Exploring the ROI of Rebranding

In this episode of the Believe in Banking podcast, Gina and Juliet take on the topic of bank and credit union branding. They discuss their upcoming speaking sessions at the Financial Brand Forum in Las Vegas from May 20-22, and spotlight the new Adrenaline report, the “ROI of Rebranding: Best Practices to Measure Business Value for Financial Brands”. This report features original research and leading insights that show the power of rebranding in driving and delivering growth for financial brands. Highlighting three case studies of recent rebrands – Bravera Bank, Everwise Credit Union and Tower Federal Credit Union – Gina and Juliet discuss how these organizations made the most of their rebranding efforts, including prioritizing brand differentiation to stand out in the marketplace. Finally, they discuss how to recognize when it’s time for a rebrand or refresh and ways that the most successful brands embrace brand change.

Text Transcription

Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision-makers, influencers, and leaders. Featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower.

Gina Bleedorn (00:18): Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I am Gina Bleedorn, President and CEO of Adrenaline.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (00:24): And I’m Juliet D’Ambrosio, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline.

Gina Bleedorn (00:29): Today is probably Juliet’s and my favorite topic. Not that we don’t love all of our topics, but this one’s close to both of our hearts. It is about branding and it’s a topic that both Juliet and I are speaking on at the upcoming event in Las Vegas that the Financial Brand puts on called the Financial Brand Forum. And really this event is the event in bank branding and marketing. We’re each leading two different types of sessions. What Juliet’s doing is actually a lot harder than what I am doing.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (01:10): Word.

Gina Bleedorn (01:11): She is leading a three hour workshop, a Brand Strategy Masterclass on repositioning banking brands for strategic growth. This is happening pre-session. There is limited availability. I think we’ll have a couple hundred in the audience that have signed up and it is truly an immersion to teach and we hope everyone in it’s going to come out with instant value on understanding how to think about their own brand at their organization and how to make change with it. I will be presenting a breakout session much shorter called The Brand Advantage: Harness Your Most Valuable Asset to Drive Differentiation.

But both of these sessions are really different ways of addressing the same topic, which is using your brand to strategically grow. It’s something that many banking C-Suites and boards are always asking us: What is the ROI of rebranding? That’s the big question and there’s not an easy answer because it’s really told over time and the longer time goes on, the more you see the value. But to help answer this question about both short- and long-term gains, we have published a research report called the ROI of Rebranding – really the first of its kind that we have just released. Juliet, talk a little bit about this report.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (02:41): Happy to, and I think Gina, you touched on it – the reason that drove us to develop this report is because of the question, the question we get asked so often and [before now] we’ve sort of danced around the answer. In this report, we have some great analytics, we have data of financial institutions that we’ve rebranded over time. But if we know anything about banking boards, we know they are data driven. We know they’re like, “Show me the numbers. Brand sounds like it could be a little mushy. I want to see the cold hard results that I can expect from this investment, which led us to undertake this research report.”

So, we looked at longitudinal study over about 15 years of financial institutions that have rebranded for all different reasons. They were coming at it from lots of different approaches. Some through M&A, some through credit unions that had a recent seg or a charter change that needed to rebrand accordingly. Some that had just lost relevance and needed to reinvigorate their growth. Looking at how they have performed relative to the industry and relative to their peers. And when I say perform, I mean how they have grown. We looked at indicators like CAGR. We looked at indicators like employee engagement. We looked at indicators like new customer and new member growth.

And spoiler alert, rebranding does drive growth that is outside of the industry norm and that is true across the board. So, we looked at it both that longitudinal study from a quantitative basis, but also qualitatively. We work with banks, credit unions, financial institutions. We work very closely, very intimately with them through this process. Part of what we shine a light on is what are the triggering questions that any institution needs to ask themselves. Going into the process of rebrand and what we hope this report will do will really help to build advocacy for change.

We have clients come to us all the time saying, I know I need brand change. I don’t know what that looks like and I also don’t know how to build the fortitude within my own organization to help make that happen. Data in hand, cold hard facts in hand. They’re now armed with a story, a data-driven story about the ROI that one can expect from brand change. So, I cannot wait to really share some of the findings both in your breakout session and a bit in mine, but also really, I can’t wait to hear the response of people that we meet, potential clients, the industry at large, and the impact that this kind of report can have.

