Brand Merchandising for Community Banks and Credit Unions

A graphic wall designed by Solidus for New Hampshire Federal Credit Union.

What is the most effective way to reach consumers and drive up-selling?

This question is among the chief drivers of enhanced consumer experience. Today’s progressive banks and credit unions seek to uncover their customers’ needs and desires as accurately as possible, using everything from experience maps, to surveys, to focus groups. Retail banking is bursting with new ideas about how to cross-sell, grab customers attention and convey their institution’s value proposition succinctly. The general consensus is that “brand merchandising is the way forward”. But there’s a lot more to merchandising than a few branded racks adorned with colorful flyers, randomly placed about the branch.

Branded merchandise in a community bank in New England.

Brochures, brochures everywhere.

Branding and merchandising are two aspects of marketing/advertising that come under the purview of retail communications. Retail communications is a field unto itself, which has evolved and grown more specialized over time.

Retail Communications

Retail communications is the means by which a retailer informs consumers about products and services, with the aim to expand customer base and increase loyalty and profits. This can be achieved by printed, digital, or other means. Banks and credit unions deploy retail communications in their branches in various forms, including computer monitors and flat screen TV’s, as well as signage, posters and flyers. Without question there are opportunity costs for financial institutions that don’t consider retail communications an important element of their overall marketing strategy. It is in fact crucial to projecting the F.I.’s value and relevance, as well as its total multi-channel offering.

Communicating the Value Story. Branches have an ecology all their own. This comprises an organizational series of layers beginning with branch design. Branch design (as well as being efficient) should be geared tightly toward branding themes and customer experience. Branch ROI is completely dependent on this. The brand identities of banks and credit unions are becoming increasingly differentiated and these distinctions can be used to influence everything from branch furniture and wall/floor coverings, to the shape of molded kiosks and tech bars. When retail communications media promoting all of an institution’s business service lines are combined with these physical attributes, a powerful brand personality emerges. There is consistency. Customers feel they’re in trusted hands. Loyalty, brand advocacy, and an expanded customer base will follow.

Multimedia Retail Communications. As stated, a variety of digital, printed and other material can and should be employed to broadcast a branch’s available services. Not everyone prefers to view special offers and expanded services on a wall-mounted flat screen. Some people are more attentive to brochures and flyers. Others may be more inclined to notice posters, banners, or information positioned adjacent to places of activity, such as check desks. Ultimately, all of these different media combine to reinforce whatever messaging a bank branch or credit union may be promoting at any given time.

Customer Reminders and Personalization. Retail communications exists separately from the services and products themselves. In addition to in-branch reminders of when an offer expires, or its conditions, personal communications can be sent to customers’ mobile devices, computers and physical mailboxes. These media can also be used to inform customers about possibilities such as product bundling, customized services, and products related to those currently used or subscribed to.

Connex Credit Union transformed their Meriden branch.

Attractive flyers and technology combine to give the people what they want.

Branding

Branding is such a familiar term that it’s easy to forget just how important a brand strategy really is. A community bank or credit union’s brand represents everything about who you are and what you promise to deliver in terms of quality and service. The terms “brand” and “logo” are often used interchangeably, but a logo is really just one component of a company’s brand. Your brand is the totality of every thought, sensation, opinion, and experience a person has about your company. Your bank logo is a graphical symbol that embodies all the brand’s qualities in a single shape, pattern or character(s).

Branding and Customer Experience. Enhanced customer experience is the new grail for retail banking. Defining who your financial institution is as a brand and translating that into a physical branch, mobile banking apps, advertisements and a website is a process that requires close attention. Whether it’s a multi- or omni-channel approach there are several things a financial institution’s brand must do to ensure a positive, memorable encounter with customers:

  • Create an attractive, vivid logo that people will instantly associate with your institution.
  • Develop a tagline that briefly but clearly captures your brand’s intrinsic nature and/or function.
  • Produce a brand mission and incorporate its fundamental aspects in all your brand messaging.
  • Build authentic culture within your organization that believes in and is true to your brand always.
  • Generate a company voice or brand personality that communicates the “brand-image-as-character”.
  • Express the above in design of branches, apps, advertising, websites, issued cards, etc.
  • Think like a customer to understand why they chose your brand experience over your competitors.

 

Branding for financial institutions should be designed by professionals like Solidus.

Bankwell tech bar and beverage center, all branded up and ready to go.

