High Caliber Branding
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Time for bank brands to get comfortable with The S-Word.

“I’m pulling my money out of the market. I can’t take it any more. I’m content to put it in the bank and get my 1-2% back. At least I know what I’m dealing with.” 
– Father of two, interviewed on ABC7 News, Chicago

There, in that brief snippet of man-on-the-street insight, I realized that the most of intelligent of banks need to embrace what they do best (usually): Provide a relatively safe investment that don’t have wild swings up and down.

That’s right. I’m talking about The S Word: Stability. 

I hate safe things when it comes to branding. I don’t mean taking stupid risks for shock value but playing it so safe that the brand has no emotional meaning to anyone. That’s not what I’m suggesting here either. What I am suggesting is that, regardless of size, there is an opportunity to convey a safe haven of comfort, ease, peacefulness, clarity…a knowing what you’ve got where you’ve got it. A contentment with not necessarily being rich but being comfortable – and the confidence that goes with that knowing.

Banks that convey percentages and rates aren’t capturing that message at all. But there is plenty of room for the bank that essentially says, “we hear you and know you want a safe place to park some assets for the next 6 months, 1 year, 2 years. And here’s why we’re the place you should do it, beyond just what you might have with us in checking.”

Free checking? Eh. Banks that talk in terms of “free” aren’t digging deep enough either. Think beyond the products themselves and remember the real reason someone might come to your institution for emotional purposes. There is emotion in wanting to be stable, is there not? In times like this, don’t you have customers who just want the goal of being able to pay their bills and keep their heads above water? Of course you have those people. Don’t pretend that you don’t. Instead, embrace them. Let them know you understand they’re getting their rear ends handed to them and you want to provide pieces that slowly let them put their money in safer places where they won’t get burned. Forgive my bluntness, but really, when was the last time you stepped out from behind the teller window and lived in your audience’s shoes?

“We’re lending” promises? Come on. You and I both know that a bank can say they’re lending until the cows come home but there’s a boatload of people who can’t qualify for loans like they used to. So why offer something that more likely than not is going to end in rejection? That won’t do wonders for your brand.

Banks have even more of an opportunity with the “stability” message not only in contrast to the market but in terms of other institutions that perhaps aren’t playing nice with the consumer, jacking up rates on them without their knowledge. The World’s First Honest Bank. There’s something to shoot for.

I’m not talking about the tools to convey this just yet. So don’t put the cart before the horse and send your mind racing into potential TV spots or social media efforts. We’re just talking strategic positioning. But this is so important to nail down first.

Money market accounts and CDs aren’t the types of things that immediately cause investors to salivate with glee. But that’s OK. I’m not talking about the fellow in the nice suit who drives a Jaguar and lives in the penthouse in Streeterville. The audience I’m talking about is different.

I’m talking about a redefinition of the American Dream according to your Average Joe Customer, who over the last couple years has been hit where the sun doesn’t shine. I want you to give some serious thought to what the American Dream means to that person.

To that person, the American Dream isn’t about owning their own business. It’s isn’t about “owning a vineyard” (as Schwab pokes fun of and is seemingly one of the few financial brands to grasp the voice of the “real” customer). It isn’t about taking a vacation to some far off country. Or buying a boat.

You want to know what The American Dream for them entails? Wrap your head around this:
Paying the bills on time.
Building the savings account slowly back up.
Being able to make repairs on the car today vs. tomorrow.
Buying groceries for the family without having to trim the list heavily.
Making the mortgage payments.
Being able to go out to dinner with a friend without making up an excuse.
Not even being debt-free, because that may not be realistic, but simply carrying less debt.

REAL stuff. Stuff that makes people feel like people again. It’s a large segment of our population that needs to be addressed but really isn’t. Because the message can’t come in the form of rates, percentages and products. It’s got to be a message that shows you’ve been listening and aren’t oblivious to their challenges.

That’s not as glamorous as the standard retirement images of the couple sunning themselves on Hilton Head, I know. But it’s real. With what our economy is giving us (or should I say isn’t giving us), people are yearning more than ever to just be on an even keel with life. And the bank brand that shows how the path is paved through their road of Stability is the one that wins.

Is yours ready to be one of them?