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Going Local: Is it the Smartest—or Cheapest Option?

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Going Local: Is it the Smartest—or Cheapest Option?

Despite the recent transformation of financial services branches as digital services explode, the need to differentiate the essence of your brand and communicate relevant product solutions remains vital to user experience consistency and revenue creation at the point of sale.

Some would argue that the time spent by financial consumers in branches (especially in new ones) makes the physical environment the #1 choice of all touchpoints in creating a rich user experience (UX) that enhances relationships, grows wallet share and cements your brand, while establishing mission and values connections.

While financial services retailers often seek outside expert consultants to design their brand strategy and initial branch merchandising program concepts, when it comes to the production and ongoing rollout of the brand into the branch, they’re often fueled by a strong desire to use local, supposedly lower cost resources. Imagine Starbucks or NIKE Town handing off their entire brand experience and merchandising systems to a local firm to save a few dollars on a million dollar store rollout.

Is the “keep it local” aspiration really the superior – or even cheaper – way to produce high impact consumer-facing branding elements, digital content, signage and product messaging setting the tone and quality for your brand?

Compounding the lack of local environmental design and merchandising expertise is the absence of specialized skills to carefully engineer staff and client experiences and messaging at headquarters spaces.

Your organization’s most visible public branded showcase shouldn’t be handed off to local amateurs. Frequently we see inexperienced local firms mired in the intricacies of complex environmental HQ design solutions, wayfinding signage, tech demos and brand communications. The result is uninspired design, poor execution, change orders, overwhelmed leaders, and lower quality materials that erode any early hopes at achieving real “savings.” 

This DIY/Buy Local/Save money aspiration has created some prevalent myths. Let’s examine the top 6 most common ones:

Myth #1: No special financial industry knowledge is really required. 

In retail display and visual merchandising design, there is a level of expertise, constant material improvements, and new industry knowledge that only comes from immersion in the fields of custom large format graphics and retail fixture manufacturing for branch spaces. It’s not your fault. There simply isn’t time in the day or people in your resource pool to specialize.

At Weber Marketing, we link our 30-year niche expertise in the retail financial services category and the visual production industry behind our history of installing over 1,600 branch and HQ spaces. With merchandising experts who worked at Starbucks and REI Co-op, we bring an extraordinary combination of visual merchandising creativity, quality production methods, project engineering, and material cost savings that ensure we are always on budget, on time, on quality standards, and that we meet or exceed client expectations. You get exactly what you paid for with no excuses. Our multi-year client references tell our best story.

Myth #2: There are lots of skilled firms who do this.

There actually are a number of local large format digital printers, acrylic fabricators, sign companies, kiosk manufacturers, cable and hardware suppliers, and signage installers out there. The problem is, few integrate all the elements together; and fewer still specialize in financial brand environments (branches aren’t Verizon stores or Burger King). There are only a handful of expert financial industry vendors like Weber Marketing that orchestrate our partner quality standards at every step of design, fabrication, materials integration, quality control, construction management and installation of the highly specialized financial merchandising, digital and environmental graphics that create successful branch spaces. 

Go it alone and you’ll spend time and research locating the few local firms, if any, that do.  Be aware though that if your local resource doesn’t integrate each complex element and material of the retail display system, or work with your construction managers planning installations or remodeling – then your staff hours and risk just went up exponentially. Not to mention consistency, quality control and value delivered on each unique future project – all at prices that hopefully don’t go up. If all systems are not managed under one roof, your own team will spend untold hours managing details, sub-contractors, working shop drawings, and constant critical decisions - as you now become the “orchestrator.” You must now manage multiple complex vendors who don’t talk, don’t link quality standards and won’t own the end product result that sets the visual style and tone of your branch and HQ brand environment. You learn quickly that “results may vary,” and they generally do.

Myth #3: This will save lots of money—and time.

There’s an interesting phenomenon in the retail display that industry salespeople refer to as “lowballing the first project to win.” It happens all the time. Suppliers drop prices to win in the local new client over with an amazing set of savings – at any cost. Then later they figure out how to deliver a quality, integrated, flawless branch project that makes the new client happy. It’s not sustainable business practice. Suddenly clients realize that quality and materials weren’t quite what you expected. You demand makeovers: prices quickly go up. They didn’t bid working with your sub-contractors shop drawings or your facility teams and branches on planning flawless installations. It was a myth that you could actually save a ton going local.

Unlinked production processes, lower quality materials and mistakes cost money to fix. But the time that mistakes, lack of expertise, wrong decisions, or delays cost your staff and organization is incalculable. The learning curve on producing quality environmental graphics, wayfinding signage and retail fixtures are long and expensive.  With critical construction timelines, a constant flow of puzzle pieces and decisions that must all come together over months on installation day with sub-contractors, it doesn’t take much to derail a project, resulting in costly reworks and an unhappy C-Suite. Delayed or additional install trips, rush fees, expedited shipping and change orders add up fast and supposed “savings” disappear quickly. 

With an expert agency like Weber Marketing to plan, manage, guide, communicate with client teams and construction managers, you get exactly what you expected: on time, without surprise and without unexpected expense. With our manufacturing volumes, we negotiate great pricing up front with our trusted partners. We pass along volume savings that you will not be able to get on your own locally. As a result, we have affordable packages and quality options for any need and budget. Having an expert branding agency leading actually saves not only money, but massive staff time and resources. How do you calculate the value of your staff time? We don’t need to play the lowball game and it’s why we keep satisfied clients for years.

Myth #4: It's not that hard to do.

