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Brad Breininger & Marko Zonta

Zync - Journal | Branding the big banks.

Discussing the importance of branding to banks.

Branding the big banks.

How important is branding to the big banks? Does it make a difference?

When big banks rebrand – like CIBC just did – what are the most important aspects? Is it the logo? Is it the story they tell? Is it their history? Or, their place in the Canadian and global markets? 

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Recorded on November 2, 2021.


Brad Breininger: 0:00
Hi everyone and welcome to this week’s everything is brand recently CIBC rebranded. And so our question this week to ponder is how important is branding to the big banks? Let’s talk Right so, I mean, let’s chunk this down a little bit, we can talk about the new CIBC rebrand and we can get into that. But let’s also talk about just how important branding is to the big banks. Does it make a difference? Is it important? So let’s start with A) what do we think of the new CIBC brand?

Gabi Gomes: 0:40
You mean the Renault logo?

Brad Breininger: 0:42
Okay, well, that’s very specific Gabi, yes.

Gabi Gomes: 0:46
Did nobody see that correlation between the French car company and the CIBC logo?

Brad Breininger: 0:52
I was about to say that. Yeah, I mean, it’s true. I mean, I’ve seen that chatter on social media, for sure people have made the comparison. In fact, people actually did side by sides. And when you look at it side by side, it’s not necessarily exactly the same. However, is it reminiscent?

Marko Zonta: 1:11
And I think that’s the problem – is so many people know the car brand that it immediately reminds you of that right? So I’m a little bit surprised that that wasn’t considered more, but maybe it was and they decided because they’re in a very different industry, different market, that it was an acceptable similarity I guess from the design perspective. Now we have to remember that that shape has been in the CIBC brand for many, many years. Right. So it’s not that, you know, this just kind of came out of nowhere, so so they’re definitely working with their historical brand elements. It just so happens that it reminds us of the car brand.

Brad Breininger: 1:52
Chevrons aren’t new, either. I mean, the truth is, is that you could put chevrons together in multiple brands, and they show up, right? Is it problematic or isn’t it?

Marko Zonta: 2:03
I don’t think that it is, what I think is going to be really critical for the bank is the story behind it, and how they actually want to position the brand overall. And I’m sure that really what they’re really looking at a lot more is the marketplace in Canada and internationally, like comparing to other banks? Are they different enough? Do they have a different position? Do they have a different story, right? So that I think matters a lot more than potentially having a similar icon as another company that’s in a very different industry?

Brad Breininger: 2:36
That brings up a really good question. I mean, does the brand stack up against the other big banks? When I look at the signage that is now going up in like a local neighborhood branch that I’ve seen, I’m not sure that it looks as high end or as professional as some of the other big banks, it kind of has a, I don’t know more of a juvenile kind of feel to it.

Marko Zonta: 3:00
It’s interesting you say that I was actually driving around over the weekend, and I noticed some of the signage. And to be honest, I actually came away with a very similar observation. It feels what I thought was like more low end in comparison to the other banks in the Canadian marketplace. And I don’t know if that’s intentional that they actually want to position themselves as a, I don’t know –

Jeremy Linskill: 3:24
More affordable bank? Yeah, like, an affordable,

Brad Breininger: 3:28
More affordable bank. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Jeremy, that sounds like an oxymoron

Marko Zonta: 3:34
Did you not hear me snicker when I said it? Yeah, sure. I don’t know. Like, I’m gonna say, and I haven’t seen the signage, I haven’t been out in the neighborhood I guess

Brad Breininger: 3:43
You haven’t been out of your house at all?

Marko Zonta: 3:45
I live in my little bubble. Yeah. But I have to say it’s more modern – that I will give to it. I think the thing that I always struggled with from CIBC was it always felt very dated, and old fashioned. And frankly, I think also it led to them struggling with what to do with the brand. Whether it was a commercial or anything, I always found, like their marketing materials were always very disassociated from the actual brand, the logo itself, but I think that, you know, I haven’t seen a lot of materials, but I’m hoping that with the modernization, and I use that word loosely, but that is going to give them a little bit more of an identity overall, because I felt like I think at one point they had like a cartoon character or something. I don’t know. Like, it was always sad.

