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"I don't wanna grow up…" The Power of Experience in Branding

So, we’ve all heard the news about what was probably our first experience with a brand…Toys R Us. After the “right in the childhood!!!” moment this brought about, it really made me focus on the power of brands in our lives…and just how damanging financial mismanagement can destroy powerful (even dare I say culturally important) brands.
As the business community begins to autopsy the fall of the toy giant, I can certainly promise you that management’s failure to manage the company properly will be the root cause of the fall. Failure to manage the capital structure…failure to adapt to an increasingly digital world…investing money in inventory (requiring brick and mortar) versus getting leaner and meaner in their delivery…some/none/all of these factored into the fall of my childhood Valhalla. These reasons will be dissected and analyzed and discussed in classrooms for years to come. Honestly, I am looking forward to doing this in my own classroom with my students.
But what brings me to the blog today is the power of brand. Only the geekiest among us are interested in this as an academic event. I apologize to no one for my geekdom. But this story hits everyone…right in the childhood. Most of the readers here grew up with the Toys R Us brand as a…shall we say…signficant part of our life. If we really think about it, it would rank up there with Nike (or Reebok if you “pumped it up”), Sam Goody, Nintendo (or Sega if you believed what Nintendon’t)…this one hurts.
So, what does that mean for banking? For me personally, some of my earliest memories are involved in a bank but I know I’m weird. No, what this drives home to me is management’s decisions impact on stakeholders. If you’ll remember that term from business school, it encapsulates stockholders, vendors, employees, customers, the community…essentially, any one who has some relationship to the business. Decisions that are seemingly strategic or seemingly dry and financial in nature have real life impact in the world…if there is a close tie to your brand.
We see this in community banking especially in smaller towns or well established banks. Grandpa did business here, Dad bought his first tractor there, and they gave me my first car loan. These are strong ties that are not quantifiable and don’t show up in marketing surveys. But they are nontheless the difference between a customer and a client…a depositor and a true stakeholder. There is an emotional tie to the brand or emotive experience (sometimes it’s not the brand…but the building itself no matter what bank owns the building!) that we forget.
Banking is a commodity. It hurts to say…but it is true. But it is one that has the potential for deep emotional connections that you don’t see many other places or in many other industries. So, as we expand our banks and expand our product lines…let’s remember that silly giraffe we all grew up with and the pain it caused when he left because management did not manage the business properly leaving stakeholders heartbroken. In your community, the same may be true for your bank. And I would venture to say…we should all strive to have that level of commitment to our banks. If your bank were to go away or be bought up…would your customers miss your bank the same way we miss Toys R Us?


written by


Byron Earnheart is the Programming Director for the Barret School of Banking in Memphis, TN and the host of the “Main Street Banking” podcast…the only podcast solely devoted to community banks. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry; 11 of which have been in banking in various roles from teller work to branch management. He spends his time playing guitar and singing in Delta Heart (the “house band of the Mississippi Delta”), writing music, cooking, reading, and enduring the University of Tennessee Volunteers athletic seasons. He is married to his wife Kelly of 11 years and has two children, John Aubrey (11) and Mary Laura (7). If you'd like to hear Byron's music, check him out on Spotify:
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