To do it right inside a high quality professional $1-$2 million branch space; with staff working there and clients is actually pretty hard. Mistakes, inferior quality and the consequences are very visible and messy while people are trying to run a professional financial branch.

We’ve been there: 1,600+ times. Merchandising may be new to you, and the finished installation may seem simple, but do you know how temperature and sunshine may affect each material substrate in your area - and can cause rapid failure? How LED light will affect graphic viewing and change colors? What degree of opacity is needed to achieve privacy or messaging visibility in window graphics? Which acrylic and glues will work best (or fail) on your hardwood laminate and metal kiosks or hardware systems? Who in the heck wants to really learn all that the hard way? We work out every project design detail and material decision with our production team, partners and our install team to manage quality control each step of the way. So your team doesn’t have to make each one of those decisions – and own the mistakes.

Myth #5: Local suppliers mean no crating and shipping costs.

Many local markets lack qualified and experienced environmental graphics, material fabricators or metal and wood craftsman that can deliver a robust and well-linked comprehensive merchandising program. Even in large metro areas, packaging and crating is required to transport elements safely – even a few blocks.

Weber Marketing negotiates annual freight forwarding volume discount rates across the US. In comprehensive test studies of shipping a standard crate of environmental graphics across the country from Seattle to New York, and across one state from Washington to Oregon, our crating and shipping costs were the same or less than shipping from more local or regional suppliers. If they’re across the street and experts at modern retail financial branch merchandising, hire them.

Myth #6: The facilities people can install all the graphics.

Most likely your facility staff (and local sign installers) have never managed the complexities of high quality environmental merchandising programs. Modern quality environmental graphics isn’t like hanging acrylic poster holders on the wall.  At Weber Marketing Group, we have our own internal team of retail installation experts with over 17 years of construction and branch installation experience. They have comprehensive knowledge of the wide array of engineered materials, mechanical solutions, construction issues and wall, window, ceiling and floor mounts they must carefully engineer in our environmental merchandising programs. They’re involved throughout the design and manufacturing process and know every detail of your specific products long before they’re onsite to complete the installation. If we provide a unique custom solution, or work on 25+ branch installs simultaneously, we also have vetted partners across the country under our direct supervision.

The best does not mean it costs more upfront, or over time.

At Weber Marketing Group, our retail merchandising business model is to provide our clients the highest quality, end-to-end, holistic, integrated and affordable retail environmental merchandising and digital design solutions in North America. That encompasses a total quality management approach for design, engineering, printing, fabrication, manufacturing, color matching, crating/shipping and installation. And we own the end product, budget and quality results.

Managing all of this effectively requires a highly specialized skillset. One that is typically not found in-house at most organizations, nor locally in a single retail merchandising or digital graphics firm. Optimism and hope surrounding a DIY localized approach to managing your environmental merchandising and graphics program to save money is not a strategy.

The reality is that going it alone comes with a steep learning curve; a minefield of hidden risks, constant decisions and potential errors. It is highly time consuming for your marketing, branch and facilities teams, in light of other vital priority projects. Travel this road with a highly experienced partner and guide and you will save untold aggravation, time, money and maybe even your reputation.

Co-authored by Ruth Kapcia.


John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy

John  brings nearly 30 years of senior branding, branch design, advertising, and innovative marketing experience to the table. He honed his skills at some of the nation's largest ad agencies, strategic consulting, branding, and branch strategy firms, including Brandpartners. Read more...

Ruth Kapcia, Director of Retail Experience

Ruth has over 25 years of experience in retail design and visual merchandising. At Weber, Ruth designs, plans, and develops some of the most innovative retail financial prototypes in North America, including a new branch model for Canada’s largest credit union, Vancity. Read more...

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Retail Insights: Capital One's New "Café Concept" in South Lake Union

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Retail Insights: Capital One's New "Café Concept" in South Lake Union

We work in a very urban neighborhood, South Lake Union, just a few blocks north of Downtown Seattle. The SLU area has been undergoing a significant makeover during the past 10 years - from an industrial warehouse no-man’s land to the land of the hip and cool, Uber-savvy and technology distracted individuals. It’s the land of Amazon!

This location is the 25th CapitalOne Café Concept in the nation. It opened on December 13th, 2017, after about a year of build-out. The day we stopped by, a large group was on site in the big conference room for planning and training for a new location, which will open in Bellevue in March of 2018.

Naturally, this has become heavily banked neighborhood, with three large national banks, a regional bank, and two credit unions within a three-block radius of our office. The new kid on the block – offering a remarkably different experience than its neighbors – is a Capital One location. We recently took some colleagues on a field trip to check out what makes this spot unique and a completely different strategy to branching.

The first thing you notice about Capital One's new branch has nothing to do with banking. It's a gleaming full-scale Peet's Coffee café occupying a portion of a beautifully designed and HUGE space (formerly a high-end rug showroom).  The brick facade carries into the interior of this two-storied location to combine old charm with new industrial, cozy tech.

Like nutmeg on your Peet's latte, this space has merely the lightest dusting of banking, so as not to overpower the experience. Each entrance has a pair of self-serve ITM machines in vestibules, but banking is hardly the focus here. The operative insight seems to be: people don't really like banking. Or at least not bank branches. Instead, they offer a space where banking is secondary to other, much cooler things – like great architecture and interior design, good coffee, community involvement, and art. 

The community is encouraged to use the space to work, meet, read and relax. The space offers a variety of areas for individuals and groups, including two large conference rooms which are exclusively available for non-profit organizations to reserve. On the day we visited, a front table was dedicated to DIY Valentine’s cards – made for your own use or to contribute to Mary's Place, emergency shelter for homeless families.

