”Avadian is original and truly original ideas scare people because they exist outside of our comfort zones. That explains why it took time for everyone in our organization to embrace it. But — as a made up word, it is open to us to define it, through the experience we provide our members and through our extended marketing efforts.Linda Cencula– CEO, Avadian Credit Union
Avadian Credit Union
Research and Insights
A simple truth: Your brand is nothing more than what people believe about you. It is rooted in the customer experience you provide.
One of the biggest challenges any company can face is what to do when their position in the market changes and their historical strengths become barriers to new growth? Nowhere has this dilemma been more apparent than in the credit union industry. Alabama Telco faced this exact challenge and hired FitzMartin to help lead one of the most significant strategic changes in the long history of the credit union.
Historically, all credit unions were founded to serve specific industry groups. Alabama Telco was founded by employees of the phone company in 1934, and for years you had to be connected with the phone company to be a member. In 1998, however, the rules governing credit unions changed allowing for broader membership and Telco began serving people beyond their traditional industry group. For years, Telco saw steady but unspectacular growth, hindered by a strong perception in the public that most people were still not eligible to join.
In 2010, Telco’s leadership embarked on a long journey to rebrand and reposition the credit union to overcome the most significant barriers to their growth. But how do you change something as fundamental as your name, while maintaining deference to almost 80 years of success?
Ask questions, verify the problem, clarify the solution
The financial crisis that began in 2008 had engendered a distrust of financial institutions. To compensate for dwindling interest revenue (and regulatory pressure on other revenue streams), banks were inventing new ways to add and increase fees. The relationship between consumers and banks had become contentious. This wasn’t a matter of low customer satisfaction but customer antipathy.
Combine that cultural souring toward banks with the way that technology had freed customers from a reliance on branches (through mobile apps, remote deposit capture, etc.) and you see a distance that rarely exists between an industry and its customers.
The banking environment had radically evolved. Rebranding and repositioning the credit union required more than just a firm grasp of the barriers to Telco’s growth. We also had to be in tune with the broader climate in which the rebranding would occur. Understanding both would identify some great opportunities for growth. We chose research methodologies with those two objectives in mind. Those ran the gamut from secret shopping and man on the street interviews to focus groups and phone surveys.
After distilling the qualitative and quantitative data from our research, we identified two main barriers facing Alabama Telco Credit Union. First, far too few people know what a credit union is or how they differ from banks. In the focus groups, even some credit union members failed to understand the difference between Alabama Telco and a bank.
Second, the name – Alabama Telco – was a significant barrier to non-members because of ambiguity over what Telco was, or a strong perception that Telco was exclusively for those who work for the phone company.
Research confirmed that the company needed a name that was inherently inclusive.
Creating a name: the process
Few things in marketing are harder than naming a business. To quote Telco’s CEO, Linda Cencula: “When we began this process, I thought we’d have a new name in a few weeks. I had no idea.”
Any new name must meet a long list of requirements. It has to be easy to say and easy to spell. It has to be memorable, no small challenge. It has to be distinct, not just within its industry but in the world. As we pointed out to the Telco’s executive team, the sign on your business doesn’t have to compete with other banks and credit unions, it has to compete with the visual assault by every sign and every business on every crowded highway and street.
Beyond that, a new name has to come with a URL we can own and be something we can trademark for legal protection, both giant hurdles.
We concepted and researched literally thousands of names. We helped Telco work with two other agencies over the course of 18 months. Names died for almost every imaginable reason, some for legal challenges and others for reasons completely random. But over time a handful of options kept surfacing, round after round until one name distinguished itself across every group of stakeholders and became the unanimous choice:
Avadian is a constructed word. It has no inherent meaning, no context in which to evaluate it. “Avadian is original,” Cencula says, “and truly original ideas scare people because they exist outside of our comfort zones, which explain why it took time for everyone to embrace. As a made up word, it has no inherent meaning, but rather is open to us to define through the experience we provide our members and our extended marketing efforts.”
And that, of course, is exactly why the name works.
Creating a Position Founded on the Customer Experience
Avadian is the only financial services institution that will go out of its way every day to value you as a person, to make you feel delight and to improve your financial life.
Creating a position for a bank or credit union is, to say the least, difficult. Most of us are strongly indifferent toward our bank. That is, until we have a negative experience. Most of the time, we think of our bank as one more stop on a list of errands, squeezed between the grocery store and the dry cleaners.
The industry, in the pursuit of maximum efficiency, has also redefined impersonal. Banks use technology to streamline the delivery of their services, creating a common, repeatable, if impersonal, experience for the vast majority of customers.
Is it any wonder that in treating their customers like a commodity, most people now feel like their banks, themselves, are nothing more than a commodity?
Moving your finances to a new institution is painful, however, so most people endure in silence the rather indifferent service common today.
In contrast, Avadian has a long history of eye-catching customer satisfaction scores. They’ve proven over time that they truly care about their members’ financial success and that caring shows up in a thousand different member stories.
In crafting their new position, we leveraged these personal stories to demonstrate how Avadian treats people better. While saying “we take your finances personally” can easily sound cliché, it becomes authentic when you see the people of Avadian live out the promise every day. And that became the challenge of the project— to show the brand in action, to demonstrate their beliefs and their commitment.
When designing a new brand identity, one of the first things we do is look at the competition to understand the context in which our work must thrive. A deep look at the banking industry reveals that blue and green dominate the color spectrum, though most colors are represented to some degree. The broad use of stock photography lends everything a sense of sameness that reinforces the perception that all banks (and credit unions) are the same.
For Avadian, we chose a distinct and much bolder direction. We created a visual voice that is at once both fun and serious. Orange as the primary brand color creates a sense of immediacy, a boldness that demands the eye’s attention. We combined the orange with a more serious neutral grey to lend a sense of elegance, without diminishing the warmth of the brand.
The result is a brand that is more approachable, friendlier than your average bank but still professional. We used fonts that are easily readable but create an air of modern style. We used a lot of white space to give the brand a spacious, unhurried feel.
We took an artful, cinematic approach to photography, giving it a more powerful role in defining the brand.
Giving voice to Avadian’s message
For the rollout of the Avadian brand, we created two complementing television ad campaigns. The first featured a series of testimonials, inspired by true stories uncovered through interviews with Avadian’s branch managers. Each of these stories demonstrated the truly personal nature of the service that Avadian’s people consistently deliver.
To complement the storytelling campaign, we also created a series of ads strongly reminiscent of Telco’s former brand spots. For years, we have been creating montage-styled campaigns featuring the delight that comes with buying a new home, a new car, etc. Thanks to strong creative and a powerful media buy, Telco had become known for the style of their ads. Even with the name change, we were reluctant to discard the equity we’d built into Telco’s advertising, so we created a second campaign in the same style to run concurrently with the new testimonial campaign