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Something just doesn’t smell right about your community bank’s brand.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of seeing your brand as a person. The reason this is so important is that your customers, clients, prospects, competitors, and employees all think (feel) about your brand the way they think or feel about people. They use the same data receptors—eyes, ears, fingers, tongue, and nose—to gather information about your bank as they use to form attachments to their spouse, children, parents, and others.

As you develop your brand, it’s important to begin by establishing strategic elements springing from the business model and company history. This give you the foundation to build a brand personality and brand character. These elements begin to give people something with which to form an emotional connection, when they interact with your brand. This will differentiate your brand on a whole other level—an emotional level—that will begin to turn customers into fans, and fans into evangelists. But, you must be consistent and persistent.

Just as you have certain clothing, actions, manners, vocabulary, voice, preferences, and even a personal smell (perhaps a favorite fragrance), by which people come to know you, so should your brand appeal to all of the senses. And, just as your friends and family would be put off, maybe even creeped out, if you suddenly started wearing different clothes, talking with different words, eating different foods, and smelling different ways, so your customers can become confused when your brand is inconsistent.

A complete brand system should include a total sensory palette. Every element should spring from the personality and character of the brand. They all should work together. And each should be used consistently, every time. Here are a couple of thoughts on the senses, as they apply to branding:

Vision. It is obvious that you have to include color, shape, spacial relationships, proportion, type, light, and photography elements in any complete brand system. However, the visual space is the most crowded of all. And it becomes more crowded all the time. Consumers depend on their eyes for both aesthetic sensation and for gathering practical data collection. This is why a brand that depends exclusively on vision (the fallacy of logo as brand) rarely achieves much traction.

Hearing. This is the sensory alarm clock. Auditory branding is very effective for a number of reasons. First of all, it is not nearly as crowded as visual branding. Secondly, a signature sound or piece of music helps consumers interpret visual information. At the primal level, people give priority to sounds, so consumers will actually register a sound before they register the picture that comes with it, even if they both arrive on the screen at precisely the same moment. Sound is a mnemonic stimulator. So, a signature sound associated with your brand will actually trigger a response that tells your brain to remember. And finally, music establishes mood. The very same visual can go from funny, to poignant, to silly, to eerie…just by changing the music. So, well-conceived brand voice, music and sounds, that authentically communicate the brand’s personality, used consistently, can help people develop deep feelings and lasting memories of your brand.

Touch. Use of materials communicate value and functionality. For example, I have a brass-barreled pen. It looks similar to many pens you would buy for just a few dollars at a stationary store. But when you hold my pen in your hand, the weight and surface texture tell you that it is a serious writing instrument.

Smell. Smell is the least editable sense. If there’s a smell, you are going to smell it. It is also the sense most closely linked to emotional memory. When you smell…say…apple pie, you will (without really being able to help it) be transported to previous occasions in which you smelled apple pie. And, what’s more, you will feel again the feelings you had on those occasions. This quality makes smell a powerful tool in the hands of smart marketers. People like Starbucks, Cadillac, Singapore Airlines, and Victoria’s Secret have used brand smell deftly to build awareness and loyalty.

As you begin to install your service strategy within your community bank branding system, you can seat those significant actions deeply into the emotional memory of your customers, simply working an an environment that smells right—consistent with your brand character and consistent from location-to-location and from time-to-time.

Relationship selling for bankers is a big deal. We are moving into a market environment in which things like technology and product features are easily imitated—they are becoming commodities. Now, more than ever, bankers must be relationship sales professionals. But, if bankers can be branders, then you can use sensory components of your brand system to turn routine courtesy and professionalism into deeply held beliefs about your organization. If you want to succeed in the new world (where loyalty is rare), it will certainly help to make sure that your brand looks, sounds, and smells just right.

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