a friendly, warm greeting. Further inside, directional signage clearly identifies the teller line and various departments so the customer isn’t in limbo and knows how to complete their transaction.

At the teller line and waiting areas, where customers are in a less anxious and more receptive state of mind , TV screens, brochures and posters should display coordinated messages about promoted products. This is where customers are more open to cross-selling, or at least setting the questions to inspire customers to ask about other products that address their financial needs.

The final message should be upbeat, reinforcing visitors that the brand promise was fulfilled and inviting them to come back.

By showing empathy to your customer needs at each stage of the visit, you are communicating that you understand them, creating a halo effect for all of your products and services, implying that they address their needs as well. After all, combined, all of these message steps tell a story about the brand and how you fulfill on your promise. So, why not conduct an in-store messaging audit today and see what kind of story – consistent or confusing – your signage is telling about your brand, services, and products. The results might be surprising.

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