Gina Bleedorn (05:45): Cutting to some of those hard cold facts you were talking about, Juliet, one of the most interesting things to me was the study of bank rebrands over time. And we have the advantage at Adrenaline of having done a lot of them over a long time. We’re up to about 65 rebrands over the past two decades of both banks and credit unions in the country about an equal amount of both. So, it’s a nice study, a good slice from a data perspective of what rebrands are and what they can do. And one of the most interesting trends was about the compound annual growth rate increase post rebrand, and that was especially strong in banks. Our study of rebranded banks saw a 13.6% increase in CAGR compared to the US average of 7.4%. And then rebranded credit unions bumped up to 8.3% compared to 7.8%.

But with credit unions, something to keep in mind is that the most often use case of credit union rebranding is breaking free from a limited name. So often many of the credit unions we are working with are about half of the industry average when we begin working with them and then following the rebrand, it takes the breaks off, as some have said, of their potential growth. Even bringing them up to average is an incredible increase for many of these.

And you talked about relevance. I think that that is the commonality across every single rebrand we’ve done – bank, credit union, M&A, and rename or rebrand. It is about becoming more relevant and if you also have to reconcile multiple brands as a result of M&A, if you also are considering M&A in the future, or if you’re a credit union and you’re breaking free of legacy barriers or you’re a bank and you’re breaking free of what we see most common is common name barriers where you have a name like “citizens” or “heritage” or “community” that you can’t own in those different situations. That’s where we can see these type of results.

And Juliet, talk about the macro branding landscape and how the banking industry is coming of age to realize what some other industries and Fortune 100s and Fortune 500s have is that the value of brand is real and top brands do outperform the market. It’s real money. It’s not just fluff. Talk about the macro industry landscape of branding.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (08:29): Yeah, I’d love to and I would say that the conversation has changed. I’ve been at Adrenaline for five years having these kind of conversations with banking leaders and there is a macro story to be told around the business advantage of brand five years ago that was not widely understood. Today, I feel as if there is a sea change in this industry in which the business advantage a brand is becoming… everyone understands it. So, we like looking at the brands that we work with in the macro context. Every single brand, credit union, community financial institution, bank plays in the same playground of all brands – of the Netflixes and the Amazons and the Apples of the world.

What we see looking at some of the best brands in the world, Interbrand does a global top 100 brand ranking every year in which they look at financial performance and they look at the ability of brand to influence choice as well as competitive strength. What they have found over time is that the strongest brands outperform the market by delivering twice, twice the amount of shareholder value. And that’s true over time. So, they are outperforming their industry competitors literally by a hundred percent.

Another way that we can look at it, and this is where it gets more interesting and more nuanced for me, a very recent study came out from Oxford University Press from literally the white towers of the world that looked at the role that brand differentiation plays. And what they found is that brand differentiation, the ability to stand out from peers, from competitors is the number one factor influencing share performance. So, if we look at this from both directions, the strength, the power of your brand to drive business advantage, shareholder value, and the ability for brands to differentiate and therefore drive performance.

When we think about financial industry brands who all sell the same products, who all generally offer the same suite of services, that’s the number one challenge that financial brands need to be thinking about when they are thinking about the idea of rebrand. How do I stand out?

Gina Bleedorn (11:06): Three of four in our survey of financial brands did believe and say that their brand value critically impacts their business value and love what the white towers have bestowed upon us. That is really validation for what we’ve been championing on behalf of our clients. It is about differentiation and standing out and that makes so much sense.

Some of the advantages that we will be covering in both of our speaking presentations at the Financial Brand Forum as well as in this report are what the advantages really are. And growing credibility with your brand over time leads to greater awareness, greater recognition and greater trust and a multitude of studies over time have shown the importance of brand trust and that value. Certainly increasing Net Promoter Score, that’s something a lot of clients track of current customer loyalty. So that is absolutely part of it, but enhanced engagement of potential new customers, that’s something that is not often tracked and a new brand enables you to attract the people you haven’t attracted yet.

I think that’s one of the misnomers that leads to complacency that executives say, “Well, our brand is fine. People that know us like us.” But what about the people that don’t? And then the staff engagement piece of this. Employer branding and internal branding is now coming of age as something else that is on the minds of C-Suites. We are seeing more and more it is necessary for recruitment, for retention, for engagement, and ultimately for performance. And rebranding, especially with its intrinsic tie-in with culture, has an incredible advantage in increasing all of those things affecting the organizational culture.

