By Tosson El Noshokaty, Partner at Prophet

The UBS brand relaunch, unveiled earlier this month, is not what you expect from a 150-year-old financial investment institution. And that is entirely on purpose. As part of the team behind the new positioning – Prophet was responsible for strategy – we were intently focused on stripping back the bank’s identity to get to the heart of what the brand stands for.

We all know that banking is a low engagement sector dogged by huge apathy; most clients just want their bank not to lose their money, or go bankrupt, and the vast majority of customers view switching as more hassle than it’s worth. The fact that, in the UK, research shows that people are more likely to get divorced than change banks is testament to this truism.

Furthermore, because of digital technology, consumers are engaging less and less with banks in a human way, as automated call lines, apps and online banking continue to take hold. This waning human touch is even more of a challenge in retail banking, than in other sectors, because the product is much less important than the service and brand experience; service delivery is how a brand differentiates itself.

The reasons that customers need banks are actually inherently human; to set up home, to start families, to launch businesses, etcetera. While it may be hard to get people excited about banks per se, banking facilitates society’s passions and we, as bank marketers, need to reconnect with this core purpose around providing the fuel to burning ambitions.

Despite what some cynics may believe, there is still a huge amount of equity in established financial stalwarts like UBS, and in the sector in general, despite the drop in consumer confidence as a result of the financial crisis.

In fact, those major financial global institutions which have successfully weathered the rockiness of the economy are now in a better position than ever to build consumer confidence, as well as their own confidence internally.

This is why the time is right for UBS, for the first time, to shout about the genuinely trusting, emotional relationships it has with its customers. The major challenge for banks in a brand relaunch such as UBS’s, is to move the brand on so it’s perceived as relevant in 2015, but also retain the strength of the rich heritage in finance.

Swathes of research shows that banking customers want banks which can offer online capability, simplicity and trustworthiness, which is why the UBS brand relaunch is hooked on three important tenets: being “modern”, “human” and “different”.

The success of the banking sector is built on thousands of people, those who use banks and those who work for them. Arguably, this is a message that has been lost somewhat after the crisis, where such intense focus was given to a few reckless people. But this message is given new life in this brand relaunch and shows UBS, above all, to be people-centric; something banks have not been known for in the past.

This celebration of the individuals who make up a banking brand is exemplified in the striking Annie Leibovitz photography used in the brand relaunch visuals. But this celebration of the individuals didn’t just happen in external communications. Empowering the internal UBS audience to own and tell the story was a cornerstone of the brand relaunch strategy too because, no matter how famous the photographer is that shoots your above the line campaign, if a bank doesn’t engage the people behind the brand, then it will fail. It wasn’t just the customers whose confidence was shaken in the crisis, after all; it was the bank employees’ too.

We, at Prophet, were tasked to launch the brand internally and inform, inspire and engage the bank’s 60,000 global employees before revealing the new positioning to the world. To do this, we created a microsite on UBS’s existing intranet for employees, where we regularly posted relevant educational content. We also created a series of ten videos featuring UBS’ business division leaders and clients talking about the relaunch. To create a buzz around the brand relaunch and to pique employees’ interest we gamified all content. Alongside these initiatives, we also struck a partnership with a young, up and coming artist who we commissioned to create artworks inspired by the employees, for the employees. Our entire ethos for this work revolved around single-mindedly identifying and then communicating to UBS’s employees, what modern banking clients want today. We achieved this thanks to a balanced combination of analytical rigour and strategically inspired creative thinking.

The result of all UBS’s hardwork behind the scenesis a brave, modern, different brand relaunch. My personal hope is that this campaign will herald the start of a more confident era in banking communications, where trusted, established brands find the courage to celebrate the true strength of their relationships with customers.

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