Does Your Difference Make a Difference?

There’s a bank not far from my office with a very simple tagline: America’s Most Convenient Bank

I don’t know on what basis they have earned that distinction, but if it’s a function of the number of hours they are open each week, I’d have to agree.

The one near me, for example, is open 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM during the week (7:00 PM on Fridays), as well as five hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday. (I’m not even sure I’m awake that much.)

Holidays too. Not the major ones, but on those days where you’re never sure what’s open and what isn’t, there’s a pretty good chance they are. 

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while (and if you haven’t, what on earth have you been doing?) you’ve no doubt noticed that I am a fan of the niche: Narrow your scope; become slightly famous for something; differentiate yourself based on an easily discernible fact or focus.

On that basis, the friendly folks at TD Bank have done all that.

But, there is one potential problem: 


I’m not convinced the thing they have chosen to hang their respective hats on – hours of operation – matters.

Here’s what I mean…

Back in the early 80s when I was a bank teller (feel free to be impressed), a bank’s hours of operation were of major significance to its customers. 

Few people had credit cards (few places accepted them), online shopping had not yet been invented, and ATM machines, while sort of available, were hard to find, unreliable, and often came with a fee.

Back then, if you needed cash – for a trip, the weekend, to purchase the latest Dire Straits album (look it up youngster; the world didn’t begin with Kanye) – you had to walk into a bank and speak with a teller. 

As a result, Fridays were by far the busiest days and on a Friday before a long weekend the line would literally be out the door. In 1982, TD Bank’s extended hours would have been a welcome, much discussed differentiator.

Today? Not so much.

I don’t know about you, but I average two or three visits inside my bank per year. I don’t even go to the ATM to get cash that often anymore since nearly every retailer around accepts credit cards.

In 2018, extended bank lobby hours may indeed be different. But, given the steadily declining frequency with which any of us ever walks into a bank (and it’s only going to continue; my three adult children bank entirely online with virtual banks like Ally), does anybody care? 

That’s not a trivial consideration. As solo professionals, we all need to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

And for my money, the quickest, most effective way to do that is to narrow your focus around a thing you do, an audience you serve, or an approach you take (or some combination). In that regard, the bank is on the right track.

But it can’t just be different for different’s sake. TD Bank could have all its employees dress up in clown costumes too and call themselves America’s Most Clown-Faced Bank. But would you bank there? (OK, l confess that I would, but that’s not the point.)

The point is, you want to choose something that people care about. Something that is causing them frustration and that you (preferably uniquely) can fix. 

The closer you can get to that, the more likely clients are to beat a path to your door.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many times a year, on average, do you walk into a bank?
  1. Do you wear a clown face when you do? Discuss.
  1. Can you share examples of businesses you like that have meaningful and desired differentiators?

Share your comments below!

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23 thoughts on “Does Your Difference Make a Difference?

  1. Jack Peters

    I remember when ATMs first came out and they gave them clever names so the unsuspecting public would not be afraid of them. TAMMI or something like that. What a hoot! Sounds so silly now. A bank teller is a respectable job. Being around all of that money can make your head swoon. Keep up the excellent work. Enjoy everything.


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Believe it or not, it was the best job I ever had. Lots of activity, very social (back then, when people came in two or three times a week), and you got to score your performance to the penny every day!

  2. Michelle Morris

    1. About 2-3 times a year, usually with a jar of coins because they have a coin counter that’s free. (Unlike the grocery store ones that charge an outrageous fee!)

    2. No just regular women’s makeup. And no hat. There’s a sign.

    3. The Baja Box in Quincy on Wollaston Beach. Only open seasonally. They sell tacos and ice cream. You want a burger, you want fries, you want (heaven forbid) fried clams, this is not the place. You can find me there almost every Wednesday night in the summer. 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’ll have to check that #3 out, Michelle! And speaking of focus, I used you and yours as an example in a talk I gave earlier this week!

  3. Mark Reilly

    1. almost weekly – I know I am an anomaly, but this helps to make me a big fish in a small pond. I like seeing the smiling faces of the tellers, and not being treated like a stranger.
    2. I think that might be illegal in some way…?
    3. Porter’s Bar near the Boston Garden – full menu late night til midnight – very welcome after attending a game.

  4. Glen Strom

    I go to my bank maybe a couple of times a month. I do most banking online and use a debit or credit card for most purchases.

    As for their marketing, Canadian banks aren’t exactly known for their bold leaps into the future, or snappy marketing. ;->

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Bold leaps by a bank can be scary (I think that’s why ATM machines took a while to catch on!).

