Rebranding to Improve Business

By Walt Albro

What is the right reason for rebranding your bank? Some think that it’s when you have a crisis, or you merge with another bank. Or perhaps it’s when you feel that your existing brand is dated or old fashioned.

Actually, there is only one valid reason to rebrand: “That’s to improve business,” says Josh Mabus, the owner of Mabus Agency in Jackson and Tupelo, Miss. He spoke at the recent ABA Marketing Conference in Denver.

There is also a lot of misunderstanding about the meaning of brand. Some think it involves creating something—like a tagline or logo. Actually a brand can’t be created; it exists already. Banks “find” their brand through a process of exploration. “Brand is the persona of the company,” Mabus says.

A logo is not a brand. A logo merely represents the brand: It is a device to assist your memory by tying together all of your experiences with your bank. “Hopefully, people are having a good experience every time they see your logo,” says Mabus.

In order to rebrand, you must first get buy-in from multiple people across the organization. There is a difference, however, between by-in and input. What you want is buy-in, Mabus says. If you ask people for advice, they will give you a critique—and each person will want the brand to be reflective mainly of their particular department.

You can’t expect the rebrand process to be done quickly. An effective brand requires a concrete strategy, and the strategy can only be developed as a result of exhaustive research and exploration.

At his agency, Mabus says he hires people for their creativity, but he trains them to think like scientists. “Great branding, great logo creation, great advertising, and great marketing are a blend of science and art,” Mabus says. “The science drives art. And, it starts with a strategy.”

The Renasant Bank (assets: $7.8 billion), Tupelo, Miss., is an example of a bank that did a quick rebrand, which lasted for only a few years. After two such rebrands, the bank decided to devote the time and resources to a comprehensive rebranding process that had a more enduring result.

When John S. Oxford, CFMP, joined Renasant Bank in 2004, as director of corporate communications and external affairs, the institution’s tag line was “We are more than a bank,” which he found “pretty boring.” The reason for the line was that, at the time, the bank was engaged in buying insurance, wealth management and treasury management companies. The management felt that the bank needed a new tag line to convey that they bank was providing a variety of new services.

Oxford though the line was unclear. “What do you do if you are more than a bank? Do you make pizza?” When the Great Recession hit in 2008, he notes, it was the banks that thought they were more than a bank that were causing the problems.

As a result, Renasant Bank switched the tag line to “Greater Service.” It did not say, “Greatest Service,” because it did not want to back itself into a corner.

Finally, the bank decided to do the “deep dig” necessary to define a definitive brand. After a process of “looking at the bank’s DNA,” Renasant discovered that what the bank did better than its competitors was to understand its customers and, as a result, serve customer needs better.

The bank’s new tag line, which was rolled out 18 months ago, is “Understanding You.”

Mabus says that before a bank can develop a brand strategy, it has to seek answers to six questions:

  • What is your goal? Don’t rebrand for the sake of doing a refresh. You have to start by establishing quantitative goals—goals that can be measured. By measuring your goals, you can justify the money you spend on rebranding.
  • What is your key benefit? Figure out what your bank can do that your competitors can’t do as well or can’t do at all—that is, your unique selling proposition. Determine a key benefit by asking your customers why they patronize your bank. Your key benefit becomes believable when you have an adequate budget and a good strategy behind it.
  • What is your tone? Tone is how you come off.
  • What is your personality? Personality is who you are. Would you patronize a certified public accountant if the firm’s mascot was a clown? It might be memorable, but would it instill confidence in you? In finance, it’s difficult to be funny. People are more sensitive about an institution that handles their money.
  • What are the demographics of your target audience? You should determine the basic demographics: age, gender, income, ethnicity, education. The factual stuff. Many banks stop there. But, you should not.
  • What are the psychographics of your target audience? The next step is psychographics, the targeting of customer needs and desires. A look at the psychology that makes up the customer. You want to identify prospects who respond well to your bank’s philosophy.

You have to answer these questions to develop an effective brand strategy, Mabus says. A good strategy can be written on a single sheet of paper. Your goal or your intent could be such things as increased numbers of people drawn into the branch, or increased loan or deposit growth—or improved ratios or balances. Key benefit should be a single sentence—only not a compound one. A sample key benefit might be: “We do one thing better than anyone else.”

A key benefit is not necessarily your tag line, but the benefit should be the foundation on which the tag line is built.

The brand strategy is more useful when it is brief. “If the strategy is good, it doesn’t have to be long,” adds Mabus.

Walt Albro is the content editor for ABA Bank Marketing. Email: Walbro@aba.com.

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