We're the same as every other bank. We offer the same products, and our fees and rates are competitive. After all, a checking account is a checking account is a checking account. We define our target market the same way our competitors define theirs.

These were the common thoughts of the top five decision makers in a bank that wanted to adopt a market share growth strategy.

The group had come together in an off-site branding workshop. The bank president saw a need to establish a brand that would resonate in the marketplace. Some participants were squirming; it was obvious that the president's thinking did not go unopposed.

Typically, the first 15 minutes of such a workshop are the most difficult. These are busy people with a lot of responsibility. Their thoughts are going to what they could be doing if they were not here - for a whole day! After all, spending time on the business is foreign to most management teams. Their priority is running the business - taking care of the day-to-day operations that keep the organization on track. And therein lies a question: Is it the day-to-day stuff that can take a bank to the next level?

The group began its day of introspection with questions such as: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who are our competitors? How do we describe their images? How do we want to be perceived? How will we enhance our brand?

Research had been done before the workshop so they had a good understanding of how the bank is perceived versus its competitors. Its target market had identified real and perceived unmet needs. These data and the information collected in the course of the workshop's interactive exercises will lead these bankers to decide how to differentiate their company - the core of a strong brand.

Looking for unique qualities, they find them not in the attributes of their deposit accounts, loans, or business services - product attributes are too easily copied - but in the way the bank does business. Its unique qualities are found in the processes, business practices, and people it employs.

After half an hour these bankers are on a mission. They are engaged, and everyone has ideas. They work until they have reached consensus on their most valuable matchless aspects, then delve into items the group would like to add to this list. The team determines the feasibility of each and makes a short list. Someone is charged with developing action plans to bring the ideas to fruition.

Moving forward, they discuss how the bank will position itself. This is relative to competitors, and they spend a good bit of time analyzing rival institutions. The team must decide how it will use its unique qualities to give it a competitive edge for gaining customer loyalty. The bankers define the emotional and functional reasons that will create a preference for their bank. They agree that every decision they make must stand up to this test: Does it harmonize with and support the bank's positioning?

The team is getting it. Its members have come to realize that a brand is not what they thought. It's not just the use of a logo and slogan. They know they must think of their brand in the context of what their mothers told them: Actions speak louder than words. How you sell and deliver your products and how you serve your customers determine your brand.

As team members work through their exercises and research, they realize that if they continue to do as they have always done they will not live up to the positioning and personality they want to adopt. Brainstorming methods and programs, the team profiles an employee who will be compatible with the desired culture. The means to create and sustain this culture unfold.

Scrutinizing a case study by Ernst & Young, the team begins to appreciate a solid brand. Ernst & Young's positioning statement, "From Start to Finish," wins praise. They review the advertising, and adjectives such as "crisp," "innovative," and "sharp" are used. It is decided that Ernst & Young delivers consistent messages about its ability to provide innovative and practical solutions. Its ability to deliver on a global basis is touted, as is the company's appreciation for the New Economy.

Ernst & Young describes a career candidate as a motivated leader, intellectually competent, and flexible. We go on to discuss their "Entrepreneur of the Year" award and how this undertaking makes perfect sense for them. This discussion raises questions about the bank's public relations efforts. Management recognizes that they're doing a lot of things that won't help them build their brand. We decide that the strategic branding plan will include "make sense" public relations and philanthropic support recommendations.

The management team begins talking about how it will totally integrate its brand in its business. Discussion centers on how they will hire and the types of candidate they will seek, how customer service representatives will handle phone calls and e-mail, and how sales calls will be conducted, etc. They are on their way to building a valuable brand.

Now they assess the bank's logo, fonts, and use of colors to determine whether these illustrate the desired image and whether they tell their target market what to expect. They weigh whether their branches and headquarters reflect the culture and whether their dress code is appropriate. They begin to discuss and critique possibilities. Then they consider the equity in existing brand identifiers and decide to give the bank's logo a face-lift and to add a powerful tagline. The tagline would define their positioning and set a mark for employees to hit every day. There is understanding that aesthetic qualities are not the brand, though they play a significant role. Now it is time to explore the bank's branding system. Product brands are evaluated, and the team decides that some should be dumped. Team members list those that will have the greatest impact and those that continue to have great appeal to significant audiences. They come up with features and processes to brand. And they discover a champion subbrand that will lift the bank brand.

The bank's subsidiaries are then reviewed. It becomes evident that this topic needs in-depth analysis. The team does not agree on which companies should retain their own brands but be endorsed by the bank, which should incorporate their products into the bank's menu, and which should become bank subbrands. Homework needs to be done, and the team will reconvene in a couple of weeks to delve into the brand hierarchy.

It has been a tiring day, and it's just a beginning. The discussions will be captured in a strategic branding plan. It will include many recommendations for building and sustaining the bank's brand. The team will meet again to review the strategy recommendations and to make a commitment to supporting the brand with resources. Then brand-affirming tactical marketing and public relations plans will be developed, approved, and carried out. This process may also be used to build brand value for the bank-endorsed subsidiaries.

So to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article - as to whether day-to-day operations will take the bank to the next level - the answer is yes. That is, if day-to-day operations are carried out in a way that demonstrates commitment to the brand. These bankers know that if they build and steadily support their brand they will increase market share in desired categories, and this is the value of strategic branding.


Ms. Zievis is president of Marketing Synergies, a strategic marketing firm based in Jacksonville, Fla. The 15-year marketing industry veteran and former financial services executive can be reached through her Web site, www.mrktsyn.com.

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