The banking industry is in an era of tumultuous change to say the least. It makes logical sense to look at your competitors, but what exactly are you looking for? Knowing how to mitigate the risk and optimize the return on investment for such huge initiatives requires a lot of background work from the start, and one of the most useful tools you have at your disposal is a benchmarking study.
In this white paper we go in depth describing what we look at when we explore the competitive set. We break it down into three categories which define factors that offer the most leverage for change, and then list specific questions to ask within each of these categories. We use specific industry examples, and offer insights and tips along the way.
THE THINKBLINK MPS BENCHMARKING MODEL
Over many years of countless consumer studies and branding assignments, we have identified brand engagement factors influencing customer responses. We recommend leveraging these factors, which fall into three critical categories of Message, Process and Structure (MPS), to identify key learnings from benchmarking research. Through our research, we have found countless examples of brands capitalizing on the MPS levers to help effectively differentiate themselves within the marketplace.
Here is how we define these three levers of change and some examples of brands that have used them well. When we think of “Message,” we are referring to everything the brand communicates about itself, both to the consumer and internally. Your message is connected to your brand’s position and must be consistently communicated across every medium and touchpoint. This refers not only to marketing efforts and social media but also to in-store communications, the tone and energy of design and signage, the way staff are trained to speak about the brand and how you as a company talk about what you stand for. One of the best examples of a brand with a powerful message is Nike.
From their internal training program, which rigorously teaches new staff about the company’s history, to their controversial campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the brand communicates “Just Do It” over and over again, finding new ways that are fresh and relevant to repeat their mantra. Apple has leveraged the “Structure” lever for differentiation by owning a unique ecosystem for buying and listening to music, viewing photos, reading books and sharing our creativity. Structure refers to the built environment or built digital Background within which your consumers experience your brand. The iPod and iTunes created an entirely new ecosystem for music, opening the door for Apple to extend that same structure to movies, TV shows, photos, movie making and reading.
“Process,” as you might suspect, refers to the journey or steps a consumer takes to interact with the brand. AmazonGo is an excellent example of a brand disrupting the process within the grocery industry by removing the need to stand in a line and go through a check-out process. To expand on the power of these three levers within the positioning process, take the opportunity to explore other benchmarks that have changed industries or categories, using the message, process and structure levers in the following ways:
The message reflects the critical communication elements influencing a customer’s purchase decision. These consist of the following:
Visual Communication: In the engagement process, visual communication is a tool to support how consumers gain information and make decisions. From exterior and interior signs, digital signage, wayfinding, identity applications, and online websites, including both mobile and digital elements, these elements of the message reinforce a visual manifestation of the brand while assisting customers in making the right buying decision.
Verbal Communication: Background sounds, verbal interactions as part of the sales process, and music are critical ways we interact with brands. Frontline staff rely heavily on verbal communication to connect customers with brands. Consider how other brands have leveraged verbal and audio communication to differentiate themselves.
Tone and Personality: A critical dimension of messaging is the tone and personality of the core communication elements as expressed through images, font style, colors and textures.
Cognitive, Affective and Conative Messages: Cognitive messaging consists of generic, rational, comparative information, including claims and arguments. This is followed by affective messages that match the customers’ emotions to the products to resonate with them. Conative messages motivate, stimulate and support the purchase decision. How have other benchmark brands leveraged these three stages of engagement?
Hierarchy of Communication: Developing the correct order of communication remains paramount, even if it is often overlooked due to a lack of focus or the need to provide a series of key features. The development of a correct hierarchy will ensure that the key message will be noticed and remembered throughout the path to purchase. In addition, the reduction of message overload will ensure that focus is directed toward the appropriate product benefit, which will stimulate the purchase decision. A financial brand that has leveraged the message lever is US Bank, primarily through its “It’s Possible” campaign. In Canada, TD Canada Trust has created an in-branch digital content strategy that allows for centralized control to ensure the content is on-brand but still allows local branches to feature local content.
CRITICAL QUESTIONS – MESSAGE
- How have other brands leveraged their visual communication to help differentiate their brand? What can we learn that can be applied to your brand?
- If your brand is defined as a sound or music, what would it sound like today and as part of the ideal future position? What messages or proof points do your current position support, and which do you want
- to reinforce in the future?
- How have other brands leveraged typography to reinforce a point of difference that supports their position?
- If your brand was defined as type font, actor, or famous person, what would the personality look like today and as part of the ideal future position?
- How have other benchmark brands distilled their messaging to key salient points? What are their taglines, and how do these align with their positions?
- If you were to distill your current brand position in just one word, what is it today, and what would it be in the future?