Brad Breininger: 4:29
No, they had those suffering penguins. I don’t know who came up with those penguins. But they weren’t animated. They weren’t puppets. I don’t know what they were but those godforsaken penguins were a problem in my opinion.

Gabi Gomes: 4:43
So I think the other struggle with CIBC is their maroon right? The banks have a primary color TDs green, you know, RBCs Blue, Scotia is red – previously orange, but now red. And here’s CIBC with -. Oh, BMO is also blue, a really different blue, really royal blue, etc. And then you’ve got CIBC that’s this dated maroon color, right? So I think that’s also played into that historically. But in terms, Brad, you know, we’ve seen, RBC has a little character. CIBC has the penguins, those things come and go with the brand. But it is the – and we can argue I agree with you, Jer, I think maybe they should have had a step somewhere in between, you know how many years ago and now in terms of modernizing that, all the other banks did that, in terms of taking steps to kind of bring their brand along, and I think this one’s a major one for CIBC. But at the end of the day, and whether it is more accessible, because it looks lower end, etc. You know, maybe who knows. But I also think that there’s all these other brands that are popping up all these other banks that are popping up all these other online banks that are popping up, and they’re all vying for that attention. Now, I think historically, branding a bank is a huge deal, a lot goes into it, whether anybody on that focus group panel at the CIBC rebrand, had been to France anytime recently or knew about the car company, that’s, you know, neither here nor there. And maybe they’ll never go into European markets where that is something. But I think that it is a big deal when you do something like this color, name, all of that comes into play. At the end of the day, they’re dealing with millions, if not billions, of dollars, they’re dealing with our money, and they need to be a stable financial institution. And they need to exude that one way or the other. So the steps that they do to rebrand themselves need to be really thought out. Could they have used a step in between? Probably, but they’re here now. So now, what did they do moving forward?

Brad Breininger: 6:51
I mean, I think that one of the key things here, the question kind of comes to something that you said earlier, Gabi, which is that there’s all of these kind of startup things. And when you talk about branding, the big banks, is it important that the brand really represents that stability that they offered? Because that’s what they own in the marketplace? I mean, a lot of these other pop up banks or online banks? Don’t necessarily, although most of them are funded by one of the larger organizations. Yeah. However, is it really important for the big banks to have a brand that feels more stable, less modern, more connected to historical elements? Is that even a thing? Or is the CIBC on the right track that their real competitors are these startup banks or these online banks, and now they can play perhaps better with those brands in the marketplace?

Gabi Gomes: 7:50
They absolutely need to. I look at TD, we’ll bring TD into the mix as well here. And the recent drop of Canada trust – did anybody even notice that all of a sudden Canada trust isn’t there anymore?

Brad Breininger: 8:01
They just quietly, quietly got rid of it.

Gabi Gomes: 8:05
Not only that, but over the last I don’t know how many years TD stands for Toronto Dominion. Nobody mentions that anymore. Right? RBC Royal Bank of Canada, you know, – Showing your age there Gabi -, CIBC Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. But all of those moves were made strategically TD couldn’t be Toronto, Dominion going into the states, etc. So those moves were made. And did they become more concrete, more stable, more trustworthy is a whole other ballgame. But I think they did with those moves.

Brad Breininger: 8:40
Well, let’s shut down borders. This is not a Canadian situation. This is actually a global situation. If you look at HSBC. Its stands for Hang Seng Bank of China, I forget what it stands for exactly. But HSBC only goes by the acronym, even City Bank was called something else previously, but it could be any city. It’s not a specific city. Whereas if you say, Toronto Dominion or you say, Bank of Montreal, all of a sudden now you’re putting this geographic moniker on the entity on the brand, that could really stifle it from global growth. And I think long term the big banks have global growth on their agenda. So I think that you know, really what the brand is being used for, to a large degree is to almost unCanadianize or unlocal Canadianize, some of the brand elements of the big banks and so it is CIBC. It is BMO, it is RBC, it is TD, it is now Scotia Bank is a little bit different, but it’s no longer the Bank of Nova Scotia. Scotia could be a whole bunch of different things. So I think that these are important elements to what needs to happen to the banks from a global perspective not just A Canadian perspective.

