Schwab courts advisers with refined brand push

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Charles Schwab & Co., reeling from the plunge in online stock trading, is introducing a new brand and logo that it hopes will enhance its image and broaden its appeal and revenue base. Schwab, whose roots are in consumer stock dealing, wants the revamped moniker to make its services and image more appealing to lucrative b-to-b audiences, mostly financial advisers and institutional equities traders.

The new logo, designed by branding consultancy Landor Associates and introduced last month, consists of a gray, scripted "Charles" and a black, bold-faced, all-caps "Schwab." It replaces a logo that featured oversized letters in blue or white, depending on the marketing platform.

Wealth through elegance

The redesign is meant to convey wealth through elegance and strength. "One of the objectives is to move the brand up market," said Jack Calhoun, Schwab’s senior VP-advertising and brand management.

The new logo is being introduced into Schwab’s ongoing advertising, including print advertisements and marketing collateral, and will be extended to other points of communication over the next year.

While at first blush Schwab’s move may seem modest, it is in fact radical. The company invented the discount brokerage business in the mid-70s and since then has succeeded in making its user-friendly brand immensely popular among consumers. Its present logo has been in existence since the company was founded in 1974.

Since the mid-90s, however, San Francisco-based Schwab has gone after the b-to-b market, mostly by building its base of financial adviser and institutional clients. Its $2.7 billion acquisition of U.S. Trust Corp. last January helped a great deal toward developing its b-to-b reputation.

Today, Schwab has $216 billion in financial adviser assets. While that’s the most among U.S. financial companies, it’s less than the $238 billion it had last year—a dip that can be attributed to stock market depreciation.

Keen on better branding

Calhoun said the company is keen on making better use of its institutional brand. "There’s quite a bit of value we haven’t harnessed in the institutional business to date," he said.

Steven Ross, analyst at Newton, Mass.-based Meridien Research Inc., said Schwab has proved to be a nimble marketer and stands a good chance of succeeding with its revamp. "If anyone can succeed at this, Schwab can," he said. "But it’s going to take a long-term effort."

Chris Nicklo, senior director-brand strategy at New York-based Landor, said the new logo’s slow rollout is meant to ease the marketing transition. "It’s subtle and evolutionary," he said.

Schwab will have to work hard to straddle the fence between its consumer and b-to-b audiences.

"Schwab’s biggest challenge will be going after the new market without alienating their existing customer base," said Dan Latimore, principal and e-finance consultant at IBM Corp.

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