without our help
How to re-brand a small-town institution and not get run outta town
I’ll admit to the occasional superhero fantasy where I swoop into an insurmountable situation with my mighty brain and lead the huddled and confused masses to a stylish and inspired glory. In the real world, however, I do try to remember that few people are reviled and ridiculed more than that highfalutin outsider who walks into the room and thinks he knows it all.
Alex and I are outsiders. Eight years ago we moved from New York City to Millbrook, a small – diminutive, actually – town that has welcomed us graciously.
Still, there are two types of residents in a small town. One, the indigenous, is rooted not only through ancestry, but through street name, building facade, memorial and legend. The second moved there from somewhere else.
So when the Bank of Millbrook, an institution so tightly entwined with the Village of Millbrook that some residents have never set foot in another bank, asked us to revamp their identity, we knew better than to start by telling them what we thought a bank should be.
It can’t be about the designer in an instance like this. It can’t even really be about your client. It has to be about your client’s customer.
The first image that popped into my head was of David Ogilvy, clipboard in hand, canvasing people on the streets of Princeton for George Gallup, a foundational experience that served as the basis for his 18 miracles of research. The first of those is that research can “measure the reputation of your company among consumers....”
And in doing so, research can teach you a thing or two you don’t know about your client.
So I set out clipboard in hand (Moleskine, actually, if you’ll indulge me that dandyism) to see what people really thought of the Bank of Millbrook. The first story I was told set the tone for the majority of them.
“It was three o’clock in the afternoon and I had to come up with $30,000 for inventory by the end of the day. I called Ron at the bank. He arranged for a loan for me by four.”
It wasn’t what I expected to hear, and the delight – and material – I found in that surprise reinforced for me why you pay attention to someone like Ogilvy.
The bank already had a reputation, one for maintaining strong relationships and doing what it could to keep the community around moving forward (and to its credit, a five-star lending record). After we learned that, our job was easy. All we had to do was take that idea and use it in every way we represented the bank. We wrote the tagline, The Strength of Relationships, and everything visual and written followed from there.
Small towns are conservative places. They don’t buy into revolutionary change. But organic change from the inside, a developing and refining and crystallization of existing ideas and beliefs can produce a progression that feels easy and natural – more of an evolutionary change.
I suspect that doesn’t apply only to small towns.
This blog series is and will always be in the process of developing its voice and purpose. Your comments are welcomed.