Moving a Brand Forward 50 Years in 7 Months

By Deb Stewart

Growing up on a farm in central Iowa, Troy Steensen learned about hard work. In college, he majored in physical education and coaching and learned how to build a team. His career started out in sales with a printing company, and then a television station. Along the way, he learned print, digital and TV strategy—and how to close a deal.

Those skills he picked up farming, coaching and selling came together in the last place Steensen ever imagined: working as marketing director for a bank.

It happened one day when one of his longtime clients—Security National Bank in Sioux City, Iowa—offered Steensen a job. Banking? At first he was skeptical. And then he got to know more about this particular bank.

“I was hired by the soon-to-retire SVP of marketing and HR—a 48 year veteran of the bank—to be the bank’s marketing director,” Steensen says. “He encouraged me to move the brand forward and to understand what our customers and the community thought about us.”

Thus began Steensen’s journey into bank marketing—and the SNB brand’s journey into the 21st century.

“The bank had a polished reputation, with a strong community presence,” he says. “They recognized that building culture in a small bank is a huge part of success. So a great deal of effort was put into creating buy-in from employees and sustaining that culture.”

The building blocks of a brand

The project began with 25 customer and non-customer focus groups, 200 employee surveys and several employee focus groups. The good news: Employees said that they love coming to work and that a culture of service was at the heart of the organization. Average employee tenure of 12 years validates those comments. The bad news: employees also felt that the logo, tag and other brand attributes were stale. They had not been updated since 1966—and many felt that there were opportunities for some process improvements, particularly in the area of internal communications.

Check out ABA Bank Marketing’s exclusive five-part series on the when, why, what and how of rebranding a bank.

Customer and non-customers expressed similar feelings about the brand. The logo and look were seen as “conservative.” While that characteristic was seen as a positive by some older consumers, the younger audience viewed the brand as stodgy and slow—or even politically slanted.

Steensen was convinced that the bank needed to change the narrative, put a stronger focus its strengths, and move the brand out of the 1960s. With the help of an agency partner, Financial Marketing Solutions, the race was on.

Bringing the skeptics on board

Troy’s team developed a complete brand package, and in July 2018 presented it to five members of senior management, three market presidents and the executive management team.

Prior to the meeting, two senior managers had voiced strong skepticism regarding any change in the logo or brand.

“Looking back I now realize that they were afraid that the logo change would change everything about us…minimizing our history in some way,” Steensen explains. “Our agency took a big risk in developing a full range of materials for that meeting—presenting everything from advertising brochures to signage.

Ultimately, it was depth and strength of the new tagline, “Everything matters,” Steensen says, that sold the concept. “We agreed that day that the rebrand would be completed in seven months and that the work would be kept secret to all but 15 of our employees.”

How do you rebrand a bank in seven months?

Then, the hard work began. All 15 employees signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).  Only then were they were shown all of the materials presented to the leadership team. The team of 15 was charged with inventorying any and all materials that displayed a bank logo. That included everything from online content to branch signage to loan documents. In all, 550 pieces were identified.

Each piece was then assessed to determine which should be changed, which could be consolidated or discontinued and which could be converted to digital. The team simplified customer-facing product pieces, moved fraud pieces online, went from seven different calendars to one. The employees also asked: “Why do we do this?” for every piece.

Next, the team determined whether the piece would be updated in-house or by a vendor. All existing vendors were assessed, and four key vendors were asked to sign NDAs. Each piece was updated to reflect the logo and, more importantly the right language. The goal was to build the emotional connection with customers and the public at large.

All materials were to be ready for day one.

The dramatic unveiling

Seven months after that first meeting, the bank rented the Orpheum Theater on a Thursday evening, inviting all employees to the event—including employees from rural branches. He even rented a bus to shuttle employees from the neighboring Sioux Falls market. Their ticket into the auditorium was an engraved metal piece with the new logo.

Bank President Doug Rice introduced a video revealing the new logo, tagline and other brand elements. He then announced that everyone would be fully equipped with newly branded tools on the following day. As they walked back into the lobby a champagne tower and seven-foot lighted logo greeted them. All paper and online materials were available. Each employee received a padfolio, work shirts and business cards for the next day.  Word began to spread on social media. And when employees signed onto their terminals Friday morning they were greeted by the new brand.

The same day, advertising began to run with “a new day/ a new logo” messaging that introduced the rebrand. Direct mail, outdoor advertising and other media ran with that messaging for 90 days. Within four months every piece of branch signage was installed.

Where are they now?

Since then, the new brand has moved into product campaigns for mortgage and wealth management.  “Rebranding is a long term commitment,” Steensen notes. “We should begin to see real growth in prime markets over the next five years.” In the meantime, the biggest ongoing challenge for SNB is something that became clear during discovery: The bank offers a lot of technologies that no one knows about. “We’ve worked to correct that but know that we’re never going to be first in market for tech,” Steensen concedes. “So our biggest job is to continue to change the narrative and provide the support our people need to reflect that every day.”

This approach is reflected in the spirit of the new brand promise: everything matters. “While it was a ton of work,” Steensen says, “watching the results each day tells us it was all worth it.”

Deb Stewart is a contributing editor at ABA Bank Marketing.