But Juliet, you mentioned earlier some of the indicators, some of the questions, and we run into this a lot. How do you know if it’s time for you to consider rebranding, whether it’s a rename, a full rebrand, or even just a repositioning or a refresh? What are some of those questions to ask?

Juliet D’Ambrosio (13:27): That’s a great question. That is really the money question that should be on every banking exec’s mind. One great question and it’s sort of the entry level question is how long has it been since we have refreshed our brand? When we talk about brand change, as you know, it’s not always a name change, an identity change. Often, it’s a story change. It’s creating more relevance to the story and maybe making some shifts here and there visually. What we see as industry best practice is about every five to seven years you should think about considering a brand story refresh. Why? Because consumers change. That’s the cycle of consumer expectation changing.

Another one very tactical [question] is are we moving into a new market? Are we moving to serve a new type of client, a new business line? For example, if we’re a retail bank, we serve retail customers, are we moving into small business or commercial? Does our name limit us? Does it hold us back? Does it tell a different story and ultimately limit that expansion? Another great question to ask when you’re considering your rebrand is your competitive differentiation. Do we stand out? Is there confusion in the marketplace and are we able to tell that story about what we stand for quickly?

Another way to think about that is does your marketing have to spend? Is it as effective as it can be? Does it have to spend an inordinate amount of time or effort establishing who you are or can the work of that happen with your brand to enable that awareness and that ability for a prospect to pick you out and understand what you are about? So those questions, if we think about those, they really cover a wide variety of use cases for all different types of financial institutions.

I will also say we are seeing brand change happen at every segment of the market. We’re seeing it from regionals, from super regionals, from nationals, from smaller community institutions. This idea of brand change in order to grow, in order to remain relevant, has been widely adopted. And so I’m so excited about not just the quantitative study that we did, but also the qualitative where we surveyed brands that have recently gone through change to learn all different sizes of organizations coming to us with all different types of challenges. And what we learned through that study,

Gina Bleedorn (16:10): Juliet, one of those that we have had on the podcast that we do cover in the report, and we’ll be telling this and other stories in Las Vegas, is Bravera Bank. Their CEO, Dave Ehlis was on our podcast. They came to us with the name American Bank. They had acquired a few other banks and were acquiring more and they had divisions – they had investments, they had business, they had insurance, and there was an incredible amount of siloed branding. They didn’t know how to reconcile or how to make the right decision. We led them to rebrand as Bravera. But talk a little bit about how we know that was successful.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (16:53): One of the clearest ways to answer that question is how they’ve grown. They have had net new account growth of 30% since the rebrand, which is far exceeds the industry average. Another way, and this is something that I can speak to. I was really privileged to be able to be there on the day that they launched their new brand to their employees. Their branded merch flew off the shelf. It reminded me of what Doorbusters sort of looked like. That’s how excited employees were in terms of being able to wear and own this new brand and to champion it out in both in the branches but really out in the communities.

What we’ve heard from them also is that their staff engagement has just gone through the roof since this rebrand. That’s especially important as they continue to acquire, which they have since the rebrand. New organizations are now welcomed into a really strong brand where they can understand and champion that purpose. And then finally, net new account growth has continuously improved. And of course Bravera is an employee owned institution. So, all of them are thrilled to see the growth that came out of this rebrand. This is a great example of an organization that embraced wholeheartedly the idea of change. And change is hard. Human beings are naturally resistant to it, but when you embrace it and when you’re open to it, [it’s] blue skies ahead. Nothing but growth ahead.

Gina Bleedorn (18:23): Couldn’t agree more. And actually I began my last speaking about brand in Vegas with that very thought fear of change is actually what is holding so many back from success versus embracing change. And as we know, the only constant is change. So, being proactive actually sets you up for success far more than having change happen to you. What we have seen countless times is that even the most scared of executives see when the change happens that it is good and why it is good and all of that fear dissipates. So, launching brands is always one of our favorite moments because we watch that happen. And then that’s just the tiny seed that grows from there.

