In a competitive banking landscape, it is often difficult to stand out and truly connect with customers. Financial services are challenging to promote. They are complex and mostly conceptual, and can lead to financial institutions all seeming the same.
Branding can help solve these issues. It can differentiate a financial institution by expressing an identity through its touchpoints (i.e., its branch, website, app, events, and advertisements). It is a strategy that communicates a brand’s personality, values, and mission in order to connect with customers in a meaningful way. It is also often highly visual, appealing to a sense that can offer more efficient, compelling, and memorable messaging. Visual communication can be effective especially in the banking industry since it generally does not have physical products that customers can see and touch (with the exception of debit/credit cards). Three visual strategies to better connect with customers will be discussed below.
1) Visual Metaphors: Connecting through comparison
A visual metaphor can be defined as an image or object that symbolizes and draws a comparison with a specific quality or concept. By leveraging a memorable symbol of a financial institution, customers are more likely to understand its value proposition. Shikatani Lacroix Design has extensive experience developing and leveraging visual metaphors for brands in many different industries, including finance. For example, our work with TD Bank ensured consistent application of the TD Shield logo, which communicates trust and confidence through its shape. SLD also helped communicate TD Bank’s position of comfortable banking (“banking can be this comfortable”). In a partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, TD “Comfort Zones” were implemented into their Rogers Centre home stadium seating areas. These Comfort Zones feature comfortable green armchairs to express TD’s comfort position in a visual way. Through this strategy, Blue Jays fans upgraded to these seats develop positive associations with the TD brand.
2) Corporate Branding & Graphic Design: Presenting an identity
Corporate branding is a process that has the potential to attract and retain customers by appealing to their needs. It can include identity design, brand positioning, brand essence, mission statement, values, personality, and tagline development. In our work with Financial Executives Canada (FEI Canada), a knowledge-sharing organization for high-level financial leaders, a new brand strategy to gain more recognition and membership was developed. This strategy was formed through an intensive review of the current brand and its competitors, benchmarking research and interviews. Once finalized, the strategy was rolled out to all touchpoints, including logo, stationery, website, brochures and conference booths. These touchpoints visually communicate the brand strategy to current and potential members in a clear and compelling way.
3) In-Branch Brand Expression: Communication through design
Branch design is another way to express a brand. Details and visual cues within the branch environment can give an overall impression of a financial institution’s values and positioning. In Shikatani Lacroix Design’s branch redesign for Regions Bank, the key attributes to be expressed included expertise, ease of experience and putting people first. To communicate expertise, knowledge cues and zones were located throughout the branch. To facilitate ease of experience, the design recognized customer needs and implemented navigational signage and clear sight lines, comfortable waiting areas, and Universal Banker stations with stools instead of queueing for tellers. Convenient drive-thru options were also made available. Lastly, the message of putting people first was expressed through an interactive multi-touch digital screen that communicated the bank’s social and community causes. Through these design details, the Regions brand is conveyed experientially and visually.
Similarly, SLD’s design of the China Zheshang Bank (CZ Bank) expresses key brand attributes of innovation and modernity through the use of contemporary materials, architectural elements, and cutting-edge technology. An electronic learning zone and virtual reality area are also included. In the bank’s VIP and wealth management section, premium finishes and seating convey a more upscale experience. Customers quickly understand the brand advantages simply by walking into the space.
Visual metaphors, corporate identity and graphic design, and in-branch brand expression can help connect with banking customers through visual communication. These strategies have the potential to differentiate a financial institution within a competitive market. Visuals are able to convey a lot of information in a simpler format. They also can help quickly communicate brand benefits in a more memorable and compelling way, which is important if customers have limited time or little interest in considering financial options. With visual communication, brand characteristics are presented clearly – it is then up to the customers to decide if they believe and appreciate them.