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How many brands does a community bank need?

There is no doubt that well conceived and well-executed brand strategies can be beneficial to community banks. And operational critical mass can be the key to profitability and growth. But sometimes banks create chaos on the brand side, through merger and acquisitions or brand expansion, in order to achieve critical mass on the operations side.

This can so complicate the life of folks concerned with bank marketing, that they find themselves using valuable time and money, just trying to make all the brands work together.

As M&A activity heats up, this is becoming a common problem for community banks—where building a brand might take fifty years, and where bank brands merge like oil merges with vinegar (you can do it, but it takes some shaking).

You start with two or three (or six) excellent community banks, scattered across a region. Some of them are decades old. They are beloved in their communities. And each has a unique brand personality and brand voice. Maybe a founder or key shareholder decides to retire. What do you do? You merge.

Now you have one bank, with two brand voices, two brand personalities, two product suites, two sets of customers, two sets of customer expectations. Sure, you have operational critical mass, and everybody knows the value of that, but you’ve created a branding landscape that could have come from Jackson Pollock.

Or maybe, you have the opposite situation. A senior executive at some point in the past fell in love with the idea of brands. Maybe he (or she) read a Wall Street Journal article about the vaunted Anheuser Busch beer strategy (a separate brand for each psychographic—women, yuppies, rugged individualists, rugged non-individualists, literary types, blue collar, bluer blues…), and decided we need a retail bank, a small business bank, a working mom’s bank, a family bank…etc., etc., etc.

Now, rather than investing in one messaging approach, you have to invest in five. Instead of developing one approach to key collateral, signage, media, you have to develop five.

One community bank tried to tame the brand Medusa by standardizing all of the “non-logo” elements. Theoretically, all that was needed was to develop the campaign and plop in the five logos. And it might have worked, except that each brand had slight differences in its product mix. So, each required slightly different regulatory disclaimers. Each had its own market executive, with his (her) own media preferences, so what was conceived as a radio and print campaign had to be stretched into an outdoor campaign—but only for one market.

Obviously, circumstances sometimes require that multiple brands live in the same house—for a time. But these circumstances should be temporary, and should be dealt with strategically. Starting with the umbrella strategy, you decide what the brand is going to be (it’s brand personality and mission). From there, you work from the top down—product strategy, pricing strategy, distribution strategy…people strategy—creating a best-of-breed brand strategy from the pieces of the multiple brands. You tell your audience what to expect. You devise your launch strategy. You get your ducks in a row. And when the day comes, you unveil the brand. Maybe its a new version of one of the existing brands. Maybe it’s a whole new thing, devised to be the umbrella over the old feathers of the phoenix.

Proctor and Gamble knows that there are good reasons for multiple-brand strategies. In the name of Tide, Cheer, Crest, and Gleam, far be it from us to disparage such a scheme. Clearly, each brand builds loyalty among it’s own unique set of devotees. Branding helps you retain customers—and as hard as a customer is to get, everyone should do everything we can to retain them.

But at some point, branding resources become strategic assets and not commodities. And an hour spend herding logos, offers, product features, and outdoor reps is an hour not spent developing guerrilla plans, community events, special offers, inbound marketing for banks, social, digital, and the hundred other things a marketing professional can be doing to build tomorrow’s core deposits.

So, to answer the initial question. One is great. The closer you can get to one, the better. One, well conceived, well-designed, well-executed brand…implemented like you’re mama’s apple pie—perfect every time!

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