A strong brand that delivers increases in small business profitability, referrals, and customer retention doesn’t have to take years to build. Here are five steps you can get started with today to increase your bank’s small business sales results.
A strong brand will accelerate your bank’s small business growth. Your goal should be to develop and maintain such strong top-of-mind awareness with small business customers, prospects and referral sources that they think of you either first or second when they need banking services or products you provide.
And if you think that “branding” is an advertising concept that only your bank’s marketing department can afford or think about, think again. No organization is too small to work on effective branding strategies.
Brand = a purposeful reputation
For example, when my family wants a cake for a special occasion, we think of only one place in our town, a small café called La Provence. Why? Robert (he’s French, so it’s Ro-BEHR) makes a cake that is so rich, so creamy, so enthusiastically bursting with chocolate, that we have served his cakes at dozens of birthdays, graduation celebrations and bridal showers.
Robert has developed a very strong brand with us. He has achieved top-of-mind awareness. When we think of happy occasions, we think cake — and when we think cake, we think Robert. It’s partially tangible (the cake) and partially experiential (the warm feelings associated with buying from him and eating his cakes). We will be happy consumers of many Robert cakes in the years to come — at more than $40 per cake, two to three times the standard cake price in local bakeries.
In the branding world, your brand is what’s there when small business owners answer the question “What’s really special?” about a particular bank. It is what small business owners can really count on you for. It is a bookmark for the warm feelings, trust, and good experiences that small business owners associate with you, your bank’s branch,, and your bank. It is the reason they recommend you to someone else.
Many businesses in my community have developed strong brands. Swedish Motor Works? Honesty — they won’t rip you off. Evergreen Financial? Thoughtful college tuition and financial aid planning so you can send your kid to the right school. Roger’s Home Repairs? They’re fast and neat and they don’t leave a mess in your house.
Five steps to starting today
Each of these businesses backed into a brand over a period of years through their day-to-day work and their owners’ personalities. Once they figured out what was really special about themselves, they talked about it, promoted it, and delivered it every time. But you don’t have to wait 10 years to develop a reputation and a following. You can accelerate the process by working through the following five steps:
- Targets — Who will be your most important clients or customers? If we use Roger’s Home Repair Company as an example, this is “upwardly mobile dual middle- to upper-middle income families who don’t have the time, patience or skills to perform home repair and maintenance projects themselves or to deal with contractors.”
- Value — Which of their problems will you solve? What joy and beauty will you bring? This is a point on which many bankers flounder. They think in terms of their products rather than the client problems they solve. Roger’s target customers think that contractors and repair people are unreliable (in terms of showing up on time), sloppy (they leave a mess), and semi-competent (repairs are not done right). So his value is “confidence” — Roger does the job right, on time, and with no mess afterwards. And for this, he charges nearly triple the going rate. He is not the low-cost solution.
- Special twist — What’s special about the way you, or your team, or your bank solves the problems or brings the joy? What will you do that other banks or bankers can’t or won’t? Your answer to these questions becomes the message in your local promotion and marketing. In Roger’s case, the twist is “one-stop shop” — he saves his clients time and aggravation because he does plumbing, painting, light carpentry, and general household electrical repairs. Other local companies don’t offer all this.
- Messaging — How will you stand out from other bankers or banks like yours? How will you prompt people to remember you when they need what your bank offers? Fill in the blank in this sentence: “Oh, yeah, that’s the bank that ______.” Or, “She’s the banker who ______.” For example, in Roger’s case, it’s his personality (he’s from New Zealand) and one of his favorite expressions, “no worries, mate.” In my town, if you’re in the hardware stores and you hear “no worries, mate,” you know it’s Roger.
- Visibility — How will you make your messages visible so people can see or hear them? How will you build your recognition factor? Here, you have two key decisions to make: how and how often. Your answers will depend on your target customers — where they are, what they look at, how they like to receive information, etc. Whatever you decide, use your messaging consistently and frequently in every visibility effort. This includes written communication (letters and emails),telephone calls and voice mails, and face-to-face meetings such as Chamber events, mixers, and sales calls.
Too much time and effort?
Does this sound like a lot of work you don’t have time for? Too much analysis when you should be out there getting more business? Maybe. But instead, ask yourself how can you afford not to put in the time to do it.
As you work, remember you’re investing to accelerate your bank’s small business growth. You are thoughtfully choosing, developing and maintaining such strong top-of-mind brand awareness with your prospective small business customers and referral sources that they think of you either first or second when they need the service or product you provide. You are reducing the months or years required to establish an identity and a reputation that brings business to you. You are accelerating your growth.
You can work your way through these steps in an hour the first time, although you may need to think about your conclusions for a few days or weeks as you talk to your small business customers and small business banking team members.
Finally, remember that you must deliver whatever you’ve promised. Your customers’ experiences with you must back up your brand. Your small business banking team members must understand your answers to these five questions; you must hire, coach and teach your employees to create a customer experience that is the brand. If you do, you’ll get the best visibility and acceleration possible: word-of-mouth referrals from delighted small business customers to their friends.
Nick Miller is president of Clarity Advantage, Concord, Mass., a firm that helps banks generate more profitable relationships faster with small- and medium-sized companies, their owners, and employees. He can be reached at email@example.com.