Jeff Armstrong thought he would retire with GE Capital when news broke it was spinning off its retail-banking sector — its most profitable division — into a new brand called Synchrony Financial. Jeff’s task was an unenviable one. How do you replace 80 years worth of brand equity to drive brand engagement and tell a story that comes close to competing with one whose origin starts with the invention of the light bulb?
“I was a little fearful that employees would be reluctant to embrace a new brand because the loyalty to GE was so strong.,” said Armstrong, Vice President of Corporate Branding and Creative Director at Synchrony Financial.
Instead, Armstrong discovered the role a strong culture could play in changing people’s attitudes.
“Fortunately, the culture of our corner of GE was even stronger than our parent’s,” said Armstrong. “But I quickly learned the loyalty wasn’t just for GE. It was a deep loyalty to the individuals they worked with and the leaders in our own business unit.”
As employees realized those elements were not going to change, they became more open to defining our own brand.
If you’ve ever lived through a rebrand, you’ll likely remember the seemingly endless demand for information and resources as the pressure builds toward launch. Everything from business cards, logo files and PowerPoint templates to brand talking points, and the list goes on.
Operating almost as a one-man show since brand had always been managed at the parent/GE level, Armstrong anticipated a huge demand for these resources leading up to and right after launch. He also wondered what the best approach would be to disseminate information and gain buy-in.
“We needed an engaging way to communicate our go-forward brand to 13,000 employees,” said Armstrong. “We wanted to make people part of crafting the new look and feel, and give them the tools to embrace the new brand.”
Having worked with Monigle’s BEAM (Brand Engagement and Asset Management) platform at GE, Armstrong was familiar with the concept of a comprehensive brand site to accomplish his goals of engaging everyone around the new brand.
“We wanted to make sure people understood and were informed on the new brand,” said Armstrong. “I thought a brand site would be a great resource that is easy to access and filled with information and assets.”
With the goal of having the site up and running three months ahead of launch, the team got to work defining and creating content and assets, creating the proper architecture, and designing the site to reflect the user experience with the new brand. The team chose to name the site Brand Vault – a unique moniker to reinforce the idea this would be the resource to safely store brand valuables.
When the new Synchrony Financial brand officially launched, employees received access to Brand Vault with all of the key content, assets and resources to support the sustainability of the brand.
“We launched it day one and it’s never let up,” said Armstrong. “It’s amazing.”
Ensuring that leaders understood the connection between brand and culture was an important step. Armstrong worked with HR leaders to make a direct connection between the brand and the company’s new Purpose and Values.
“Convincing people to buy in is huge. Our brand isn’t just about our colors and our logo; our brand is our purpose, ” said Armstrong. “Making sure everyone understands that is paramount.”
One of the ongoing challenges is making sure the brand doesn’t become stagnant. To keep the site fresh with new content and employees engaged, the site features scrolling panels to immediately communicate new brand resources and stories.
“The carousel is my baby,” said Armstrong. “Every time someone lands on the page, every time they log in, it needs to look new and fresh and different.”
The panels in the carousel play off the logo to make the functionality relatable while the logo and other branded elements inspired the site’s layout and grid system. The “au” in Brand Vault is a nod to Synchrony’s distinctive primary gold color, which communicates optimism, balance, warmth, and openness.
Designed as an employee engagement tool to serve the 13,000 people across the company, 85% of employees have utilized Brand Vault — and counting.
“The metrics are mind-blowing,” said Armstrong. “A year and a half in, we’re still getting 300 new first-time employee users a month, and those aren’t all new hires.”
The fact that a large number of users come from outside of marketing – many of whom have no day-to-day reason to be on the site because they’re not creating PowerPoint presentations or downloading logos – makes that number even more impressive.
The design of Brand Vault reflects how people across the company want to interact with the brand most. For example, Synchrony field teams create so many client-facing presentations that the dynamic PowerPoint wizard is featured as a top-level navigation. This allows staff to customize a presentation using the latest information, including client logos, with just a few clicks. It makes their life easier and ensures brand consistency.
Two weeks after launch, Synchrony took over the site and never looked back. Jeff and a handful of administrators were able to use the CMS intuitively after a few hours of training. As resources are identified and usage improves, new updates are continuously processed to lead to self-sufficient content management.
“Brand Vault has become a self-service site, not just for brand assets, but also for understanding what our brand is about,” said Armstrong. “A moment never goes by when I don’t have the site up because I’m using it.”
With Brand Vault, it’s possible for one person to manage brand for 13,000 people, but Armstrong still wishes he could do more.
“If I could, I’d update Brand Vault on a daily basis,” said Armstrong. “I’ve become a bit of a hero around here because of this site.”