Rebrands can be hugely complex, top to bottom exercises, or basically a logo “refresh.” Adding a name change mixes in more elements of risk and angst to a process that many find highly stressful to begin with.
It’s no wonder that the tendency is to play it safe in an industry that runs conservatively to begin with. However, when you’re a small player in a large, highly competitive market and your name recognition is low and you have a geographically-limited legacy name that no longer represents your base, a more aggressive approach begins to look attractive.
That was the case with Point Loma Credit Union, a 70-year old institution with $506 million in assets based in San Diego. Management had recognized the limitations of the name some time ago. Only one branch and about 10% of its members actually resided in the city’s Point Loma neighborhood, a holdover from the institution’s original membership of Navy electronics workers. CEO Dave Brooke, who used to handle marketing at the institution, knows that a name change can’t happen in isolation. So about two years ago, he commenced a broader strategic initiative to align the overall brand experience with the needs of consumers and employees today and for the future.
Not long afterwards he hired a former New York ad agency executive, Heather Dueitt, as Vice President of Marketing. Dueitt knew nothing about credit unions — but she does know consumer marketing.
Dueitt spoke with The Financial Brand about the process leading up to the rollout of the new name, MyPoint Credit Union, and its new logo. Her comments offer a roadmap for other community institutions with modest resources undertaking a bold branding initiative.
1. Look Beyond the Banking Business
One of the things Dueitt knows from her agency experience is that marketers must change as consumer expectations change. “At times we can get a little too deep into industry trends,” she says, “or we focus too much on what the institution does and lose sight of other competitors and of our share of voice of the consumer.” She says financial institution marketers need to look beyond what the institution is doing to what consumers are experiencing now — how they buy insurance or appliances or other consumer products — in order to match that experience.
To obtain that sharper view, Dueitt suggested using a brand strategy firm out of the norm for most credit unions. San Diego-based Bulldog Drummond normally handles much larger accounts and had not done credit union work before.
“I promised them we would have an open mind and wouldn’t be asking them for a million different iterations of things,” Dueitt states. The agency agreed to take on the job and immersed itself in retail banking trends as well as trends in other retail and service industries in the U.S. and abroad. They conducted surveys and held focus groups with employees, new and long-time members, and nonmembers.
2. It’s Much More Than a Rebrand
The research confirmed that Point Loma Credit Union didn’t have strong name recognition, but it did find that brand loyalty was strong among those people who did know it. “From that nugget of information,” Dueitt states, “we knew that there had to be a culture and people element to this effort, it couldn’t just be a rebrand.” Her five-person team and the agency built a “full internal people program” that began being implemented far ahead of the name change.
Dueitt says one of the best things they did was to have the HR and marketing teams work hand-in-hand on the initiative, often daily. Frequently the HR side is forgotten, the marketing exec notes. “We set up the HR team with the agency and together they did even deeper focus groups with different types and levels of employees And they did workshops with them, trying to understand what makes them tick. Employees are the ones that talk the most with members.”
From all that the agency and Dueitt’s five-person marketing team developed a brand book that contains: a manifesto; a purpose (“We help you do”); a promise (Choice, Confidence, Freedom); a Vision (“A community of people who are able to do life on their own terms”) and six principles (including “We’re all in this together” and “We do what’s right … even when no one’s looking”), among many other points.
Another component of the overall plan was a prototype new branch experience.
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3. Soft-Skill Training Helps Meet Brand Promise
As you can tell by now, this “rebrand” at MyPoint Credit Union was in reality a “cultural transformation.” The new branch prototype that Bulldog Drummond helped the credit union design, is being rolled out branch by branch. As the photo below shows, it is more like a casual living space than a typical branch. Staff are encouraged to meet with members while sitting on a couch, engaging in conversation while conducting a transaction. Naturally this takes some getting used to for the employees.
The training for this has been going on long before the first new branch opened, Dueitt reports. She calls it “soft-skill training.”
“Everybody is focused on the technical part of banking,” Dueitt maintains, “how to use the software and do the transaction. What isn’t often talked about is how to ask a question. How to make a transaction conversational without jargon that consumers don’t understand.”
MyPoint engages in a lot of role playing to help build these skills, Dueitt states. She also allows that they can’t be too casual with people. “We still have to maintain a level of expertise and trust. But we also have to remember that we want to build these relationships with people and we want to talk to them like they are a friend.”
“A customer texted to a friend right from the branch saying ‘I love this place, you need to come and check it out.’ That’s the sort of experience we all dream about.”
— Heather Dueitt, MyPoint Credit Union
Dueitt overheard just such an exchange between a branch employee and a member who is a restaurant chef who had come in to withdraw cash. A casual conversation about the chef’s hope to open his own restaurant one day led to discussing a plan to save toward that goal. The chef actually texted to a friend on the spot saying, “I love this place, you need to come and check it out.”
“That’s the sort of experience we all dream about,” says Dueitt. “But employees have to be trained to ask the question and not be afraid to ask it. And our branches have to be set up to where people feel comfortable enough to have that conversation.”
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4. Make the Name Change the ‘Final Reveal’
Instead of launching all the rebranding elements at once, MyPoint decided to phase it in over several months. First came a new color scheme (orange versus blue), then new creatives a month later. The brand platform with all the new values came next, followed several months later by the new name and logo. “By the time we announced the name,” says Dueitt, “people were expecting the change, and it all made sense.”
Name changes can be a sensitive issue for many banks and credit unions. The agency recommended not talking about it until the end stage. According to Dueitt, they said, “Let’s focus on defining who you are. Get your brand platform done. Get your culture done. Get your values done. Then let’s have a conversation to see if the Point Loma Credit Union name fits.” Dueitt thinks that was a great decision. Even though everyone knew the name didn’t really fit their market anymore, there was a history to it, and they didn’t want to alienate loyal members.
The new name selected incorporates an element of the old, which was important to many of the staff as well as to members. As it turned out, within a few weeks after the name change just one person had questioned it on social media and only about 50 people had called or emailed about it.
But the credit union hadn’t left much to chance. Dueitt says staff made phone calls to 1,600 of their best members, and CEO Dave Brooke responded personally to anyone who had a question.
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5. Rely on Experiential and Hyper-Local Launch Marketing
Without the kind of budget to spend $150,000 a month on billboards or TV spots, Dueitt says her team has focused on hyper-local efforts to draw attention to the new name and logo. She says this accounts for about 30% of her marketing budget. She’s using a mix of organic and grassroots marketing, with a little guerilla marketing thrown in.
Examples include sponsorship of the popular Del Mar horse racing season, displays at concerts, a large outdoor mural with an inspirational message, and print ads in a local publication.
The guerilla play involves putting inspirational sayings like “Today’s your day” or something fun on rocks painted orange. A graphic and hashtag is on the back of the rock, and about 100 of them were placed in the vicinity of some MyPoint branches.
Another version had people paint their own rocks at events which the credit union attended. “People lined up to do this,” Dueitt states, “and we ended up having conversations with them.”
Ultimately it’s all about adding new members and retaining existing ones. At the time of her conversation with The Financial Brand numbers were not yet available to indicate whether those KPIs were moving in the right direction. But the marketing exec says the informal response has been very positive.