“We want to make sure that when we roll out our new brand that it’s with the understanding that we’re responding to the world in 2021 and into 2022 and not the world that we all lived in, in 2019, because it’s very different.” – Sarah Szilagyi, CO-OP Financial Services, SVP, Experience Operations and Chief of Staff
The turbulence of the past year has affected financial consumers attitudes and behaviors, and some of these changes are expected to persist long into the future. As a result, some banks are sharpening their focus on digital transformation while others are considering the retail bank of the future—and at the same time may be in the midst of or planning for M&A activity and/or new partnerships. Collectively, these circumstances are driving large-scale brand change through rebranding at many credit unions and financial institutions of every size.
To learn more about what’s driving brand change and how financial marketers are planning for it, you can turn to the panel from The Financial Brand/BrandActive recent webinar, “Why and how financial institutions are rebranding now.” The expert panel included Sarah Szilagyi, SVP, Experience Operations and Chief of Staff, CO-OP Financial Services, Chad Langford, VP of Marketing, Gesa Credit Union, Nicole Kemp, Practice Lead, Brand & Marketing Operations, BrandActive, and moderator Jim Marous, Co-Publisher, The Financial Brand.
These panelists have all managed a rebranding. During the webinar, they shared what drove the decision to rebrand, how they prepared to make the implementation process as efficient as possible, and what they would do differently in the future. These are among the strategic take-aways:
Like the rest of the market, financial service companies are rebranding for a variety of reasons
The reasons behind the recent wave of financial institutions rebranding vary. At an industry level, there’s a renewed focus on positioning and brand strength, as reflected in some of The Financial Brand’s recent research. Jim Marous of The Financial Brand opened the panel with this observation: “…branding and setting up a new brand had a real high rating in our trends and predictions report. We didn’t expect that to get a high rating given all the other things going on. What we found out was if you don’t have a strong brand, if you don’t show commitment to the community, to your customers, to your members, you’re not going to be successful.”
Here are the specific situations facing our panelists: Gesa Credit Union, a Washington-based credit union with 30 locations, hadn’t touched their brand since 1953. And the California based fintech company CO-OP Financial Services has carried the same brand since their inception in 1981. While neither Gesa Credit Union nor CO-OP Financial Services had been through a full rebrand, their reasons for rebranding now were different. Gesa Credit Union’s rebrand was the result of a merger. CO-OP Financial Services rebranded to better reflect the innovative solutions they deliver to market.
There are other reasons for the increase in brand change in the industry.
BrandActive’s Nicole Kemp shared that some companies decide to rebrand as a result of re-evaluating their brand strategy and deciding to move towards a centralized brand architecture. “What can we do to clean up our business operationally and bring everything together? That could be centralizing your brand architecture, moving forward with a strategy that’s more consolidated and more consistent was definitely a big theme,” Nicole said.
Regardless of the impetus for brand change, employee buy-in is a critical step in getting it done
In order to build and employee buy-in for the rebrand from the start, everyone in the organization needs to be involved. Sarah shared that while CO-OP was lucky to have top management on board from the beginning, true buy-in came when the team understood why they were rebranding exactly what was required. The challenging part was getting everyone to invest their time, talent and efforts to activate the change.
Jim Marous from The Financial Brand summed up the reality of brand change: “Rebranding isn’t necessarily a marketing endeavor. It’s an organizational endeavor.”
Chad from Gesa agreed. They asked people at different levels throughout the organization to help choose the new brand for Gesa. He jokingly explained that his team worked to “break the fourth wall” to advance internal organization acceptance. Part of this strategy included the creation of internal brand ambassadors who successfully built excitement and buy-in for Gesa’s new look and feel.
As a veteran of financial service rebrands as a marketing executive and as a consultant, Nicole pointed out that employee buy-in is just the beginning. Once employees know they have a new brand, her question was “How do you make sure every individual across the organization that know everyone, especially those who are managing the brand and assets, ensure they fully understand how to use the guidelines?” She noted the importance of a robust brand training program to ensure that employees who are using the brand have more than a surface level understanding of the brand.
The opportunity to leverage a rebrand to improve your brand and marketing operations
The panelists were eager to share these joint observations: First, just because your stakeholders are on board for the change, that doesn’t mean it happens overnight. Secondly, there is likely another big pay-off companies can explore when going through these changes, and that’s related to their brand and marketing operations.
Gesa is taking the rebrand initiative as an opportunity to examine the user experience and brand consistency across their entire organization. Chad said they are in the process of auditing their online account opening process and are going through that journey from a holistic brand perspective to make it as seamless and consistent as possible. In that way, the rebrand is giving Gesa the opportunity to look inward and smooth out current customer pain points—now something he wishes his team worked on years ago.
Sarah from CO-OP was in full agreement. She has used the project to “streamline, document and govern.” Her team took a full picture of their current branded assets and examined if they truly needed “85 different types of PowerPoint slides,” or hundreds of other redundant assets. From there, they examined opportunities to rationalize these branded assets and move forward with the key pieces of collateral.
But that was just the beginning. Now, they are exploring how they will manage branded assets moving forward, including but not limited to what is owned by the marketing department, and how to ensure everything will stay true to the new CO-OP brand over time. This level of brand governance infrastructure is critical for future strong brand consistency at all organizations.
The value and expertise that a brand implementation partner brings
Panel members were in lockstep when it came to the vital role that a rebrand implementation partner can play.
They made their case based on the complexity of rebrand implementation, which starts with figuring out the scope, researching the costs, obtaining executive approval of a large budget, and managing the effort of a large team from different areas of the company—all when trying to ensure brand impact, consistency, and cost efficiency.
Chad talked about how rebranding is a “long and arduous task” and shared the struggles of implementing the new brand: “The chances of your doing a rebrand in your career, a complete rebrand—that’s a really rare thing. Unless you’re doing it as your daily job like BrandActive does, you’re going to miss things. You’re going to forget things. We identified over 2,200 elements that we have to update. It’s just a huge undertaking. You’re not going to do things very effectively. Again, when you’re doing a true rebrand, you’re not just swapping out the logo. [Yet] there’s a lot of people that think they can just do it internally, especially for smaller organizations.”
Sarah at CO-OP agreed. Her analogy was that while you might have talented designers, when you are developing a new brand, you go to a partner for expertise in developing the new brand, and the same applies for planning and rolling out a rebrand: “There’s a huge research component. There’s a legal component…There’s just so many different elements that you have to have that resource, like BrandActive, that does this day in and day out to do it correctly.” She also discussed the difficulty of finding enough bandwidth within your company’s internal team to work on a rebrand.
“I think you learn pretty quickly that you need people on the team who have done this over and over, who understand where to find the efficiency, who understand how to help you reposition the organization in the right way, and how to bring that to life. I would say if you’re looking for efficiency in a rebrand, your number one step is to find a partner to help you achieve the goal,” Sarah said.
To learn more about our panelists’ views on Why and how financial institutions are rebranding now, listen to the full recording of the webinar or read the transcript here.