Editor’s note: Zack Clayton is chief executive officer of Three Ships Media, a provider of digital marketing solutions.

RALEIGH, N.C. –Recently the New York Times wrote about TD Bank’s new advertising campaign, which focuses heavily on service. The bank also launched this microsite: http://bankhumanagain.com/.

This campaign is a campaign for service. And it explicitly highlights ways that TD Bank attempts to raise the bar for service.

Compared to major nationals, like Bank of America, a regional bank like TD Bank cannot win on technology features (the budget is too small!). Compared to a pure-play Internet bank, like Ally Bank, a regional bank cannot win on price (Ally Bank has a lower cost structure).

The essence of strategy is winning by being unique. (If everyone is the same, then ruthless head-to-head competition reduces industry profitability for all participants.) TD Bank can leverage its size and market presence to offer better service. However, to truly out-innovate competitors – it cannot just smile and offer lollypops, it must raise the bar for service.

Here are just a few ideas to do that:

  • Offer customized financial check-ups that use software tools to benchmark expenditures, savings, and investments
  • Create rich informational content on topics, such as refinancing a mortgage, that are intimidating for customers
  • Use that content to host small “branch parties” and invite customers at appropriate lifestages to have a cup of coffee and learn more
  • Host a small business roundtable, convening business owners with similar interests to share notes on the economy and best practices on business

I saw this principle – raising the bar for service – on display this weekend. While hiking in Asheville, I stopped into Battery Park Book Exchange. The bookstore has 30,000 volumes to browse – but it is set up almost like a private club. There is great art (for sale, of course). There are comfortable chairs. And there is an extremely friendly staff that will serve you a latte, champagne, or dessert.


By making the environment 50% more relaxing than a Starbucks, my ticket price was 15x higher than when I visit Starbucks (I left with six books). And normally, I prefer to buy from the Kindle!

Whether a company is a bank or a bookstore, it must be asking how it can increase the return on its physical capital (each location) by raising the bar for service. If the brick and mortar location isn’t differentiating the experience, then it’s just a cost that must be reduced. And you can ask Border’s how that movie goes…

(C) Three Ships Media