By Sicily Axton
When Beneficial Bank, one of the oldest banks in Philadelphia (assets: $4.7 billion), set out to revamp its brand in 2013, it also shifted its culture to be more relevant to the millennial audience.
By deeply studying this group through consumer research, introducing purposeful creative focused on serving millennials’ financial needs and working to change the mindset of every employee from top to bottom, Beneficial created a brand intended to enhance the bank’s traditional values while simultaneously gaining the attention of this valuable new audience.
“We’ve been around for over 160 years and have very loyal long-time customers, which is terrific,” says Jennifer Shockley, senior vice president, director of marketing and creative services. “But we had to figure out a way to evolve and stay relevant.”
Creating this new brand began with the bank’s newest CEO, Gerry Cuddy. Previously a loan officer at another bank, Cuddy knew firsthand that educating his prospects and clients was the easiest way to close the sale—not by actually selling to them. When he came to Beneficial, he took the opportunity to not just apply that mentality to the commercial side of business, but to the entire bank.
Cuddy had the vision to bring education to the forefront of the bank’s brand.
“When they said ‘Let’s build a brand,’ they knew it would be hard to get past the board,” says Anne Ryan, brand strategy manager at Brownstein Group, the brand communication agency that worked with the bank. “But it just takes one fighter within the organization to make it happen.”
For Beneficial, it was Chief Administration Officer Joanne Ryder who fought for the brand, as well as her team including Shockley and Kerry Sczepkowski, vice president, creative services manager.
“There was a lot of back and forth and passionate conversations with the board,” says Sczepkowski. “But we had to show them, ‘You’re not my target audience.’ They had to take themselves out of it to really let their minds see who we were going after and what it meant for our growth. In the end we got the buy in from them.”
What makes a millennial?
“Millennials want help from banks but don’t think banks understand them as human beings,” says Ryan. “If I’m 22 years old and my bank is sending me emails about HELOC loans, they don’t get me, and they’re certainly not looking at the data that I know you have. It’s not a personal relationship, and they’re treating me like every other customer.”
Ryan shares that the way to treat these customers as individuals is to not have a solely transactional relationship and only push products and services, but instead, to be there for them in big moments in life where there are emotional needs. Such as, “She said yes, now what?”
“That couple doesn’t want a loan with attractive low rates,” says Ryan. “They want the wedding of their dreams. They don’t want a mortgage. They want their dream home. You can help achieve that.”
Yet according to recent research from Accenture, 79 percent of consumers currently define their banking relationship as transactional, which has grown by 8 percent in just one year.
“In fact, 27 percent of consumers say that receiving end-to-end customer service would motivate them to apply for a mortgage with their current bank,” according to Accenture. “This is even if their bank did not offer the most favorable mortgage rates. This role is a plus for banks that must find better ways to differentiate their services when competing on products and price has become increasingly difficult.”
“We knew we were an education company, now it was a matter of taking that and branding it,” says Shockley.
“Education was the word that was guiding them, but education feels like homework,” says Ryan. “So the brand evolved to be more focused on knowledge and fluency.”
The “Knowledge Bank” creative has a casual tone, totally focused on the audience, who, at the time, were mostly customers over the age of 55.
“Our goal was to reinvigorate the brand to feel fresh to attract millennials, but at the same time we didn’t want to alienate gen X or baby boomers,” says Shockley. “It’s banking knowledge that everyone could be more educated on. We won’t be able to help people do the right thing if we’re not educating them.”
Instead of broad, high-level messages, the bank used specific, straightforward messages in order to have a productive
conversation with customers. And by rewiring their initial inspiration into something grander and even more fulfilling, they were able to capture attention in a heavily commoditized space.
“The customers we talked to would say, ‘I kind of know a little, but I don’t really know exactly what something means’,” says Sean Carney, account director at Brownstein. “What that means to us
creatively was that it wasn’t about education, it was about fluency and understanding the implications in terms of the endeavors and aspirations that individuals have. That’s where the escrow ads came from.
