Branching Out

From branch lobbies to drive-up ATMs, physical retail facilities should be major platforms for branding, marketing and cross sales

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Even if some online and mobile banking customers never set foot in a branch, branches and other retail outlets can still serve as some of the most important marketing and branding billboards for a bank, according to facilities and retailing experts.

Community banks that creatively maximize both the interior and exterior of their branches—and even their stand-alone ATM drive-thrus—will be better positioned to capture people’s attention and get the most mileage out of their marketing dollars.

“Their exterior needs to distinguish them from other banks [and show] why they are unique as a financial institution,” says Paul Seibert, vice president of financial design at EHS Design in Seattle. “The architecture needs to tell a story.”

At least one bank branch needs to be a retail “flagship branch,” because people still value proximity to a physical location—even if they don’t use it for banking transactions, says Sean Keathley, senior vice president of NewGround, a retail services group at St. Louis. A bank’s flagship branch—not necessarily the bank’s operating headquarters—is typically a little larger in size and is located on a busy corner. It should have large windows that allow people to see activity in a branded environment.

“A bank needs to keep the window blinds open, so people can always see activities inside,” Seibert says. “Video is often used in the branch internally, but it needs to be seen by the outside, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Dave Martin, executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Bank subsidiary in Sugar Land, Texas, says community banks should ask themselves the following questions: What are the sight lines of their branches? What does the landscape and parking lot look like? Are branch employees allowed to park their cars in front of the bank in the middle of the day, so the parking lot doesn’t look empty? All these retailing questions need to be considered and acted upon, he says.

Lighting is also extremely important—just ask Vernon Hill, who used to be chief executive of the former Commerce Bank in Cherry Hill, N.J., says Martin. “Vernon Hill used to keep more lights on at night than the competition, so that the branches were lit up like Christmas trees. The bank had some of the highest branch awareness in the industry,” he says.

All of these details can make a difference in projecting a dynamic environment and in cross-selling products and services, retailing experts agree.

Branch roles

Mark Weber, president of Weber Marketing Group in Seattle, advocates that the internal designs of branches should be “re-engineered” to reflect a seismic retailing shift in the banking industry. He says branches need to fully participate in moving more customers to electronic banking channels, and move toward more cross-selling of additional advisory products and services, such as wealth management or small-business advice.

To meet these goals, branch interiors should devote less space to traditional transactions and use space more efficiently for sales and advice. More sales staff should be out in front, and for backroom privacy, staff could share “hoteling spaces,” Weber says.

Additionally, if a community bank wants to position itself as a high-level concierge banking service provider, for example, it needs to place highly trained employees who can answer at least the first level of questions about sophisticated financial products and services in its retail locations.

Those employees shouldn’t “just be greeters with glorified titles who point at people and tell them to sit in the waiting area,” Weber adds.

As part of retail-based cross-selling, banks also need to re-engineer branches so that employees can more easily move around and engage customers in potential sales, Seibert says. Replace isolated community rooms with more highly visible areas in main lobbies that host kinetic community events, including financial seminars that can help position the bank’s products, services and expertise. Tax assistance events or financial counseling for small-business customers are useful events.

Moreover, community banks should always educate customers visiting their branches about all of their other channels, as well as give them the opportunity to sample the products by themselves or with the aid of employees at “technology bars,” says Chad Walker, account executive with AdQue Digital Displays Systems in Nashville, Tenn.

Several facilities design experts say branches need to be designed with flexible interiors—possibly with moveable walls that can easily form new spaces—to allow for inevitable change, particularly with constantly evolving technologies.

More branches should also feature a “stage” where a bank can alternate displays, such as a model of a house with a card next to it showcasing mortgage rates or a Smart car promoting auto loans, Seibert says. “The point is to create change, so that branches and messaging are interesting and engaging.”

Going digital

AdQue sells interactive digital media systems that employ video to educate customers about products. “Video conveys emotion and is engaging in its ability to influence and gain attention like no other medium,” Walker says. “The more dynamic, visual messaging with motion is more engaging and more likely to be noticed and recalled.”

Interactive lobby touch screens can also give customers the ability to forward information on their bank’s products and services to their own email accounts. Lobby and conference room videos can allow retail and commercial customers to connect with the bank’s various experts for in-depth or technical discussions.

At the drive-thru, community banks can leverage large video screens that can be seen by multiple cars, Walker says. While waiting, customers can learn more about products and services, with invitations to come into the branch with certain calls to action, such as “talk to us today.”

Banks can use ATMs to tout promotions either on the screens or on transaction receipts. But Martin’s favorite tactic is flashing the name and picture of the branch manager
on the ATM screen. “It reminds folks that the bank is more than machines,” he says. “It’s made up of real people, supporting their communities.”

Chris Hamilton, an EHS Design principal, urges banks to replace their printed marketing collateral with self-directed kiosks that can print information customized to the needs of each customer. Of course, flatscreen TVs can promote branding experiences and products and services in engaging ways.

But sometimes a marketing campaign with an overly active product push can turn off people, Keathley says. Interspersing the right TV promotions that carry more subtle brand messages—perhaps as well as information about local community events relevant to the particular demographics of a branch, such as advertising a local wine and cheese event—can be highly effective for a branch serving high net-worth customers, for example.

But today’s new branch retailing tools don’t necessarily need to be highly technical or fancy. One of Martin’s favorite branch marketing tools is a dry-erase board. “They may not always be pretty, but they aren’t static,” he explains. “It’s one of the most effective, and cost-effective, branch marketing tools available.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a financial writer in Running Springs, Calif.