Three banks refresh their identities with changes that include deepening community connections.
By Gina Bleedorn and Juliet D’Ambrosio
WAs banks of all sizes prioritize post-pandemic growth, many financial institutions are merging or expanding to enter new markets and new demographics. Faced with unfamiliar questions and unique challenges, brands in growth mode are increasingly realizing that a name or brand change is often their only and best option.
Whether expanding geographically or in connection with M&A, non-proprietary names can pose significant legal risk and ill-positioned trademarks can stunt an institution’s growth. The competitive landscape has never been so intense.
A new name or reinvented brand may be the only way you can compete. But how do you know if and when this type of change is right for you?
Bravera: Renaming to distinguish
When building a lasting brand, having your own name and identity is fundamental. Especially in financial services. Thousands of banks have common names like “Citizens” and “First” that are not owned by anyone, and therefore whoever “had it first” on the market has the legal rights to use it. This ownership issue often arises when a bank seeks to expand into new markets where a current name limits options. In these cases, banks are forced to make changes if they want to grow. Such was the case with a popular Northern Plains financial institution that prioritized expansion into additional opportunity markets.
The bank, formerly known as American Bank Center, decided it needed a new, more appealing name as the bank expanded its presence in North Dakota and Montana. With so many companies using “American” in their names — 62 other brands in their home state alone — the bank needed a name that was legally defensible, different from the market, and consistent with who the bank is. Additionally, multiple active post-acquisition names and brands and separate trust and insurance brands created internal and external confusion.
What emerged from the renaming and rebranding efforts with American Bank Center was a new identity that captured a regionally relevant pioneering spirit rooted in core values of forward-thinking enablement and resilience. The new name “Bravera” and the tagline “Forge Your Path” provide a powerful platform for employees and customers to gather and activate a diverse new audience in their markets. The brand evokes elements of courage and truth, shared values by the people the bank serves. And creates a consistent banking experience under its own brand banner.
Competitively, Bravera now rightly conveys the bank’s combined resources and geographic reach to offer a broader and stronger promise to existing and prospective retail and business customers. Now with a strong, bold, and identifiable brand, Bravera continues to expand its impact through deeper layers of community integration and an ongoing approach to marketing, increasing conversions with intelligent data. As the bank continues to grow in existing markets and beyond, its name and brand provide a new growth platform on which to build.
Park National: Realignment to scale
Certainly it is important to have a distinctive name. A clear and coherent brand architecture is just as important. This critical success attribute allows a brand to align activities around a unique proposition and ensure it reaches audiences in the most meaningful way. Especially when coupled with a refreshed identity, the combination and alignment of multiple sub-brands can lead to increased perceptions of scale and awareness as banks engage in opportunity-focused marketing efforts to establish or re-affirm the brand in people’s minds. That’s what a family of community banks needed for their next phase of growth.
Dedicated to providing personalized banking experiences for its customers and communities, Park National Bank has long been committed to where its customers live and work.
Headquartered in Newark, Ohio, the bank serves clients with offices spanning from Ohio to the Carolinas. With much of the bank’s past and future growth driven by mergers and acquisitions, Park’s 12 separate brand operating model grew out of a spirit of partnership and autonomy among its affiliates. While the approach was successful over many years of expansion, the very model that shaped it was now creating unintended barriers. from internal fiefdoms to customer confusion to competing with oneself in markets where partners’ footprints overlap.
“Changing a name is not an easy task. So if a name doesn’t pose a legal risk or impede growth in the foreseeable future, banks can modernize the brand without touching the name.”
To create clarity and focus – internally and externally – the bank’s executives saw great potential in a more unified positioning. Tailored market research found that nearly nine out of ten prospective bankers prefer at least one statewide bank that’s large and convenient enough to meet their needs. Additionally, the data showed that what customers loved about all Park affiliates wasn’t necessarily the names or brands, but how they were served. Park was ready to streamline its story and revitalize the value proposition that had long fueled its success.
But the bank didn’t need a new brand name. The parent company’s name, Park National Bank, had great brand equity to build on. With the right structure and a refreshed identity, Park would position itself as a more sophisticated and scaled player in the markets it serves today and will expand into the future. Putting the spotlight on Park’s highly personalized service, Park’s new tagline encapsulates the brands’ shared values: “Where You Mean More”.
To consumers, Park’s refreshed brand reads like a complete offering of banking resources without taking away the value of the one-to-one relationship customers have come to expect from their local bank. Most importantly, it was authentic to how Park lives its true values: Serving every customer better every day. Now a highly aligned and positioned financial services brand, Park has fostered cultural cohesion, mitigated customer complaints, improved market awareness and is poised to make the most of the service at scale.
Guarantee bank and trust: repositioning for relevance
While there are compelling competitive reasons for changing brand names — as we’ve outlined in this article — it’s equally clear that there are times when banks need to retain their names and rebrand to unlock growth potential.
Making a name change is no easy task. So if a name doesn’t pose a legal risk or impede growth in the foreseeable future, banks will modernize the brand without touching the name. For many banks, continuing their legacy into a more relevant and resonant position in today’s world means refreshing their identity and rebranding. This is exactly what a Mississippi bank needed to expand into opportunity markets.
As leadership passed from generation to generation, the new CEO of Guaranty Bank and Trust was keen to preserve the commercial bank’s legacy while expanding its prospects. This respected institution has retained the best of the past while embracing a new vision for growth, refreshing the brand to cater to next-generation banking customers and supporting commercial lending with a more modern and distinctive Southern style. The refreshed brand identity maximized their “three corners” core values - commitment to customer service, community and stability – while also focusing on positioning “good business moves” as they recruited new talent and entered new growth markets.
As market analysis shows, community banking opportunities are often found in the suburbs and outskirts of larger markets, where banks can create corridors of growth. As Guaranty looked north into growth areas, it leveraged the refreshed brand in newly designed and built locations to better compete with potential small business and residential customers there. With a refreshed brand and new branches, the bank definitely looked good – a modern Southern commercial bank built on generations of trust. Achieving market presence with small formats like ITMs helped them project their brand more efficiently while still serving customers and benefiting from the network effect by supporting larger flagship locations.
Guaranty’s brand identity refresh not only provided a platform to communicate its values, but was also crucial when the bank made an acquisition to enter its largest market: Memphis. Now, with a brand sophisticated enough to play in a new location, Guaranty’s reinvigorated marketing approach was all about the market, not the bank. Featuring hometown photographs and utilizing local iconography, the hugely successful marketing campaign captured the spirit of the local market and infused it into all their creativity. Ultimately, “good business moves” have enabled Guaranty to achieve true local relevance in both new and existing footprints, supporting its bankers and communities as it continues on its growth trajectory.
Gina Bleedorn is Chief Experience Officer and Juliet D’Ambrosio is Managing Director of Strategy at Adrenaline, a branded experience company specializing in financial services. For the latest information and insights in financial services, visit the company’s mission-driven platform, Believe in Banking, which brings together decision-makers, influencers and industry leaders in banking.