The first floor has round tables, a tech bar, and several semi-private nooks. Upstairs has an auditorium-style space with a stage and multi-screen presentation wall. Integration of technology throughout feels seamless from a distance, with a few operational bugs remaining up close. The overall design of this facility is genuinely impressive.

But is it effective for "moving the merchandise," so to speak? Do people really come here to become new Capital One customers? Do existing customers come in to sign up for additional products?

As we transitioned from the Peet's café section of the space, drinks in hand, we were greeted by a very friendly "Café Ambassador" who proudly sported a pair of red low-top Chuck Taylors. We posed our question to her: this space is stunning, but does it work?

She skillfully redirected this train of thought (their staffing and training programs are clearly dialed in). The point, she shared, is to give back to the community by offering a space and welcoming individuals and organizations into it. Our Ambassador did admit that – since Capital One is a 100% online bank – some people feel uncomfortable only interfacing with their bank online. When they come into a Capital One Café, they are guided through the process by a person – but they are still banking completely online. 

And that's the second operative insight underlying this retail strategy: as branch traffic has declined, the role of branches in the banking relationship has evolved. Consumers don't want to have to come into a branch for day-to-day transactions like depositing a check, but they still want to know they CAN. And they still want the comfort of knowing that a real-life person will walk them through whatever they need.

“Seattle now has a smaller share of offices sitting empty than San Francisco or Manhattan, the two most expensive commercial real-estate markets in the country,” according to Mike Rosenberg (@ByRoseberg), Seattle Times business reporter. Seattle commercial real estate is now more expensive than Chicago and Los Angeles, and business rents have recently increased 2.5 times faster than the national average. Full article here.

In the equation of this branch strategy, Capital One is rolling the cost of a regional network into one extraordinarily expensive piece of real estate: locating it in a hot spot, building it out with an emphasis on great design, quality finishes, technology meant to impress, and partnering with a regional coffee brand to generate foot traffic.

Suddenly, the branch’s competitive set includes co-working spaces like WeWork, not just big national banks, and “Third Places” like Starbucks, not just local credit unions. If every branch is an expression of the financial institution’s brand, Capital One is fully embracing that opportunity and making a Big Statement.


After our individual self-guided tours, our little away team regrouped to discuss our impressions, and how the Café Concept aligns with our own banking expectations:

Kory, Associate Creative Director

I appreciated the way the space retained the exterior and look of the prior building, and the use of materials and style in matching nicely with the urban feel of the neighborhood and its location.

My tween and teen daughters don’t understand how much more convenient online services like remote deposit capture are versus going into a branch to deposit a check, because they never had stopping by the bank as a part of their regular errands.

Bringing what consumers are now more familiar with as a virtual service – the Capital One credit card – into a physical presence is more like when Amazon opened its brick and mortar bookstores than when Chase opens a new high-end branch. It’s about offering a physical experience, which might be rarely used but have high emotional impact.

Joshua, Account Manager

It was a juxtaposition. The space and design of the café is really cool, modern and inviting – but I also felt a twinge of confusion. The banking aspects of the space weren’t well labeled and it took a bit of exploring to figure out where I would need to go to take care of my business. I like the self-service capabilities available, but it didn’t instill confidence for conducting more sophisticated banking, such as applying for loans. For me it felt too laissez-faire to discuss a home loan. Perhaps it was the layout of the space, the younger age of the staff, or the fact that this is just a new-to-me format. Overall, that feeling of confidence, trust, and experience wasn’t there for me.

Kathy, Production Manager

The atmosphere was warm, clean, open, airy, accessible, welcoming, tuned in, and innovative. As I spent a half hour there, sipped my latte, sampled the candied blueberries, noted the “make a valentine to be donated to a homeless charity” station, and plugged in my phone charger, my main takeaway was this: I immediately wanted to tell people about it, and that they should come here. Maybe not for the banking – but hey, “come for the vibe, stay for the banking!”

We also invited a special guest to participate in our conversation: Kathy's 19-year-old son, Sam. Because of the distinct business model, the "customer of the future" should get a chance to weigh in!

Sam, Student

Compared to my current experience at a large national bank, I felt slightly less tended-to by the staff, but I didn’t find myself missing it. I don’t know if I’d consider a full switch from my current bank, given the convenience of their ATMs throughout the world. I am, however, very interested in their credit offerings and potentially opening a line of credit at Capital One. The staff answered any questions I had and I appreciated their tech-forward business model. For me and people my age it makes a lot more sense having a solid and powerful banking app and online presence than going in and talking to a banker.


Downtown Seattle, and specifically South Lake Union, is the kind of place where a brand would want to make a Big Statement, and could perhaps justify the big investment to be here and to do something really category-breaking. But what about other neighborhoods that aren’t so “hot” but still have people who crave the reassurance that a real person is nearby and able to help. In other words, communities that credit unions serve across the country, who deserve branches that are relevant to their needs today and tomorrow.

Many financial institutions wrestle with what to do with their (often aging) branch networks, given the changing usage trends and industry-wide chatter of declining importance. At Weber Marketing Group, we know branches are still a vital channel to today’s omni-channel consumers. The question each credit union should be asking is: how do we shape our overall experience for the way our members want to bank today and into the future, and how can the branch environment better support that goal?

If Capital One’s Café Concept offers a lesson to other financial institutions, it is at least this: there is plenty of room for branches to break out of traditional expectations, and that difference can be delightful.

