I recently read an article about the rise of cupholders in cars. It turns out to be a more interesting and important topic than you might think. And there are lessons every marketer can learn from the Great Cupholder Revolution.
In a nutshell, cupholders in American cars started entering the mainstream in the 1960s, as commutes lengthened and American society became more and more organized around cars.
Fast-forward a few decades, and cupholders are an important factor in purchase decisions, nearly neck-and-neck with fuel economy. Design teams compete to stuff more and more cupholders into car interiors, while engineers design elaborate cupholder mechanisms, capable of gently embracing containers of nearly any size.
So why did this happen? And what do cupholders have to do with credit unions?
Daily details drive differentiation
When consumers make buying decisions, daily details matter. People use their cars nearly every day, so when they’re buying a car, they pay attention to the features, surfaces, and even the smells and feelings they will experience every day.
Cars have become living space, and beverages are an important part of daily life. Secure cupholders make our mobile living rooms more convenient while preventing spills.
And so after a few decades of cutting-edge engineering, you end up with wonders of hydration like the 2019 Subaru Ascent, which boasts no less than 19 cupholders.
There are two main lessons here:
- Details matter. A lot. Even if they barely even register consciously. The details that matter most to your audience aren’t always obvious. Details that are used more often (like online banking) or have higher stakes (your loan application process) matter most.
- Details differentiate. Cupholders can be utilitarian holes in the center console, or nifty little polished metal mechanisms that pop out at a touch. Both solve the same problem, but they send very different messages. Does your main branch have a cheap plastic lighted box sign or a custom-made cutout? Both say “we are here”. But one also says “we cut corners”.
Details demand deliberation
You have to put thought into details; you can’t just let things happen. If you use the defaults, make sure there’s a good reason.
Let’s ponder cupholders again. For many decades, German cars sold in the US didn’t have cupholders. Sure, German engineers could build cupholders; it’s not secret alien technology. So why did they deliberately resist the American clamor for cupholders for so long?
The answer is that the German mindset around vehicles is very different from the US. Driving is serious business that requires both hands and full attention at all times. “We build cars for drivers, not gulpers and snackers.”
In other words, the lack of cupholders became an important detail that helped reinforce the “precision driving machine” branding concept. And that extended to the people who drove German cars, too. No cupholders? You must be a Precision Driver.
Of course, you can only resist clear consumer demand for so long. So sometime in the late 1990s German cars finally started sprouting cupholders (although the first examples were rather reluctant attempts). After all, there are only so many coffee stains Americans will tolerate in their precision driving machines.
Daily details and the member experience
Back in the credit union world, what kinds of details make the most difference for your members and your brand? What kind of experience should you build?
The hard questions around every detail are whether it’s worth changing, and if so, how? Where can you create valuable differentiation, and where should you use a default to make sure something is familiar?
For example, no one calls checking accounts “share draft” any more; it’s jargon that just got in the way. And even in an era where no one actually writes checks, everyone still understands what a checking account is. So in this case it makes the most sense to use the default word, “Checking”.
But as paper checks dwindle into history, eventually a new word or phrase for “Checking” will catch on, invented by someone who decided the differentiation was worth the cost in familiarity.
Small details are worth attention, too. Is your mobile app icon ugly, or is it a home-screen-worthy jewel? This can make a real difference in adoption and usage. Same for credit and debit card designs; there’s a tiny but important bit of added joy people feel when they use a nice-looking card.
Carefully consider less-common but higher-value interactions. For example, what’s your loan app experience really like? Can people easily apply for a loan and a membership on a mobile device in less than five minutes?
If you don’t have the tech yet, can you still create a smooth experience with the tools you have? Maybe you could have a quick online form and make a promise that a friendly account specialist will call them within five minutes to finish setup. This could take a disadvantage from your perspective and turn it into a high-touch, high-value experience from the member’s perspective.
Pay attention to what all those daily details say, and you’ll make your brand much clearer and easier to understand.