Marko Zonta: 10:01
I think when it comes to naming, it’s more about simplification, you know, to actually use and say and write out official long names doesn’t make sense. It’s not practical. It’s not memorable. You pointed to Scotiabank. Scotiabank, it says exactly what it is, even though they still, you know, refer to where the bank was originally created. But I don’t think that that necessarily even in the international market, and they are huge in international market, that that really affects them in a negative way. And Scotia Bank went through a rebrand within the last three years I would say, and they modernized their brand. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the banks need to keep up with the changing market in general, right, like they are operating, even though they are banks and of course, you know, you’re dealing with other financial institutions, as competitors, or you know, market players, they also need to reflect what’s going on in the marketplace in general. If you look at technology brands, if you look at huge manufacturing brands, all of that kind of stuff, they’re all going through rebrands and updates to remain relevant right to be able to tell their story to the audience that pays attention now, right. And in many different ways, they’re using different channels, different mediums. So they actually have to update to reflect that.

Brad Breininger: 11:23
But do the banks brand, like other organizations? I mean, if you take a look at what most of the banks have done, whether it’s RBC or TD or BMO, not so much CIBC because as we discussed, they’ve taken a little bit more of a modern direction. But I think even with the rebrands, the other four big banks have kind of stayed in a very traditional vein, although it is modern, it still feels quite traditional, it still feels very much bank-like is that important on the Canadian stage and on the global stage, that they continue to show stability, and the one that stands out the most I think is RBC. If you look at the RBC brand, it still feels quite rooted in tradition, it still feels very much, you know, a brand of a bank, is that where banks should be? Or should they be considering that they’re competing against technology companies? Should they be considering that they need to feel a little bit more connected a little bit more modern, a little bit more like where CIBC has gone, in their latest rebrand? Is that more of what should happen?

Marko Zonta: 12:33
I think that banks need to be careful when it comes to that, right, they need to be seen as trusted, stable organizations that can you know, that are not just going to basically fold just because the market changes over a couple of months type of thing, right. And that’s why they introduce, you know, when it comes to technology companies and all that kind of stuff, they introduce new products or separate entities, where they can actually push the envelope a little bit and appeal to, let’s say, a younger audience. So I think that they really have to be careful when it comes to

Sasha Codrington: 13:03
One thing that I just think is interesting with that. RBC in their latest rebrand was they made a subtle change if you look, the lion used to face backwards and then in the rebrand it faces forwards. So I feel like that’s kind of a subtle nod to kind of the modernization and forward thinking that you’re talking about. And another example that’s moving a little bit outside of traditional banking is Questrade versus Wealthsimple. If you look at Wealthsimple, they’re very much branded like a tech company. If you’re talking about juvenile Brad, they use a lot more illustration, it’s a little more colorful, but it’s also very usable. If you’re looking at Questtrade, it has that very traditional look but it also comes with a lot more challenges. Wealthsimple is designed from start to finish to tell you exactly what’s happening and I think that’s been really successful in capturing a younger audience who doesn’t necessarily lean on that traditional look, they’re looking for useability first.

Brad Breininger: 14:00
Yeah, and maybe juvenile was not the right word, maybe accessible is a better word, or maybe I don’t know, less formal is a better way to describe it. But I think you bring up a really good point, Sasha and that is, is it about audiences? Are these organizations like, wealthsimple and perhaps this new CIBC brand? Are they kind of reaching out to the next generation? Are those more traditional brands for an older crowd… that is eventually going to die off? Do these more modern organizations have the right idea?