In any financial institutions's reimagining the branch experience of its future, we believe that exploring and openly considering retail models much different from the norm is a vital part of the process – along with robust data analytics, multidisciplinary collaboration, and, of course, the inclusion of industry-experienced partners.

So if you find yourself in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood – or if you are looking for a destination to inspire and prompt fresh thinking – you shouldn’t miss spending some quality time in this Capital One Café Concept. We’ll even meet you there for a cup of Peet’s coffee, sprinkled with just a hint of banking.


Co-authored by Charlotte Boutz-Connell, Director of Client Experience at Weber Marketing Group.

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Tigers Credit Union goes from campus to community

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Tigers Credit Union goes from campus to community

In college, students fear showing up late to class, but don’t want be first to show up at a party. Many financial institutions have struggled in a “pioneering” effort to appeal to the unique emotional bond that a college town niche can present for differentiation and growth.

For financial institutions trying to find unique ways to market to a rapidly growing millennial or college population, aiming for relevance is hard to grasp. Whether their brand is in need of a transformation, or just in need of articulation to reach this younger generation, the thought of diving all in to overhaul a struggling brand is intimidating.

Sometimes a company struggling with growth needs a complete overhaul to build a successful brand. Sometimes logo adjustments, a new color palette, identity, and a renewed vision are all it takes to unearth new opportunities, and reach the unique target they’ve been aiming at.

Tigers Community Credit Union, a subsidiary brand of West Community Credit Union (WCCU), had tried for years to focus their niche brand to the University of Missouri (Mizzou). WCCU created the sub-name (Tigers) after the school’s mascot and out of a desire to better relate to college students and faculty, a valuable part of the Columbia, MO population. The Tigers brand and branch would hopefully help truly connect to the Mizzou community and lifestyle, attracting the sought-after college market.

Tigers Credit Union operates in the highly competitive market among scores of credit unions and community, regional, and national banks. Some marketplace confusion was created due to a saturation of similar sounding organizations using the “Tigers” name. So the opportunity to differentiate the brand with a new identity could set Tigers apart.

A dated on-campus branch was struggling to grow business or traffic, as it was only accessible to students and faculty. Togrow membership, the branch was moved off campus to a high visibility central location to reach a larger community audience including young professionals. West Community reached out to Weber Marketing to design a new transformational branch and provide members with an experience, building off of a new Tigers brand.

“Our initial brand and marketing assessment provided valuable insights into overcoming the credit union’s growth challenges,” said Ruth Kapcia, Weber Marketing’s Director of Retail Experience. Immediately, a big hurdle identified was a vague brand promise that few staff could identify, let alone share. Additionally, a lack of target audience definition significantly hindered West Community’s growth potential and progress. Tigers was trying to be everything to everyone. Not a spot a brand wants to be in.

 Newly designed marketing collateral supports the brand essence of "believing in members."

Newly designed marketing collateral supports the brand essence of "believing in members."

Once the credit union’s challenges and goals were defined, they led to building a brand articulation project. West Community expressed a desire to focus on the link, or gaps, between the internal organization and its target market and brand, so Weber Marketing developed a tangible set of recommendations for improvement.

The Tigers brand strained West Community’s resources, brand consistency, and budget. To alleviate this pressure, the brands were unified more closely, while still maintaining distinct personalities.

In order to appeal to distinctly different target audiences and articulate a shared brand identity between West Community and Tigers, the logos were redesigned with a more consistent look.

The new logos unified the two brands, while maintaining a separate and creative identity. 

West Community’s old brand tagline — ‘More Than You Imagined’ — was also not working hard enough. It was missing the opportunity to link every interaction between the employees, communities, and members. The new tagline – ‘Banking On You’ – is not only more clear and concise, but captures the credit union’s brand essence to support people in pursuit of their dreams.

The new Tigers branch prototype included everything from revamped merchandising to a refreshed organizational brand. The newly designed merchandising material helped the credit union reach out to prospective new members in the wider surrounding markets.

 Old, disjointed  logos.

Old, disjointed  logos.

   
  
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  Unified logos bring the two brands together while maintaining their separate, unique identities.

Unified logos bring the two brands together while maintaining their separate, unique identities.

“The design of the branch has allowed us to staff very efficiently, which has helped us achieve a faster break-even on the location. We were able to get into positive earnings territory in just under three years, which is a bit faster than normal for a new branch location. Overall, the branch has a modern appearance that seems to align with the university culture but also helps us connect with the broader community in downtown Columbia,” shared West Community President/CEO, Jason Peach.

Transforming the brand identity and merchandising gave the Tigers Credit Union branch a new look and a fresh start, appealing to its new target audiences.

 The community gathering space is the perfect opportunity for brand storytelling.

The community gathering space is the perfect opportunity for brand storytelling.

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How to Create a Growth Map to Build Branch Expansion

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How to Create a Growth Map to Build Branch Expansion

Last fall, The Wall Street Journal spoke with two e-Commerce-driven retail brands, Warby Parker and Bonobos, about their expansion into physical locations as showrooms for their products. Both brands see a future that includes more brick-and-mortar locations.

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal revealed that he envisions more than 800 physical locations, and Bonobos founder Andy Dunn plans to have at least 100 stores by 2020. Dunn said he expects a “tidal wave” of e-Commerce companies making similar decisions.

But how can you ensure that shifting from online-only to more costly brick-and-mortar storefronts is a strategic move? The best way to answer this question is by linking your marketing customer data with Big Data to design a long-range growth map. A growth map allows you to use data analytics, market intelligence and market scoring methods to find the ideal audience for physical locations.

