Bank One Corp.'s marketing guru of the 1970s and 1980s, John Fisher, introduced the revolutionary idea of building a complete "financial playground." He envisioned a time when customers would be drawn to an integrated financial service center for more than regular deposits or the occasional loan.

As Mr. Fisher saw it, the attraction to consumers and businesses alike would be of equal parts curiosity, one-stop convenience, information, and general retail excitement.

At the time, "financial fun" seemed more an oxymoron than a winning strategy. However, by combining the right mix of user-friendly technology and highly trained financial experts, the idea of a mutual and enjoyable partnership between customers and bankers appears within reach.

Bank marketing is a lot more complex than just selling a product or service. Bankers must be prepared to build an environment where customers can experiment, question, and learn incrementally. The keys to creating that type of environment lie in a climate of comfort and presentation of multiple options.

For example, when customers enter a bank in search of a loan, they are immediately faced with the embarrassment factor -- the jargon and terminology are not apt to be familiar to most. That generally puts customers at a disadvantage and makes them feel vulnerable.

People in that state of mind are unlikely to want to volunteer information that explains the true reason for their visit or reveals their position of financial need.

Orval Homan, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Minster Bank in Ohio, is one of the executives who recognized this communication problem and decided to do something about it. He gave his bank a complete makeover -- and not just the standard name change, new color scheme, and artsy logo. The bank was redesigned inside and out with the idea of providing the right space, people, process, and technology.

He made sure every work space in the bank was bathed in natural light. Why? "Because it makes you feel better," he said. His 25 years of experience had convinced him that "employees treat customers as well as they are treated." He wanted to eliminate the embarrassment factor.

Minster Bank also developed an open merchandising area, complete with automated teller machines, computers, printers, and telephone access to services and information. Customers were free to explore the environment or obtain personal instruction on the use of the technology. Foot traffic is once again on the rise.

Financial products and services are not like islands that financially challenged customers swim to when they are drowning. They are connected to people's dreams and aspirations. Though those dreams happen on their own unlikely schedules, the actual events themselves are predictable. They happen to everybody. From marriage and children to college funds and retirement, they usually occur in a logical sequence, and each gives banks an opportunity to expand their business.

Customers often want examples of how others have solved problems similar to their own. They need to be challenged. They need to learn why certain options are wrong for their situation. If your bank does not offer the right solution, it is important to find out who does.

Remember -- customers are not really looking for a financial product or service. They are looking for a solution to a problem that is attached to some event in their life. Bankers should solve problems and address needs rather than sell products and offer services. If you are able to present a number of legitimate options, the customer will accept you as a partner in the problem-solving process.

In essence, good bank marketing is nothing more than becoming a partner with customers in their search for the right solutions.

It is true that the key to future success depends heavily on technology. But an inviting space or cyberspace, with the right hardware and software, is only a start. It will take the right people and the right processes to create the high-tech/high-touch solutions that customers desire.

Customers are always more comfortable when they feel they are in control of the situation. When they also like the options you have presented, then you know you have created exactly the right environment.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.