How to Successfully Build Your Brand, Part I

A peek behind the creative process that provides the foundation for a bank or credit union brand’s future

Citadel Credit Union Rebrand Case Study

Consumers generally learn about a new brand or rebrand at the public-facing launch, but there is a lot of creative strategy and planning that has gone on in the background long before the curtain is drawn back.

According to Creative Boom’s roundup of 20 Of The Best Rebrands That Got It Right: “When a company announces a rebrand, the design world sits in eager anticipation. Why? Because we know a rebrand isn’t simply a shiny new logo. It involves a strategic overhaul that can completely transform public perception.” The reality is that what consumers see is just the tip of the iceberg or “the visible part of branding, the world of ‘magic’ and creativity,” says Arjan Kapteijns in his exploration of rebrands.  

What happens behind the scenes to get to the point of launch isn’t often explored in-depth. Even in trades focused on branding, the spotlight is usually on the end result rather than the creative process it took to get there. Add on considerations for brands in certain sectors – like identifying the identity of a financial service that isn’t geographically limiting, but provides growth opportunities by expanding audiences with an ownable name – and the process of creativity and consensus-building becomes even more complex. With so much merger and acquisition activity in financial services, bank and credit union rebrands are happening at a faster pace than ever before. What are some strategies for success?

Valley Strong Credit Union Rebrand Case Study

Valley Strong Credit Union

Building Brands

In the branding/rebranding process, the creative team and financial institution work together to develop a brand strategy to set the direction and put the brand competitively unique position. The goal for the new or refreshed brand is always growth – customer or member growth, market growth or in most cases, both. The financial institutions ready for a rebrand understand it’s not just the brand but the business itself, that needs to grow around a refreshed and competitively distinctive idea. That idea underpins the identity and sets the North Star for where the brand is headed. What it doesn’t do is tell you what this new brand positioning needs to look and feel like.

Montana Credit Union Billboard

Montana Credit Union

That’s what creative strategy is for. In building a brand, we ask questions about what emotion the organization is trying to convey and how that translates into a design, a tone of voice and language that brings all that smart positioning to life. Successful creative strategy is a manifestation of brand strategy – its goals, audience measures and how an organization wants their big idea to live in the hearts and minds of their audiences – and translates them into creatively actionable ideas that all applications of the brand will embody. The great creative strategy lays out core creative or design principles that will provide the foundation for the brand’s future. 

Creative Outputs

The best creative strategies are very simple. Instead of having 15 different design attributes, the best ones narrow that down to 3-4 core components that become the design DNA of the brand. The second key output of creative strategy is the brand tone. This tone of voice integrates how a brand communicates – whether it’s in a tweet or a headline, sales materials or even how a bank or credit union’s people communicate – with language that is tailored to who they are. Just like with the design principles, brand tone of voice is typically streamlined and to-the-point. The goal here isn’t being all things to all people, but rather creating a signature voice that’s distinctive.

Citadel Credit Union Rebrand Case Study

Citadel Credit Union

With brand tone, 3-4 core ideas help translate brand strategy into a voice that’s immediately recognizable and identifiable. Getting a brand tone of voice is so critical, because it becomes foundational to every application of the brand moving forward. It needs to feel authentic to the people who make up the brand and to the customers who know it. For example, if a brand’s approach is all about being warm and real, a brand tone that feels very innovative or fintechy isn’t the right fit. A brand’s tone must spring from a genuine place, so can provide the right brand direction – a launchpad for identity design and explorations around visual storytelling moving forward.

In our next perspective article on brand building, we will explore the next steps of creative strategy, including the naming process and the visualization of a brand through mood boards, logo development and pattern language. For information on creating an award-winning financial brand, contact us at For insights on brand best practices, be sure to visit articles in Adrenaline’s Insights channel and see Believe in Banking as it highlights industry inspiration and successful campaigns in financial services and beyond.

Adrenaline is a brand experience company that creates and implements end-to-end branded experiences through creative and environmental design. We enhance our clients’ customer experiences across digital and physical channels, from their branding and advertising to design and technology in their spaces. After transforming an organization’s brand, Adrenaline extends it across all touchpoints — from employees to the market to in-store environments. And, we focus on serving industries that sell human experiences including financial, healthcare, sports and entertainment.

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