Case study: Rebranding a Swiss bank

Lombard Odier completely revamped how it presented itself, after hiring a chief branding officer from the luxury fashion sector.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 31 Jan 2018

Lombard Odier

Privately-owned Swiss bank, founded 1796

Assets under management: £132bn

Employees: 2,300

On the surface, you might think Swiss banking has a very strong brand. After all, we all know what it stands for – impenetrable vaults and tight-lipped staff, a place for the ultra rich to deposit their family’s liquid assets discreetly with the knowledge that neither coming crises nor cunning cyber-criminals can touch it.

Yet as the Swiss of all people know, with their cuckoo clocks and heirloom watches, time stands still for nobody. What will their place be in the world of instant transfers and flashy fintech?

That question led 222-year-old bank Lombard Odier to launch a 360 degree rebranding in 2016, leading among other things to its first ever global advertising campaign. 

‘Finance came to me as a very interesting world. In banking especially, communications had not really been best in class. It needed to move from a very passive, reactive mode to a much more proactive one,’ says Fabio Mancone, Lombard Odier’s Chief Branding Officer.

Mancone is not your typical finance sort. A brand and marketing director of 30 years’ experience, he comes from the gilded world of luxury fashion - Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren, before that ‘prestige fragrances’ at L’Oreal. Even his earlier career, looking after ‘pleasure categories’ like chocolate and ice cream in fast moving consumer goods giants Unilever and Kraft, seems oddly disjointed with the stuffy, introverted image of private banks.

Of course, that ability to understand the power of brand in both an analytical and intuitive way (something Mancone says he learned moving from the assiduous planning of FMCG to the fast-paced, ego-driven environment of luxury) is precisely why the seven managing partners representing Lombard Odier’s owning families picked him.

‘It’s a jewel of a brand – heritage, values, history, there’s so much to work with. At one point I said [to the partners] you know what your real reference points are in terms of position? Hermes on the one side, Patek Philippe on the other. They loved that. It was flattering but it’s true,’ says Mancone.

He got the job, but what did he do next? 

Step 1: Knowing Yourself

The first thing was to figure out who Lombard Odier really was. Fortunately for Mancone, the bank’s earlier, less-is-more approach to marketing meant there was little baggage. ‘I was starting from a white page, but that white page was resting on 220 years of history,’ he says.

He took three full months to learn about that history and how the brand was seen. Mancone built on two earlier employee surveys by conducting one-to-one interviews with all the managing partners and their reports, plus most of the executives one level down. He also met with clients.

There was surprisingly broad agreement among the senior leadership about what the firm represented, what its purpose was and where it should go. But there was some divergence among clients.

‘There was a little divide between the old and newer generation of high net worth individuals, over what they expected from a bank. For the older generation, at the top of their minds were preservation and transmission of capital.

‘The younger ones were focused on two things. One, get the facts straight, offer me fresh perspectives and a clear stance on what you believe. The second was give me a reason to invest that goes beyond return. It’s important but it can’t be the only focus. There was this concept of impact investing,’ Mancone says.

Step 2: Project yourself

Mancone says there was no trade-off over which group to target with the rebranding, but it’s clear that the end result ticks all the younger generation’s boxes. Called ‘Rethink Everything’, the campaign focuses heavily on both impact and fresh perspectives. This video gives a flavour:

The campaign was 45% print, 35% digital and 20% outdoor, though it’s shifting in favour of digital. The emphasis was on branded content (in the FT and Monocle), editorial and PR, touching on trending financial and economic topics. These were then developed in much more detail on Lombard Odier’s revamped website, which it’s touting as a centre of thought leadership, a la the Economist, and promoted heavily on social media, also a new experience for the firm.

‘One of our principles is that we position ourselves as advisors, not sellers. If you look at the campaign there is no project selling. We’re selling our advisorship, our ability to think differently,’ Mancone explains.

Step 3: Evaluation

The project so far appears to have been quite a success. Mancone points to its three target groups – clients and prospects, current employees (‘that’s not to be underestimated; it’s very important that a bank like ours feels united in purpose’) and prospective employees (‘talent attraction was, I discovered, extremely important in this industry’).

‘There was a lot of positive buzz inside the company. I got 60 spontaneous, long emails from employees who were enthusiastic about the image we were presenting. The bankers reported that clients were extremely stimulated, and that opened new dialogues about investments.’

Web traffic also spiked by 60% after each of three successive marketing waves, while the company’s LinkedIn page went from ‘zero to number one’ among its competitors in less than a year. Mancone is particularly proud of reaching similar numbers of likes to the much larger retail banks on Instagram (‘the campaign is very visual’, he explains when MT raises its eyebrow), all helped by employees sharing on social media.

Mancone’s main advice is that rebranding has to remain authentic and reflect the organisation as it actually is, not just what it wants to be.

‘You cannot just stitch a positioning onto a brand. You need to understand how it was conceived and what it was supposed to represent when it was created, and then distil out of that what it could represent in the world today. Once you have that, it has to be reflected in the brand’s positioning and how it’s communicated, whether in visual identity or advertising or other forms of communication.’

Images: Lombard Odier


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