Determine Effective and Ineffective Locations

The high capital cost of storefronts and staffing is a challenge for nearly every business. It must pay off with new revenues and distinctive brand experiences. By building a long-range strategic growth model, organizations first establish the criteria most important for success. Using sophisticated psychographic targeting of lifestyle segments, companies can uncover unique needs and buying behaviors to tailor profitable products and services, balancing new digital technologies to deliver savvy experiences (like Amazon’s new Go stores, which use remote scanning and sensors instead of a traditional checkout, with plans for 2,000 retail stores).

With clear goals and metrics established, it’s time to gather data from existing customers, analyze the marketplace and psychographics and survey potential customers. Taking the resulting data and scoring it against the criteria your organization has deemed most important will help create a tailored model for your future growth map.

Establish a Five-Year Plan

Great real estate is costly, competitive and dynamic. By building a five-year plan, you can focus on priority expansion, find ways to close or move underperforming locations and redefine future priorities. You can move quickly on securing ideal site locations without thinking about key real estate decisions one at a time.

To effectively use a long-range growth map, use these six keys to get started:

1. Evaluate performance and behavioral trends.

Your customers’ buying preferences, behavioral data and actions should be at the forefront in determining your store or branch locations and investments. To gather that information, you’ll need to mine branch and store trends, analyze a range of existing customer data, and model market analytics and Big Data trends. These will showcase patterns and insights to help you discover ideal store or branch locations and forecast growth and performance.

2. Use target customer lifestyles.

For future branch and site planning, it’s important to identify the target lifestyle segments that are currently most profitable and were most recently activated. Using demographic and psychographic profiles to build segmentation strategies, you can greatly enhance your data decision-making. Segmentation and Big Data have advanced; they can now be geocoded and tied to your customers’ and prospects’ households to provide behavioral data patterns that can focus expansion and future growth.

3. Access generational concerns and channel usage.

Segmentation data allows you to analyze consumer patterns, purchasing, channel usage and behaviors, especially across generations. By establishing your target growth segments, you can utilize data insights to determine the distinct channel preferences of select Millennial or Gen-X targets, such as where they cluster and which channel mix to prioritize for onboarding and deepening relationships.

4. Use algorithms to score and model future location priorities.

Once targets are identified and prioritized, essential scoring criteria can be established to weight and rank markets, including competitor saturation, household incomes, debt and wealth, relevant small businesses and target segment concentrations.

These scoring algorithms and forecast data allow you to tailor a unique approach to market options over the next five years, both at a regional and micro level. Your priorities will identify possible profitable segments, and you can predict target population, job and retail growth for strategic site placement.

5. Focus on future business model design and integrated technologies.

As mobile and online experiences continue to improve and grow, brick-and-mortar delivery must shift to align with richer user experiences. At the right times, advice, expert guidance, problem-solving and peace of mind will remain a part of the experience mix many consumers still prize in physical branch locations and in relationships with your employees.

Designing your organization’s growth map to align with your business goals effectively guides deeper consumer experiences and engagement. Customers need to trust your business, employees and products — not only in person, but also via mobile and online experiences. Integrating new technologies and reworking complex processes to simplify buying for your consumers — like allowing them to schedule appointments via an app or providing them with online chatbots and help — will ultimately enhance satisfaction and engagement.

6. Provide a differentiated brand experience.

Traditional retail practices are giving way to positive brand experiences. It’s vital that your in-store or branch strategy engineers every detail of the customer’s experience from the moment he sets foot in the door. This is less about the furniture and physical space of your store or branch and more about your staff engagement, design staging, product awareness, digital messaging and brand focus.

Your long-range planning must include reimagining and redesigning a totally new experience your targets value. By simplifying cumbersome account opening or onboarding processes, reducing space inefficiencies, incorporating cutting-edge technology improvements and developing new cultural behaviors, everyone wins. Allow your staff and customers to participate in a fresh brand experience that will increase engagement, retention and referrals.

A data-driven growth map, a five-year plan, and the reshaping of your cultural talent and user experience designs are the best tools for determining your future performance. By reimagining your future business model and reinvigorating your experience, culture and growth goals, you’ll find greater success in creating a unique consumer experience and higher brand engagement with your customers.

Original article published October 17, 2017 on Retail Touchpoints.


 Mark Weber, CEO, Weber Marketing Group

Mark Weber, CEO, Weber Marketing Group

Mark Weber is a marketing analyst, brand strategy consultant, and financial services industry expert. He advises clients on strategic brand and growth initiatives. He is a national speaker and author, and blogs on branding, branch prototyping, emerging technologies, and consumer behavior trends. Read more.

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Merchandising is essential to a profitable branch

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Merchandising is essential to a profitable branch

When used strategically, a branch merchandising program can establish a powerful, personal, and long-lasting relationship between your organization and the member/customer.

In best practices, merchandising can be one of the most powerful marketing tools, one that communicates with members in a multi-sensory way. The more you can reach people through sight, sound, touch and interactivity, the more relevant you become, resulting in the opportunity to establish a strong emotional connection with your members.

Merchandising brands the retail environment as your space. Your branches become uniquely yours and they stand out amongst the sea of sameness found in many of your competitors’ branches.

Branch networks, for most financial institutions, are a patchwork of legacy locations, acquired locations, freestanding buildings, in-line spaces and a full myriad of sizes, shapes and interior design.

Merchandising is the common denominator that can tie your network together, building brand experience consistency and continuity across the entire spectrum.

