10 lessons in making a rebrand a whole of organisation job

Great Southern Bank's chief customer officer details the key steps in rebranding and finding a fresh purpose for credit union and the data-driven process she's taken

On June 1 2021, Credit Union Australia officially switched its branding over to Great Southern Bank and debuted a fresh purpose and new set of propositions targeting first-home buyers.    

As Great Southern Bank’s chief customer officer, Megan Keleher, put it to CMO, the task of transitioning the banking provider to a fresh brand and purpose was the biggest change the organisation has faced in its 70-plus year history. Which made it vital every person across the organisation was onside.  

“Brand is everybody’s accountability: This was a whole of organisation change we were undertaking,” she said. “It’s something I am most proud of. If I look back, there were times I wondered if everyone would get onboard as I ran 12 streams of work across marketing, operations, risk, technology and finance. I couldn’t be happier with how it has ended up. I made sure this was not a marketing thing, but a total company change.”    

Potentially repositioning the CUA business was on the agenda right from the first day Keleher and CEO, Paul Lewis, joined two years ago. But two things needed to happen to be operationally stable enough to transform. One was embedding the new CEO's approach. Another was devising a business strategy and remit the organisation could align behind.    

“We kicked off with a broad remit: We have an ambition for growth, however we know that brand is an enabler of growth. We have had the same brand for 20 years and it has never reached double-digit unprompted awareness,” Keleher explained.  

“Delving into the research further, we started to realise how significant the requirement for revisiting the brand strategy was going to be. We didn’t originally have the name change on the agenda.”  

A massive brand overhaul got underway. Here, Keleher details the steps she took to implement the brand change and the lessons that have stood out along the way.  

1. Know who you are and why you exist

Initially, business strategy work focused on identifying CUA’s points of difference and gaining clarity on key strengths.  

“We focused on who we are, where do we play, how do we win, and who are our competitors - we were butting right up against the business strategy of those challengers unapologetically,” Keleher said. “As we went through these discussions, which started internally first with executives and then relied heavily on external market data and research, it became clear there was a need for a brand strategy overhaul.”  

To help, the team brought in strategic consultancy, Growth Mantra, to do a complete review.  

Great Southern Bank is the culmination of 171 credit unions dating back to Catholic Thrift and Loan Co-op in 1946. Boasting of 600,000 customers, it was clear a strength was a solid customer base. Yet for Keleher, it was equally apparent the business was unclear why they banked with the institution.  

2. Find your footing to compete  

The other aspect of finding a point of difference was understanding how Great Southern Bank continued to compete in a changing banking and financial services sector.  

“When we looked in the mirror, we knew we were not going to compete on scale, nor compete on ‘customer’ – that ability to have deep pockets around technology or operating models delivering a unique customer experience,” Keleher said. “But we have always been a purpose-led entity as a credit union.”  

The hurdle was the existing purpose didn’t capture what the organisation was delivering for customers. This meant relooking at what that purpose was to not only shore up existing customer relationships, but also generate a pipeline of new ones to drive growth.  

Work resulted in the clear brand purpose to ‘help all Australians own their own home’ and a new set of propositions to achieve these ends.  

3. Get the brand name right  

Also clear was that the brand name and identity needed to change. Research showed 70 per cent of millennials didn’t know what a credit union is or what it did.  

“We had to make the decision of whether to try and educate the Australian population on that versus not,” Keleher said. “We knew a lot of entities had tried to do that before. So we needed to face into the fact the name probably wasn’t going to take us where we needed to go.”  

4. Coordinate your internal rebrand considerately  

The launch internally of the new Great Southern Bank branding and purpose occurred on 1 June 2021. At this time, 23 operating systems cut over to Greater Southern Bank, as well as raft of assets from online banking to desktop images and staff car parking signage.  

Well before this, Keleher’s team had instigated business readiness workshops to ensure employees had experience in both the reasons for the brand and purpose, as well as how to take the new set of propositions to market. As part of the business strategy and realignment, the company also sold off its health business.  

“Change management has been a huge part of this project. We were clear we wanted to communicate and have everyone including customers, partners and stakeholders understand what the purpose was and why it’s so important,” Keleher said.  

All this while coping with Covid restrictions. “We were running this largely over Zoom – the entire agency pitch was over Zoom. But it meant you had to very clear on communication, conscious about the type of feedback you were giving, and clear about how you were going to move something forward,” Keleher commented. 

Read more: What CMOs need to do to cope with marketing change management 

5. Make your brand name a team sport  

When it came to selecting the new brand identity, Keleher made sure the process was a team sport. Teams and members were involved through multiple research panels, alongside new and engaged customers, partners and stakeholders.  

Work started with 320 names initially. From there, a shortlist of 21 was devised, which went through another research round.  

“We got to our top five versus bottom five, keeping CUA in there the whole time,” Keleher continued. “We wanted to be able to save that we have a name that may perform better than our existing name. It was the right decision – we debated that at length.  

“We then took three names with two logo treatments and our visual identity to existing customers as well as new ones. Great Southern Bank was number one all the way through. On the raw numbers it wasn’t what we thought would come through, but clearly across all results it was number one.”  

Up next: Five more crucial lessons in brand repositioning

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