“First.” “United.” “Peoples.” “Community. “Heritage.”
Green trees, blue stars, flags.
If your financial institution incorporates one of these words or images in its name or logo — or some similar overused, run-of-the-mill banking brand motifs — you have an uphill battle that’s only going to get fiercer as you fight competitors on all sides.
A rebrand will not be the only change needed to stay afloat in a sea of sameness. But a rebrand is an effective and strategic way to position your institution for the long term. It can be as simple as a brand refresh, or as extensive as a complete overhaul of your bank or credit union’s marketing, location appearance and employee engagement. Investment in a truly differentiated brand builds equity and market share more efficiently.
Here are six signals that it’s time to do something different about your brand.
1. Are There Competitors In Your Markets with Similar Sounding Names?
Consumers already shorten names to the easiest thing to say: Fidelity, not Fidelity Banking Partners, or United, not United Bank and Trust. So it is natural for people to contract that longer moniker you thought made the institution sound prestigious and trustworthy. That also means they may not recall whether your institution is even a bank or credit union. Does that matter to you? It might.
A Google search of banks in Cleveland shows Fifth Third Bank, Third Savings and Third Federal Savings and Loan. Upon further digging, two of those three institutions listed are actually the same company. So even Google mixes things up!
With this much in common, it’s easy to conclude that casual conversations among consumers, Google searches and online reviews can be rife with misunderstandings about which is which and who offers what.
2. Does Your Logo Have a Graphic Motif In Common with Other Competitors?
Of course, a brand is more than the name: Those same-looking symbols like stars or oak trees that appear on signage, digital ads and in social media are building repetition of some kind. That repetition can also lump your institution together with others in peoples’ minds as they frequently see things that blend together. The repetition being built may not be building your bank or credit union’s brand.
Conduct an online search of ‘images for Heritage Bank’ and you’ll find multiple examples of entirely different institutions using a tree paired with very similar fonts spelling out their names.
Whether sponsoring sporting events at venues with banners and huge graphics, or relying on a bold online media presence, audiences will not know who your are — let alone what you stand for — if your imagery doesn’t stand out.
As a result, it’s difficult to own your positioning visually. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a multi-branch institution or a predominantly online institution. Today, you have competitors across the street and all across the internet.
3. Is Your Name Location Centric?
If there are plans to grow into new markets, a location-based name like “First Bank of Smithville” carried into those new locations can make your institution sound like the “guys from out of town” — interlopers or outsiders.
It takes work to overcome an outsider position (if that’s not what you want to be), especially if your name puts it front and center. If you want to be known as local, then be intentional about how you’re telling your brand story in an authentic way.
We worked with one community bank who wanted to maintain a local image as they acquired new branches in new towns. So they created a naming system that based each new branch on the name of the town paired with a tiny signature noting the holding company. While they generally avoided the outsider reputation, they created huge back-office headaches with the multiple names, as well as confusion for some customers who received correspondence with different names.
Simply put, location-centric names spell problems, but the solution must be carefully considered.
4. Is There a Merger On the Horizon?
If there’s a merger in your future (or one in process), you need to consider your brand’s strength against future competitors. You’ll also need to plan around whether the new institutions in your “family” will take on your current name or if you’ll need a blended or entirely new brand.
Consider how the brand’s footprint might change or expand. Even if there’s no competitor with a similar name or logo now, there could be one in a new market in the future. And certainly, a new competitor can appear in your existing markets.
So if your institution has a brand that’s not well differentiated, it will spell confusion before you realize it’s happening. This means you’ll have to work even harder to establish meaningful brand presence because your baseline is weak.
Even if you have a unique name, you may run into something you can’t control. When SunTrust and BB&T rebranded as Truist Bank it prompted a lawsuit from Truliant Federal Credit Union. We can assume the settlement was costly.
Could this have been avoided? It’s hard to say. But working now to create a unique combination of name, logo, imagery, purpose and positioning reduces the possibility of confusion with other institutions now and in the future.
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5. Do People Mistakenly Visit The Wrong Branch?
Recently, a marketer shared with us that his institution has a number of similarities including name, imagery and colors to another institution in a handful of overlapping markets. Both his bank and the other bank regularly have customers appear at a branch they think is theirs, only to find out that they’re at the wrong bank entirely. The experience for customers and bankers alike must be highly frustrating.
Imagine waiting in line at the drive-through for ten minutes and discovering you’re at the wrong bank and have to go wait in line somewhere else.
In another state, we’ve observed two different credit unions using similar fonts, color palettes, photography styles and rewards offers. Even for customers trying to differentiate the two, it can be difficult to find the correct locations.
Don’t dismiss these as isolated cases. When I was a new college freshman, a classmate who was also from out of town attempted to make a deposit in the local “first national bank.” It wasn’t the same “first national” that she had at home, but she hadn’t realized that. Some big confusion about her account ensued.
6. Do you have a unique tagline supporting a unique purpose?
Many banks and credit unions hang their brand hats on great service, fast, local loan decisions and knowing customers by name. As important as they are, those attributes are table stakes, not a unique brand promise.
Also, an institution’s purpose is not “returning shareholder value.” Strong returns to investors should be an outcome of purpose-filled work.
If you can’t articulate a unique purpose, it’s likely that your institution’s mission statement and values should be revisited and brushed up.
The mission and values should:
- Be memorable and repeatable.
- Set the institution apart.
- Serve as a measurement in employee recruitment and evaluations.
- Guide marketing, advertising, social media, PR and philanthropy decisions.