A Brand is a Living Entity. Having already made reference to “branch ecology” I’ll state here that, in order to truly bring your brand to life, you have to find your niche. This is brand ecology rather than branch ecology, but the same layered principles apply; for your company to be the very best of its type, you want it to be as viable as possible, able to thrive under all industry parameters present in that niche. There’s an obvious relationship between the niche aspects you most excel at and your typical customer profile. Your customers will recognize these strengths, be drawn to them, and expect the same level of service in related areas. If it isn’t already, your brand will respond by expanding into these areas, sending a signal that it is alive and responding to customer demands in real time.

Logos, Logotypes and Wordmarks. Having established that a logo is not a brand, it is important to understand that a logo can nonetheless be considered a “brand in a nutshell”. Logos can be a symbol, a word or words, or a combination of both. Logotypes and wordmarks are company logos composed of words, usually the company name. Some well-known examples are Coca Cola, Google and Visa. Your logo will appear on all materials associated with your financial institution, which is why it has to be discussed mindfully; a logo is designed to confer credibility on your organization, not just exist as an end in itself.

Branding and merchandising both interior and exterior of a credit union.

We re-branded Finex Credit Union using a lively new palette.

Merchandising

The American Marketing Association defines merchandising as “planning involved in marketing the right merchandise or service at the right place, at the right time, in the right quantities, and at the right price.”

Merchandising has grown steadily in parallel with other trends in retail branch banking. The term is not generally well understood, partly because it covers the most fundamental aspects of what can simply be called “organized selling”. The most popular use of the term is associated with the marketing and sales of souvenirs associated with sports teams/athletes and musicians/singers. In fact, it is athletes and rock stars who have championed the concept of the individual person as a “brand” through their merchandising efforts. Today’s financial institutions can also be thought of as brands in this sense, with a personality and social voice. Selling the products and services via this voice and its accessories is merchandising.

Merchandising for the financial industry consists partly in the positioning of kiosks, dispensers and racks designed to showcase the breadth of a financial institution’s services, but merchandising spans a vast range of possible outlets that financial institutions are only just starting to explore. Merchandising goes to the very heart of a bank or credit union’s retail strategy, as it can determine the actual mix of products and services an F.I. offers as much as it describes the ways in which those products and services are displayed and advertised.

The physical and informational activity of promoting financial products and services in the retail context goes way beyond static (albeit attractive) displays. Everyone is familiar with free samples, limited price offers, in-store demos, and other direct-to-transaction type methods employed by stores today. Community banks and credit unions are slowly moving into this informational/novelty side of merchandising by hosting workshops, seminars, and other community events, and there is much ground to be gained on other industries in this regard.

Merchandising of services is a large scale undertaking for a super regional or national bank involving millions of dollars spent producing television commercials and international brand recognition initiatives. Community banks and credit unions focus on their much smaller locales, but this is no small task. The retail programs of smaller F.I.’s generally include:

  • Creation of discrete retail zones within the branch.
  • A range of product and service brochures set in dispensers.
  • Branded equipment and check desks with built-in dispensers for informational flyers.
  • Interactive digital equipment that informs and drives loyalty.
  • Graphic walls with regional references and emphasis on local service.
  • Cross/up-selling to newly onboarded customers via banking agents, signage and posters.
  • Community engagement.
  • Blogging and social media messaging.
  • Local TV and radio promotions.
Interior bank branch design should include elements that appeal to the community.

Graphic walls can depict a bank’s local and regional connections.

As you can see, branding and merchandising overlap deeply, and it’s often difficult to place a retail or marketing effort into any one category. The transformational banking revolution we’re currently undergoing depends heavily on retail communications and the brand-merchandising piece of the business. New branches look very different from how they looked in the past, so it’s wise to place as much information and guidance in front of customers as possible. Consultation with a retail communications specialist who can deliver a custom designed experience map based on the size and shape of your branches is a crucial first step in building a successful retail program. If the branch isn’t yet built, the best approach would be to hire an integrated delivery provider, as their retail communications people should be in-house and able to collaborate with the architect, builder, and any other stakeholders in the project.

Banks have retail communications to help customers know which services they offer.

Bankwell’s ritzy Norwalk branch with vibrant framed posters on the walls.

When we think of branding and marketing for banks and credit unions, we think of something shiny, glossy and glamorous, and so we should; this is the communications and the human side of the financial industry and it must be compelling and planned well enough to make a real difference to your branch network ROI.

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