Sideways: The art of the bank rebrand

By:
Jon Macaskill
Published on:

Forward-thinking branding experts are already adjusting their plans for 2014 and beyond: Yahoo recently unveiled a new logo designed to symbolize its fresh start under CEO Marissa Mayer; and the Republic of Iran is reportedly considering a change to the slogan ‘Death to America’ that has been in place since the revolution in 1979.

Banks remain the focus of popular discontent, five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which represents an exciting opportunity for financial market players to rethink their branding strategy.

In the wake of the credit crisis and the collapse in the reputation of many Wall Street brands, Goldman Sachs played its usual leadership role in attempting to redefine how a modern investment bank presents itself – both to potential customers and to the broader public.

Like any vibrant ad agency in New York or London, Goldman threw a bunch of great ideas against the wall in an attempt to see what would stick. One push was an ad campaign designed to present Goldman as an asset-management firm that just happens to have a trader-dominated investment bank tacked on.

This drive was positively misleading when it started, but a recent slump in fixed-income trading returns took asset management up to almost 20% of Goldman’s revenues in the third quarter, which can be interpreted as an example of branding leading content, as asset management takes a higher profile at the firm.

Goldman also adopted a slogan that was designed to tackle the widespread perception that it makes trading profits at the expense of its customers. But the slogan ‘Our client’s interest always comes first’ was perhaps a little too on point. If you hadn’t been worrying that your Goldman coverage contact was setting you up as part of a bigger trading strategy before you read that slogan, you certainly would be afterwards.

 
Similar slogans used by other banks also had weaknesses. Morgan Stanley’s ‘One client at a time’ projected an atmosphere of sloth as much as the targeted air of deliberation and commitment to the customer.

 
Bank of America’s ‘Bank of opportunity’ slogan had a hollow ring in the years when the firm’s stock chiefly represented an opportunity to lose money – thankfully now a distant memory!

And JPMorgan’s tag line: ‘The right relationship is everything’ must currently seem to be mocking CEO Jamie Dimon as regulators and clients line up to take a bite out of his firm’s earnings over past misdeeds, many of them not even his own.

The temptation might be strong among US firms to mimic the slogans of European banks, which tend to be worthy, but anodyne to the point of soporific, as with Deutsche Bank’s ‘Passion to perform’.

 
Wall Street players should resist this temptation and instead look to the heartland, where smaller US banks are setting an example in bold tags that put their bigger banking cousins to shame.

Bank of Oklahoma’s stirring slogan is ‘Long live your money’. This trademarked motto does not have an exclamation mark attached yet, but it can only be a matter of time before it is revved up even further. Bethpage FCU on Long Island – only a few miles from Wall Street, but a world away in attitude – makes a pledge that few of its bigger peers would dare to offer: ‘You’ll love banking here’.

And in case staff at Goldman Sachs thought it was a daily thrill wondering whether the bank’s traders are running hot or cold, Berkshire Bank of New England stakes an unequivocal claim with its slogan: ‘America’s most exciting bank’.