When most people want a tissue, they say they need a Kleenex. When you cut your finger, you don’t say you need an adhesive bandage—you need a Band-Aid! When you need to make a photocopy, regardless of the brand of the machine, you make a Xerox copy. Many marketers would consider this a compliment, especially if you work for the company that’s in the common lexicon as both product and brand. But what happens when you are a unique brand that makes superior products that compete with Kleenex, Band-Aid or Xerox? Are you doomed to spend countless marketing dollars simply trying to be recognized?
Similarly, not all banks are created equal, but some in Washington would love for people to believe that all banks are the same, just as some marketers want everyone to believe that all tissues are Kleenex. For example, whether for cover or clout, some would argue there are benefits to blurring the lines between too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks and the nation’s community banks. It’s a brilliant PR move, so thinly veiled it almost sounds genuine. Let’s convince everyone that all banks suffer the same maladies of bad reputations from ill-gotten gains. Perhaps if we say it often enough, and in a convincing, empathetic tone, everyone will simply believe it’s true. After all, a bank IS a bank—a purposefully created, well-disguised eponym. How would your community bank fare as a victim of brand-washing?
This raises a challenge for our industry—the community banking industry. We must not allow the biggest and riskiest financial firms to drag our reputations down with them. We must not allow them to compromise the positive image that community banks have earned. We cannot allow them to dilute our brand.
I’m troubled when some members of the banking industry say banks have a reputation problem. Yes, the mega-banks do have a reputation problem. The too-big-to-fail Wall Street institutions that wrecked our financial system and economy have a reputation problem. But community banks are held in high regard among policymakers and the general public alike. Community banking offers positive associations, such as small-business loans to Main Street businesses, financial literacy lessons for neighborhood schools, and mortgages that help first-time homebuyers experience the American Dream.
My point is that community banks have worked hard to establish our unique position in the financial services industry, and we should not allow our brand to be taken away from us. When someone asks if you’re a banker, stand proud and say, “I’m a community banker.” If someone asks if you work for a bank, proudly say, “I work for a community bank.”
We cannot and should not be lumped together with those mega-banks whose past and continuing actions sully the good name of banking. We must defend and promote the community bank brand proudly because nobody else will do it for us—certainly not Wall Street. At ICBA we give voice to and work for community banks every day, and we will keep doing everything we can possibly do to prevent our brand from being tarnished or taken away from us. We are different; we are unique; we are community banks.