How a consumer navigates, a brand can define its position as much as the relevant brand message. Organizations such as Apple, Google and Disney have made their processes proprietary and differentiating factors in their brands, which they keep protected with patents and trademarks. In finance, fintechs such as Tangerine disrupted the entire industry using a new process–banking entirely in the virtual world. Processes also often tie to new business models that generate value while creating a platform for better customer engagement.
Sales Choreography: How employees engage with customers is critical in building brand loyalty. In the banking sector, the customer journey needs to be carefully crafted to ensure customers are effectively involved; the process meets their needs around simplicity and timing while providing the organization with the means to communicate additional services and offer practical financial advice.
Steps and Stages: Understanding the number of steps and stages a customer goes through to complete a transaction or access a new service from your bank is critical to ensuring a practical path to the service journey. The ability to reduce the number of steps or put greater emphasis on a given stage is an opportunity for brands to stand out and gain customer attention. Some steps need to evolve as part of a graduated “Trust Ladder” to ensure processes are aligned with customers’ expectations and habitual behaviors.
Offline and Online: Digital and mobile banking have transformed the transaction process dramatically, and for all financial institutions, the digital customer journey must be carefully considered. Looking at the best-of in mobile banking, we are now seeing apps that look more like social media streams than spreadsheets, and financial goal-setting and advice can be made more personal and relevant than ever before. Looking outside the financial world for inspiration and at fintechs and other innovators will show banks where the future of digital banking is headed.
CRITICAL QUESTIONS – PROCESS
- How have other benchmark brands leveraged the customer journey to help differentiate themselves from competitors? How do their sales processes support their brand positions?
- How does your current and future-state brand position modify or transform your sales process?
- What steps are causing friction, and how can they be addressed?
- Is the connection between your digital and physical experience seamless and intuitive? If not, how can you better link the two?
Structure refers to how the brand position is delivered in the built environment. Regions Bank upped the ante with a modular design that defies the one-size-fits-all approach, allowing them to optimize their retail footprint strategically. Their new branch design leverages everything from direct communication through graphics, typography and digital content to subliminal cues such as enormous windows to express transparency. Where has your brand leveraged your position at each customer journey? Operationally focused elements such as compensation, pricing, staffing models and size/sizes and locations of the store environment would represent another set of elements.
Physical Versus Virtual: It is essential to define and understand the role of the online versus the physical environment. Mobile and digital banking need to support each other and feel connected from the customer’s point of view. What is the ideal relationship between the two, and how do they behave as individual engagement elements? It has become imperative for brands to design a path-to-purchase structure that leverages the best of both.
Location and Distribution Strategy: Brands’ service environments, distribution channels, and proximity to specific customer segments set the stage for the critical factors in delivering the value proposition. Knowing when to close or consolidate branches and what to do with legacy flagship locations that no longer see the kind of traffic they once did are issues that need to be looked at carefully. A strong understanding of which channels best engage and drive sales is an essential element for developing go-to-market structures.
Service Offering and Portfolio: One of the biggest challenges facing organizations is finding potential growth through white space innovation. However, on the positive side, if banks can create a detailed view of their core consumer groups and offer more specific, tailored offerings, there is still space for innovation.
Cost/Investment: Pricing has always been a critical element in how brands succeed and compete. Identifying ideal pricing models, price elasticity, and the role of promotional activities provides another leverage point for creating a competitive structure.
Staff Size and Needs: Staffing models and structures provide a robust platform for efficiencies while creating an effective platform for driving customer engagement. Understanding the structure of frontline employees that effectively aligns with the customer journey is critical in driving repeat visits.
CRITICAL QUESTIONS – STRUCTURE
- How have benchmark brands supported their positions in both virtual and real-world experiences? How will these insights impact how your organization positions itself?
- How have brands leveraged their distribution channels to differentiate themselves from competitors? Have brands put more emphasis on one or several distribution channels, or are they all treated equally?
- How have other organizations developed new services that may not be core to their brand? Which organizations have launched new platforms that were a success? Which failed?
- How have other brands evolved their positions to move away from an emphasis on price? Or is the price (fees) a key point of difference for your customers?
- How have other organizations leveraged employee branding to support their brand positions? Does your bank need Universal Bankers?
Identifying industry benchmarks leads to breakthrough positions and ways to transform organizations. The benchmark analysis should answer the following key questions: What current companies or brands best represent how your given challenge has been overcome through the levers of change we have identified here: message, process, and structure? How can you leverage some of these benchmarks to explore how you could remove, add, consolidate and eliminate an element as a foundation to make the positioning unique? If you were to do an image collage of the ideal position for the organization, what images and words would you use? Knowing your competition is imperative when considering making a change. Looking outside the world of finance can help break through biases to find innovative answers to challenges and create strong positions for banks. We hope the attached worksheet may be helpful to you in conducting a benchmark study, and as always, we welcome your questions and feedback.