Move with purpose, be intentional, and implement strategy. These marketing buzzwords are often thrown around when it comes to brand development, but what does it truly mean to build your brand with a purpose? The goal in developing a community banking brand should be to create a recognizable business, known for being an integral part of the financial and cultural community. One way of establishing your bank as a community leader is knowing exactly which partnerships, promotions, and advertising fits into your brand image, and which opportunities to say no to — even if that means choosing between profit and brand consistency.
So, what are the benefits of developing on-brand strategic partnerships and passing up potential income? Customer loyalty and, as a result, long-term success. In the same way that people gravitate towards those with similar interests, customers like to associate with brands that align with their personal values. Research supports this strategy. Stakeholders, more than ever, specifically value the social action and volunteerism of the brands they support. According to a study conducted in 2017, 90% of consumers reported that they would be likely to switch to brands that are associated with a good cause, given the businesses had similar pricing and features. This speaks to the power of branding and involvement of community banks, as a lack of community integration can make a huge difference in the number and quality of your customers.
Let’s take a look at how some other brands are implementing these strategies to grow trust and involvement with their consumers. First we have Whole Foods — a supermarket chain focused on selling fair trade, organic, and socially responsible products. By tuning into feedback from their consumers and community, Whole Foods remains one of the most competitive and profitable grocery chains nationwide. Whole Foods’ brand strategy represents consistent tradeoffs by offering ethically sourced products at a higher cost to themselves, simply for the sake of maintaining their brand message. By trading off the cost of inventory for the values that align with the brand, Whole Foods has been able to curate a brand image that people not only want to support but also pledge their loyalty to.
Another prime example of consistent tradeoffs comes from the Zappos brand. Zappos is an online shoe and clothing retailer founded in 1999. Early in its development, Zappos made the conscious decision to offer a 60-day free return policy, becoming the first global shoe company to offer free returns on shoes. While this strategic choice hurts the company’s bottom line, it sent them lightyears ahead of any competitors early in their founding and created a foundation for trust and customer satisfaction.
Zappos now offers a 365 day return policy, continuously setting the standard of accommodations for consumers in the online retail world. According to Zappos’ “Head of Brand Aura” Tyler Williams, “We like to think of our core values as the DNA of our brand. We even have a strategy statement that states Core Values > Everything Else. As the community changes, our hope is that it comes in line with our core values through continued influence and inclusion.” In his interview with Forbes, Williams further speaks to the importance of developing a community brand and its impact on creating satisfied and returning customers, and the article can be read here: Engaging A Brand’s Community The Zappos Way .
Banks, specifically, can implement consistent tradeoffs to drive involvement in communities. Grand Rapids State Bank (GRSB) is an example of a community bank putting community impact at the heart of their branding. GRSB was founded over a century ago, and their longevity is a testament to brand development. They are known for their support of the arts, as well as other nonprofit organizations throughout their community. According to the bank’s Senior VP of Marketing, Julie Wilcox, their community involvement extends to offering financial support to arts organizations and buildings, as well as planning of community events and partnerships to drive the arts and tourism to the area.
Wilcox advises other community banks to implement tradeoffs through similar methods, but emphasizes the importance of being intentional with which causes to devote your resources to. Wilcox says, “Do your market research, go through the whole process of defining your purpose, or else you’ll stub your toe with something that doesn’t truly represent your bank. Be prospective on things that naturally demonstrate your brand, whether it’s providing financial literacy in your local schools, helping the homeless, or supporting some type of healthcare.” More advice on community building for banks can be found here with Wilcox’s original interview: How your bank can build a brand with purpose.
In conclusion, developing a community brand is all about tradeoffs. Profit is important for short term stability, but developing a loyal customer base attached to your brand will result in long-term payoffs. Community-driven policies have kept Grand Rapids State Bank and other community banks like it in business for centuries, and now you can join them in creating strategic branding for your future.