Picture this. You’re sitting at your desk flipping through a small stack of mail. Most of it is publications, but there are a few direct mail letters, and one is from a bank. You recognize the name: they’ve just bought your business bank and you pass the building with the new, prominently displayed logo every day. Inside the envelope is a standard corporate-sounding letter introducing the new bank, which you skim through. Seeing nothing of interest or importance, you toss the letter in a nearby trash can with the other direct mail.
Forgettable, generic, corporate — this is not the first impression any company wants to make. Unfortunately, research revealed this was exactly the problem our client, a fast-growing community bank, found themselves in as they were expanding into new markets through acquisition.
Ironically, the bank, which had a strong reputation for serving local businesses in urban communities, had built its brand around being “part of the community.” Customers liked its high-touch, “human” approach to everyday banking needs — something they couldn’t get from large, national banks.
So, what went wrong? Why were these letters so ineffective at communicating this critical brand message? Simply put, the brand was saying one thing (“we’re high touch,” “we’re part of the community,” “we’re human”) but behaving in quite another way by sending out a mass mailing. They were talking the talk, but not walking the walk. This inconsistency between brand and brand behavior was confusing to its new constituents.
At the root of this discrepancy was a lack of alignment between the bank’s high-touch brand position and its expansionist business strategy. Clearly, what made for effective M+A communications did not translate into good brand communications. And the business strategy — not the brand strategy — was informing brand behavior.
Now picture this. You walk into your business bank to make your weekly deposit. A friendly branch manager greets you and engages you in a conversation where you learn more about the bank’s recent merger and how it affects your business. You leave with a brochure containing key information about the bank and a business card for the branch manager in case you have any additional questions.
Personable, human, high-touch — this is the impression the bank was able to make after it re-focused attention on how they were communicating with new customers. Going forward, the bank was able to successfully expand into new markets while maintaining its high-touch brand position.
This experience provides a valuable lesson for any company: when going through any inflection point, matching what you say about your brand with how you say it (your brand actions) is critical. Aligning brand behavior will ensure more effective communications and help the brand emerge even stronger after the transition.