Almost 40 years ago, a favorite philosopher of mine asked a question in a widely circulated work that too many banks fail to answer. That philosopher was the rock legend Pete Townshend and his question was: "Who Are You?"

Answering that question sounds obvious, but banks often overlook the need to represent their offerings — and what sets their institutions apart from others — to current and potential customers. Or if they attempt to present that picture, they often do it poorly.

I believe banks must constantly address the "Who are you?" question for three distinct audiences.

The first and most obvious group is composed of the people who are not currently doing business with your bank.

Financial institutions historically have had entire marketing departments focused on people who are living out their lives separate from the bank entirely. Name recognition with noncustomers is an accomplishment itself in the attention-deficit world we live in today. That said we should not think that once we have registered in a potential customer's consciousness that we have established permanent residency there.

People purge unneeded things from their consciousness daily simply to function, and let's be frank: Last week's marketing message from a bank is included in those purges.

But inhabiting a place in a prospective customer's radar is vital. A bank (or banker) that most recently earned a noncustomer's attention will likely be top of mind the next time that noncustomer considers his or her finances. Whether or not that will be you and your bank depends on your outreach efforts.

The second group that we need to repeatedly answer the "Who are you?" question to is less obvious to some. That group is our existing customer base.

There is a tendency to assume that this group must surely know you pretty well. They have already chosen to do business with you. You have their contact information and know their basic financial profile.

But a customer who has been with the bank for a year or more may not have the same financial circumstances or planning needs that were present when they joined the bank. We would like to think that we are on the top of our existing customers' minds when they begin considering their changing needs, but that is in no way guaranteed.

When banks fail to regularly communicate to existing customers the multitude of services they offer — including examples of how we support businesses, organizations and individuals — they give up the home-field advantage that they should enjoy in competing for future business.

Banks have more and better opportunities to connect with this second group than any other. Still, many banks have customers who know more about other banks' offerings than their own. Their customers have far more exposure to the competition's advertising, sponsorships, etc.

It is unreasonable to think that smaller operations (and outside of the very largest banks, everyone is a smaller operation) can match the bigger players' marketing budgets. But those banks should still be diligent so not to let the unique, personal opportunities they have with our own customers go to waste.

Whether it is branch interactions, telephone conversations, online support chats, mobile banking experiences, etc., banks need to continually show customers who they are, what they do and why they would be the best choice for a customer's future needs.

The third group to continually answer the "Who are you?" question to may be the most important of all. That group is a bank's own employees — from senior-level managers to new hires.

The idea that an employee does not have a clear idea of a company's identity seems preposterous to some, but I'd suggest that it's true in too many cases.

Who you are goes beyond your company name and the products and services you provide. Who you are includes what you stand for. It's knowing and appreciating the people and communities you serve. It is an understanding of what makes your organization special or different and why those differences matter to your team and the customers you serve.

Leaders' words and the actions that support them define who you are to your team. More important, it drives your culture. And culture is what drives good behavior (or tolerates bad behavior) when no one is looking over people's shoulders.

"Who are you?" may be the simplest of questions. How you answer it in your markets, to your customers and to your teams, however, will likely be the most important answers you'll give all year.

Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics. He can be reached at