The banking industry faces unique opportunities when marketing to its customers. As consumer preferences evolve and new channels emerge, bankers must consider how branches fit into their distribution networks. While profitability and risk management remain top priorities, banks that made an investment toward differentiating their brand have found a return in the form of higher employee satisfaction, stronger customer loyalty and positive reputation in the community.
When my financial institution — Tri Counties Bank (TCB), a community organization with a 36-year history of banking in Northern California — sought to build an environment in which members could develop personal relationships with their banking representatives, we had a challenge ahead of us. After almost 40 years of organic growth, our branches were cluttered and our message was muddled. Posters and seasonal campaigns were plastered all over the walls.
Furthermore, mobile and online banking are experiencing their own industry growth and popularity, and average branch transaction volumes have declined by 25 percent during the past five years. Despite this, branch-based new account sales have increased slightly, and more than 95 percent of new accounts are still opened in the traditional branch channel, according to Bancography. This information presented further incentive for us to invest in our branches — both traditional and in-store — as part of an integrated approach to customer service.
Our mission was clear, and what began with a conversation at a tradeshow about outdated facilities resulted in a transformative brand clarification exercise for our bank. Our evolution started with a team of architectural, retail, digital engagement and content creation experts — all focused on creating an environment that fostered conversations and connections. One focused on relationships, not transactions.
The result was a "people"-oriented space, designed around forging a connection and creating an authentic community-focused environment. Unique, hand-picked content designed to reflect the history, experiences, celebrations and collective community memories are displayed on a matrix of four 46-inch screens throughout the branch. This content includes images of historical landmarks through time, nostalgic quotes about and from famous residents of Northern California, photos of current community members and more. TCB and its team developed and displayed throughout the day a sequence containing more than 1,600 images that unfold for 13 hours without repetition, so that the "day in the life" show literally coincides with a day in the life of the particular bank branch. A robust content management system allows branches to easily customize the experience depending on the season, current events or other key timeliness factors.
"Tri Counties Bank had an opportunity to not only strengthen their brand, but through well-placed and thoughtful technology implementation, be better positioned to foster a sense of community," said Andy Austin, president, Digital Engagements, EWI Worldwide, which designed and delivered the digital engagement program. "Tellers and bank representatives became more empowered by the new content, which helped as conversation starters with customers, helping deepen the relationship and inspire loyalty."
As a result of creating hyper-local content and an experience that reflected the individual communities the branches served in Northern California, the bank and its branches were able to deepen existing relationships and establish new ones. Anecdotally, the content was also met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from both members and the bank's own 700 employees.
TCB was not alone as it faced a new chapter in its history — many institutions, both big and small, are facing similar challenges. The less branded your organization, its products and services are, the more you will be forced to compete on price. Conversely, the more branded something is, the more you can charge and the wider the profit margin. While digital is sometimes seen as a challenge and perhaps an out-of-reach investment, banks should consider how the intersection of technology and live interactions can provide a dynamic platform to differentiate themselves, tell their unique story — and in the process win the hearts, minds, and a bigger wallet share of their customers.
"A brand is the ideas, the memories, and the feelings evoked every time someone thinks of you. When those mental pictures make the associated product or service more relevant, more interesting, or more compelling than the alternatives, they create real value." — Harvard Business Review
Christian Burke is the creative services manager of Tri Counties Bank. Tri Counties Bank is a community organization with a 36-year history of banking in Northern California. Operating 34 traditional branches and 27 in-store branches in 23 California counties, Tri Counties Bank touches a broad number of community members. This broad reach, in addition to a diversified line of products and services, facilitated a need to create a space in its newest bank lobbies that reflected and celebrated the community while it waited to speak to bank representatives. Burke is a graduate of California State University-Chico.
Burke will lead the Industry Discussion Group "VT7 Banking & Financial" from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. Feb. 28 at Digital Signage Expo 2013 in Las Vegas.
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