What Does Your Brand Taste Like?

A South American bank gives its brand a whole new look (and feel, and smell, and sound).


Credit unions today have the public’s ear and with it an incredible opportunity to highlight what makes “banking” with a credit union different. To promote your differentiators, try thinking in a whole new way about your credit union’s brand.

Mauricio Garcia, director of corporate strategy for Helm Bank, presented at the BAI Retail Delivery conference this year. His session, “Multi-Sensory Banking” outlined how South America’s Helm used radical innovation to break away from the financial institution pack and show it wasn’t “inhuman,” it didn’t “lack creative thinking,” and it didn’t “invent the concept of boring” (all things South American customers had said about banks).

To increase its brand loyalty and stickiness, it created a banking culture based around emotion and senses, not just data and spreadsheets. For example, it created a new logo whose strokes convey (among other things) warmth, confidence, and intelligence.

Helm Logo

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Okay, that might be branding 101, so let’s take a step more in the radical innovation direction. To encourage faster non-customer transactions, it pipes music into the non-customer zones that feature a higher tempo. The music encourages non-customers to get in, complete their transaction, and get out. For customer zones, however, it plays music with low density, a low tempo, and natural as well as synthesized sounds. Such music encourages Helm customers to come in, make themselves at home, and browse the bank’s offerings.

But it’s not just sound that makes the bank’s customer zones homey. Helm incorporates elements of warmth and softness into its customer zones through furniture, lighting, and other instillations and reserves bright, smooth surfaces for non-customer areas.

Helm Materials

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Helm’s brand doesn’t stop at sight and sound, however. It pushed its brand thinking further along the radical innovation continuum and developed concepts for a branded smell and taste. For example, according to Garcia’s presentation, “The passion in Helm’s personality is represented by chocolate; oakmoss represents courage; intelligence is represented by peppermint; innovation is represented by ozone [air].” Who doesn't want to conduct business with a partner that is passionate, courageous, intelligent, and innovative? Not sold on the value of a distinctly pleasant smell? Consider this: Casinos in Las Vegas have scent brands, and according to one Businessweek article, the concept of scent branding is moving into retail as well.

So what does Helm taste like? The flavor “representation” of what Helm wants to promote through its brand — passion, courage, wit, intelligence, and innovation — consists of orange and lullo, mango and lime, and mint and orange. The bank infuses these flavors into its candies and bottled water that are available only at Helm branch locations.

Creating a multi-sensory brand experience is a soft science for sure, but it’s not without demonstrable return. According to Helm, it has increased its customer relationships as well as its brand awareness.

Helm Results 1

Helm Results 2

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I don’t expect any credit union to incorporate all of Helm’s practices, but the bank does offer strategic takeaways that can better inform even the most innocuous decisions, such as what flavor of lollipop to offer your drive-thru members.

Helm Branch

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* All images are from Helm's BAI presentation "Multi-Sensory Banking: A Case Study"