Gabi Gomes: 14:33
I don’t know about that. I will say that the banks traditionally have gone after segments of the population, whether it be newcomers to Canada, whether it be the LGBTQ plus community, they’ve targeted community branding more, maybe not necessarily from a – No, they’ve they’ve done they’ve done the students to like they’ve got products lined up for younger etc but I don’t know.

Brad Breininger: 15:01
But Gaby, is there a difference between doing community outreach to those different groups, and actually making your main brand feel like it’s right now and perhaps, where things are going not where things have been. I mean, if I take a look at TD – TD is quite a conservative, stable brand. And they do a ton of community outreach. And they adapt the brand –

Gabi Gomes: 15:26
also, I just looked it up. It’s also 166 years old.

Brad Breininger: 15:31
The logo, you mean? Yeah. Yeah. And they’ve modernized it over the years, for sure. But and they do quite modern reach outs. But if you look at an organization, like Wealthsimple, the entire brand, from the messaging to the look to the voice to the feel, it’s across the board there. It’s really about disruption. I mean, are the banks capable of disruption at the same level as some of these startups? Or is that something that they just don’t need to pay attention to? That they are, it’s not disruption that people are looking for from them, it’s stability, and then within that stability if they happen to disrupt within the brand, then so be it?

Gabi Gomes: 16:15
Aren’t they just gonna be gobbled up by one of the big five anyways? Like they’re gonna get – the smaller brands? Absolutely, they’re gonna get to a certain point, get that market share of the millennials and then be gobbled up by one of the five.

Brad Breininger: 16:28
I mean, there’s perfect examples of that, that have come throughout, you know, the history in Canada, Tangerine you know, exactly, for sure. And then that has happened to the point where a lot of times, not only were they gobbled up, but the brand was not kept, right. Like, the latest is what you just said, Gabi, which is Canada trust, I mean, TD bought Canada trust for its personality. And they kept it for quite a while. But now it’s gone and it’s been absorbed. They’re like the Borg, right, you just become part of the main entity.

Marko Zonta: 17:00
One thing that I think is really important when it comes to brands, and it’s going to be interesting to see what some of the banks do, like, I’m a TD customer. And I find that their brand is suffering right now. And this is purely my personal observation. Because I find that their tech side, their user experience is dated, I look at what some of the other banks are doing. And their online experience, it feels more modern, simpler, it looks better, it’s a lot more focused on the end user. But I think the TD, quite frankly, if they rebranded right now and introduced new colors, new fonts, new logo, it would do absolutely nothing for me as a customer. What I’m focused on – is the app that I’m using user friendly, is the website user friendly. And I have to say right now, they are really falling behind when it comes to that. So to me, that’s really the brand experience, like yes, I see signage, yes, I see the logo and all of that stuff, but it’s becoming less and less important as – for me as a customer, if you’re not going to make that online experience positive for me. Yeah, like you’re gonna come across as an old tired brand.

Brad Breininger: 18:18
Yeah, that’s such an important part of of where things need to go and what these brands need to consider. I mean, you know, changing the colors or changing the fonts. I mean, yeah, that can be a brand change. But it goes back to our view of the world and that everything is brand. And right now, everything digital is brand for sure. And if you’re not making sure that the experience lives up to who you are in the marketplace, someone else is going to come along and take over that part of the world.

Jeremy Linskill: 18:50
Will you switch? If the experience is so bad on the phone for your TD? Will you switch?

