Building the Corporate Brand
Financial services from serving the needs of very high asset investors face an unusual challenge. The
sheer volume of assets being invested creates an extremely strong reliance on the financial advisor. High
asset investors view their relationship with their trusted advisor as primary, and the financial services firm
itself is relegated to a secondary role. This creates in interesting branding situation. It’s not advisable to
brand financial advisors. The best advisors are like major league football players – their loyalty is typically
limited and they might move to the firm that promises them better financial rewards. However, in order to
create the types of associations necessary to have a clearly defined brand image, it is important to define
the relevance of the firm in a clear and credible way.
As context, before getting into the details of the case, it is helpful to provide some background on UBS.
UBS is the leading bank in Switzerland and is also one of the world’s leading financial firms- the sixth
largest bank globally by market capitalization, with over 66000 staff worldwide- serving the needs of high
net worth individuals and leading corporations.
In the early 1990s the two Swiss banks that form the current UBS, Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) and
Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) were commercial banks operating mainly out of Switzerland. They
shared a similar vision: to become a world leader in wealth management while remaining a leading player
in commercial and retail banking in Switzerland. The firm has deep historical roots in Switzerland, dating
back to the 1800s and a deep institutional stability. The 1998 merger of Swiss Bank Corporation and
Union Bank of Switzerland brought together these two leading players in investment banking. The only
gap in the portfolio was filled through the merger with the US investment services firm, PaineWebber, in
2000, making UBS a truly global player in wealth management.
While awareness of UBS is virtually universal in Switzerland, it is a new name in other parts of the world
and in many countries the UBS name has replaced a more familiar brand like PaineWebber or S.G.
Importance of branding in financial services
Brands are most influential when customers lack the knowledge to make informed product choices, or in
commoditized categories such as financial services. They take on even greater significance when the
purchase decision is of great importance to the customer and the customer is faced with a plethora of
complex choices. Fierce competition ensures that there is little sustainable product differentiation in
product features or price. However, the products and services offered revolve around something that is
very important to customers: their money and financial security.
As a result, customers can rarely base their purchase decision on purely rational factors, such as product
features or pricing, but are forced to turn to a more subjective appraisal based on their affinity with and
trust in a certain brand, as expressed through the individual advisor.
How brand research took this dynamic into consideration
The goal of the research was to determine commonalities that would allow the creation and
communication of a truly global brand.
Research was conducted in three phases:
1. Qualitative using Wirthlin’s proprietary Values approach to uncover dominant motivations of
consumer and business investors in choosing financial advisory services.
2. “Linkage research” to quantify the strength of motivational pathways uncovered in the qualitative.
3. Validation research to quantify the appeal, importance, uniqueness and credibility of each brand
element developed as a result of the prior research phases. This was conducted not only among
global external audiences but among internal stakeholders as well to be certain the brand
elements that were developed resonated with UBS’s employees.
The qualitative research backed by the quantitative validation showed that the advisor and the firm
played different but supporting roles in helping the client feel a sense of security and peace of mind.
The client’s sense of feeling connected to the advisor sourced to feelings of confidence in the advisor
which meant they have a good relationship with the advisor, feel they are able to trust the advisor and the
advisor is top quality, in the sense of really knowing the business and how to access for the client those
products and services that are most appropriate for the client’s very specific needs. That attribute
mentioned most frequently for the firm is that it is a stable company with a good reputation. This leads to
a sense of confidence in the company and further enhances the sense of connectedness that contribute
to the client’s comfort level and sense of security.
If we know that “good relationship with advisor” is composed of elements like:
• Working in my best interest,
• Understands my needs,
• Not pushy,
• Long term relationship with advisor,
Then it becomes possible to envision how the advisor can be portrayed in marketing communications.
Applying the findings to the communication of the brand
The research findings were collapsed into a core strategy that combined:
• The focus and attention of the advisor on understanding clients’ needs and proactively seeking
solutions to meet those needs,
• The global capabilities of a strong stable firm,
• Tonality that communicates relentless dedication to the success of the individual client.
UBS recognized that to be successful a consistent brand must be reflected in all advertising and
marketing materials, but that alone was not sufficient. The UBS brand must be communicated in its face-
to-face delivery to clients.
One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to promise something to its customers and not
deliver on it. UBS understood the importance of supporting promises made in advertising with the
experience of prospects, clients and employees in interacting with UBS.
This is a challenge for a bank such as UBS with almost 70 000 employees worldwide who stem from
different organizations such as PaineWebber of SG Warburg. Additionally UBS serves many different
customer segments, across many different channels in many regions. The way the brand is perceived
through the online banking site should be consistent with the in-branch experience. The customer
experience with an investment-banking advisor should be consistent whether it happens in New York,
Hong Kong, Zurich or Paris.
Client facing employees (such as financial advisors and asset managers) and client influencing
employees (such as HR, IR and PR) were segmented and appropriate training was developed for each
segment. Since the single brand launch in June 2003, specific brand training has been conducted with
approximately 500 of these employees representing 15 countries. These trainings, as with all internal
communications regarding the brand, were strongly based in the research. This was seen as key to
As a part of ongoing internal communication initiatives, UBS also wished to share key learning from brand
tracking with client-facing employees, so they would have feedback on how the brand was being received
by target investors. A brand scorecard was developed and is distributed bi-annually (after every global
brand research round). This helps to:
1. Raise awareness about the brand and reinforce key brand objectives,
2. Summarize key statistics about the brand and facilitate communication of the Brand Equity
Monitor results within Business Groups,
3. Illustrate current state and progress made in bringing investors closer to the brand.