The Creative Process Behind a Live Brand Makeover

Lifting the veil on what it takes to create a clever, cohesive campaign

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

In our May wrap-up, Takeaways From The Financial Industry’s Big Show, we highlighted Adrenaline’s footprint at this year’s Financial Brand Forum.

We spotlighted our learnings from three days of “ideas, insights and inspiration,” our personal one-on-ones in our dynamic booth and our live brand makeover for AmeriCU Credit Union, all from the financial industry’s largest and fastest growing gathering of senior-level banking executives. We’ve captured the excitement of the live makeover reveal in our event video below so that you can catch the full show. We wanted to sit down with the creative minds behind the branding process to learn more about how to capture a brand’s essence and reveal it to key executives in front of a live-audience – who also got to vote on their favorite brand direction. 

A brand is a person’s GUT FEELING about a product, service or organization.”
– Marty Neumeier, “The Brand Gap”

The Client Brief

In describing the creative development, Adrenaline’s CXO, Gina Bleedorn, says, “We approached the process strategically. When we held a workshop at 2017’s Brand Forum, we incorporated strategic models we use in our internal process to walk participants through thinking about their brand. This year, we wanted them to see how that strategic process is employed and unveiled in real-time with a real client situation. We showed how to think about a brand – a brand is not a logo; a brand is not a product; a brand is actually the most valuable asset any company has. We then got into our makeover client and their situation. AmeriCU is primarily known in their home market – it’s where they’re based, not where they’re needing to grow. Those are situations that are very familiar to most clients.”

AmeriCU is a $1.2 billion credit union in upstate New York. Based in Syracuse, the credit union – like many of their peers – is looking at other key markets for growth. The creative team at Adrenaline recognized their key Main Street America values and hardworking member base. Will Agrella, Associate Creative Director at Adrenaline, says, “They have the name AmeriCU. It has inherent American properties. It’s a good name. They don’t need a new name. But we recognized that they have a brand that has little differentiation or ways of standing out, so we employed our strategic thinking in a few different ways. One key part of our process is the use of archetypes. We went into archetypal thinking and mapping giving AmeriCU a singular archetypal personality of The Provocateur.”

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover
The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

While people may not automatically think of The Provocateur as a natural fit for a credit union, for AmeriCU, embracing this archetype was one way of really differentiating their brand. Nick Gebhardt, Associate Creative Director at Adrenaline, says, “We only had two conversations with the client and in both they really stressed that they wanted to employ humor. The Provocateur is within the jester family, but it’s a lot more than just being funny. It’s about uncovering a deeper truth by standing out in a way that it’s hard to not engage with. And the examples they gave of The Provocateur were The Onion and Jimmy Fallon as people that make light of things and make things fun and entertaining, but they’re actually using humor to champion greater problems underneath.”

If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”
– Jack Welch, GE

Shared Values & Competitive Differentiation

The second part of Adrenaline’s strategy was centered around shared values. Will Agrella says, “We wanted to identify what it is that customers actually care about and want. Like most customers, digital satisfaction is at the top-of-the-list and AmeriCU scored over 90%, which is highly unusual for any financial institution. Their investment in digital has really paid off. Customer service is also high on that list. One of the most interesting elements of AmeriCU’s customer service is their one-call process, meaning the first person you talk to, anywhere, anytime – in a branch, on chat, on the phone, on email, or wherever – that person is empowered to help the member all the way through. That representative helps them on-the-spot or follows up in a very timely manner. We call this Seamless Service.”

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

Seamless Service is a point of differentiation for AmeriCU  because none of their competitors deploy a commitment to their members’ experiences in quite the same way. All of the elements tie together to produce a really cohesive strategy for the credit union brand. Nick Gebhardt says, “The manifestation of customer service and the differentiation of their value proposition all lead into a brand positioning that is aligned with AmeriCU’s living, breathing values. That means that a member moving from touchpoint to touchpoint experiences seamless service and sees the credit union’s commitment in every interaction. Activation is where the brand values really come alive – making them real in ways that people can see and feel.” 

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

Made Versus Smooth

Following the identification of the archetypal underpinning, shared values and brand positioning, the visual elements really came to life. Two directions were hatched out of our creative brains: Made and Smooth. Both provocative, both fun and illustrative of the credit union and their member base.

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover


In Direction 1 (Made), we sought to embody the brand positioning of frictionless activation with the personality of The Provocateur. In this direction, we were provoking by presenting a better path forward and doing it in a very bold way. So with that, it was banking that is “made for you” and “made to be different” which is the antithesis of how banking is typically made. Gina Bleedorn says, “In most of the world, banking is made for banking and shareholders. At AmeriCU, banking is made simple and frictionless, for you. We’re provoking something against the norm. The visuals become very bold, very photo-led in a way that captures the essence of a moment. They’re unexpected moments of delight and joy. And the logo identity itself was simplified and made into this very bold, shooting dimensional star that has some command to it.”

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover
The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover


The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

In Direction Two, we were even more overtly The Provocateur, jumping right into “Smooth.”

Gina Bleedorn says, “The playfulness factor definitely goes up here, so when you bank frictionlessly with AmeriCU, you are banking smoothly and that makes you feel smooth. We then equated that into funny situations, visuals, descriptions of people feeling smooth. With Direction 2, there was a leap or two into The Provocateur archetype. It’s definitely provocative in the way words are extended, playful imagery on color backgrounds, and prolonged words with the idea of being as smooth as banking can be. I think that Direction 2 bent a little more towards the understood definition of The Provocateur. So, we’re getting at the same brand position, with the same brand personality, just in two different ways.”

The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover
The Creative Process Behind a Brand Makeover

The Creative Takeaway

With The Provocateur falling into The Jester category, Gina says, “We wanted to be clear even within that category. We didn’t just want to be playful or silly for silly’s sake. We wanted to challenge the way banking could or should be. Because AmeriCU had a differentiating proposition that we actually thought had substance with the one-call process (Made) or the idea that the experience should be frictionless (Smooth), we took the provocateur to mean that we are challenging the way things are typically done by showing that there’s a better way and having proof of that. So with The Provocateur, we’re not just rebelling. We’re showing a better path forward, and we’re doing it in a way where we stand out. That’s very much The Provocateur, one who refuses to be ignored, but is provoking action through change.”

Is your brand in need of a fresh eye? We’d love to talk with you about what our branding process can do to help revitalize your brand. Contact us at You can also watch the full brand makeover here.

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