Rebranding a Bank

By Tom Dougherty

Rebranding a Bank. Is Banking a Commodity?

rebranding a bankIt seems counterintuitive to believe rebranding a bank to be a vital element when creating value.

But, have you considered the idea that you are just that, a commodity?

Investopedia defines a commodity as “A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other goods of the same type. Commodities are most often used as inputs in the production of other goods or services. The quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across producers.

Can we agree that banks are commodities? If so, call us right now. We have a lot to talk about. Banking is a regulated industry, and you cannot fit a piece of paper between banking products. Everyone provides the same banking services in precisely the same way. We call this a must— time for rebranding a bank!

At Stealing Share, we know about rebranding. We are experts at it. And we know about rebranding a bank too. We are experts at that as well.

rebranding a bank

One thing we know for sure. The answers are not as important as the questions. And, answers are only as valuable as the question that took you to the solution. So, I ask you again, is banking today a commodity?

Suppose you decide you are not a commodity, no need for you to read the rest of this article. Rebranding a bank is not for you.

Go ahead and try to bank yourself into a better competitive position. Become friendlier.

branding a bank

Lower your fees and build new branches. Give away services and checking accounts, and why not open a coffee shop in your lobby?

I enjoy nothing more than going into a bank lobby as my go-to coffee shop. Unless it is a coffee shop in an insurance agency.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Rebranding a bank requires you to look boldly at your business and recognize that your brand is the only thing you sell. Nothing more.

rebranding a bankBut before we get into the art and science of rebranding a bank, we need to agree to terms. We must know what the words we use mean, or else we cannot communicate.

Let’s start with the brand. It’s not what you think it is. It is not the bank. It’s not your logo, and it’s not your name. They are all part of corporate identity. They may remind customers and prospects of your brand, but they are not IT. Rebranding a bank is bigger than identity.

Brand, when you demand that it be persuasive (read about brand persuasion here)as all about your customer. It is who they are when they use the brand.

The best way to describe it is like this: A bank makes itself as convenient as possible. They are open 24 hours a day— 7 days a week.

rebranding a bankThey are even open on bank holidays (you know I am kidding, right?). They average one teller per customer, and not one EVER has to wait. What’s their brand? Convenience?

Nope. That what the bank says it is. The customer who wants all that is busy. Hurried and has important things to accomplish. And that’s the brand. You know you have it right when you can say, “We are for”… “only busy people of accomplishment.”

You would NEVER say we are for convenient people. Get it? That’s the difference between a brand and a business claim. Great persuasive brands see the world from the outside in. Not the inside-out.

Why is rebranding a bank so crucial?rebranding a bank

Because you have had it all wrong for more than a century. And before the Government ensured deposits and regulated lending practices, a customer had to be careful. Tier hard-earned money was a little in jeopardy.

Safety was a substantial claim. So was a founding date…” Safe banking since 1890″ What they were claiming was safety. Today? No one cares. Today those old-school promises are a clarion call for rebranding a bank— your bank.

branding a bankSadly, local doesn’t matter much either. Community banks and credit unions still think it’s important to be local. And it is for those that choose them. But that market is not growing, and that ship has sailed.

If local were the real reason, customers choose we would not have CVS, Walgreens, Target, Walmart, or McDonalds. We would see local pharmacies and markets flourishing.

There are still those kinds of businesses around, but they have other things besides local. Local is just part of the mix. Suppose you want to be argumentative about my assertions in rebranding a bank; that’s your prerogative. Business is as good as it is going to get.

Don’t believe your own story

branding a bankHowever, I don’t buy that. Your brand just may be the only market value you can claim. And it’s a powerful thing when don=r right. Rebranding a bank is akin to tapping into solar power. It’s a resource that keeps on giving.

All rebranding a bank asks is that you create a foundation around the promise. And that promise is who the customer is when they use you. Everything you then do as a bank has renewed authority. The brand provides the reason why. It’s not who you are. It’s why you do it.

Rebranding a bank is telling a story

branding a bank

That’s why we call great branding a narrative. It is a story. And we remember stories because stories provide context.

If you go down the route of rebranding a bank (your bank), you need to be sure that all the pieces fit together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

I use that analogy because most jigsaw puzzles are a single image cut into tiny pieces. It’s fun to put them together. But if just one piece is missing when we finish, the joy of completion is torpedoed.

rebranding a bankWe can’t help but notice that something is wrong.

Rebranding a bank is like that. Everything you say, do or embrace needs to be part of that complete picture. When you have a REAL brand, that is the picture you painted — and oh so carefully too.

It all needs to have permission to work together. Any little piece that is out of step ruins the picture.

Know what you are doing

branding a bank

Knowing that your brand says why you do what you do, it is pretty easy to navigate the business. Just always tell the truth. Make your brand promise true, and you know exactly what is right and wrong.

But that raises the stakes. Rebranding a bank is not trivial. What you say matters, and you need to be certain that the brand claim is the most important thing you can possibly say.

branding a bankAt Stealing Share, we call that the highest emotional intensity. It’s not for the faint of heart. Sometimes that intensity challenges us. One thing is for certain. You cannot ignore it.

This is an apt place to quote the great Steve Jobs —“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things.”

Make them never ignore you

The battle for your “market share” of wallet needs to be fought with heavier artillery than mere banking benefits.

And yet, most banks and credit unions have thrown in the towel, competing solely on free checking, ATM fees, competitive rates, and competitive pricing. When you rebrand a bank, surely this must be more than what current banks all claim?

Banks need to be more than a bank

rebranding a bankThe financial services marketplace is littered with the wreckage of once-upon-a-time bank brands.  Whose products became commoditized, surrendering the brand fight in exchange for product benefits (as opposed to brand benefits).

