Brand awareness: Northwest Bank – For what’s next™

Editor’s note: Erinn Steffen is SVP, insight, and Katie Bender is VP, research, at Mower Agency, a N.Y.-based advertising services firm. 

Over the past several years, Northwest Bank has evolved from a community bank to a full-service financial institution with a regional presence in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Indiana. This evolution has taken place during a time when Northwest and the banking industry have become increasingly more complex through ongoing changes in areas such as digital technology, customer expectations and expanding footprints. Against this backdrop and to support its continuing momentum, Northwest recognized it was time to reevaluate and reposition its brand to reflect both current offerings and future direction.  

Northwest Bank partnered with Mower to align its brand, reestablishing its story and positioning with current and prospective customers. To that end, Northwest knew that understanding its customers’ perspectives and the audience landscape were crucial to determining where the brand was and where it needed to go.

Using research to understand stakeholders, customers and prospects 

To inform development of the brand strategy and creative expression, Mower leveraged multiple methods of research to understand the competitive landscape and gain the voice of internal stakeholders, customers and prospects across their different segments.

Competitive landscape audit

To help us understand competitive positioning, messaging, look and feel we evaluated competitor websites, social media and on/offline advertising. We reviewed past and current brand marketing communications of four competitor banks for benchmarking and comparison against Northwest Bank. We confirmed that competitors all had similar positioning and that, aside from brand colors, there were many commonalities across their approach to brand strategy. So, we knew we had to dig deeper to find what could differentiate Northwest Bank.

Brand as Friend workshop. 

To gather internal stakeholders’ perspectives (n=16) we used Mower’s proprietary framework, Brand as Friend. We engaged leaders from different disciplines and lines of business to uncover their perspectives of the brand, the competition and where Northwest Bank had a right to win. We found that Northwest over-indexed on caring, loyalty to customers and listening, which collectively speak to the bank’s longstanding commitment to providing a high level of customer service and care.  

Brand As Friend natural language comparison audit of websites and social media.

 We were able to discern how the brands talked about themselves on their websites and how people were talking about them on social media. With Relative Insight’s AI capabilities, we were able to map this language to index which drivers were highest for each brand, finding similarities in the competitive space and opportunities for Northwest Bank to differentiate with their brand strategy.

Natural language comparison. 

Leveraging the Relative Insight platform helped us to evaluate online conversations in social media as well as in Google Reviews. By teasing out words and phrases that over-index versus natural language use, we were able to uncover the variability in brand perception across geographies.

Executive IDIs. 

We supplemented the Brand as Friend workshop with additional in-depth interviews (IDIs) with five executives, which reinforced the attributes that came through initially such as caring, customer-first and authenticity. We also learned that leadership was helping to drive a new culture through the organization to support their business objectives, with a big focus on the fact that Northwest offers all the tools, technology and expertise larger banks do, but through more personalized, community-oriented delivery.

Small business, commercial and high net-worth current customer IDIs

Important select interviews (n=16) helped to externally substantiate the internal stakeholder perspectives of the current brand and identify whitespace opportunities for Northwest Bank to own through their brand refresh.

Quantitative study

Using a panel partner for participant recruitment and built on our Qualtrics platform, this study (n=1,457) was designed to measure brand awareness and perceptions amongst current clients and prospects within the Northwest Bank geographic footprint (467 current customers, 990 prospects). Included in this study were elements to determine net promoter score, loyalty score and to identify why current customers stay. We also used gap analysis to evaluate the importance and performance of 27 brand attributes for both Northwest Bank and their competitors. We also included overall brand awareness and perceptions. Finally, this study helped us to initially vet the concepted brand value pillars and show which were most valid, motivating and believable for the brand.

Here, we confirmed that awareness about Northwest Bank was significantly lower than the competitive set. At the same time, the results validated our internal research that showed Northwest over-indexes on caring, loyalty to customer and listening – so much so that customers were satisfied at a higher percent than most of the competitors and even were advocates for the brand (Net Promoter Score 29), with a significantly lower likelihood to switch than those banking with competitors. 

Messaging and creative concept testing. 

Testing was leveraged after a messaging workshop and the development of three creative platforms. We used Pollfish (n=400) for a quick read of consumer reaction to the concept options. With a clear winner, and additional insight into word choice that resonated with the audience, our client had confidence in the creative platform to bring to market.

Putting the research to work

We gleaned several insights from our substantial research to inform the Northwest Bank brand:

  1. There was minimal actual or perceived differentiation in the competitive set, making it nearly a commoditized space. 
  2. Ease, financial strength and follow-through were important to the target audiences, and major national banks resoundingly owned those key attributes. 
  3. However, Northwest Bank’s customer loyalty and satisfaction and their internal cultural shifts showed they had a chance to capitalize on their desire to balance technology and personal attention, and that their proactive behaviors for helping customers had the potential to go far.

All of this informed the brand promise, positioning, value pillars and reasons to believe – and informed the creative brief and insight, that dreams and aspirations are often hindered by doubt, worry and fear. People want the positivity of the outcome without the angst and uncertainty of the way there. When there is a lack of confidence, there can be a lack of vision, which translates to missed opportunities. Northwest Bank’s focus is on the outcomes for life, not just the tools to get there. We determined that Northwest Bank could be the bank to help people identify future financial opportunities and reach their life’s goals.

We recommended they reposition themselves with a bold and innovative message to reestablish their purpose and promise to customers. That message was, “For what’s next™.”

Then, based on the creative concept testing, we focused on very real customer experiences made possible by partnering with Northwest Bank. For example, how it feels to move into a new house, not just get a mortgage. Or the pride a small business owner takes in what they do, not just the sale. Even the confidence of having access to your money when you need it, not opening a checking account, came into focus.

The impact of brand awareness 

We first unveiled the campaign internally to the Northwest employees, helping build brand advocacy and generate excitement for the brand reintroduction. From there, we launched the fully integrated campaign externally across four states. Tactics included broadcast television, out of home, digital, paid search, social, in branch, OTT/CTV and PR. The new campaign generated amazing results across our main goals of raising awareness and driving new customer acquisition. 

To determine impact on brand awareness, we tested in an A/B setting, with those who were exposed to programmatic digital and OTT video vs. those who were not exposed. This test showed an 11% lift in brand awareness across all audiences, which is nearly double the benchmark for financial institution brand lift. 

For our goal to grow checking account business via digital account openings, we also saw strong results. In addition to maintaining in-branch checking account openings, we also drove nearly twice the baseline online checking account openings.

Finally, amid a fluctuating mortgage environment, we drove nearly three times the baseline number of daily home equity loan applications, greatly exceeding expectations.