Branding a Bank for the Rising Generation

A Peek Inside the Brainstorming Session

Here’s a macabre thought to start your day: Older customers will die sooner than younger ones.

It’s a fact of life that has many a financial institution concerned. Rightly so.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that bankers’ concern is only for the bottom line. Surely many wish their customers a long life out of pure altruism. Yet even the most altruistic understand that a bank’s life expectancy is tied to that of its customers. A bank that hopes to outlive older customers must attract younger ones.

The problem lies in how to go about trading the outdated image that appealed to prior generations for a new, more with-it image that appeals to younger ones.

CUT TO: THE BRAINSTORMING SESSION. “I have it!” someone says. “Let’s quit making tellers cover their tats!” (“What’s a tat?” asks the CEO.) Someone else suggests decorating branches à la the young person’s hangout. Another wonders aloud what it would cost to hire Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus as a spokesperson. (“Who?” asks the CEO.) Yet another, who happens to be a Garage Band enthusiast and wannabe rock star, thinks a rockin’ jingle will do the trick. A techie suggests overhauling the website with state-of-the-art animation, games, great colors, hot music, and downloadable tunes and videos. The advertising manager wants to shoot commercials telling viewers that the bank has been misjudged, that in reality no one is more hep. (“What’s hep?” asks the youngest person in the room.)

Were I in the room—come to think of it, I have been, more than once—I would point out that the discussion started off on the wrong foot. Contrived cosmetics do not make a brand. Substance does. If you are cool—whatever that means—it will be manifest in your look and messaging. If you are not, pretending will only make you look pathetic, like a boor who thinks changing his shirt rather than his approach will make people like him.

If the rising generation favors a competitor, dig deep to find out why. Odds are you’ll discover an underlying philosophy, approach, and values that a younger market responds to. You will also find that the outward look and feel, far from contrived, are a natural expression of said underlying philosophy, approach, and values.

Only claim to be what the market wants if you first become what the market wants. Then the outward trappings will speak for themselves.

It is easier said than done. In most banks, “senior management” is no metaphor. Fortunately, neither is “junior people.” Now would be a good time to identify the brightest, most promising ones and hear them out.

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