When viewing the branch as a marketing medium, there’s perhaps no better place to deploy well-targeted and well-timed messages to people that have already taken the first step to a meaningful conversation; they made the choice to come in.

The opportunity to deepen the relationship, cross-sell, provide advisory referrals and to increase share of member/customer wallet is all fueled by a holistic and integrated merchandising program. The metrics and KPIs for your branches can be more readily achieved with a comprehensive plan for branding, marketing and messaging at retail.

The messaging elements themselves need strategic guidance to establish a hierarchy of storytelling as branch visitors navigate the space. There are opportunities for brand articulation, product and service features, promotion, technology demonstration and education, community engagement, heritage celebration and more.

The right merchandising program can be the difference between profitable branches and languishing ones.


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John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy

John Mathes directs our brand strategies and brings nearly 30 years of senior branding, branch design, advertising, and innovative marketing experience to the table. He honed his skills at some of the nation's largest ad agencies, strategic consulting, branding, and branch strategy firms, including Brandpartners. Read more...

Original article published here on cuinsight.com.

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Focus 2021: Strategies for building a high-performance branch network

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Focus 2021: Strategies for building a high-performance branch network

To request a copy of "focus 2021: strategies for building a high-performance branch network," please complete the form below.

Amidst the rapid rise of online and mobile technologies, one of the most critical challenges facing financial institution leaders is to understand how far and how fast to swing the pendulum — toward branch investment, or reduction? Answering the question of branch redistribution accurately, and investing wisely over the next five years requires savvy big data and performance trends crunching, coupled with expert analytical skills.

In order to accurately forecast growth data, digest consumer behavior insights, and reflect on your desired brand position and real estate strategies, you’ll need all factors working in sync. Most importantly, you’ll need the expertise of understanding diverse markets and predictive modeling to help you decide exactly where — and how far — to change the number of branches, sizes, shapes, transaction management, technologies and staffing model of your future branch network.

In our 13 years of market analysis and branch network forecasting with Weber Marketing, we’ve learned that making data-driven market decisions and growth forecast planning, combined with understanding our target member’s preferences and behaviors, has led us to make more intelligent and far more accurate real estate network decisions that have helped increase Logix’s bottom line performance and deliver rich and distinctive member brand experiences.
— Phil Hart, COO, Logix Credit Union | $5 Billion

This financial industry position paper will show you how to transform your market and branch performance in 5 steps. Learn how to leverage big data, psychographic segmentation, market scoring and user experience design to optimize results in 2021. How do you balance future digital investments against "smart" brick and mortar choices?  Request a copy now.

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First Merchants Bank: Designed for Inspiration

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First Merchants Bank: Designed for Inspiration

Inspiration can be a powerful tool. But it doesn't happen by accident.

With almost 6,000 U.S. banks (not including the 6,200 credit unions), operating nearly 100,000 financial branches, there is generally very little difference in their design, operations, or customer experiences. It is easy for consumers to get lost in the sea of financial brand “sameness.” Only rarely do consumers find a bold and modern branch experience as branded or well designed as an Apple Store or a boutique hotel.

The dated branch model poses a huge competitive growth challenge for community banks attempting to stand out among well-funded megabanks like Wells, Chase and Citi, and even strong regional banks like US Bank and PNC.

For one community bank, First Merchants Bank, the second largest financial services holding company in Indiana, their leaders decided to step up and take on the challenge of competing for brand distinction — and even inspiring employees head on. First Merchants President and CEO Mike Rechin shared, “our goal was to go from a fairly traditional bank branch toward a vision of community banking where customers, neighborhood business owners and community partners get the support and guidance they need to flourish financially, aligned with today’s technology and digital banking habits. We knew this differentiated approach would require a strong brand partner to help us design a completely distinctive experience.”

So how does a bank take on the challenge of attracting customers?

When people hear the word ‘bank’ today, many have a well-defined perception of a very traditional brick and mortar branch with long teller lines. And who wants to spend one extra minute waiting inside a branch?

That’s exactly the stigma the $7 billion First Merchants wanted to alter. The First Merchants team reached out to national financial brand experts Weber Marketing Group of Seattle, WA. They wanted to shatter the perceptions of a boring bank by finding fresh inspiration and brand relevance in the design of a brand new prototype branch: one that looked more like 2020 than 1980.

We knew this differentiated approach would require a strong brand partner to help us design a completely distinctive experience.
— Mike Rechin, President & CEO, First Merchants Bank
 A cross-functional design team collaborated with the Weber team to create a distinctive new branch prototype.

A cross-functional design team collaborated with the Weber team to create a distinctive new branch prototype.

Their journey first took them on the road to a series of Weber-led Seattle experience tours to explore brand leaders. From Starbucks new flagship Roastery prototype, to REI, Umpqua Bank, Pike Place Market, and finally the world’s largest foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it was the first step in their Prototype Visioning Process to create an experience completely unique to their Indiana bank brand.

Finding brand inspiration in unlikely places.

When you think of non-profit organizations, rarely do you think of world-class architecture, an 11,000 sq ft curated visitors center filled with life-changing stories, hands-on activities, global partner features and videos of real-life community struggles.

Bank leaders found their inspiration in the halls of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, during their brand tours in Seattle, WA. They heard compelling stories and inspiring conversations that help support a paradigm shift  in their approach to creating a differentiated banking experience. 

But why inspire? This is a bank, after all. There are financial targets to hit, customers to retain, new customers to attract. What can inspiration do to help increase performance or growth?

