Essential Elements of a Strategically-Designed Branch
In this digital age, what is the future of the branch? It’s no longer as simple as it used to be: the center for transactions. Financial institutions are viewing their branches, now, as consultation centers, flagships for their brand and as a way to demonstrate their commitment to the communities they serve.
Gone are the days of a cookie-cutter branch that looks like everyone else’s. Today, as in most every industry, the emphasis for financial institutions is on differentiation. The branch has become more than a building, it’s a physical manifestation of the brand.
City & County Credit Union in Minneapolis, MN understands this idea well. The team there recognized the need for a different kind of banking experience. In planning for their new branch, Megan Primeau, City & County’s VP of Marketing coined the phrase: Less transactions. More interactions.
The new branch would serve as a relationship-building center, where universal employees could council members in a variety of comfortable and convenient spaces, all while having seamless access to the latest technology.
To ensure the branch stood out in the grey Minneapolis landscape, it was decided that they would light the building in their unique brand color—Innovation Pink. The result: a branch that was so unique that it actually pulled people in from the street.
This branch, which has quickly become the most profitable for the Credit Union, didn’t just fall into place. It took months of strategic, careful planning to design a building that would not only serve their members well, but also become a feature-piece for their brand in the community.
Facilities planners are shifting their thinking to view the physical space as a strategic reflection of both brand and culture. Consequently, before rushing into designing plans for new facilities, whether it’s your new flagship experience or a retail branch, your first step is to get the strategy right.
Your Branch Design Strategy
As one of the foremost leaders in financial institution design, we’ve come to realize how important the strategic approach to design is. As a result, we’ve developed a creative framework that informs how we approach branch design.
When planning a new branch, we believe that your business strategy must be at the center of design. It’s important that you consider how this new building will complement and enhance that business strategy.
To drive a successful branch design strategy, we look at four areas:
- Consumer Experience
In branch planning, part of your “place” is your network. From your corporate office to each of your branches, it’s your physical presence in the communities you serve. Your place, or your buildings, define your footprint.
When analyzing our client’s network, we look at both the viability of current branches and expansion opportunities. Geographic density studies, community tapestry data and market saturation analyses are just a few pieces which inform our recommendations on branch locations.
We take a strategic approach in determining where a branch should be located as well as how it should look and function. The answer to the later often lies in the next two points: your culture and your brand.
Culture permeates everything you do, and it affects both your place and your brand. It determines who you hire, how you work and how you interact with consumers, vendors and with each other. Your branches must reflect your culture, and reinforce it.
We like to say that your culture is your brand, in-person. It’s the way your employees live out that brand. And a branch design must uniquely accommodate the culture that you’re working to create. It’s easy to say that you have a friendly and welcoming culture, but if, when someone walks into your branch, the layout feels closed-off or your greeter is set behind a counter, there will be a disconnect.
As we approach a new branch design, culture is an important part of the conversation. We like to ask questions like: Is your culture irreverent and playful? Or is it casual and peaceful? And then we dig into how Design can reinforce this culture.
A major culture change that many financial institutions, like City & County, are embracing right now is the universal employee concept. This concept is an effective way to run a branch with less FTE’s while creating a culture of employee empowerment. Suddenly, the roles in the branch have completely changed and with that, the culture of the branch. But there are physical implications to be considered as well. For example, Universal employees need to have more visibility to the different conversation zones within the branch. This means more glass walls and less drywall. It also means having properly defined on-stage and off-stage areas.
Your brand wraps everything. Your branches should be an expression of your brand that demonstrates who you are to the outside world. Before they buy products or services, people buy brands. This is how we buy cars and shoes, and it’s how we buy healthcare and financial services.
In the sea of sameness of the financial sector, it’s fairly easy to differentiate. The key is carrying that unique brand through to every piece of what you do—including your physical spaces.
Field & Main Bank did a great job of creating a unique, differentiated brand and applying that message to their new branch in Cynthiana, KY. When Ohio Valley Financial Group and BankTrust merged in 2014, they realized the need for a fresh new brand. They decided on the words “Field” and “Main” to represent the convergence of rural countryside and Main Street in small town America. They adopted the tag line: modern craft banking, a nod to the wildly popular craft brewery craze. Which, like their brand, speaks to pushing back on corporate conglomerates and focuses on a more customized, crafted experience.
Their new branch, then, echoed this idea. Warm woods tones were mixed with industrial accents, rustic materials and local photography. To further drive-home their commitment to community, they created a comfortable outdoor patio made available for neighborhood meetings or events. By taking a very strategic approach to the branch design, they were able to design every touchpoint to create a personal and memorable craft-banking experience for their customers.
We believe that in order for your branches to survive, they must move beyond transactional to experiential. This is a term that’s often misunderstood. Creating an experience is not synonymous with providing good customer service. It’s about creating memorable moments for consumers within your walls to leave them with a lasting impression of your brand. These experiences should be personal and purposeful.
As we plan a new branch, we study five major experience zones to determine how and where we can fold in those experiential elements:
In each of these zones, we want to set the stage for positive, unique experiences that echo both your culture and your brand. With this in mind, we then draft a design and overlay it with these five zones to better understand how people will move through the space to experience your brand.
Companies like Facebook, Starbucks, Google, and financial institutions such as City & County and Field & Main, have all built spaces that not only reflect, but reinforce their brand promise, culture, and commitment to their customers and employees. But they didn’t accidentally stumble into this idea. They were purposeful about it. They realized that because their branches were an extension of their business strategy, they had to approach their building design and construction strategically.
By incorporating a framework that includes your place, culture, and brand, as well as the consumer experience, you can create a branch that furthers your business strategy and reinforces your unique differentiators to help increase your competitive edge.