When Beneficial Bank, one of the oldest banks in Philadelphia (assets: $4.7 billion), set out to revamp its brand in 2013, it also shifted its culture to be more relevant to the millennial audience.
By deeply studying this group through consumer research, introducing purposeful creative focused on serving millennials’ financial needs and working to change the mindset of every employee from top to bottom, Beneficial created a brand intended to enhance the bank’s traditional values while simultaneously gaining the attention of this valuable new audience.
“We’ve been around for over 160 years and have very loyal long-time customers, which is terrific,” says Jennifer Shockley, senior vice president, director of marketing and creative services. “But we had to figure out a way to evolve and stay relevant.”
Creating this new brand began with the bank’s newest CEO, Gerry Cuddy. Previously a loan officer at another bank, Cuddy knew firsthand that educating his prospects and clients was the easiest way to close the sale—not by actually selling to them. When he came to Beneficial, he took the opportunity to not just apply that mentality to the commercial side of business, but to the entire bank.
Cuddy had the vision to bring education to the forefront of the bank’s brand.
“When they said ‘Let’s build a brand,’ they knew it would be hard to get past the board,” says Anne Ryan, brand strategy manager at Brownstein Group, the brand communication agency that worked with the bank. “But it just takes one fighter within the organization to make it happen.”
For Beneficial, it was Chief Administration Officer Joanne Ryder who fought for the brand, as well as her team including Shockley and Kerry Sczepkowski, vice president, creative services manager.
“There was a lot of back and forth and passionate conversations with the board,” says Sczepkowski. “But we had to show them, ‘You’re not my target audience.’ They had to take themselves out of it to really let their minds see who we were going after and what it meant for our growth. In the end we got the buy in from them.”
What makes a millennial?
“Millennials want help from banks but don’t think banks understand them as human beings,” says Ryan. “If I’m 22 years old and my bank is sending me emails about HELOC loans, they don’t get me, and they’re certainly not looking at the data that I know you have. It’s not a personal relationship, and they’re treating me like every other customer.”
Ryan shares that the way to treat these customers as individuals is to not have a solely transactional relationship and only push products and services, but instead, to be there for them in big moments in life where there are emotional needs. Such as, “She said yes, now what?”
“That couple doesn’t want a loan with attractive low rates,” says Ryan. “They want the wedding of their dreams. They don’t want a mortgage. They want their dream home. You can help achieve that.”
Yet according to recent research from Accenture, 79 percent of consumers currently define their banking relationship as transactional, which has grown by 8 percent in just one year.
“In fact, 27 percent of consumers say that receiving end-to-end customer service would motivate them to apply for a mortgage with their current bank,” according to Accenture. “This is even if their bank did not offer the most favorable mortgage rates. This role is a plus for banks that must find better ways to differentiate their services when competing on products and price has become increasingly difficult.”
“We knew we were an education company, now it was a matter of taking that and branding it,” says Shockley.
“Education was the word that was guiding them, but education feels like homework,” says Ryan. “So the brand evolved to be more focused on knowledge and fluency.”
The “Knowledge Bank” creative has a casual tone, totally focused on the audience, who, at the time, were mostly customers over the age of 55.
“Our goal was to reinvigorate the brand to feel fresh to attract millennials, but at the same time we didn’t want to alienate gen X or baby boomers,” says Shockley. “It’s banking knowledge that everyone could be more educated on. We won’t be able to help people do the right thing if we’re not educating them.”
Instead of broad, high-level messages, the bank used specific, straightforward messages in order to have a productive conversation with customers. And by rewiring their initial inspiration into something grander and even more fulfilling, they were able to capture attention in a heavily commoditized space.
“The customers we talked to would say, ‘I kind of know a little, but I don’t really know exactly what something means’,” says Sean Carney, account director at Brownstein. “What that means to us creatively was that it wasn’t about education, it was about fluency and understanding the implications in terms of the endeavors and aspirations that individuals have. That’s where the ESCROW ads came from.
“The tone is odd, but the way that each of these ads land has a serious strategic answer at the end, which is this is about the power of fluency and specifics needs and wants.
“This also makes them flexible, so it doesn’t break when we extend it to other very important cohorts, like business owners or other long-standing clients,” says Carney.
Together the bank and agency focused on how to solve specific problems and what guarantees the bank can make to show customers that they understand them.
The agency questioned consumers with loans (both customers and noncustomers), asking them their number one lending pain point. The consensus was the issue of customers not knowing their status or where they are in the process and having to continuously follow up with their banker because of unreturned calls.
Thus, “The Lead” was created, in which the bank guaranteed to call customers back within 24 hours, or they would waive the origination fee. People responded. The campaign had a conversion rate, in terms of people calling the bank for loans or making a website query that resulted in them becoming a lead, of 4.39 percent, which was 278 percent higher than the industry benchmark rate at the time—1.16%.