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Bank Services Need Branding and Differentiation

By: Adam Anderson

It’s important to reach consumers more frequently across multiple platforms. But the focus should be on the experience consumers have when using bank products and services.

Coca-Cola is a marketing behemoth—so much so, that in the South, the word “Coke” has been adopted to describe similar soft drinks. But what is it that makes Coke so much more popular than its competitors? Could it be that its sugary brown drink is just that much better than the rest?

Coke and Pepsi come in the same kind of can, are sold in the same places and are served at the same temperature. So why is it that, while Americans prefer Pepsi in blind tests, sales data shows that they unfalteringly buy Coke anyway? The answer, of course, has to do with the marketing machine that is the true heart of the Coca-Cola empire. Because Coca-Cola’s actual product is almost indiscernible from its competitors, the company focuses on creating a fantastical narrative around the experience of drinking a Coke. That narrative is what Coke relies on to sell its product, because the product itself — syrupy brown sugar water — is commoditized.

Financial services, by contrast, are not commoditized. With variations in products, offers, services, location, quality and ease of use, banks focus on finding and serving a niche within a broader market. As retail and commercial customers access and manage more products via digital delivery, differentiation becomes even more critical. Most important, however, is the recognition that customer experience is the focal point. Experiences that embody the brand message for the financial institution and are tailored to the needs of the customer will foster loyalty and yield the deepest relationship.

The banks I speak with have clearly articulated their market niche. Their products are designed to address specific needs and challenges that require a technology platform and applications that deliver on those strategies. Peter Greene, executive vice president of operations and technology at Camden National Bank in Maine, noted that the Q2 platform delivered an improved customer experience for online and mobile, and usage numbers have increased significantly.

Each time a customer has a positive experience with the bank’s technology, he or she also has a positive experience with the bank and the brand. Because not all technology platforms are designed the same way, user experience creates a point of differentiation that reinforces the brand message and deepens relationships with customers.

The term “omnichannel” is gaining traction in discussions about acquiring and serving financial services customers. The buzzword first surfaced in the e-commerce space to describe reaching potential customers across a broader set of communication channels (e.g., print, radio, TV, web, mobile, social media). The goal of reaching consumers more frequently and in whichever channels they frequent is a powerful one. Digital branding, search optimization, remarketing and retargeting are common practices used to achieve desired saturation. This approach, however, is not concerned with the experience the customer has with the product after purchase, only ensuring that the consumer is constantly aware of the availability of the product. In a marketplace with many retailers of a commoditized set of products, this may be the optimal strategy. For a bank with its differentiated products and services, it likely is not enough. An omnichannel strategy is about being in front of the consumer each time they are faced with a buying decision. The focus should be on the experience that customers have when they interact with their products and services, not simply shouting more loudly or more frequently in a crowded marketplace.

Because the consumption of financial products involves complex and long-term relationships between financial institutions and customers, the interactions between banks and their customers are essential. And given the pace of technology change and the generational shifts that bring new kinds of consumers to the market, this experience must also evolve over time. Cathy Dudley, executive vice president of customer relations at First Bank in Greensboro/Winston-Salem, N.C., expresses the value of a strong partner this way, “We wanted a partner that we could count on to continually invest and develop their products. We also believe that Q2 understands the service commitment of community banks. We don’t treat our customers like numbers, and we don’t want to be treated like a number by our partners.” Recognition of the role that a community bank plays in the lives of customers drove us to build a platform that would allow for continuous improvement in the experience that we deliver. Features that allow for personalization and tailored workflows that map to the specific needs of each bank’s accountholders strengthen the bank’s brand because they signal to the customer that they are important.

By delivering a unified user experience, Q2 helps financial institutions serve their customers in a differentiated way, even in aspects of the relationship that are deep below the surface. Introducing customers to new services or dealing with problems when they arise can consume significant amounts of time and focus. Cathy Dudley highlights the advantages First Bank gained in this area. “Q2 made it much easier to bring on new business customers,” she said. “We don’t need a large staff to board and train customers. The integrated platform makes it easier for support to service customers.”

No one needs training to drink a Coke, put on a pair of shoes or wash their clothes. The barrier for the purveyors of these commoditized experiences is awareness, not experience. But for banks that play a central, trusted role in the lives of their customers, the experience is everything. A strong experience, unified across the channels customers choose, is significantly more compelling than just showing up and making noise; it demonstrates a respect for the experience of the customer. As digital delivery continues to evolve, financial institutions that deliver an integrated, high-value experience will outperform those that do not. 

Adam Anderson is executive vice president and chief technology officer for Q2, a provider of enterprise solutions for secure virtual banking. For more information, go to

Copyright 2014 by BankNews Media.