I unearthed this photo just recently (yes, it’s yours truly!) and it got me thinking… about a time when we really did enjoy a sense of community and when a community bank was truly a community bank. Just for the heck of it, I thought I’d do a bit of research. I went out on the web and did a bit of community bank website surfing. Here are some examples of what I found:
"At (Bank name here), building relationships with customers is at the center of all we do.”
“At (Bank name here), we only have two goals. To help you meet your financial goals and to be a valued member of the communities we serve.
“For over a century, (Bank name here)’s mission has not wavered…total commitment to our customers and our communities.”
“Community is our middle name.”
“What’s wrong with that?” you say. After all, they’re community banks, right? Well, yes and no.
Other than what seemed like a perfunctory tip of the hat to the idea of community, I could not find anything on their websites to support their claim of “being a valued member of the community,” or “striving to develop personal, hometown relationships.” What I did see was a lot of products, services, and claims about great service and great rates. Granted, I certainly didn’t view every community bank website on the world wide web, but of those that I did, they were all very similar in the way they presented themselves and their level of commitment to the community. Now, that’s not to say that there’s not a single bank out there that’s living up to its promise of being a community bank. I think Citizens Bank of Edmond is one of those that does a great job of it.
Now, I don’t pretend to have the answer. I wish I did. Greater banking industry minds than mine have been working on this for a long time. They’ve stepped up their efforts recently, of course, because of technologies (ie the “digital transformation''), the changes in the ways that people bank, and the expectations they now have of service providers. Whether you’re selling apparel, detergent, soft drinks, automobiles, or car loans, you’re in a tough spot; especially if you’re a brick and mortar business. And, yes, although we can thank COVID for hastening the transition, the consumer switch “from in line to online” has been in the making since the internet was invented.
While I may not have a silver bullet when it comes to how brick-and-mortar community banks can thrive in a digital age, I do know this; simply saying something doesn’t make it so. I’ve learned this not only after many years in the branding business, but also after many years as a plain old consumer. It is one of the basic tenets of brand marketing. You’ve got to “walk the walk, talk the talk” as we say in the marketing world. Another age-old adage that applies? “Always underpromise and overdeliver.” And I just don’t see community banks making that happen.
“So, what can they do, instead?” you’re probably asking. Again, I wish I had the answer. I do know that simply paying lip service to being a true community bank, isn’t it.
Here’s a thought and you’re welcome to throw rocks at it: Make your website more than just a banking services brochure that slips in a mention or two of “community.” Make it a resource for the community that goes beyond what you do as a bank. Be more than a bank.
Remember those days when you could count on your local paper to report on the latest goings-on in your community? You’d get the high school football game scores, the dates and locations of upcoming Rotary Club meetings, tips from local folks on cooking and gardening… maybe even an article about the recent 4H livestock show and how one of the local young men was lucky enough to take home some blue ribbons in the cattle showmanship competition. Perhaps the article might even include a photo of the boy showing off his ribbons and his award-winning, 1000-pound steer!
Okay, well, back to the present… The reality is that you can buy a CD or open a checking account at a lot of places. It’s relatively easy to get good financial advice, too. If I were a bank, there are a couple of things I might put on my site. First, I’d make a point of not just claiming to be involved in my community; I’d be involved. I’d sponsor charity events, support local causes, and do these in a big way. I’d make it a point to be as visible outside the branch as in. Maybe get with Junior Achievement and teach a money management course at the local elementary school.
Then I’d be asking myself, “what goes on in this community that people are interested in?” I’d find out what those are and engage people with them. Is your branch by the ocean? Incorporate weather and tide info. What’s biting, when, and where? Where can I get the best rigs? Then, somewhere on the site, I’d mention that I have financial service stuff that people might be interested in. Sound crazy? Maybe it is. But would trying something as crazy as this be better than watching your customers go elsewhere? I think so.
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As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.