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Breaking Down a Bank’s Branding: Flagstar

Branding a company is hard to begin with. But imagine if you also had these extra challenges in front of you:

  • Uniting an organization after mergers & acquisitions
  • One of the M&As was an institution with bad PR
  • The industry itself is seen as old and stodgy

That’s what New York Community Bancorp (NYCB) was up against. They had recently acquired Flagstar Bank and had also purchased a lot of Signature Bank’s assets after their well-publicized 2023 collapse. Plus, they were operating branches under the original names of several smaller bank brands they’d purchased. It was a no-brainer that NYCB decided to completely abandon the Signature Bank branding (it’s hard to get behind a failed financial institution). But what should the conglomerate’s new brand be?

The company decided not to leave it to chance or to themselves to make the decision. They took a deep dive to see what others thought of the assets they already had. According to NYCB executive, Reginald Davis, “We tested our former logos and unfortunately, they just didn’t stand the test of time.”

Exercises like this are what Big encourages for everyone we work with. “It’s commendable that they had the self-awareness to see how audiences respond to their current visual identity,” says Matt Deck, Big’s Strategic Messaging Manager. “We have a lot of clients who are hesitant to put themselves out there like that. Usually it’s because they’re happy with their brand, and they don’t feel like there’s a real need for a change. But that doesn’t mean their customers feel the same way.”

After what was undoubtedly a lot of research (we know, because we do it, too!), NYCB landed on Flagstar as the name of its banking unit. That decision threw away all the community bank names that had geographical ties (e.g. Garden State Community Bank, Atlantic Bank of New York, etc.), which allowed it to have a broader reach.

Once the name was settled on, then the logo soon followed. It’s certainly much more modern than its predecessors. And it doesn’t have the feel of a typical bank. In fact, you’ll notice the word “bank” is not even in the logo—it’s dropped altogether. That’s something usually only the big boys, like Chase and Wells Fargo, do. Because they’re so well known, they can get away with it.

“That’s a bold move,” says Christina Egts, Big’s VP and Director of Account Services. “But it shows NYCB’s desire to break away from old ways.”

When Big rebrands for an organization, we look for aspects that can create that sort of uniqueness or nuance. It can range from the corporate colors (for example, the most common color for banks is blue) to the tagline.

But the shift from the traditional did not end there. The removal of the word “bank” is just a visual cue for NYCB’s new, overarching philosophy: they want Flagstar to be a lifestyle brand. And that meant changing how they view their audiences.

“There’s been an assumption that if people profiled out a certain way based on socioeconomic stratification that they were similar,” explained Davis. “But we’ve learned over the past few years that people who, say, earn the same, don’t look the same, don’t act the same, and don’t have the same values and aspirations.” So instead of using demographic data to segment customers, Flagstar looked for universal themes.

“This is crucial to a brand these days,” says Ben Gregory, Big’s Strategy Director. “If an organization tries to be different things to different people, their brand falls apart. Instead, they should be looking for ideas that people unite around.”

Matt agrees. “Spending more time discovering commonalities in lifestyle, goals and concerns is a lot more effective than the old way of looking at demographics, which took individuality out of the equation,” he says.

In doing so, Flagstar is following in the footsteps of well-known brands such as Nike, Jeep and Apple. As Davis reasoned, “They don’t necessarily care what you look like. They cross ethnicity, gender, income levels. They try to figure out who will resonate with their value set and what they stand for.”

While it can be a good idea to try to emulate aspirational brands, Flagstar may have an uphill battle. “The companies they listed all have products that people are drawn to,” explains Chad Stuckey, Big’s Creative Director. “Shoes, cars and technology start with a function, but connect with their customers’ personalities and become a reflection of their individual style. But banking—that’s a service dealing with a commodity. People don’t get passionate about banking. And you can get a $20 bill at Flagstar and walk across the street and get an identical one at their competitor. So they have to do something more. They have to change their business model and products (checking and saving accounts, loans, mortgages, etc.) to become something people want to be a part of.”

Along with the business strategy, the lifestyle brand sentiment needs to extend further than the visual identity. As Christina notes, “The new logo sets a high bar and raises expectations of capabilities. I haven’t come across any ads yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they play off the lifestyle brand approach in their messaging.”

Ben is already a little wary of their execution. “I checked out the website, and I don’t really see the image they’re trying to push,” he says. “All the updates seem to be focused on what’s visual, but the messaging doesn’t feel new or distinct from any other bank. It’s a pretty package around the same stale story and product. They never answer the key questions: Why would I choose this bank over any other? And, How do I connect with this brand?”

For now, Flagstar has put their stake in the ground as a different approach to the banking experience. We’ll see if it holds true beyond their logo.

Big has 25+ years of experience discovering brands for all types of organizations—including many banks and other financial institutions. Sometimes that involves taking the old and making it new again, like NYCB did with the Flagstar logo. We’ve put together a video of some before-and-afters to show our favorite transformations. And here’s the thing: they don’t just look better, there’s deep strategy and compelling messaging that came along with it.

Watch the Video ❯