First Merchants Bank’s First Vice President, Retail Banking, Deborah Robinson shared, “we began to realize we had to answer the question of ‘why’ first. It was even more important than ‘what’ we were trying to do with a new prototype. For us, The Gates Visitor Center humanized hundreds of global poverty obstacles they tackle daily by sharing why they are motivated to improve lives.” It struck a huge chord from a community bank perspective and provided affirmation that doing things differently – delivering a truly differentiated experience – could in fact make a positive impact in the quality of our customers’ lives and their own communities.”

 The Gates Visitor Center features brand engaging storytelling and displays to inspire corporate and personal philanthropy.

The Gates Visitor Center features brand engaging storytelling and displays to inspire corporate and personal philanthropy.

“Action might be what we care about, but inspiration will lead us there. Inspiration is a tool, not just a byproduct that must be managed if you hope to attract new customers,” says Josh Streufert, Creative Director, Principal at Weber Marketing.

From those early Seattle brand tours and ensuing Visioning sessions and personal storytelling, came the inspirational goal to fuse old and new technologies into key design focal points to be seen throughout the new Broad Ripple branch prototype. 

Targeting a dynamic & competitive urban market.

In a small Indianapolis neighborhood known for its artsy vibe, innovators, and unique entrepreneurial ways of thinking, First Merchants decided to take on the challenge of tackling a hip, urban market called Broad Ripple. Market research revealed three key audience lifestyle targets to which this new experience would likely appeal. In addition to focusing on the young professionals and small business owners with tech- savvy habits, First Merchants wanted to spark conversations, provide engagement opportunities and shake up status quo banking in the market.

“We used bold language to challenge the status quo of banking and inspire a partnership, like “What can we build together?” said Weber’s Streufert.

Inspiring customers and leveraging positive culture shifts with a welcoming vibe.

It is important to grow inspiration not only from the people in front of the counter but also behind it. To the First Merchants team this meant creating a branch that inspired positive interactions, not only with staff and customers, but with smart phones, personal social media content and tablet technologies. 

A bank, like home isn’t just about the physical space, but the people inside it. First Merchants values their employees as their greatest asset, and thoughtfully sought employees who were willing to bring their authentic self to work. They sought individuals who wanted to engage and interact with customers and people in the community, not just monotonously going to a job at a bank.

 From the locally roasted coffee bar, to conversation starting visual messaging, every detail of the prototype is tailored to the brand experience.

From the locally roasted coffee bar, to conversation starting visual messaging, every detail of the prototype is tailored to the brand experience.

The Weber Marketing team worked very closely with a hand-picked team of cross- functional leaders at First Merchants to help develop an inspiration-rich environment. Together, they created a space that tapped the most meaningful desires and life needs of the Broad Ripple community: a first child; a new home or a move; or funding for a growing small business.

In an effort to focus on the uber-local centric nature of the Broad Ripple community, First Merchants sourced local products for all of the branch features, down to the locally roasted coffee beans for their coffee bar and local artists whose work was showcased on digital displays and offices. 

This new branch prototype ‘brings a fresh and inspiring perspective to the future of preserving and growing wealth, as well as inspiring entrepreneurs far beyond just their money,’ according to Ruth Kapcia, Director of Retail Experience at Weber Marketing.

The inspiring new brand vision for First Merchants is realised in every detail.
— Deborah Robinson, First Vice President, Retail Banking

Building an innovative mobile & social interactive channel "first". 

In banking today, mobile technology is reshaping consumer experiences with highly developed smart phones, apps, and social media. There are vast ways to connect people that banks have not yet learned to fully tap.

Weber and First Merchants set out to develop a new mobile application for their customers that would inspire “social conversations” around what was important in their lives, and the causes and local non- profits they most cared about.

So Weber Marketing turned to their digital partner Codigo to help create a “first to market” Omni-channel “Social Media Wall.” It updates in real time, smart phone user comments that are simultaneously uploaded in the branch and on social sites.

 Guests are invited to be part of the branch experience. With a mobile app and interactive social wall, their photos and stories are easily shared.

Guests are invited to be part of the branch experience. With a mobile app and interactive social wall, their photos and stories are easily shared.

The custom designed Social Wall gives customers a voice in community impact by uploading mobile user content to social media sites.
— Josh Streufert, Creative Director, Weber Marketing Group

The inspiring new brand vision for First Merchants is realized in every detail of the branch, from local artifacts, to workspaces open to the community for hosting meetings or talking through financial options from a banking specialist. The bold colors, graphics and inspiring quotes resonate with the eclectic Broad Ripple community. Robinson added, “people almost can’t believe it’s a bank branch, but we’ve seen people inspired to move their banking relationships to a place that defines how they want to be treated and recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of their community. The banking center is additive to Broad Ripple. Our goal was to recognize, serve and celebrate what makes them unique.”

Showcased to a sold out house at BAI retail deliverY 2015.

The new branch prototype was showcased during a panel presentation featuring First Merchants’ Robinson and Weber Marketing’s Streufert at the 2015 BAI Retail Delivery Conference.

The standing room only crowd was hungry to learn how a branch prototype might transform a typical transaction relationship into a differentiated experience that inspires customers, employees, and communities alike.

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Branch photography used by permission of First Merchants Bank.

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What's Apple's "biggest product?" The store.

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What's Apple's "biggest product?" The store.

Yes, you read that right.

If you were actually answering that question, you might have said the iPhone. Maybe even the iPad, MacBook, Apple TV or Apple Watch… but I doubt you would have answered it with “the store”. Yet that’s exactly what Apple’s Retail Chief, Angela Ahrendts, told Fortune Magazine at a recent conference.

