Everything speaks: a holistic approach to branding

‘At the end of the day, everyone needs a core value that they can stand behind. That’s what the brand brings to the table.’

By Karen Kroll

Building a bank’s brand encompasses more than simply developing a new name or logo, says Amber Farley, EVP for brand development with Financial Marketing Solutions. “It’s about the ability to tell your bank’s purpose and story in a way that’s consistent, relevant and compelling,” Farley said.

Below are some highlights from a panel Farley moderated titled “Everything Speaks: A Holistic Approach to Branding” at the 2022 ABA Bank Marketing Conference. Panelists were:

  • Jessica Kerr, chief marketing officer with $300 million Golden Belt Bank in Hays, Kansas. Her bank’s brand message is “One Story at a Time.” “The bank’s promise is to make every story we’re a part of better,” Kerr says.
  • Alysa Morse, VP for customer experience with $1.5 billion Newburyport Bank in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The bank’s brand message is “Journey Well.” “The mission of our bank is to be a strong, independent community partner that helps neighbors and businesses navigate life’s journey well,” notes the bank’s website.
  • Troy Steensen, VP of marketing with $1.4 billion Security National Bank in Sioux City, Iowa. The brand message is “Everything Matters.” “This reflects our culture of customer service and our belief that when it comes to customers’ financial lives, everything matters—their plans, their dreams and all the steps in between,” Steensen says.

Panel members discussed the branding insights they’ve gained through recent rebranding initiatives. Questions asked of the panel are from Farley, replies were edited for space and not every question was asked of every panelist.

How did you know it was time to rebrand?

Kerr: We did our rebrand about two years ago, after we’d completed our first acquisition, which brought us into a new market. We saw staff pulling apart and we were struggling to unify everybody. We knew rebranding would give us that solid, strong foundation we needed to move in a forward direction.

Morse: We started with a website redesign and realized there was a lot of confusion in the marketplace. We were known by nine different names.

How did you get senior leadership onboard for a rebrand strategy?

Steensen: We’ve been in our market for 138 years and have had sizable market share for many of those years. We had a lot of leaders who are analytical and methodical, left-brain individuals. When I brought up the idea of our brand evolving, they immediately thought about risk.

I was very happy that I had a sales background. I also found a lot of patience through the process. I needed both to move this project forward.

Now that you’ve launched a new brand, how has the culture of your bank shifted?

Kerr: Before the rebrand, our staff at the acquired bank didn’t know how to explain the bank to the community, who we were as a bank, or what we stood for. The new brand created a guiding principle for the bank. It’s what employees get behind and it’s a belief system that keeps everyone on the same page and guides decision making.

How has the rebranding impacted your role?

Morse: Originally, my role was strictly marketing director. Once we went through the rebranding process, it became evident that branding isn’t just the way we look. It’s also how customers feel when walking in the door. So, my role shifted to customer experience officer, which includes any item that touches a customer, like customer service or response time. I did a lot of research looking not only at our brand presence, but at how individuals interact with us and how we can enhance that process.

What has been the greatest success from your branding initiative?

Kerr: Our brand recognition definitely improved. Last week I was out in the market of the bank we acquired, wearing gear with only our logo—no bank name—and people recognized it. That’s pretty impressive for a bank that was new to the market two years ago.

Also, we’re better prepared for future acquisitions. We can say: This is who we are. This is what we stand for.

Morse: A new department, consumer lending, launched at the same time as the rebrand, so we didn’t put any marketing dollars behind it. However, we started to see the business line really take off, just based on our branding in the market.

After three years of the rebrand, we’d increased our brand awareness in the market by 82 percent. We increased our deposits at a county level by 33 percent, and we increased the number of new customers coming through our door by 60 percent.

Steensen: Two of the last three years were pretty fantastic. In addition, everything we do from a strategic planning standpoint starts with how we protect the brand. In all our meeting rooms, I put up the logo and our slogan, ‘Everything Matters.’ So, when we’re making decisions that are going to impact our customers and community, it’s hard for anybody in the room to say, ‘That doesn’t matter.’

Can you share some of the biggest lessons learned after going through the rebranding?

Morse: One is how many details there are. You need to think about all the paperwork, legal documents, website, signs and other materials that need to change. It’s very detail-oriented.

The second is the importance of the brand discovery process. We had been with a couple agencies previously. Frequently, they would give us great ideas, but all were based on what they thought was best for us. With this rebrand, we took time to ask our customers, our employees and our directors their thoughts. The research that went into the brand discovery process was crucial to hitting the ball out of the park.

Steensen: Put time and the effort into the launch. We had a spreadsheet with (about) 484 lines of things that had to change. We were obsessive about making sure everything was done the day that we did the launch. If you instead try a “trickle out” approach of releasing a new brand, it doesn’t work as well.

We rented the beautiful Orpheum Theatre and sent secret invites to our staff. During the presentation, dozens of people in the lobby were putting out our new apparel, our swag, our promotional materials—every single printed thing, from brochures to letterhead, to business cards for every employee.

Before they got to work the next day, our cleaning crews put new mousepads, padfolios, the brand statement and pens at their desks. When all 280 employees showed up the next day, they had that on their desk, ready to do their job.

We kept it a secret from all but 20-to-25 employees and made sure the community was unaware of the rebrand as well. That was one of the best parts.

Kerr: Focusing only on the launch or introduction of your new brand can be a mistake. Remember that the day after you launch your new brand and every day after that, you will need to nurture, build and reinforce that brand until it’s as much a part of your operations as accepting deposits is.

For you personally, why does brand matter?

Kerr: The brand becomes a guiding principle for the bank. It’s what employees get behind. It’s a belief system that keeps everyone on the same page and guides decision making.

Steensen: I spent about 10 years doing sales and it was just about making money. It never felt quite right because it was taking away the emotional connection consumers have with different businesses. By creating this beautiful brand, I feel like we created more of an emotional connection with our customers.

Morse: You can have different directions and different goals, but at the end of the day, everyone needs a core value that they can stand behind. That’s what the brand brings to the table.

Karen Kroll is a regular contributor to ABA Bank Marketing. Image created at the 2022 conference by Big Paper Strategy.