During a recent project for Gateway Bank, we conducted some competitive research on other banks to see what they look, sound, and feel like. The results were lackluster and disappointing. One would think that with tons of money at stake, banks would work hard to differentiate themselves and create positive experiences for their customers…but unfortunately, we found the opposite to be true. So instead of huffing and puffing about how uninspiring the industry is, we thought we’d put our money where our mouth is and share some advice on how to market a bank, improve your branding, and create a compelling customer experience.
Decades ago, banks were figures in the community, where the staff knew everyone by name and spent time hearing about their customers’ lives before getting down to business. People put unconditional trust in their bank and saw it as an extension of their town, not just a business that wanted to take their money and run.
Over the years, the economy improved (along with personal wealth), and people began keeping more and more of their money at banks instead of under the mattress. This growth led to many banks turning into insatiable giants that paid too much attention to money and not enough on the people behind those dollars. Product and service offerings expanded, staff grew to mammoth proportions, and the overall experience began to feel cold and robotic compared to its humble beginnings in small-town America.
Like many industries that face increasing competition, banks began to get watered down, and eventually, everyone seemed to look and sound the same. The recent recession didn’t help the situation, as banks faced a confidence crisis, causing them to try even harder to gain people’s trust and business.
The banks that have ended up on top are the ones that focus on things that are different, important, and create the best experience possible for their customers.
Visual and verbal trends
With gobs of banks using similar color palettes, stock photography, confusing product names, and bland messaging, it can be hard to tell how they’re different. Here are some examples of visual and verbal trends that you’ll see throughout the industry:
- Corporate, “professional” colors, like blue, grey, and white
- Stock photos with smiling people, retirees, and families
- Bold and masculine fonts
- Squares, circles, and other geometric shapes
- Crowded, clunky websites that make it difficult to find what you need
- Home page promos and deals
- Lots of long menus, drop-downs, and tabs
- Names with “America,” “Nation,” or the state in it
- Bland, inauthentic messaging
- Lots of corporate jargon and disclaimers
- Large amounts of text
- Confusing product and service names (e.g., What is “Opportunity Checking”?)
- Emphasis on trust, security, rates, and fees
- Complicated ways to contact the bank (1-800 numbers, anonymous contact forms, etc.)
- Few references to differentiators
Banks aren’t showing or talking about what makes them different or giving people a reason to choose them over others.
Most banks have fallen into the common branding trap of doing the exact same thing as everyone else. They’re afraid of alienating people or losing customers because they’re zigging when everyone is zagging, but in reality, all it’s doing is creating a sea of sameness. Almost all bank experiences have become a necessary hassle instead of an enjoyable treat.
This approach makes it harder to attract customers and even more difficult to keep them. Here are some tips on how to do things differently and create a better experience.
How to market your bank, improve your branding, and design a positive customer experience
- Use friendlier language to create an emotional connection. Even the most hardcore number-crunchers are crunching those numbers for emotional reasons. They’re looking for relationships and a human connection. Embrace the psychology behind your customer’s decisions to get an edge over competitors who are focused on listing objective features and numbers.
- Don’t talk about trust, security, ethics, integrity, or professionalism. These things are defaults, and people already expect them. Characteristics shared with competitors don’t have much marketing value because everyone else is claiming the same. Likewise, if the customer doesn’t really care about a particular trait, it doesn’t matter if it’s unique or not. Find the sweet spot (important and different), and promote those traits.
- Focus on things that are unique and important. Everyone is talking about the same things, so dig deeper and talk about what really makes you different. Do you offer a product or service no one else does? Do you have a customer service style that is unique from everyone else’s? Are you involved in the community or some other special initiative? Talk about it!
- Include photos of real employees and customers. Real photos give customers insight into the people behind the scenes and create a more personal experience.
- Emphasize relationships over prices and rates. Price-sensitive customers tend to produce low profit margins and can be easily lured away. Loyal customers are usually more willing to pay more and are more likely to refer other customers to you in the future.
- Dig in to your website analytics. Don’t make website decisions based off assumptions or opinions. Find out how people are actually using your site, what pages they’re most interested in, where they’re getting lost or confused, and how you can better structure your site to get them the information they need.
- Create a responsive website. People are going mobile, but developing an entirely separate mobile website or app requires a significant amount of time and money. Instead, consider designing a responsive website that automatically adjusts to different devices and browsers. (Take a look at how we did this for Gateway Bank for an example of how responsive websites work.)
- Keep the experience consistent on the phone, in person, and at all other touchpoints. The brand experience promised by the website, brochures, etc. should remain consistent in the way your staff members answer the phone, interact with customers face-to-face, resolve problems, etc. Make sure you provide staff training and align your internal culture with your external marketing efforts.
People are looking for refreshing and reliable alternatives, but banks just keep giving us the same ol’ same ol’. Use these suggestions to break free from the stereotypes and cliches, boost business, and give your customers an experience they’ll remember.
If you’d like to brainstorm more ideas on how to implement these tips or other ways to stand out, get in touch with us today.
Photo credit: Flickr Tracy_Olson