Another example, a very different use case from Bravera is a $4.5 billion credit union Tower Federal Credit Union, based in Maryland, SEG based. Their name was just fine, but talk about their business situation and what they decided to do with rebranding and what happened.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (19:34): Tower is a really interesting one, because as you mentioned, they are SEG based. Tower understood that this segment was like all member groups or like all audience groups – getting younger, having changing audience expectations. They also knew that there was a lot of penetration within that segment that they simply weren’t able to get with the brand. There was nothing wrong with the brand, great brand name, but the brand had not been refreshed for 70 years. And so you can imagine that someone, a Millennial, not to mention a Gen Z, who comes into one of the sponsor organizations and is choosing between financial institutions, a 70-year-old brand and a 70-year-old story wasn’t going to cut it for them.

So, they came to the idea of branding with the idea of how do we refresh our story and how do we telegraph that story in a way that is true to our legacy, to the members that we have always served and will continue to serve, but that’s going to launch us into the future. So, this idea around a “Smarter Way Forward,” which is their tagline, speaks to the idea of moving ahead in your life and in your finances and became a really powerful platform for the brand for the identity evolution, which is, it’s called a “Smart Shield.” It’s kind of hard to talk about an identity on a podcast because you need the visual support, but it is called a smart shield and the entire storytelling platform around this. And we were able to launch this brand to employees at their 70th anniversary. Great success, massive employee engagement.

Gina Bleedorn (21:20): One of the most interesting ways we went about artfully refreshing while retaining what they had. They loved their color green, we changed the hue of the color to be a little more modern and they loved that their logo was a big T. So, in that smart shield there is still an embedded T, but completely reinvented. So that just helped not lose, but rather carry forward the heritage, the equity into something that feels so relevant to the now. But how do we know even initially, because this brand just recently launched, how do we know it was successful?

Juliet D’Ambrosio (22:00): Well, Tower is an exceptionally data-driven brand. And so they have continually looked both from a quantitative way and a qualitative way at both their employees, their membership, and then their own business growth. And so they have done studies. In fact, their members now show higher scores of loyalty, of satisfaction and of that bell ringer for NPS ‘likelihood to recommend.’ So that has been off the charts growth for Tower. Another way we know that Tower’s new brand has been successful is that their marketing is more successful. In fact, their most recent campaign, a brand campaign that was using their new identity and their new storytelling platform drove double digit growth over a campaign very similar that they ran in the year prior. So, we see it from both how deeply members are engaged with that brand growing wallet share, but also acquiring new audiences through more effective marketing.

Gina Bleedorn (23:08): Yet another credit union success story is the rebrand of Teachers Credit Union, a $5 billion credit union to Everwise Credit Union. We have told that story on this podcast before. We are going to give a behind the scenes look into how the rebrand was made and that will be part of Juliet’s Masterclass at the Financial Brand Forum. The results of that, even again being like Tower, a very recent rebrand. We have multiple success metrics already. So, excited to share all of these stories at our sessions in Las Vegas, and also in our report, the ROI of Rebranding available on adrenalinex.com.

Juliet D’Ambrosio (23:50): I’d love to just go back to something that you said, Gina. A final thought is that it’s easy for us to sit in our podcasting booth and talk about brand change, although we recently have gone through it ourselves with a rebrand of Adrenaline, so we know of which we speak. But the idea of change, of managing change, of creating the organizational belief systems and the tactics in order to make these brand changes successful has become increasingly critical. And that’s where I think this rebrand report can really shed some light.

What are the things that you need to do internally to help build that support for your rebrand? And it also brings me back to one of my favorite quotes that I actually learned from you, and this was from the legendary former CEO of GE, Jack Welch that said simply, “Change before you have to.” That could sound sort of doom and gloomy, but really, it’s the opposite of that. Change is constant. Change is inevitable. And when you get in front of that, when you take a proactive approach to brand change, you set your own future. You control your own destiny. So, I think that there’s a lot of optimism that any financial executive can have around the idea of brand change and what that can mean.

Gina Bleedorn (25:13): So well said. And in support of the reason why we’re talking about this at all, because we see what it can do and the advantage it can have for our clients and being outside, we can see so clearly and just as you said, when we did it for ourselves, our own Adrenaline brand, it was harder to see from the inside. But when you make these changes, they work in every case. And that’s why we are such champions of making the change.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking, a podcast series created to empower decision makers, influencers, and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site, believeinbanking.com.