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Holly Hughes Feb 22, 2018

Three brands, one voice: Building a consistent marketing message

For many financial institutions, there’s the consumer brand designed to attract and retain customers. Then there’s the internal brand to engage employees, and the employer brand that HR crafts to attract talent. The problem is this: All three brands may not say the same thing.

A bank’s consumer-focused TV spots and print ads, for example, might tout exceptional customer service. Internal messaging, however, encourages employees to emphasize the bank’s competitive pricing when they speak to customers, while potential employees hear that the bank is best known for its teamwork.

Aligning a bank’s three primary brand voices poses a challenge because they’re often developed and championed by different departments: marketing for the external consumer brand, internal communications for the employee brand and HR for the employer brand.

Integrating the external and internal brand messaging strengthens the power of the overall brand, giving stakeholders across a variety of communication channels a consistent message. A recent study by LinkedIn and brand strategist Lippincott found businesses that closely align their internal and external brands produce a five-year cumulative growth in shareholder value of 36 percent.

Citizens Bank, based in Providence, Rhode Island and with $150 billion in assets, seamlessly aligns its employer, consumer and employee brands. But it takes plenty of coordination, led by the bank’s Communications Council, to present a consistent, continuous brand look, feel, tone and voice across a variety of channels.

BAI recently spoke with Debbie Celado, Citizen Bank’s VP, Employer Brand Marketing Leader. She explained that the Communications Council consists of representatives from across the enterprise. These include Citizens’ consumer and commercial brand team, corporate affairs, digital marketing, internal communications, talent acquisition and media relations.

A set of brand guidelines keeps them all on the same page; a coordinated effort with the brand team ensures consistent messaging. At the core of Citizens’ brand messaging, an engaged, empathetic workforce plays a starring role in the consumer, employer and employee channels. Of course, it’s the employees themselves who must deliver on the brand promise for customers. Robust internal brands help drive successful external brands.

“I believe we’ve done a good job combining our consumer brand with our internal brands,” Celado stated. “In our TV commercials, on our citizensbank.com site and on our career site, it’s all about our colleagues and how they help our customers reach their potential.” The same theme carries through Citizens’ employee communication channels.

The advertising and other branding work that puts Citizens’ employees front and center makes recruiting easier. “It’s awesome from a brand perspective because it gives talent acquisition so much to work with,” Celado says. “Not every company has that easy crossover. The fact that our colleagues are featured in our ads speaks volumes about how much emphasis we put on them.”

The TV spots feature branch managers, personal bankers and advisors who describe in very human terms how they’ve helped their fellow “Citizens” with the same everyday financial problems that they themselves face. The spots have an authentic ring to them and the messaging is consistent with what potential hires and employees hear in their respective channels—including social media, which is growing ever more influential with candidates.

Citizens’ career page puts more than 50 colleagues in the spotlight as they tell their story, giving prospective hires a more intimate sense of what it’s like to work for the bank. The stories are compiled and told by a copywriter in talent acquisition and reviewed by the brand team.

The melded branding effort, which began about five years ago, delivers a handsome dividend for Citizens’ employer brand. Celado points to several key metrics: higher ratings on Glassdoor, an increase in employee referrals, a decrease in cost-per-hire and a reduction in the time it takes to fill a position.

Her advice: “Understand your value proposition by doing research with your employee base and your executives to learn what makes your bank unique from a candidate’s perspective. Then create a campaign that illustrates that uniqueness to candidates that is cohesive with your consumer brand.”

Can Citizens’ unified brand strategy work at your bank? It certainly can if there’s support at the executive level, which can encourage, if not mandate collaboration among the stewards of the consumer, employee and employer brands. And it can if a cross-functional brand team is established that works from a single set of brand guidelines with a rigorous brand review process.

A unified chorus singing the same praises of a brand’s promise can resonate with audiences far more so than the voices of several soloists—and produce the banking equivalent of three-part harmony.

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Holly Hughes is the Chief Marketing Office of BAI.

If you enjoyed this article, check out: Innovation superhighway: Nine leaders map the fast lanes to financial services success and Eliminating customer apathy and driving engagement

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