Marko Zonta: 18:57
That’s a very interesting question. I actually have to say that it crossed my mind. Yes, yeah. Because it’s at a point where I am a little bit annoyed sometimes things are not working the way they should be. I know that there are better solutions out there. And yeah, it’s a little bit annoying. And the only thing that’s kind of holding me back is the fact that it would require a lot of work on my side personally, to switch over. And also it’s almost a little bit of that, like, well, they must be working on an update because it’s so terrible that it’s probably just like six months away type of thing, right? So I hope that they’re working on it, because I really think that their brand is suffering on that side right now a lot. And I mean, I’m only speaking about TD just because as I said, I use it, and maybe other banks are dealing with similar issues. But yeah, I think it’s a really big part of brands now, right? Like they need to consider that very, very strongly. I’ve felt like I care very little about the in branch experience about signage about any of that stuff. All I do is use the app. That’s it really, for the most part, I guess once in a while interact with somebody online, like a teller, which is an interesting new development where you know, you’re having meetings with people online from the bank and what that experience is like,

Gabi Gomes: 20:13
It’s called a customer service rep. You’re dating yourself to?

Marko Zonta: 20:16
Yeah. Okay. Sure, whatever. Alright. Now, I’ve lost my train of thought. Great. Thanks, Gabi. No, but I think that really, it’s it’s the online experience, whether that is through the app or through, you know, a chat of some kind. That’s all I’m really looking at now. I don’t go to a branch ever really?

Brad Breininger: 20:36
Yeah. I mean, I think all the big banks are aware of that. I mean, I think that that’s a trend where the overall experience primarily the digital experience is such an important part of where the brand needs to go. And quite frankly, if the banks are not considering that, then something’s broken the system. I think that they all are. And to your point, Marko, I mean, do people choose banks because of the brand? Or do they make it so difficult to switch or to change that, really, it doesn’t really matter what the experience is going to be? You’re kind of tied up by the bank that you’re part of anyway. I mean, I think a lot of younger people switch banks in the early days. But um, I think that once people get established, I mean, a lot of times when I’ve spoken to folks that are older, they don’t change their bank, because there’s so much connection to it. Is the brand really more relevant for a younger generation? And are some of the banks missing that opportunity?

Sasha Codrington: 21:44
I would say, for me, personally, I’ve a) never switched banks. And to Jeremy’s point, I think there’s so much more resistance to switching banks. If let’s say, a clothing company, something really terrible comes out about them today, I’ll stop buying them tomorrow. It’s very, very easy. There’s very little resistance there. For a bank, it would have to be something significant, like Marko is saying, if you’re really having trouble using their services for months on end, and I’d consider it but to be fair, Marko, I use the TD app, and I’m not frustrated. So I’m not sure where the gap is there.

Gabi Gomes: 22:19
Neither am I use it too.

Jeremy Linskill: 22:21
Yeah, I have it as well.

Marko Zonta: 22:23
Yeah, I don’t think that it’s the frustration part of it in terms of I just I find that it’s dated, I look at what other organizations are doing, including technology companies. And I think that they are falling behind. To me, it’s that like, maybe I’m a lot more critical of it just because of you know what we do? I’m just surprised that they’re not updating it. Now, I do see some little signs of some updates happening. So I’m not sure if thats just they’re slowly updating some stuff into kind of in the background before they do big reveal of all of their digital properties. So that’s quite possible.

Jeremy Linskill: 22:58
Yeah, I don’t think that that’s gonna happen at all, though, I think the way it works is they update little pieces at a time, every time you go to the app, it’s a little bit different. That’s what I find. It’s, there’s never gonna be a big reveal I think. Yeah,

Gabi Gomes: 23:09
And I think I was gonna say one of the issues that the banks have is their diverse population, right? You’ve got people that are 99, 100, that bank with the banks, right. And you’ve got all the way to kids, that are banking. And those needs are very different. You’ve got people who, you know, it is their highlight of their day to walk over to their branch that they’ve been going to for, you know, 50-60 years to say hello t the customer service rep, Jer over and, you know, get their 5 bucks, or whatever it is, s -they can pay in cash, like wi h a bill? Yes, yes. And I thi k it’s interesting to look at t e banks as that kind of compa y that needs to service, everybo y from 100 Plus to, you kno , kids, and be able to servi e them at the values that th y want to service them at compa y values, whether it be onlin , whether it be in person, a d literally keeping all tho e levers going at the same tim , kind of at the same standar

Jeremy Linskill: 24:12
the priorities have to shift, right, you have to choose what’s the most important, right? And I think that digital is taking over there.

