If you are anything like me, you might look at a full-page, full-color advertisement in the newspaper or go to a sporting event and look at up at the big bank’s name on the building and wonder what it would be like to have millions of dollars to spend on branding. What is it like to have charming and creative branding ads everywhere that tell your story (and don’t have compliance language that takes up a third of the ad)? Of course that makes me think about how we brand our bank and how we tell our story. While it would be nice to have a huge budget, good branding doesn’t have to be expensive and frankly, we do a good job at it. It just takes a little more creativity.

Here are a few ways to brand your bank, without breaking the bank:

Be Focused

You can’t be everything to everyone. You need to be strategic in your messaging and who you are targeting. With little to no funds set aside for branding, you will need to spend some time doing research. In fact, your branding strategy may actually start with a small focus group or customer surveys. What do people think of when they hear your name or see you in the community? Is that your actual brand message or is there something else that people associate with you? Are you trying to change your brand or reinforce it? What do your customers and your target audience value and how does your brand align with that? Once you start to have a clear picture of your brand and your audience, you can start thinking of strategies for getting the message out.

Become An Expert

What does your bank specialize in or do best? Why do people bank with you? Whatever it is, become the expert in that area and then present yourself as that. At our bank, we do mortgage lending better than anyone else (a reported fact – I am not biased). Because of that we have positioned ourselves as the experts of all things house-related. From our newsletters and website to home shows and Realtor events, we are always putting out content related to home-ownership. We make sure that we add value and give people information on home-ownership that they want to know. We do most of it through advertising and events that we would already be doing, which saves us money. This consistent value-added content gets people’s attention, positions our bank as the expert, and keeps us at the top of the mind when those customers are looking for a mortgage.

Depending on where your bank shines, consider providing regular value-added content through your customer newsletters or in a website blog. Find out how you can become a guest writer for your local newspaper or area business publication. Reach out to local radio and television. While there is generally a cost involved, being a guest on a local radio or television talk show, as “the expert”, can really help take your brand to the next level.

Use Social Media

It’s free! Well…sort of. When you factor in the time it takes to create content and manage it, there is definitely a cost associated with it. However, the costs are not usually a line item in your monthly budget and it is one of the most powerful ways to brand yourself. It really is the perfect vehicle for branding. Where else can you tell your story for free and have other people share it with thousands of their friends without paying for it? Be wise about what you post though. Make sure it represents your brand and is engaging. Posting too much product information will be a turn-off to most people. Instead, focus primarily on things that support your brand message, add value and make people feel good.

Be Strategic About Your Giving And Volunteering

Most community banks are good neighbors and active participants in their communities. That is perfect for branding, but do the organizations you work with support your brand? For example, a big part of our brand message is that we are a local bank. As a local community bank, we choose to align ourselves primarily with nonprofits that are also local. It would contradict our brand if we only supported large national nonprofits. Our support of local organizations becomes part of our brand and helps tell our story.

Additionally, when you work with nonprofit organizations, you will often receive a logo placement or a bio on their website or podium time at an event — something along those lines. There are also great opportunities to get your brand out there and tell your story, so make sure to take advantage of them.

In the community banking world, marketing resources can be scarce and budgets are tight. That often means that branding takes a back seat to other marketing initiatives or maybe is not even part of the plan. It does not have to be that way though. With a little hard work and ingenuity, even the smallest community bank can have a strong and recognizable brand.

What strategies does your FI implement in order to be cost-efficient? Let us know in the comments!