Is It Time For Your Bank or Credit Union To Rebrand?

“Do we need to rebrand?”

It’s a question many financial institutions wrestle with. The answer is, “It depends,” and it hinges largely on how you define your terminology.

If you equate your “brand” with your organization’s “reputation,” then to “rebrand” would mean you intended to reshape people’s opinions about you in new ways. They think X about you now, and you want them to think Y about you tomorrow.

Unfortunately, “rebranding” is a loaded term, open to a wide range of interpretations. Some may use “rebranding” as a synonym for a “new ad campaign,” equating it to a new slogan, mantra or catchphrase. For others, it could connote something much deeper and intensive, something that impacts the core of every department and division on a foundational level.

Whatever definition you choose, “rebranding” implies the organization had a brand strategy to start with, when in fact most banks and credit unions do not. While many financial institutions have themes — even strategies — for their advertising campaigns, few have sat down and deliberately crafted a long term plan for the brand.

What do we want people to think about us today? Next year? How do we want to be perceived 5-10 years down the road? What is our encompassing message/promise? How do we differentiate the delivery of financial services in meaningful ways? What is the common thread that unifies everything we do — marketing, advertising, sales, service, products, etc.?

Reality Check: When many financial institutions say they need to “rebrand,” what they really need to do is develop an initial, comprehensive brand strategy.

The term “rebranding” suggests a refinement or other similar adjustment to an existing strategy, but an organization can’t refine what it hasn’t yet defined.

If you never articulate a formal, written brand strategy, your organization’s advertising will always be controlled according to the whims of a handful of individuals — namely the marketing director and/or ad agency exec. If you hire a new marketing director, you’re likely to wind up with a new theme for your organization. Same thing if you hire a new ad agency. Without a defined brand strategy, someone can always whip up some new rationale, a new reason to pursue a new direction.

Ad agencies love to use a tool they call the “creative brief.” This is a document that typically lays out the parameters of a client’s marcom project (e.g., objectives, audience, message/offer and media to be used). In a very real sense, a brand strategy could be viewed as an organization’s über creative brief, the overarching “Creative Brief” for all creative briefs.

With a brand strategy in place, you strip away all the subjectivity and replace it with deliberate intent. You have clarity of purpose. You know who you are, what you stand for, where you are going, what you should be saying and to whom.

Rebranding vs. Changing the Brand’s Identity

When a financial marketing executive brings up “rebranding,” they are often referring to their organization’s look and feel. To them “rebranding” translates to a new logo or tagline. Or perhaps new ads, branch merchandising, signage and brochures. Or all the above.

They aren’t talking about changing the underlying “brand” — the strategy. They are talking about altering the cosmetics of the brand, known as the “brand identity.” These are the tangible aspects of the brand that someone can point to and say, “Yep, that’s definitely [Brand X].”

Here’s the tricky part about “rebranding,” where terminology can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. When the VP of marketing at a bank starts talking about “rebranding,” others may think he or she is suggesting the organization’s foundation needs an overhaul, when in fact they are proposing the brand’s identity — its outward expression — get a makeover. It’s the difference between tweaking your superficial execution and revisiting the substance of your strategy.

There are two basic types of rebranding projects: (1) those that impact staff — what they do, sell and say, and (2) those that have no impact on staff.

With the first approach to rebranding, you look at retooling all aspects of your organization. You’re hoping to align everything around a new, cohesive position.

With the second approach to rebranding, the organization is usually only changing what it says, not what it does, who it is or what it stands for.

So the answer to the question, “Should we rebrand?” is “It depends.” It depends on whether you have already established your organization’s brand strategy. It depends on whether your brand strategy is outdated, inadequate or no longer relevant. Or maybe your brand strategy is solid and the identity is the only thing that needs to change. Either way, the term “rebranding” is so slippery and ambiguous, it’s best to avoid it unless you are doing a deep dive into your strategy.

Rebranding Checklist:

Do we have a formal, written brand strategy? (If not, you need one.)

Is our brand strategy relevant and enduring? (If yes, be careful about how you use the term “rebranding,” as it might imply you are abandoning your position/promise.)

Are we changing who we are or what we stand for at a basic level? (If yes, you are truly rebranding.)

Are we delivering a message consistent with those we’ve marketed in the past? (If yes, you aren’t really “rebranding” so much as evolving, refreshing, updating or extending your brand.)

Do we change the underlying promise and messages in our ad campaigns regularly? (If yes, you probably would benefit from a branding project.)

How will staff be impacted by changes planned for our brand and/or its execution/delivery? (If staff are affected, you are most likely rebranding. If staff aren’t affected, it’s most likely a brand identity makeover.)

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