5 Ways Banks Make Customers Feel Bad and How to Stop

Posted by Garrett Curry on Apr 9, 2018 9:00:00 AM


Before we go any further, we need to get something straight.

What does "brand" mean? What is branding? You and I have to be on the same page here.

So let's come up with a working definition. This is an ongoing conversation defining what brand is, and I discovered years ago the simplest and most meaningful way to describe it.

Brand is everyone's gut reaction to you.

It's plain and simple. Now, that can come out in a logo, space design and words, but what it comes down to is how people feel about you. What's interesting about that is your brand originates from other people. Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, your brand is your brand. It's either a problem or it's an asset.

Now that we have defined brand, let's talk about what branding is.

Branding is you influencing that gut reaction others have about you.

So let's say the gut reaction people have about your bank or credit union is unremarkable. Well, you could actually do things to make it remarkable. Let's say it's negative. Let's say it's ugly. You are able to influence how people perceive you.

We're going to take one little part of that idea today—words. We will look at the words you use and how those words make others feel—about themselves and about your brand. In particular, we're going to talk about how banking jargon makes your customers and prospects feel bad, stupid, frustrated, bored or annoyed. Let's go.

1. Assuming customers understand (or care about) what you're saying.

When I do ad copy or write brand narrative or I'm challenged with a marketing obstacle, I basically operate under a few assumptions.

#1: no one cares at all.

It's hard to hear, isn't it?

No one cares. We assume people will care if we have something to say. In fact, you should assume they don't and know that is an obstacle to overcome. Usually people don't care about something they have no reason to care about.

#2: no one has time.

There are 10,000 messages we are hit in the face with every day. Maybe 1% will cut through the noise, and maybe that's something people pay attention to. The challenge is big. People simply don't have time to process through all these messages.

But most importantly, when they do encounter a message and they are reading or absorbing it, they don't have time to interpret the message. If it's all in code and insider language, they tap out. Those are the challenges we face in marketing—in any business, but especially banking.

When we assume our message is important, our customers should pay attention, and then naturally they'll understand the message—we unintentionally make our customers feel stupid, bored or worse, they don't feel anything.

2. Taking the scenic route, when you should offer a shortcut.

Remember, no one cares and no one has time.

Humans love shortcuts—in thinking, walking, driving, or working. We just want to get from point A to point B. 

Unless I'm out on a nature walk, don't take me on a long, winding path. That's annoying. So that's the first thing about the scenic route. The other thing is, your customers wonder WHY you're beating around the bush. You may think you're just being thorough, using proper terminology, explaining things the way you understand them. That may not be how Joe Smith sees it.

If your message takes the scenic route, you may be intimidating Joe and making him feel stupid.

Think back to a time when someone used a big, fancy word in a conversation, when a simple word would've worked. Maybe you had never heard the word before and didn't know what it meant. How did that make you feel?

I remember the first time someone used the word facetious with me, in junior high, when they were 'kidding with me' — I'm just being facetious. I never wanted to talk to that person again, because it was in a public conversation, in class, and it kind of made me feel dumb. And when you do that, I think people feel like: Are you messing with me? Why aren't you just straight forward?"

Whether you intend it or not, jargon is intimidating.

3. Putting complicated terms on your website navigation menu.

First of all, be assured that I think you are cute and clever. I like you.

But, don't be cute. Don't be clever. Not with your website navigation. No one cares if your navigation items are "on brand." Make it simple and straightforward.

This is Capital Point Marketing's number one rule for organizing a new website. Your customer shouldn't have to even take a second look or thought to understand your top-level navigation items. Ask yourself, is it obvious what I will find in that area of the website? Banking websites can have very deep and complicated menus, so it's important to keep navigation terms clear and concise. For example:

Online Banking

Keep it simple and straightforward throughout the menus, but especially at the very top.

4. Speaking your own language, not the customers.

Insiders of any industry tend to leave people behind and ignore them. You're having a conversation with Debbie Customer and you start using insider terminology. Suddenly, Debbie doesn't feel like she's even part of that conversation anymore.

What is Debbie feeling? You tricked me into talking with you, and now you aren't even talking to me. You're talking to a wall and you don't seem to know what I'm thinking or feeling at all.

Here's why that happens, though. This entire article may feel like an insult to you as an expert. You may be thinking, hey listen, I've worked hard to become an expert! I'm good at my job. Why should I have to dumb things down? Why should I have to change the way I interact with people? I don't intend to intimidate people or make them feel dumb!

Yes, you're right. You are an expert and you do know a lot of things. You don't mean to start getting jargony and flying over people's heads. That's my point. First, we have to admit there's a problem and that we have an obstacle to overcome. There's a knowledge gap that exists between the expert and the novice.

You, the expert, are at a level 10. You're a Jedi, a Wizard, a Guru within your industry.

The novice, your young Luke Skywalker, will not be able to keep up. That expert's task is to begin to speak the language of the novice. Not your own language, but the language of the novice. That's really the whole point of our Brand Distillery Workshopto unlearn jargon, let go of it and begin speaking the language of your customer.

5. You're not having an interesting conversation.

Last thing about jargon. It is not sexy. It is not attractive. It turns people away. 

Think about being on a date. Is it attractive when your date only talks about himself or herself? How smart they are, how accomplished, how many degrees they have. What if he or she starts monologuing about their very technical job that you know nothing about? Are they trying to impress you? Are they even interested in having a conversation with you, or do you get the feeling they would rather talk shop with their buddy?

Jargon in your marketing message is a non-starter, because it's not an interesting conversation.

The financial world is a very, very competitive world. Everyone assumes that they are unique and they are different. That might be so from their own perspective.

But to the public, banks and credit unions are all the same.

They really are using the same words, using the same jargon, sharing the same list of products and services, so it's all kind of the same. When we choose to use jargon all the time, when we use that common speak of insider language, we're basically all saying the same thing. Give it up. Be remarkable!

Here is your homework:

Define what a bank or credit union is without using common words or jargon. Don't use the word checking. Don't use the word savings, ATM, online banking, or mortgage. What do you have left? Dig deep and you'll find more meaningful language that connects to people on a deeper, emotional, human level.

Explore that for a little bit and write a definition of what a bank or credit union is, and I think you might be surprised what comes up. It's a great exercise to do alone, but you can do this with your team for fun. On a Monday morning, get them together and make them sweat and get really intimidated and try to drill something out. I'm curious to see what you come up with. Email us at podcast@capitalpointmarketing.com and we may share your definition on an upcoming episode of the podcast.

You can listen to longer conversation about this topic on the Capital Point Marketing podcast here.

Tags: branding

Subscribe to Email Updates


  • Allison Gibbs
  • Michael Reynolds
  • Stephanie Fisher