Differentiation: Make Your Brand Stand Out

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It’s a crowded market.

With more than 10,000 different banks and credit unions across the country, financial marketers like you face a daunting daily challenge: How do you stand out in a sea of sameness?

True, we know there’s a lot of variety among financial institutions, but most consumers just see the similarities. They hear, “We’re different!” But they don’t usually see how.

So how do you make your financial institution stand out, win new customers or members, and keep them?

To differentiate your brand in the marketplace, you’ll need to develop a brand and messaging that delve deeper into the needs and goals of your customers and show how you fulfill them. Your bank or credit union marketing should go beyond the features that improve people’s finances. Talk about how you’ll enhance their lives.


In the brand differentiation process, every financial institution starts with the basics: features. These are the functional attributes you offer, such as free checking, local branches, and low rates on loans.

A simple example of a feature: the 2% APY on a promotional CD.

Talking up features is an important way to differentiate yourself from competitors, but it isn’t enough to build loyalty or stay top of mind in your community, especially with so many competitors advertising similar features.


If features are what you offer, benefits explain why. Banks and credit unions often don’t take enough time to emphasize their benefits, either at the product level or in the overall banking relationship they offer. But translating your features into real-life results should be central to your messaging.

After all, an APY is just a number. But earning more money? That’s a benefit.

Designing your campaigns and brand positioning around benefits shows your audience the value your financial institution can bring to their lives: simplicity, free time, increased wealth. They’re abstract on their own, but the right financial content brings these aspirations to life and makes your brand appealing (and memorable) by association.


If few brands talk enough about benefits, fewer still focus on the promise of a better life. At this level, emotionally rich storytelling helps connect your brand to a better lifestyle.

If the end goal of branding is to get consumers to personally identify with your organization, lifestyle-driven content is how you do it.

As one customer loyalty study found, 43% of people spend more on brands that they’re loyal to, and creating an emotional brand is an important way to achieve this. In the words of Zig Ziglar: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”

Back to that CD. The feature, remember, is its 2% APY. And the benefit is the depositor’s ability to earn more money.

Now, the lifestyle you’re promoting through this product could involve the freedom to save enough for a long-awaited Caribbean vacation. Let’s face it: A hammock on the beach resonates more than an APY.

Make It Personal

A while back, The Financial Brand shared a list of the 15 most common brand positions in retail banking. Odds are, you’re using a number of these tactics in your own marketing plan. Whether you find it’s best to highlight your community ties, technology, or affordability, you should translate these features into real-life benefits.

How do you contribute to your customer’s life story? Your brand identity should help answer this question.

Be Aspirational but Relatable

Does your marketing copy and imagery create a sense of familiarity? Even if you rely on stock photos and video, you should find visuals that match the identities of your core audience. Are they urban or rural? Working-class or affluent? Millennials or boomers? What other traits do they share?

From billboards to digital ads to TV spots, consumers should see themselves and their goals reflected in your brand.

Make an Emotional Connection

Storytelling is important. We’ve all seen the first-time homebuyer and small-business owner tropes, but there are plenty of other life stages, goals, or circumstances you can draw from to humanize your products and services.

Better yet, let your team members or loyal customers tell their own story through testimonials or video profiles. Make sure your audience can put a face to your brand.

Be Local

Maintain a presence at community events. Have your team volunteer and organize financial workshops or business events. You don’t need to be locally based to stay locally engaged.

Other agencies scratch the surface. At Lightstream, we dig deeper to help banks and credit unions create a brand that reflects their strengths and values, speaks to their specific audience, and stands out from the crowd. Connect with us today to learn more.