Developing competitive points of difference in a parity business

Over the past few decades, banks have moved away from a strictly transactional business model in favor of a more of the high-touch, solutions-driven approach to service that today’s customers clearly want.  But the result is a marketplace where every bank in America seems to be making some variant of the same basic promises:

Friendly, welcoming service!
A commitment to customer satisfaction!
A range of financial products to meet every need!

In a situation like this, how do you stand out from the crowd with a selling proposition that will deliver new customers, build brand loyalty and strengthen customer relationships?

What you need is a way to make these claims more believable and genuine – to find, to cultivate, and, if necessary, to manufacture competitive points of difference that can help differentiate you on core issues of service, expertise, choice and value in today’s parity marketplace.

It’s not enough to find new ways to say you have the latest digital offerings, smartest business lenders or the friendliest, most attentive service around. You need to buttress these “squishy” claims with solid proof of your commitment to superior service.

Create proof points

Find ways to quantify your expertise, continuity in service and commitment to the community. What about the education credentials of your business bankers? Their combined years of experience? The percentage of staff members who do volunteer work in local neighborhoods?  The average employment tenure of your branch staff?

Make the most of awards and accolades your bank has won – including honorable mentions. Are you recognized for your leadership in SBA lending?  Congratulations!  You’re a “Top 3 SBA Lender.”

Promise superior service for your customers and prove your commitment to it. Establish a set of benchmarks. From the call center to branch staff and relationship managers, institute and enforce service level measures such as wait time, time to return a call, time to resolve an issue, time to approve a loan.

Hone your product set

Most banks tell customers that their needs are unique, that there’s “no one-fits-all” that works for them. However, does your product set really demonstrate that?  Prove it by creating customized bundles of products and services that appeal to specific sets of needs.

Use direct and data-driven strategies to determine which products and product sets are valuable to your customers and prospects. What products should be grouped together? What features are your products missing? Customer surveys and data, CX analysis, and third-party data all constitute excellent sources for building a persona-based product segmentation plan.

And once you have your strategy, orient sales support and marketing campaigns around it.

For targeting real estate management firms, for instance, develop a combination of escrow accounts and account aggregation services tailored to their needs. Professional practices need help managing cash flow, so create an operating account with a linked line of credit designed specifically for them.

On the personal banking side, a “college-bound” bundle could combine a student checking account with a linked deposit account for parents, an ATM card with parental controls, and a robust set of education savings/investment opportunities for parents. And a private banking package aimed at younger affluent customers – probably your most prized demographic — can include relationship accounts, jumbo mortgages, customized education financing assistance and more.

Leverage your brand

As a bank marketer, you always want your brand to capture the essence of who your bank is.  In today’s parity marketplace, you must go a step further and think of your brand as a statement of the bank you want to become.

Consider bold statements or promises – these become self-fulfilling prophecies as your staff absorbs them and works to emulate them. If you want to become the go-to commercial lender in your footprint, start by saying exactly that – and then back up your claim by describing all the service enhancements and product innovations to make it happen. “We’re the bank that does X!” becomes a marching order, a rallying cry, and before you know it, you really are the bank that does X.

Finally, make sure every customer communication – even those with regulatory and compliance messages – is viewed as an opportunity to trumpet your competitive points of difference.

Whether it’s a product change, a branch closing or an AML/BSA-driven message, you need to imbue it with the overall tone of your brand positioning.

Much like a politician, if you stay on message and keep delivering the kind of convincing proof points your customers want to hear, you’ll ultimately win the battle for their hearts, minds and deposits.

Hillary Kelbick is president and CEO of MKP communications.

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