Apple stores are being redesigned to feature a Town Square that connects each location to the community it serves. Anchoring the space is a “huge” digital screen that defines the forum area. Customer needs are handled by roaming staff dubbed “creative pros” who are solely available to teach customers skills such as how to take better pictures with their iPhone’s camera or how to use photography apps. They also help with downloading Apple Music, gaming and art apps. 

What does all of this sound like? Well if you’re familiar with Weber Marketing Group’s retail design services, we hope you would say it sounds like the vision and model that we craft for many of our retail financial services clients all across North America.

Connected to the community? Check.

Universal associates educating clients on products and services? Check.

Engagement space for events, seminars and clinics? Check.

Self-serve automation for transactions monitored by fewer FTEs? Check.

Several years ago we used to hold the Apple Store and the Genius Bar up as the gold standard of retail design. Everyone would fawn over the coolness factor of the space. Well now it appears that Apple is heeding the advice that we often dispense to our clients when it comes to retail modeling…. it’s not the design. It’s your brand experience and business model that should be driving strategic decisions about how the space unfolds and connects. And a big part of that strategy usually involves an integrated community component.

Apple acknowledges that retail, and the communities it serves, is a vital component of their delivery. Check.

What’s the state of your brick & mortar network? Should we be working on a solution to integrate it into the communities you serve with a differentiated brand experience? If you check this statement, maybe you should check out Weber Marketing Group.

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Blending Technology with Physical Spaces

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Blending Technology with Physical Spaces

Amazon recently opened its first retail brick and mortar store in Seattle's University Village. Our retail team took a short road trip to check it out.

I realized right away how ironic it was to be walking into in a physical store belonging to the largest online store in North America. Why would a company that started selling books online, wiping out retail bookstores, decide to open its own retail bookstore? I’m sure Amazon has many answers, but it comes down to touch points with their brand.

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Amazon, like many of our financial services clients, wants to be part of your everyday life and have different brand touch points. A retail space delivers a unique brand experience that online purchasing cannot deliver. Designing the user interface (UI) of the future involves designing a branch of the future. The UI of the future should bridge both technology and physical spaces. 

Glancing around the store, customers can quickly see the "book eye candy" because all the books are cover facing. Whoever said to never judge a book by its cover has not done book sales research. A nicely designed cover will sell more books. Amazon also only stocks books in their store that are best sellers, highly reviewed or hot and new.

None of the books in the store have prices on them. Finding out the price involves bridging amazon.com directly into the store. You can either use your amazon.com mobile app, or check the price from a store kiosk which displays the price on the amazon.com website.

The ability to physically see, touch, pick up and open the books helps you understand why not everyone reads from a Kindle or has fully embraced e-books. If we all felt we needed only e-books, no one would make physical books. Physical books still outsell digital books and, in fact, physical book sales are trending upward. Amazon has probably recognized that in order to sell more books they need to have to have more access touch points, and that's exactly what they're doing with their retail store. 

I'm sure Amazon's retail strategy will be just as aggressive as their online strategy. The trick for them will be finding the perfect blend of technology and retail space. They will either turn their retail brand experience into a gem like their existing website, Fire TV and Amazon Echo, or it will flop like the defunct Amazon Fire Phone. My bet is on another gem for Amazon.

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5 Things to Tackle First in Transforming Your Branch Model Performance

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5 Things to Tackle First in Transforming Your Branch Model Performance

If you’re like everyone else in retail banking, you’re probably trying to figure out how to keep your branches relevant and profitable in a traffic-declining environment. It might surprise you that some of the most important items to tackle in your branch evolution have nothing to do with architectural design. To get started, what you really need to do is define the optimal business model for your organization and your markets. There are many, many factors that will influence your model, but here are five candidates for you to consider as you begin your journey.

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Branch Makeover: Live from the Financial Brand Forum

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Branch Makeover: Live from the Financial Brand Forum

As one of three design teams selected at the Financial Brand Forum, we were challenged with presenting a branch design concept to NYC-based Municipal Credit Union—live on stage, in front of 900 conference attendees. This presented a terrific chance to share our perspective on innovation.

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Starbucks Theatre of Roasting

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Starbucks Theatre of Roasting

Seattleites know coffee. In fact, we've been called coffee snobs. So what does Starbucks, a major coffee icon in a coffee town, do when a green mermaid logo has become synonymous to the McDonalds’ golden arches where you can expect convenience and consistency? In a town of coffee snobs – me included – you need more.  To stay relevant, Starbucks has created a very high-end, state of the art prototype store. A prototype store is nothing new for Starbucks, but this store,  rumored to cost $20 million dollars, took it to a whole new level.

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Inside the Elevations Branch 2.0

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Inside the Elevations Branch 2.0

When you love where you live, it matters where you bank. Elevations Credit Union, based in Boulder, CO, built their brand on that premise. It's about loving local, embracing differences, and reflecting the community in which you live. Weber helped Elevations define a branch prototype that extends that brand positioning into the newest Elevations branches — the first of which opened to the public this summer.

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5 Tips for Your Next Branch Transformation Project

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5 Tips for Your Next Branch Transformation Project

The new wave of mobile, social and online banking is reshaping how consumers bank. Their preferences and patterns are shifting forever. Financial institutions are scrambling to define how their traditional teller-focused transactional model will shift – or fade away. But what can you do to set your brand apart from competitors in meaningful and relevant ways to evolve technology and connect with consumers and business audiences?

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