Branding from the inside out

It's not often you get to work on branding an FI from the ground up. With Peoples Group, we were given a chance to not only create new brand assets but help define who the company is and where they are going. Today, we are an integral part of their marketing team, working closely with the C-Suite on all campaigns and projects.

It's safe to say, we're Peoples people.

Peoples Trust Company


Sometimes when opportunity knocks, you're not sure where it will take you. Such was the case with Peoples Trust. When we first sat down in 2015, they had just been offered a chance to take over an incredible retail location on the main floor of the Peoples Group tower in Vancouver. Having never had a brick-and-mortar location, going the path of retail - and everything that comes with it - was daunting. On top of that, the brand was considering a major regulatory and name change. With such big changes coming, we recognized right away that there were important questions that needed to be addressed about how the Peoples brand, and market share, would be impacted.

Since then, our work has spanned everything from in-depth brand and market research to strategic planning to brand design and implementation. Today, we work closely with the marketing and executive teams to ensure brand creative and messaging are consistent and impactful while providing ongoing technical support for the Peoples website and digital assets.

PS - We'll be the first to note that while Peoples is not a credit union, they share many of the values put forward by the CU space including a member-first approach, a strong community focus, and a dedication to making local decisions that take the member's full picture into account. We consider them the close sister brand to our CU family. 


Because Peoples consists of three subsidiaries (Peoples Trust, Peoples Card Services, and Peoples Payment Solutions), it had become a challenge for them to maintain a consistent brand across all channels and in all markets. To help, they asked us to perform a full-scale brand audit to help define the brand from the inside out. The results created a framework for a refreshed brand, including an exciting new retail space, advertising presence, and website redesign.


We can confidently say that Peoples Trust/Peoples Group is one of Canada's best kept financial secrets. Consistently outperforming their contemporaries they manage to drive fierce customer loyalty and growth while staying below the market radar. So much so, that during the financial downturn Peoples was one of the few that saw impressive market growth. Not bad, if you ask us. 


  • 1500+ hours of brand and market research
  • 6,400 branded image files delivered 
  • 300 ad campaigns (and counting)
  • 42,000,000+ digital ad impressions
  • 1,015 avg. daily website visitors
  • Fully responsive website redesign - one of the first responsive banking sites in Canada! 

Research first. Design later.

The key to any branding project is to fully understand what makes one "brand" different from all others. We're not talking about colours or logos. We're talking about what comes to mind when you think about a company. Is it a fond customer service memory? Do you trust them to do what they say? Would you recommend them to someone else? Why? These are the elements that an image, logo, or colour scheme can only project, never control. This is the essence of the brand and key to knowing if you are on the right track or need to make some serious changes. 

For Peoples, CUmark conducted six months of intensive research with audiences and stakeholders across three lines of business. This offered insights into the brand that Peoples had never previously explored. For instance, while customers rarely engaged the brand face to face they expressed deep commitment to the brand and staff. The most common brand descriptions were "personal, trustworthy, and reliable". Echoing this, NPS scores were significantly higher than the industry average. For a brand not yet sure of itself, Peoples had managed to foster intense brand loyalty.

With brand research in hand we began comparing client experiences of the company to the overall corporate vision. This allowed us to easily identify any changes to brand assets, messaging, and marketing strategy that were required.

From brand vision to brand assets

After completing our research, we started working on how to present the brand in a way that was consistent with our findings and the newly defined vision for the organization. We were already in the process of developing a new website, so it was important that we solidify as many visual elements as possible to maximize the cohesion of all brand touch points.

To accomplish this, we developed style boards that laid out a visual system to identify colours, typography, visual elements, and photography cues across all three lines of business while maintaining brand cohesiveness throughout.


We approached colours from a different perspective than usual. Peoples Group consists of a number of different subsidiaries, each offering different products or services. To accommodate all of the sub-brands under one roof we used colour to delineate in an intuitive way. All mortgage-related services and products are in the purple family. Card related products fall under the blue-grey family. Payment Solutions, a merchant service division, uses bold greyscale for their brand, and all the deposit related products have received a bright and varied colour palette, where each product has its own tone.

These colour palettes play nicely when viewed in proximity with each other (in rack cards and brochure stands for example) but also demonstrate the concept of variety in a way that really speaks to the Peoples brand.

Finally, we created a system for iconography and photography. We generated custom hand-drawn icons for every product and division at Peoples Group. These icons can be found as watermarks on brochures, page headers, and window decals (as seen above), but we also use them for more direct icons on website portlets. These illustrations are used in a delicate balance with the photographs in various collateral.


As the final piece of the Peoples visual branding puzzle, we approached photography with a lot of careful thought. If left unchecked, stock photography could become too amateurish, but the budget simply wasn’t there for constant custom photo shoots, either. As a result, we developed a specific checklist that needed to be strictly adhered to when selected purchasable photos. Namely: every photo needed to be an image of people displaying genuine interactions with others or their environment - portraying stories, not sets. Secondly, photos had to have an environment to them - no white backdrops or set designs allowed. And finally, photos would only be allowed one at a time; this way, only one story would be connected to a product or service.

With these set styles and guidelines, we have been able to keep a brand that can barely be contained from exploding into hundreds of unrelated pieces.


A new "branch" strategy

When we began discussing the upcoming retail space one thing was clear - Peoples wanted to do something different. They didn't want a "branch", they wanted a space to reflect the member experience of friendly, personal, and trustworthy financial service.

CUmark supported the architectural team through brand research data, updated brand palettes, and imagery for the new space. Marketing collateral also became less of a focus than in most traditional FIs, with customer service representatives providing a guided brand experience for clients. 

The result? A retail space that feels relaxed and inviting, where customers can enjoy a freshly brewed cup of espresso while discussing their accounts in a designer lounge. Can you say the same about the last time you visited your branch?

A new web experience

Finally, as the primary means of engagement with current and potential clients, the Peoples website was in desperate need of updating. Using a non-responsive framework left mobile users (over 60% of their traffic before the site was updated) frustrated. Clients seeking product information would also get lost, trying to find pages that were hidden behind multiple layers of links and site content. 

From a brand consistency perspective, four brand websites also needed to be compiled into a single, user-friendly experience, equally capable of marketing merchant services to businesses across North America or servicing everyday account holders with their personal investments or savings. 

Key Improvements 

  1. One of the first fully responsive FI websites in Canada.
  2. Improved navigation for desktop and mobile.
  3. Multiple language integration for French Canadian visitors.
  4. Real-time rate updates from head office staff to the website. 
  5. Improved forms integration with cumulus.
  6. Four brands brought under a single website presence, allowing for new and potential customers to better understand the Peoples brand and products.
  7. New media centre and blog capability to allow for one-stop messaging to key audiences.

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