Since the very beginning of community banking, these home-grown institutions have enjoyed a distinct advantage over a vast number of financial institutions. Historically, community bank customers have lived near their branch locations and felt a strong personal connection to the bank and its brand. Not anymore.
How financial institutions rely on brand value
Like any product or service category, bank brands rely on brand loyalty; now more than ever. Today, choosing a bank seems hardly different from walking down a supermarket aisle and choosing a cereal, toothpaste, or detergent. As far as banks go, there’s little to no difference between the products nor the ingredients that go into them. The one viable difference between them though, is feeling. This feeling is what drives brand loyalty, and it’s all made made possible by branding.
Why branding is particularly challenging in 2022
For starters, technology has all but eliminated the word “community” from “community bank.” Cultivating an attractive brand experience was easy back in the days when that brand experience was almost exclusively in-branch. Those days are gone, but thanks to technology, banking customers not only enjoy a greater number of choices, but the expectations now rest on the banks for a better and more personalized customer experience.
More choices, of course, are the result of increased mobility and online banking, where the customer is no longer limited to the institutions nearest them. Mobile apps for financial products and services are going live almost weekly and are extremely attractive to time-pressed customers who can research options with little to no effort. Everything they need is readily available and it’s easier than ever to select a bank without ever stepping into a branch.
With this increased mobility thanks to online banking, brand loyalty has taken on a greater importance, as well as a greater challenge, for many community banks; a challenge that was intensified by the 2020 pandemic and persists today. Due to the drastic improvement and application of technological features and functionality, driven by machine learning and AI and apparent in other sectors such as healthcare (i.e. telemedicine and online appointment scheduling), customers now have heightened expectations when it comes to personalized service.
Address them both with a more personalized experience
Jill Castilla, CEO of Citizens Bank of Edmond, OK, had this to say last July in How Community Banks Can Stay Relevant in the Face of a Digital Assault. Consumer banks must “strive to maintain a personal touch with those they serve,” she said. “As a community bank, we know our customers and make ourselves available when they need us,” she says. “One of our values at Citizens is to be authentic and accessible.” During the pandemic, she recalls the community suffering. “We could truly empathize with our neighbors and respond quickly to assist them in challenging times. This kind of response just doesn’t happen at the larger banks. Our customers trust us to have their best interest in mind.”
That “best interest” is the feeling we talked about earlier, the one you might get from an otherwise just-like-every-other product in the detergent aisle. Some call it a brand pillar, which we can perhaps talk about in a later blog. For now, suffice to say that it’s one of the aspects of your brand that, potentially, sets you apart from that sea of competitors. And it’s much more than just a personalized digital banking experience. It’s a personalized experience across every channel.
“Don’t change that channel!” Well, perhaps you should.
First came multichannel marketing, then, omnichannel. What’s the difference? The multichannel approach focused on sharing a brand's message with customers across multiple channels, or media, with the goal of a customer call-to-action. An omnichannel approach had a slightly different goal, one to create a more personalized message by using data to better understand the consumer and integrating all of the channels to communicate the message. Now, there’s microchannel.
The microchannel approach to building a brand takes omnichannel a step further by slicing consumer touch points into smaller pieces... micro pieces. In the ever-evolving digital world, in order to truly communicate your brand effectively demands a focus on creating an experience “fabric”, one that enables you to meet the consumer wherever they are. With this fabric, you can create a cohesive experience across all of your brand touch points; from community events and traditional media such as print and broadcast to web presence and social media. Using data and analytics, you can make this fabric seamless, so that the consumer moves through the journey without interruption; there’s no “starting over.” Think of microchannel marketing as the digital doors through which the consumer can enter and experience your brand.
If you’re thinking of branding and a personalized banking experience only in terms of online services and mobile apps, you’re missing the bigger picture. Today’s technology can, yes, create a feeling of alienation. But, utilized properly, it can also build connections and relationships. That’s what community banks must continue to do, especially when they can no longer rely on building those relationships in traditional ways.
About Bank Marketing Center
Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit BankMarketingCenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.