When I was a new college freshman, a classmate who was also from out of town attempted to make a deposit in the local “first national bank.” It wasn’t the same “first national” that she had at home, but she hadn’t realized that. Some big confusion about her account ensued.

A couple of the frat boys next door thought it was hilarious.

“How could she be so dumb,” they laughed. To me, it didn’t seem that dumb.

Recently, I was talking to some college students about their banking habits and asked what they thought: would this be an easy mistake to make? All five of them said yes.

They didn’t see this as ridiculous at all.

millions of first national banks

An online search of “first national banks” yields about 25,600,000 results. So besides the fact that there are so many institutions with the same or similar names, what else is the problem? I believe it’s far too much “just like everyone else” bank branding and advertising.


Many banks use blue or green as their main color. If there's a red element involved, then it’s paired with blue for a patriotic feel. Typically, most use one color with black for a conservative, rather quiet color scheme.


There are many stars, strong animals and trees. No single bank “owns” one of these.


Messages are typically about fast loan decisions and knowing a customer by name. Few use humor. The tone is often formal, rather than conversational. Many of the photos are stock images so they don't show anything real that would identify the institution. It also means that another bank or credit union might be using these same images in their marketing.

social media

Images and content attempt to bring some personality and life to the institutions. Some do it very successfully, but many struggle.

So is it any wonder that my college friend got the different banks confused? She probably wasn’t the first and I doubt she’ll be the last.

what this means for bankers everywhere

Right now, each bank leader should be working harder to tell a different story about your bank. Be brave. Be bold.

Be different in your advertising, public relations, social media, bank marquee and lobby. Be special in the way you attract, hire and retain your bankers. Create different conversations at chamber of commerce mixers.

Look different. Sound different. Be different.

how to get started

Take a fresh look at the other institutions in your marketplace. What can you learn about what everyone is saying about themselves?

  • Build a grid that shows their logos, colors, fonts and brand slogan.
  • Collect samples of their brochures.
  • Review their latest advertising campaigns.
  • Take a look at their social media.
  • Drive past their buildings and see how they look and what's posted on their marquees.
  • Check out their job postings on LinkedIn and Glassdoor to see how they describe their culture and expecations.

Then add your bank to the collection and take a hard look at what you've asssembled.

engage a strategic marketing partner

If you don’t have a strategic marketing agency, get one. You don’t cut your own hair, so don’t try to create your own advertising. If you had one long ago and have been going it on your own, it might be time to reengage.

If you do have a strategic agency, be open to listening to what they have to say. It might be time for your star logo to retire. Or it might be time to make it bigger and bolder than ever before.

craft better messaging

Start crafting messaging, look and feel that are authentic and aspirational. Then get out there.

Then, even if you do have “first national” in your name, people will be able to say, “Oh, that’s the bank who _____________ and I think they’re great!”

They’re the ones who tell friends, bring you more business and revenue for the long term.

If you need help crafting a brand and ad campaign that sets you apart, call Martha direct at 785.969.6203.