Expressing Identity Anywhere: Branch as Brand: Design and Marketing Pros Explain How to Make Universal Brand Play in the World of Particulars

By Bielski, Lauren | ABA Banking Journal, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Expressing Identity Anywhere: Branch as Brand: Design and Marketing Pros Explain How to Make Universal Brand Play in the World of Particulars


Bielski, Lauren, ABA Banking Journal


Congratulations. The branding and design pros say that more bank execs get design's value and are seeking out professionals to conceptualize and deliver it.

Maybe we're all getting pickier about the looks of things.

"Time is a commodity and nobody wants to waste their time in ugly places," says William Bily, director of design, with DEI, Cincinnati. "Consumers are choosier and interiors count, and more bankers understand that. Ugliness or even uninspiring plainness really stands out in ways that it didn't when I was a kid and ran errands with my mother. She stayed in that teller line and waited despite the drab looks of the place, but today," says Bily, "people have more options."

In terms of what's looking fresh now, some experts have seen large open environments with high ceilings and lots of white with bold primaries as accents; all say that a clean uncluttered look is part of the new expectation. And color? It runs the gamut.

"A bank like ING proved you can go beyond blue, maroon, and gray and still be taken seriously," notes Randall Stone, of Lippincott Mercer, referring to ING Direct's brash "Orange" themed consumer spaces.

But the industry is still experiencing backlash. In a Chicago Tribune article on the subject, the writer questioned whether the new jumble of branches in the windy city had devalued design there. The term "McBank" was used. Stone responds that banks, in many cases, have become victims of early successes.

"Banks stand out now," he says. "In becoming visible they have opened themselves up to potential criticism." The senior partner at the New York-based design firm sees some mistakes, but thinks banks get high marks for appearance overall.

More good news: On-fire market segments include wealth management, small business banking, and the Hispanic cohort, and some banks are seizing the day by targeting their branding and design for those segments, notes Eduardo Alvarez, EVP for marketing and strategy, BrandPartners, Rochester, N.H.

Finally, bankers are returning to their "banking natures," experts say, pulling back somewhat on previous attempts to disguise their branches as a coffee shop or bookstore that happens to sell banking services.

"There is still an effort to humanize the banking experience and address the anxiety that many have about finances," says Bruce Dybvad, president, Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio. "But the expression of that quality is beginning to change. The financial service aspect is also being stressed."

In a time of distraction such clarity can only be a good thing. Even fussy Martha would have to approve.

Take John Puffer, CEO of $161 million assets Pilot Bank, Temple Terrace, Fla ... He is, in many ways, a model citizen of the new banking breed. "We had a real need to deliver banking services from the perspective of a customer. I began to think of what retail spaces I enjoyed as a consumer. But I also kept in mind what would deliver our products best."

The bank and the St. Louis-based design firm, NewGround, came up with the name "Pilot." It conveys notions of aspiration, control (of an airplane), and reaching for more in the friendly skies, to borrow another airline connection.

Displaying your value

Now for the bad: It turns out, when it comes to the branch, looking sharp isn't everything. An obvious point, perhaps, but one that has often gotten lost in the latest design fad.

"There's more of an end-to-end emphasis on customer experience delivery that a good branch look is a part of," says Susan Piotroski, Boston-based senior executive, brand analytics, with Accenture. She's seeing a more holistic branding effort.

"It's not just about an ad campaign or just about logo, or just about the look and feel of your website or just about the branch," she explains. "It's about striving to create a seamless, coordinated effort." This is especially true when you have the needs of a network to consider. …

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