  5. r

    Michael, I note your pathetic grab for reader participation. Tsk, Tsk.
    1. Almost every week (deposits, etc.).
    2. I do not walk into the bank wearing a clown face, although I’ve noticed that many people have observed me over the years and commented, “Who’s that clown?” Hmmmm.
    3. TD Bank differentiates itself because it’s about four blocks away and it’s a Canadian bank apparently not involved in the shenanigans of most major U.S. banks. And I can deposit beaver pelts in lieu of currency (this may have changed, I’m not sure).

  6. Jill Harrington

    I go into the bank occasionally, when someone pays me by check.

    My bank is different in that they charge no fees for personal or business accounts – regardless of account balance. No direct deposit or anything else necessary. That’s why I went to them, then stay because they treat you like they are a small town bank – Union Bank.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      No fees make a difference. Actually, if I were to start all over I think I’d do what my kids do which is use Ally. No minimums and they reimburse you for any fees charged at another banks ATMs (Ally doesn’t have any). So I guess they figured it was cheaper to cover those costs than to deploy and maintain a network of their own. Plus it means their customers can use any machine. Pretty clever, actually!

  7. Ricky Bass

    1. I hardly ever do especially now that I can deposit from my cell phone, but my wife has bemoaned the closing of our local branch with a national chain. There are a host of things that having a person who we dealt with personally has been much easier like being out of the country on vacation and having to deal with a lost credit/debit card, setting up our kids accounts, some things with our LLC or dealing with a bunch of other issues. Never very many but a real pain if your only connection is an email address or an 800 number where you get a different answer every time you call.
    2. No- thought you could go to jail for that.
    3.In health insurance Oscar health is offering innovative health care insurance plans for individuals from basic to concierge coverage that address pain points like access and telehealth. Unfortunately I think they are only In NY currently. Locally, I like to think I do this well. I offer attorneys healthcare consulting that they otherwise have a hard time getting at a reasonable rate. For some reason in my state, many physicians will not see patients that are involved in litigation, which I do not mind doing– so I provide patients a service they need at a fair compensation. Many times these patients end wanting me to be their PCP. This has spun off into providing other services the attorneys need like finding specialists that are needed to support a case, providing written medical opinions, or reviewing cases at the outset for them to see if their is really a medical need.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Ricky!
      1. To me, that matters as well. In fact, that’s why I left my former large bank in favor of one where I can get to know the same people.
      2. Yes, but it’s clown jail and all the bars are made out of licorice.
      3. That seems like a nice niche for you!

  8. rob peck

    clown face never!

    Clown nose…. every chance I get!

    Good to be on your webinar, and will be GREAT if i actually adapt implement the ABCD list

    Keep up the good work,

    PS Are there any banks open to clown wigs?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My bank says “please remove hats and sunglasses,” so I’m not sure on wigs!

      Glad the webinar was useful, Rob! Good to have you involved and see you again soon at NSA.

  9. Tracey

    I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with your premise today. Some of my accounts are at TD primarily because of their hours. I’d be happy if I never had to go past the ATM and into the store. But sometimes I need a new account or a signature guarantee. And if something comes up on Saturday (a visit to the circus?), I can walk in on Sunday instead. In this case I think that one person’s inconvenience is another person’s niche.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I think that’s an excellent point. In fact, maybe it’s THE point: Extended hours are of little value to me; they mean something to you. So the question for TD Bank (and all of us who are trying to figure out the same kind of thing) is how large is the market you represent and is it the market they want to serve? One of the great things about being a solo is that we don’t need a lot of potential clients to have a thriving business!

  10. Jen @ Childcare of Choice

    I went into the bank just today, but only because my children were with me and requesting lollipops from the big glass jar that sits over by the tellers. There are often cute dogs that need petting as well. And once I had a check the ATM wouldn’t accept for deposit. But barring these sorts of situations, I don’t generally venture past the ATM vestibule.

  11. Grace Kennedy

    1. I was just at my bank getting something notarized. I love that I can do this for free! I know that’s probably not a big deal but I love free stuff! Even boring stuff like notarizing.
    2. I decided to leave my clown makeup off for my big bank outing. Notarizing being an official, adult-type thing.
    3. Here in Charlotte, food trucks and breweries are a big deal. I love that the brewery doesn’t try to do food and the food truck doesn’t try to do beer. The food truck just parks in the brewery’s parking lot, everyone stays in their niche, and we all go home happy.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. Notarizing, boring? You must lead an exciting life.
      2. Are you suggesting that clown-faced people don’t own property?
      3. And works well for both businesses! Love that example.

  12. Diane Spadola

    1. I was in the bank today paying on a credit card with CASH earned from a street fair. I could have done it at a machine, but I was hypoglycemic and wanted a Lolli.
    2. Over my dead body would I go ANYWHERE wearing a clown face.
    3. Our YMCA serves as the meeting location for a diabetes prevention program that is funded by the Health Dept and the CDC. Since one of the goals is “Moving more” and the YMCA has tons of options…this seems like a win win for participants, especially if they were not previously YMCA members.


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