Jana Dobbs is an executive at Corner Bank in Winfield, Kansas. She was quoted in Bill Taylor’s HBR Blog as follows:
“Advertising is important, the design of the website is important, but if customers have a positive experience every time they come into the bank, that’s what builds our reputation. We’ve got mobile apps, we’ve got Internet banking, but what we rely on is a hometown feeling. When you walk into our bank, we know your name.”
Bill’s post is about company culture being a company’s brand, and I completely agree. I think culture is the truest and most effective version of branding; ‘authentic’ as Seth Godin might call it. Zappos is living proof.
But what stuck out for me was that concept of “hometown feeling” Jana mentioned. Now, I have a hometown, but it doesn’t feel anything like the kind of place where local businesses know my name. It feels more like an exploding Chicago suburb full of broken priorities, where folks are more likely to leer at me for walking too close to their new BMWs in the parking lot.
I imagine that what Jana meant by ‘hometown’ was ‘small town’.
I’ve never seen it, but I hear that for people who grow up in small towns everybody knows everybody else, and their cousins, and the sheriff… who is also the barber. Replicating this experience elsewhere, say, in the heart of a big city, is like carving a million small towns in the middle of another huge one; a small town for every community of customers, a tribe for each business.
It sounds like a ludicrous goal but more and more businesses are taking it on, and if the ‘small town feeling’ is defined by faces recognized and names remembered, then the only ingredient required to make it happen is simply being human.
Being human has become a competitive differentiator.
How is it possible that the vast majority of businesses in the United States have trained themselves out of their own humanity?