Brad Breininger: 24:19
I don’t think any of the banks are branding for their 99 and 100 year old customers that are going to the branch. I think they’re keeping the branches open for that older crowd. I think the branches will be open for still a while but eventually they will shut down as well. Probably. Yep. But the reality is, is that you’re right, Gabi, if you look at an organization like wealthsimple compared to one of the big banks, the diversity of audience that those big banks have, really doesn’t allow them to be as up and coming as a wealthsimple can be and in fact, as wealthsimple gets bigger, the brand is watered down more and more. And I think that that happens to a lot of startups, as their audience expands. And as their brand expands, they have to service a wider range of potential customers or clients. And it waters it down a little bit. You can’t be an upstart when you are trying to appeal to the entire population.

Gabi Gomes: 25:20
And I’m just going to add on the online front as well. It is similar to the brand update and that you can’t literally all of a sudden take TD and make it black. Same thing with the online experience. You can’t all of a sudden take that online experience that people have been used to for now years, and all of a sudden have a completely different UX to it. Right? It’s not Google, Jer is nodding his head.

Jeremy Linskill: 25:45
No, like if it’s terrible, you fix it.

Gabi Gomes: 25:47
I get it. You do. But it’s not a complete overhaul. It’s literally taking chunks of it and improving bit by bit by bit by bit in order to bring that audience along. That is so vast, there are those that yeah, all of us on the call. If they completely change their app or online experience. I’m sure we’d fumble, but we’d get it, you know, within a few minutes, right. But there are other people that are not as tech savvy as us that need to be brought along a little bit. So it is updates by updates by updates. Similar to their brand. Exactly.

Jeremy Linskill: 26:23
That’s a different discussion, I think. All right. It’s like, yeah,

Brad Breininger: 26:26
yeah, we should earmark that one as a topic. How much should UX change? Because I mean, I know for myself, if I sometimes go to a digital place, and any UX has changed. I’ve gotten so used to just using it a certain way, and now I have to kind of relearn it. It kind of cheeses me off a little bit sometimes. So I hear what you’re saying, Gabi. Yeah, yeah. No, it’s true.

Gabi Gomes: 26:49
notorious for it. Facebook’s notorious for it. And we all bitch and complain about it for the first week until we get used to it.

Brad Breininger: 26:55
Yeah, no, it’s true. I mean, the bottom line, I think, when it comes to, you know, Bandy, banding… branding for the big banks, is that they’re really in a situation where they, they have a lot more historical baggage that are attached to them, along with a very conservative expectation and expectation of stability. So although they may desire to go in a very modern direction, it might not be what serves them best. And I think that what we need to look at when we’re thinking about brands for big banks is that they need to be able to compete across the country to a range of audiences that are so diverse in age, ethnicity, expectation, rural versus urban, I mean, there are so many factors that play into what they have to appeal to, but then they also have to be looking at it from a global perspective. And, you know, what are the trends on a global perspective? What is their ultimate goal? I mean, you know, TD, for example, is way more concerned about getting into the US market, and perhaps even countries beyond that, than they are about whether the green should be this shade or that shade, I mean, it really becomes something that they have to consider as they look at the complete totality of who they are as an organization. So I think branding at that level, at that size of an organization is a very complex and highly considerate approach that has to happen in making sure that you know, you’re reaching all of the audiences. That being said, CIBC may be the smartest people in the room right now, or they may not be they’ve taken a little bit of a different approach than others have in the past. And that may serve them extremely well. Or it may not I mean, only time will tell and we’ll see where it goes. In the end. I think that the brand the banks – Brank’s. The banks are quite unique in what they need to do and what they need to accomplish in the Canadian brand landscape, and in the global brand landscape as well. So that’s this week’s version of everything is brand. Join us next week for a new topic, a new discussion and remember, everything is brand

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