“The tone is odd, but the way that each of these ads land has a serious strategic answer at the end, which is this is about the power of fluency and specifics needs and wants.
“This also makes them flexible, so it doesn’t break when we extend it to other very important cohorts, like business owners or other long-standing clients,” says Carney.
Together the bank and agency focused on how to solve specific problems and what guarantees the bank can make to show customers that they understand them.
The agency questioned consumers with loans (both customers and noncustomers), asking them their number one lending pain point. The consensus was the issue of customers not knowing their status or where they are in the process and having to continuously follow up with their banker because of unreturned calls.
Thus, “The Lead” was created, in which the bank guaranteed to call customers back within 24 hours, or they would waive the origination fee. People responded. The campaign had a conversion rate, in terms of people calling the bank for loans or making a website query that resulted in them becoming a lead, of 4.39 percent, which was 278 percent higher than the industry benchmark rate at the time—1.16%.
Around the time of the brand launch in 2013, Beneficial also rolled out a twist on the traditional branch design. The design was called a “campus,” featuring sleek sitting areas and coffee bars, libraries and conference rooms.
The bank now has 12 campuses, primarily located in high-traffic areas where there are colleges, universities or lots of businesses.
“We wanted to make the campus locations a warm, welcoming environment,” says Shockley. “Its part Apple, part Starbucks, part Barnes and Noble. It’s not supposed to look like a bank when you walk in.”
There is a counter, but it’s not the focal point of the location. The purpose of the campus is for customers to use it as they need, whether it’s a student needing study space, an employee from a start-up company needing a meeting space or a customer coming in to bank.
Beneficial also regularly invites the community in for workshops dealing with everyday financial issues.
“Whether they open an account that day or not, it doesn’t really matter,” said Shockley. “It’s about getting people what they need, and the rest will come later.”
To use the brand to become relevant to the millennial audience, employees of the bank also needed to fully understand the shift in their culture.
“Employees are your greatest brand asset,” says Ryan. “Brands are born internally and communicated externally.”
Posters specifically created for employees were hung throughout the corporate office and branches. Training happened over many months, including brand trainings and classroom sessions with role-playing to teach employees how to have a “Beneficial conversation.”
For example, “These are some questions you can ask when a customer walks into the campus,” says Ryan. “Here are some ways you can respond, and here are some ways to listen intently. This is what a Beneficial conversation looks and sounds like.”
Attracting young customers also meant recruiting young employees, a more and more challenging task for community banks.
Again, Brownstein gathered consumer insight by interviewing finance majors at two colleges in Philadelphia. They asked, “Would you consider working at a bank?” In the beginning, most said ‘No,’ except they might go to a big bank with lots of growth and opportunity or a wealth management company that’s more focused on technology.
“Once we started asking questions like, ‘If a bank offered ongoing career counseling, gave you the opportunity to build different skill sets and created paths for growth, would that mean something different?’” says Ryan. “In every case they said ‘Yeah, that doesn’t sound like the community bank that I think of, but that absolutely sounds like something I’d be into’.”
From there, the “Into the Blue” campaign was developed to showcase all the great perks of working at Beneficial, but beyond that, about helping young people find their path and their purpose when starting their careers.
The rebranding results
The bank’s brand awareness goal was 2 percent, and it doubled that to 4 percent. Facebook page “likes” grew 12.1 percent, and engagement (monthly average of likes, comments and shares) on Facebook was up over 168 percent. Twitter followers grew by 3.3 percent and interaction (monthly average of shares, retweets or mark as a favorite) was up over 200 percent.
For digital media performance, the bank set a goal of 0.055 percent click through rates on all rich media and reached 0.065 percent.
“It wasn’t any one thing that contributed to our success,” says Shockley. “It was the overall strategy, execution, placement, branch and community events and all the activities we had to support the campaign that really contributed to the growth of our awareness and entire brand.”
Sicily Axton is the communications manager for StrategyCorps, a Nashville-based company that works with financial institutions to deliver mobile and online consumer checking solutions. Follow her on Twitter.