Observe most street corners, and you immediately notice the once-proud Exxon, Shell, BP, or Texaco brands all selling “products” at the same price. All were hoping to lure customers with a commodity convenience store selling six-packs of soda or cases of discount-priced cigarettes.

The battle no longer centers on margins in their core competency. But, instead, it takes the shape of a shadow war over preference and total transactions. The branding differences are just not there anymore.

Are banks the same as CVS and McDonald’s?

The model for rebranding a bank has corollaries. Brands seem generic. Few invest in their brands beyond category benefits. In addition to banks, credit unions, and gas brands — pharmacies have also failed to differentiate, substituting location for brand equity.

branding a bankThe race is on for drug stores to expand into new locations and build bigger, more expensive superstores. Can you see how banks and credit unions have done the same?

On any given corner, three or four banks have to build branch offices. There is no investment in the brand, and consumers move loyalties like so many prescriptions, and their patronage goes to the new and “nearest” drug store as soon as it opens.

In short, the customer values location over brand equity, and there are now drug stores and banks on every corner and in every strip mall.

branding a bankSomething is wrong when CVS, Citi Bank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo seem akin to McDonald’s. There are no branding differences. No personality. No Clarity. When finance companies try rebranding a bank, they miss the mark.

Consider the definite trap of the gas station business for a moment. Brand identity and strategy beyond “biggest” is slim to none.

They built their model around service stations where the brand’s value formerly took the form of the owner/ mechanic servicing the customer. As a result of the personal relationship, the consumer often secured a credit card for the brand even while traveling far from home.

Further down the road, Visa and MasterCard made the use of proprietary gas cards irrelevant and triggered the demise of the “service” station. “Fill only” stations introduced the hourly paid clerks instead of interested mechanics, and the entire market paradigm shifted.

C Stores are like coffee shops in banks

rebranding a bankThe “c” store profits account for the financial health of the average gas station. The key is not to allow this downgrade to occur in your business. Do not confuse the business of the bank’s business with that of the bank’s brand. That is not rebranding a bank. That is a slow death.

From the vantage point of being brand developers, we see the same vicious cycle within automobile manufacturers and hotel chains: loyalty programs replace brand equity.

Fortunately, creating bank brands is not the province of simple minds. Brand equity is built around the precepts (beliefs) of the target market rather than financial product advancements and innovation.

The advancements made to your banking service are what we call table stakes —requirements to compete in business, not the hallmark of brand equity.

rebranding a bankFor example, table stakes for a hotel chain are spacious rooms, good beds, friendly service, fair rates, and complimentary breakfast.

Remember when hotels used to advertise air-conditioning and color TV? Amenities are table stakes as just as changing strategies based on segmentation.

The new breed of “suites hotel” advertises more space; high-speed internet, complimentary breakfast, and “managers happy hour.”

These are not differentiating brand benefits because they reflect the value of the property and not the values of the customer. In Banking, table stakes are more of the same… free checking, convenient hours, convenient locations, many ATMs, and competitive rates.

Where Is the relationship?

rebranding a bankA relationship requires an emotional connection. Remember, a persuasive brand speaks the highest emotional intensity

Observe the automobile business as another source of lost brands. One brand (i.e., Dealer Family) may own half a dozen dealerships within a given geography.

You might see ABC Ford, Toyota, and BMW all within a stone’s throw of each other. The relationship is not with the brand; it is with the dealer (sometimes).

Most car buyers choose a style (like an SUV, for example) and then shop all the brands to find the one they like best. There is little brand equity among any of the manufacturers. No wonder their stock is in the tank.

Rebranding a bank. A Good Example

But when you rebrand a bank, your bank’s brand equity, everything sold or delivered, holds more meaning.

If you are Blue Rhino (and we rebranded them years ago), for example, and your brand represents “a better way” and is positioned to provide guys with a stronger sense of control, then everything “Blue Rhino” has more meaning.

rebranding a bankPropane tank exchange represents a better way to keep your grill lit, and consumers prefer the brand over rival brands; their margins are greater and their distribution more extensive.

Blue Rhino realized long ago that they were selling more than just propane (a commodity) —they were selling a better way, and smart consumers continue to pay more for the actual brand.

Stealing Share helped them deliver this brand to greater profits and greater demand.

rebranding a bankRebranding a bank requires knowing your customer as well as your financial product or service.

It necessitates understanding the belief systems that drive banking consumer behavior and aligning your bank’s brand with these customer-held precepts. It means viewing your competitive banking world without the preconceptions of your paradigm.

When rebranding a bank, the biggest problem marketing executives have is getting the old-school marketing principles to step aside in exchange for values that are important to your bank’s customers.

Too often, we assume what makes sense to us (our bank business) rather than taking the time to recognize what actually exists in the mind of the bank consumer.

Make research actionable when rebranding a bank

rebranding a bankRobust market research (read about our brand research here)is often the meat of the financial services solution, but only if we ask the right questions. Our clients come to us (Stealing Share) for results, and for that very reason, we do not ask questions to which we already know the answers.

We never ask any question whose answer is not actionable. Knowing what to ask is a result of strategic work, a full third through our process, and is not left to researchers.

rebranding a bankOur strategists design the questions we ask because we refuse only to know what is…we must understand what can be.

Only then can we begin to shape a bank or credit union brand that moves the needle.

If commodity bank brands fail to differentiate themselves via their brand, they will continue to disappear in the banking haystack. Remember that before you try rebranding a bank.

Read these other articles on bank brand and rebranding

Bank market study

Bank preference. There is none.

Should banks spend more money on advertising?

Today’s bad bank market

Rebranding First Financial Bank

Banks. They wrote the book and terrible marketing

Building bank brands

Branding a bank. Where to start

Rebranding banks and credit unions

Rebranding The State Bank of India