The
digital
branding
challenge

 

Is this how clients react to your brand?

Is this how clients react to your brand?

NOWADAYS it’s a fairly easy matter to infuse digital banking with brand trappings like logos, colors, and consistent font use. But that’s not all there is to branding.

At least, not anymore. Today there’s this thing called brand personality. And while you can train tellers to smile—well, you can try—making a smartphone smile is another matter entirely. (Emoticons? Give me a break.)

Branding began as a simple thing. Before literacy became fairly common in the U.S., marketers drew inspiration from cow butts. Why they were looking at cow butts in the first place is a matter best left to speculation. The point is, they found they could set apart their products the same way ranchers set apart their cattle. Namely, by emblazoning them with brands.

Thus product brands began life as simple marks. In a world where a pound of baking soda had always been a pound of baking soda, a package displaying a hammer-wielding arm was all it took to stand out, spur sales, and launch a phenomenon known today as brand loyalty.

It was all well and good until other marketers started branding their products, too, which they did almost immediately. Suddenly, a mark alone was no longer enough: It needed to stand for something. Like, say, consistent quality.

And that was all well and good until other marketers decided their brands needed to stand for consistent quality, too. This was great for consumers, since it promoted quality overall, but less great for marketers, since in time consumers realized that one brand of laundry detergent performed pretty much like every other.

Which, ironically, brought about a return to not-branding. Readers may recall from the 1980s an onslaught of generic products: Plain white packages bearing unvarnished commodity names like, say, “Saltine Crackers,” over the not terribly compelling “Suitable for everyday use.” Generics eventually gave way to so-called store brands, which today abound and succeed. Why shell out a few cents more for Uncle Ben’s when Kroger’s brand rice is indistinguishable to the average taste bud?

In this environment, a mark and consistent quality are no longer enough. That’s where brand personality can help. There are two kinds. (Bear with me while I oversimplify. It’s either that or I write a post way longer than this one.) There was the kind you might enjoy—say, Axe’s slapstick humor—or the kind you might identify with—say, Abercrombie & Fitch for the self-identified stylishly sexy.

Brand personality is at once easily duplicated and not so easily duplicated. Just as no two people are alike personality-wise, there is an infinite array of possible brand personalities. Trouble is, marketers often fail to appreciate the value of nuance. That’s why just about every market sports a financial institution slugging itself The Friendly Bank, which to consumers is about as compelling and believable as a paving company offering lovable blocks of asphalt, except it’s not as charming or unique.

Today, a good brand isn’t just a claim. It’s an ongoing demonstration. To stick with the above example, any bank can claim to be friendly. Not every bank has the wherewithal, know-how, culture, or needed policies to demonstrate it. Especially since the larger you grow, the less control you have over the performance of a minimally compensated teller having a bad day.

I’ve written before about delivering a brand in digital banking by use of design, intuitive apps, more than mere functionality, and becoming versus claiming. But another area that banks must not overlook is copy. The last thing you need is to have your lovely app undone by copy that’s about as rewarding to read as dust is to gargle.

For financial institutions, making copy sparkle is no easy thing. For one thing, every word has to survive a review by Compliance, a department generally not known for its contributions to shining prose. For another, though marketing consultants badger you about selling benefits, just about every competitor’s products sport pretty much the same benefits as yours. There are only so many ways you can say “loan,” “checking account,” “lockbox,” “wealth management,” “investment advisor,” and, if you must, “we care.” Still, there are places you can make copy sparkle. To arrive in front of the right sets of eyes is only the first part of targeting. The second part is to connect with the brains occupying the space immediately behind those eyes. If you’re serious about delivering a brand experience, it is well worth the effort.

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