How a Cohesive Brand Brought Together an Organization Deep and Wide
Looking back at a project whose lessons are still relevant today
Financial service companies are by their very nature complex. Even a small community bank that built a business over many years on bread-and-butter consumer deposits may today offer private banking, commercial lending, and in some cases, sophisticated investment and insurance offerings. Add to that a large geographical footprint and pretty soon you have a financial services firm that sells many products in many different places.
Such was the case with Stephens, one of the largest privately-held investment banks in the country. When Stephens engaged Ramey several years ago, the company was rapidly transforming itself from an institutional investment firm with a super-regional footprint to a full-service financial services company, with offices coast to coast.
“With our strategic growth, we realized that we needed help articulating what our company stood for,” says Curtis Jeffries, Stephens SVP and Corporate Marketing Director. “Ramey not only helped us create a unique selling position, but they also helped build the brand across all of our business units and geographies.”
Ramey took the firm’s executive team through its strategic planning process called Brand Journey, which helped distill the brand position. “Stephens is as sharp an investment bank as you’ll find anywhere on the planet,” says Chris Ray, Ramey CEO. “But the heart of their brand – and their differentiation – is built around the unconventional relationship that they forge with their clients. Their word is their bond, and that’s what we celebrated with the brand.”
Over the years, the brand has evolved along with the financial services marketplace. Looking back, this case study offers several valuable lessons for marketers of financial services:
The more business units and geographies your company has, the greater the challenge to speak with one voice. One of the primary jobs of a CMO is to ensure that all of your communications vehicles are on-brand. As Curtis Jeffries says, “we defined ‘the Stephens experience,’ regardless of whether the clients were in Houston, Little Rock or Boston, and whether they were clients of our investment bank, wealth management or institutional trading group.”
A brand is the total experience gained from the relationship someone has with an organization, product or service. It has two living parts: the part that the organization creates, and the part that is kept in the mind and heart of the person experiencing it. Today, customers and prospects interact with the brand via the website, online videos and a host of events across Stephens’ footprint.
Financial service companies are complex; therefore financial service brands need to be straightforward. Despite the complexity of Stephens’ products and services, the “ethos” of the brand is deceptively simple: long-term relationships and enduring values, as opposed to herd mentality and short-term thinking.
Today’s financial services consumers continue to seek “omnichannel” options. According to a recent study from Cisco, “consumers want banks to deliver financial advice and banking services through both virtual and physical channels.” Stephens continues to work hard to ensure that the experience of logging into the firm’s website is in sync with the experience of walking into one of their branch offices.
Ensure that you build a foundation on which to grow in the future. Building some flexibility into your brand on the front end for future product or service offerings can extend the life of the brand.
Complex organizations don’t always require complicated solutions. As we learned with Stephens, a smart and well-executed brand strategy can improve not only the customer experience, but financial performance, as well.
Chris Ray, Partner/CEO at The Ramey Agency