Brand building for growth

Three banks refresh their identities with changes that include deepening community connections.

By Gina Bleedorn and Juliet D’Ambrosio

With banks of all sizes prioritizing post-pandemic growth, many financial institutions are merging or expanding—reaching out to new markets and new demographics. Brands in growth mode face unfamiliar questions and unique challenges, increasingly finding that name or brand change is often their singular and best option.

Whether geographically expanding or related to M&A, non-ownable names can present sizable legal risk and non-uniquely positioned brands can inhibit an institution’s growth. The competitive landscape has never been so intense.

A new name or reinvented brand may be the only way you can compete. But how do you know if and when this kind of change is right for you?

Bravera: Renaming to differentiate

In building an enduring brand, having an ownable name and identity is foundational. Especially in financial services. Thousands of banks have common names like “citizens” and “first” that no one owns, and thus, whoever “had it first” in the market has the legal rights for use. This issue of ownability often rises up when a bank is looking to expand to new markets, where a current name limits opportunities. In these cases, banks are compelled to make a change if they want to grow. That’s what happened with a beloved Northern Plains financial institution as it prioritized expansion into additional opportunity markets.

The bank formerly known as American Bank Center decided it needed a new, more ownable name as the bank grew its footprint across North Dakota and into Montana. With so many companies using “American” in their name—62 other brands in their home state alone—the bank needed a name that would be legally ownable, differentiating in the marketplace and true to who the bank is. Further, multiple active names and brands following acquisitions and separate trust and insurance brands created internal and external confusion.

What came out of the renaming and rebranding efforts with American Bank Center was a new identity that captured a regionally relevant, pioneering spirit rooted in core values of future-focused empowerment and resiliency. The new “Bravera” name and “Forge Your Path” tagline provides a powerful platform for staff and customers to rally around and activates diverse new audiences across their markets. The brand evokes elements of courage and truth, shared values of people the bank serves. And creates a consistent banking experience under one ownable brand banner.

Competitively, Bravera now justly conveys the bank’s combined resources and geographic expansiveness to deliver on a broader and more powerful promise to existing and potential retail and commercial customers. Now with a strong, brave and ownable brand, Bravera continues expanding their influence through deeper levels of community integration and an always-on approach to marketing and increasing conversions with smart data. As the bank continues its growth path in existing markets and beyond, its name and brand provides a new growth platform to build on.

Park National: Realigning for scale

Certainly having a distinguishing name is essential. Equally important is having a clear and coherent brand architecture. This defining feature of success allows a brand to coalesce activities around a singular promise, ensuring it reaches target audiences in the most meaningful way. Especially when paired with a refreshed identity, combining and aligning multiple sub-brands can result in increased perceptions of scale and prominence, as banks undertake opportunity-focused marketing efforts to introduce or reaffirm the brand in people’s minds. That’s what one family of community banks required for their next phase of growth.

Dedicated to a personalized banking experience for their customers and communities, Park National Bank has long been deeply invested where its customers live and work.

Headquartered in Newark, Ohio, the bank serves customers with branches stretching from Ohio to the Carolinas. With the bank’s past and future growth largely driven by M&A, Park’s operating model of 12 separate brands grew out of a spirit of partnership and affiliate autonomy. While approach was successful over many years of expansion, the very model that shaped them was now creating unintended barriers. from internal fiefdoms to customer confusion to even competing with themselves in markets where affiliate footprints overlapped.

“Undertaking a name change is no easy task, so if a name does not present legal risk or is not hindering growth in the foreseeable future, banks can modernize the brand without touching the name.”

To create clarity and focus—internally and externally—the bank’s leaders saw rich potential in more unified positioning. Customized market research revealed that nearly nine of 10 of the bank’s prospects prefer at least a statewide bank to be big and convenient enough to serve their needs. Even more, data demonstrated that what customers loved about all Park affiliates was not necessarily the names or brands, but how they were served by them. Park was ready to streamline its story and re-energize the value proposition that had long fueled its success.

But the bank didn’t need a new brand name. The parent company “Park National Bank” name had great brand equity to build on. With the right structure and a refreshed identity, Park would be positioned as a more sophisticated and scaled player in the markets it serves today and expands to tomorrow. A spotlight on deeply personalized service, Park’s new tagline captured the brands’ shared values: “Where You Mean More.”

To consumers, Park’s refreshed brand read as a full-range of banking resources without taking away the value of the one-to-one relationship customers want from their local bank. Most importantly, it was authentic to the way Park lives out their real values: serving every customer more, every day. Now a powerfully aligned and positioned financial services brand, Park has fostered cultural cohesion, alleviated customer paint points, enhanced marketplace perceptions and is ready to make the most of serving more, at scale.

Guaranty Bank and Trust: Repositioning for relevance

While there are compelling competitive reasons for changing brand names—as we have outlined in this article—what’s equally clear is that there are times for banks to keep their names and refresh their brands to unlock growth potential.

Undertaking a name change is no easy task. So if a name not present legal risk or is not hindering growth in the foreseeable future, banks modernize the brand without touching the name. For many banks, carrying their legacy forward to more relevantly and resonantly position in today’s world means refreshing an identity and rebranding. That’s just what one Mississippi bank needed for their expansion into opportunity markets.

As the mantle of leadership passed one generation to the next, Guaranty Bank and Trust’s new CEO was committed to preserving the business bank’s legacy while expanding its prospects. This respected institution kept the best of the past while embracing a new vision of growth, refreshing the brand to meet the next-generation banking customer and support commercial lending with a more modern and signature Southern style. The refreshed brand identity maximized its “three corner” core values—commitment to customer service, community and stability—while focusing on the “good business moves” positioning as they recruited new talent and entered new growth markets.

As market analytics show, community banking opportunity is often found in the suburbs and exurbs of larger markets, where banks can create corridors of growth. As Guaranty looked north into growth areas, it leveraged the refreshed brand in newly designed and built locations to more adeptly compete with small business and retail banking prospects there. With a refreshed brand and new branches, the bank definitely looked the part—a modern Southern commercial bank built on generations of trust. Achieving market presence with small formats like ITMs helped them more efficiently project their brand while still servicing customers and capitalize on the network effect by supporting bigger flagship locations.

Refreshing Guaranty’s brand identity not only provided a platform to communicate its values, it was pivotal when the bank made an acquisition to enter its largest market: Memphis. Now with a sophisticated enough brand to play in a new place, Guaranty’s reinvigorated marketing approach made it all about the market, not about the bank. Showing hometown photography and using local iconography, the hugely successful marketing campaign captured the spirit of the local market and infused it into all of their creative. Ultimately, “good business moves” empowered Guaranty to achieve genuinely local relevance in both new and existing footprints, supporting its bankers and communities as it continues on a trajectory of growth.

Gina Bleedorn is chief experience officer and Juliet D’Ambrosio is managing director of strategy at Adrenaline, a brand experience company specializing in financial services. For the latest information and insights in financial services, see the company’s mission oriented platform Believe in Banking that brings together decision-makers, influencers and industry leaders in banking.