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The Courage To Stand Out

Banks in the Midwest deal with an interesting conundrum. The same conservative thinking that kept them out of hot water during the financial crisis that hit the United States a decade ago often causes them to play it safe in every other aspect of their business. The problem is that being safe in finances and management makes you fiscally responsible, but being safe in branding and marketing makes you ineffective.

It can be challenging to turn off that “take no chances” mentality when your job calls for it all day every day. Good bank leaders succeed by analyzing each variable, studying all the options and then choosing the most statistically predictable course of action. It’s good banking, and all of us wish that more of the nation’s financial giants used the same common sense approach instead of chasing the latest trends.

However, I can tell you these same methods can lead to “paralysis by analysis” when it comes to communication messages, and ironically, some of the common sense gets lost in the process. For example, creating an edgy TV commercial / YouTube video for a bank may get a lot of attention, causing thousands of customers and potential customers to chuckle or even say “That’s funny – I can’t believe they did that” while simultaneously causing fifty customers and potential customers to say “That’s dumb. Why did they do that?” When evaluated like the aforementioned financial decisions, that scenario is a win – thousands of impressions that caused a positive or curious reaction versus fifty impressions that were negative.

Unfortunately, the leaders at many hometown banks find themselves fixated on those 50 negative impressions. For some reason, they go from accepting the controlled risk of their banking decisions (every choice comes with risk after all) to insisting on zero risk in their branding decisions. Perhaps it is because making a bad loan comes with consequences, while holding a crazy promotion could lead to embarrassment. Bad loans come with paperwork and regulatory scrutiny, but it seems to be much worse to have someone in the grocery store say “great photo, Tom” and then laugh.

Let’s look at that last example closer. Did the person who teased Tom about his photo notice the ad? Yes (and that’s not easy nowadays). Will the person who teased Tom about the ad change banks because of it? Almost never. Most importantly, is that person who teased Tom a vocal minority? Probably. Yet bank after bank makes decisions based on the fear of that kind of reaction from a small number of people while ignoring the potential benefits of building the bank’s brand with a much larger number of potential customers.

The most successful bank brands combine smart financial decisions with compelling marketing choices, and that means taking chances once in a while. Are you ready to stand out from the other banks in your market that have similar rates and similar services? Then make sure your brand has the energy to make an impression. Give it a push once in a while and don’t panic if a few people get riled up. When you focus on the big picture, you’ll see big results.

Greg “Hal” Halliday is the president of Anchor Marketing, a branding and new media agency that specializes in successful differentiation and positioning. Anchor Marketing has spent nearly 20 years branding and marketing independent banks in Minnesota and North Dakota. Halliday is recognized as a Certified Financial Marketing Professional by the American Bankers Association. You can contact him via phone at 701-787-8230 or by email at halh@anchorwebsite.com.