Tales of Decommoditization

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By Ryan Harbry

Commoditization has been around for about as long as the banking industry itself — there’s no avoiding it. 

Whenever a good or service comes along and is successful (proving its proof of concept), other companies throw their hat in the ring, join the market, and compete. In legacy industries like banking, so many competitors emerge over time that creating a competitive advantage to stand out from the crowd feels downright impossible. Like holding sand, it slips through one’s grasp to a large degree.

How, then, can one decommoditize? Fortunately, with such a long history, finding a few shining examples of success is not as elusive.

What can be more commoditized than shoes? Everybody needs not only one but two, and there are billions of people on the planet. Nike decommoditized by building and nurturing a strong brand which created ridiculous customer loyalty, proving that it could stand out from the crowd.

But at what marketing cost?

Reimagining a product and going to market with a unique experience is another way to decommoditize in legacy markets. Look at everything Tesla is doing in the automotive industry as an example. Need I say more?

Banking is, of course, very commoditized, and financial institutions coast to coast are craving ways to stand out. Since the turn of the millennia, there has been an industry-wide arms race to deploy top-notch online and mobile experiences. Such things have become expectations for modern consumers, and financial institutions need them to merely compete — much less to gain an edge. 

Community banks and credit unions would do well to observe key players in yet another commoditized industry: gas stations. Yes, gas stations. 

For the longest time, all gas stations dispensed the same commoditized product from one station to the next while doing little, if anything, more. Aside from a logo on the sign out front, everything else just seemed, well, grey (including their staff members’ less-than-pleasant dispositions.) 

What else were they supposed to do? After all, they are gas stations, providing fill-ups was their core competency, and they did it well.  

Then came companies like Sheetz and Wawa in the northeast and QuickTrip and Racetrac in the southeast. They went way beyond petrol and revolutionized the experience, which had become rather mundane. They transformed to become convenience stores and gas stations, with bright, clean facilities and track records of excellent customer service. 

Nowadays, they’ve expanded to become popular quick-food destinations where one can stop on the way home from work to buy fresh pizzas, sandwiches, and even breakfast to feed the family.

Fueled by a vision of maximum convenience in which no one ever has to wait for a pump, Sheetz, Wawa, and the like quadrupled the average supply to ensure nobody ever had to waste precious time in line. 

Community banks and credit unions would do well to pay close attention and dive into case studies like these to find ways to go beyond traditional banking services and exceed their legacy business model, thereby enhancing the experience of their customers and members. 

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Since the dawn of time, financial institutions have helped their customers make money on their balances; why not compliment this achievement by helping them save money in creative ways?

It’s incredible to me just how many people are vocal about their love and loyalty to companies like Sheetz. If gas stations can make this transformation, community banks and credit unions can too.  

What’s stopping you?

Ryan Harbry is regional director of sales and consulting at StrategyCorps. For more information about how your financial institution can generate replacement revenue to subsidize unprofitable relationships, connect with him on LinkedIn, send him an email, or give him a call at 404.819.1438.