What’s your brand plan, Stan?

Becki Drahota

When it comes to brand value, the financial industry is and has been behind the curve for a while. In fact, compared to all major industries, banks have experienced the least growth in brand value over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see why:

  1. Storytelling without purpose. We (community banks) all got the memo about storytelling being the authentic way to illustrate a brand. But we made it all about us. There’s a difference between a testimonial and a story. Testimonials focus on platitudes. Stories focus on pain points, solutions and perspective. 
  2. Social spending without purpose. Being channel driven rather than outcome driven won’t yield traction or momentum in reaching marketing goals. Never use a channel just to “be there.” Consumers today know the difference between a ho hum B-roll “Happy St. Patrick’s” post and a personalized, useful and emotionally satisfying message.  
  3. Not answering why. I know. Your bank is friendly, and your people are your biggest asset. That’s great. It’s also an expectation that can be met at just about every bank everywhere. If your brand has nothing stronger to stand on, or for, than that, you’re in the middle of the road. As many a deer can attest, that’s not a place you want to be. 

So where do you and your bank brand need to be in 2021? In 2016, the Deloitte Center for Financial Services prognosticated potential scenarios for the financial industry in the decade to come. In addition to things that have already materialized, e.g. lending without deposits and security without privacy, choice without brands was one of their “maybe it could happen” concepts. And there is some data supporting this direction. 

Because social mission and vision have become more outward-facing determinants in choosing a financial resource, the first thing you need to do is get your bank’s heart and pocketbook headed in the same direction. Aligning time and money with a specific passion is a pretty darn compelling “why.” 

The second thing to do is build and measure trust. The avalanche of misinformation on social media and the internet as a whole has spawned a tech backlash where fact-checking will be a very real issue surrounding all posts, and small hiccups can be magnified exponentially. So get the facts: Ask what “trust” means to your mission-critical customers. Then do those things and constantly pulse-check to stay on track. 

Third, avoid roadblocks. Unlike loan review, branding invites reaction and response from everyone with a pulse. Branding is not a democracy, where everyone gets an equal vote. Because of their exposure to the bank at all levels, it must be leadership driven. In addition, committees are the bane of time-to-market branding decisions. (Remember relevance?) Keep your decision-maker list small. And make sure you have data that supports what you’re doing — and why. 

Ready? Go get ’em, Stan! Forge ahead with these guiding lights: 

Get C-Suite brand commitment so you have role models for your team. At Mills, we live with the daily litmus test of “Smart. Bold.” If what we’re doing isn’t answering either of those doorbells, we stop doing it. 

Make sure your corporate philanthropy is compatible with your corporate philosophy. Spend more money on several meaningful initiatives with a higher ROI than giving away a little money to a lot of causes for a low ROI. 

Don’t cut corners. Your bank’s brand should be able to span 20 to 30 years (longer than a lot of marriages) so make the investment in time and money to do it right.


Marketing Junkie is produced by Mills Marketing and encompasses the collective wisdom of our highly-trained, highly-opinionated and highly-caffeinated financial marketing team.