Community banks are special. Each is a unique, organic organization, with its own strengths, people, relationships, and ties to it’s customers and community. Their executives are comfortable with the idea of building a scalable, portable business around people and relationships. Capturing this people | relationship idea in a unique brand, and executing it as part of your business strategy is key to a long-lasting and profitable brand.
Sometimes community banks fall into the trap of viewing building a brand as window dressing. When this happens, it is difficult to engage the entire organization in brand improvement and implementation. But a well conceived and implemented brand—one that accurately reflects your core personality and long-term business objectives—can be as much of an asset as bricks can mortar. In fact, here are six business benefits to building and maintaining strong brands.
1. Smart product development. An important part of branding in this industry is the discovery process of understanding who you are, what you’re good at, and who your best customers have always been. Knowing this helps you make good decisions about what kinds of product to develop. It’s basically a matter of looking at what you’re good at delivering, what your most profitable customers use and enjoy, and what might benefit them (and people like them). So, maybe it’s a high-tech DDA. Maybe it’s a service of some sort. In any case, a well conceived brand can be a guide in deciding among product concepts and avoiding guess work in creating your feature set.2. Smart prospect cultivation. If you know who your current customers are—demographically, psychographically, and behaviorally—it simplifies the process of targeting new prospects. The digital marketing firm, Hubspot, speaks of “prospect personnas.” These are story-based descriptions of the people you want to reach with your product. What are your customers’ stories? Are there others like them?
3. Smart community involvement. Unlike other industries, community bank brands tend to be built around specific individuals or groups of individuals. Often, these people and their predecessors have built the organization’s community reputation around their personal interests—a church, Boy Scouts, a service organization, a cause, a passion, such as the arts. It was a matter of being active and engaging with people who are similarly active. These individual human affinities come naturally in the early days of a bank. It is important to capture them as part of the brand, so that they can be used to focus community involvement efforts (and spending).
4. Smart hiring and training. Part of service branding is a matter of documenting key attitudes, best practices, and “brand manners.” These elements can easily be translated into human aptitudes and attributes for which you can recruit, test, and train. Once again, this is usually a matter of intuition when you are expanding from a payroll of ten to a payroll of fifteen. Eventually, the scope of the enterprise makes it helpful to document the people strategy. Branding is a priceless asset in this.
5. Smart business expansion. Almost all business want to grow. This can only be accomplished through more customers or more revenues per customer. A well-executed brand strategy help you on both counts. By targeting people who connect with your brand personality, customer on-boarding becomes a much simpler proposition. People are more loyal to strong, consistent brands than to weak or inconsistent brands. Just look at Starbucks. So, just as strong branding helps you prospect intelligently, it also helps you build a loyal base of multi-service customers. Also, as you look to expand through branch locations, new communities, mergers, and acquisition, you brand strategy can help you select locations (what areas have similar qualities to my most profitable current locations?) and M&A prospects (what other institutions have similar personalities to ours?).
6. Production cost controls. The cost of creating and producing bank marketing materials can be enormous. Branding can help you control these costs by eliminating redundancy, streamlining decisions, automating re-orders of standard items, selecting materials (such as paper stocks) strategically, gaining economies of scale. Work with your designers to select a paper that achieves the brand look and feel, but that is not overly expensive. Develop elements such as photography palettes, design formats, templates, and shells. Schedule major collateral to run in batches, so that you can gang printing orders.
Branding, done correctly, can create huge strategic and financial benefits. These six are just good examples. It is hardly an exhaustive list. When you get together with your executive team, it might be fun and profitable to brainstorm all the ways your brand could be benefiting you. Get all the smart brains in the room. Marketing. MCIF. Business lenders. Financial advisers. CSRs and branch managers. You might be surprised how much profit you can wring out of what many think of as pure expense.