It’s not about customer service


Ask the CEO of any community bank what makes his bank different from the others, and you’ll hear over and over again – “customer service”, “personal attention”, “small town values with big city services”.

I did a quick review of the taglines associated with community banks in North Carolina, and found innumerable versions of the same thing:

“Smaller bank, bigger service” – Community Bank of Rowan

“Big Enough to Serve You, Small Enough to Know You” – First Carolina State Bank

“Small enough to know you, large enough to serve you” – Surrey Bank and Trust

“Small enough to care” – Southern Community Bank and Trust

“Hometown service. Big bank services.” – Home Savings BankHome

It seems to me that what these banks are touting as a differentiator is actually what makes them all the same. Brand is not created on what makes your company or product the SAME as your competition, but what makes your company impossible to replicate.

One of my favorite definitions of brand – and what breeds brand loyalty – comes from Dr. Jay Barney of Ohio State University. According to his VRIO model, a brand has to possess the following attributes:

• Valuable – Solves a problem or fills a legitimate need for your customer

• Rare – Something that your competition doesn’t have

• Costly to imitate – Almost impossible for your competition to replicate

• Organizationally leveraged – Your company compliments and communicates the brand value on all levels

I’d like to ask those CEO’s the same question again, but in the VRIO context: “What makes your bank different?”

I imagine I would hear more about HOW they service their customers, how their organization is structured that makes them able to do so, what innovative products they have created to better serve their communities, how their business strategy is stronger, and ultimately, why they have STAYING POWER over their competition.

I’ll give a couple of examples of NC community banks that have established brands with staying power, in my opinion.

Live Oak Bank, based in Wilmington, NC, has positioned itself as a resource for Dentists, Veterinarians and Pharmacists. “Lending more than Capital”.

Sqrootslogo369Square 1 Bank touts the “Power of the Entrepreneur”, and promises to provide creative and focused financial services and advice for start-ups and innovators. They go beyond traditional banking to providing consultation on business plan, executive searches and connections to the venture community through their Square Roots program.


Now THAT provides value, is rare, costly to imitate and permeates the entire organization.

And that is what we mean when we say, Never Stop Differentiating.

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