Why bank employees are the key to brand alignment

For most companies, seeking a competitive advantage means creating products and services that differentiate them from the pack. That’s harder for banks. Most financial institutions offer similar services, online tools and even interest rates, so defining what sets them apart is challenging. In a space where everything looks the same, banks have to earn their edge by embracing a unique brand identity.

Marketers take a two-pronged approach when creating and communicating this brand identity — or, at least, that’s what they should do.

The first prong is advertising. External marketing messages set customer expectations and promise a certain customer experience. They grab attention and drive a call to action. The second prong, though, can be overlooked. Banks have to actually deliver on the promises they make in their advertisements. They need to provide a customer experience that matches their marketing messages.

This concept of “brand alignment,” which occurs when an entire organization lives and breathes marketing messages, can be the key to helping banks compete. If every employee understands your brand vision and commits to embodying the promises you’re making, you have a much better chance of earning customers’ trust (and their business).

Achieving brand alignment takes hard work and commitment, so here are some tips to get started:

1. Listen first. Seek input from your team before pushing out a slew of new information. Companies that create products without listening to customers are destined to fall short of their goals. In this case, your employees are your internal customers. If you try to mobilize them around your alignment initiatives without understanding their perspectives or needs, you’ll miss the mark.

Most corporate initiatives happen to employees, but they should really happen with them. Don’t present your brand story as a fully baked, set-in-stone initiative. Instead, engage your team in the development process and inspire them to contribute to it.

2. Try new communication tactics. Raise the bar on how you engage your team. When reaching out to employees to seek their buy-in and input, deploy internal marketing strategies that go beyond brochures, emails, group training sessions and other tactics that don’t really move the needle. Do something that stands out, even if it means spending more money than you typically would on this type of project.

The right tactic will be attention-grabbing. Turn to a medium you don’t typically utilize. For example, if you usually write long emails to your team, create a video or incorporate virtual reality into your communication instead. There might be a learning curve, but you’re more likely to inspire your team when you put in this extra effort.

3. Build momentum. Brand alignment won’t be achieved overnight. It’s a gradual process that involves learning and evolving together. With that in mind, don’t push for perfection right out of the gate. Make sure employees know you don’t expect them to master everything immediately.

Start small and build momentum. If your bank just launched a new online banking tool, don’t train your team on every single detail. Instead, have employees ask customers one simple question: “Have you tried our new banking tool?” If the customer has not, he or she should be encouraged to check it out. That’s all. Then, over time, employees can layer in more details as the team becomes more familiar with the tool. Building momentum will help employees build confidence.

4. Reward effort. Employees are naturally resistant to change. It’s essential to create an environment that encourages them to step outside their comfort zones. Recognize and reward people when they try new things and demonstrate their commitment to your brand.

Along the way, don’t overemphasize results – the steps required to get those desired results are also important. Acknowledge that there will be a period of learning and growth, and let your team know you don’t expect them to be perfect right off the bat. If you celebrate effort and progress, the results will follow.

Without brand alignment, you will deliver an experience that falls short of customer expectations. Rally your team around your marketing messages, and create a consistent customer experience that differentiates your bank from your competitors. It is not enough to just talk the talk in your marketing efforts. You also need to walk the walk during every client interaction — and that starts from within.

Chris Wallace is president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm based in Philadelphia.

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