Three Warning Signs It May Be Time to Rebrand

“There is no such thing as a branding ‘project.’ Branding is an ongoing process of renewal to make the organizations’ people, products, locations, hours, services, design, etc. both distinctive and desirable to your audience.”
— Tom Asaker,
“A Clear Eye for Branding”

When thinking of successful brands, Starbucks often comes to mind. Yet in a recent Inc. Magazine article, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz confessed that he has had to lead the company through a process of reinvention over the past several years. “I  knew that just going back in time and embracing the status quo of the past would not produce success,” Schultz said. “I had to restore the company’s heritage but at the same time push for reinvention.”

If Starbucks — one of the most successful brands going today — has to reinvent itself, then some financial institutions probably need to do so as well. But how do you know when it’s time to rebrand your bank or credit union?

Here are three warning signs to consider.

1. Staff don’t know your mission or what you’re all about

Brands often fail at the staff level. In fact, you can’t have a strong brand without a strong staff and buy-in around your strategy. As Nicholas Ind says in Living the Brand, “It is the collective power of individuals in an organization that provides and sustains a competitive advantage.”

One quick exercise you can do with your staff is ask them, “What it our organization really all about?” Then compare their answers with your board and executive team. If the answers are all fairly different or don’t match, you have a weak brand and it’s time to rebrand.

You can also ask staff if they can recall your mission statement. Ask them what is really means to them. If you get a lot of blank stares or wildly disparate answers, then it’s time to rebrand.

Any successful rebranding effort will include training your staff and energizing them on the new brand. Remember, the biggest threat to your brand almost always comes from within.

2. Blurry vision, no focus

When I conducted a planning session for a large financial institution recently, I posed a simple question to their board and management: “Who are you trying to reach?” There was a long pause, after which someone from the board bravely declared, “Yes, we do!” Wrong answer. For that financial institution, we had to start their planning session off with a fundamental  discussion about their target markets.

Your financial institution cannot be all things to all people. It’s nice in theory, but terrible in reality. You must refine your focus.

Every bank or credit union needs a brand plan, some sort of a formal document that defines the organization’s mission, values, messages, etc. One of the most important items to include in any brand plan is your target audience — the specific people or groups you want your brand to resonate with most. Examples might include teachers, blue collar workers, residents who live within three miles of your branches, etc. The more focused your brand targets are, the more successful your brand will be.

Over time, brand targets can become diluted, so every now and then you need to recalibrate in order to keep them clear. If your bank or credit union is all over the place with its target audience (or doesn’t really have a clue), then it’s time to rebrand.

Do you know who you are really trying to reach?

3. You fail the 3C test

The smart folks at say there are three Cs to a strong brand: clarity, consistency and constancy. You must be clear about what you are and what you are not. Then you must be consistent with that brand over all delivery channels. Once the message is clear and consistent, then you constantly communicate those messages.

How is your financial institution doing with these three Cs?  Is your brand clear? Is everyone singing from the same song sheet or is everyone all on a different page? What makes your bank or credit union different? And please don’t use words like “service, community or people”; everyone uses those same words, and that doesn’t make you different.

Do your customers receive the same consistent service from branch to branch? How does the call staff greet them, and how does that compare to their branch experience? How do your branches look, and what image does your website project?

Are you constantly investing in- and working to build your brand? Or is it just here and there, every now and then, hit and miss?

Brands are constantly evolving. Financial institutions will not succeed in this difficult economy without a strong brand. Taking the 3C text and examining these warning signs can help you decide whether or not it’s time to rebrand.

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