Brand refresh helps Sallie Mae stand on its own as a financial services provider

Sallie Mae isn’t a character from the Beverly Hillbillies. In fact, she’s not even a person. Sallie Mae is a financial services company best known for its student loans. If the name isn’t familiar, the brand is looking to remedy that with a new look and focus.

The new branding, to be implemented over the next year, coincides with Sallie Mae’s five-year anniversary as a standalone bank. The company’s next chapter acknowledges the company’s history of helping students and families make college happen, and ushers in Sallie Mae’s customer-centric vision that it hopes will extend beyond education.

“Since 2014, more than two million families have trusted Sallie Mae to help them pay for college, more than any other private student lender. However, earning a degree is just the beginning of the journey,” said Raymond J. Quinlan, chairman and chief executive at Sallie Mae. “Our goal is to build lifelong customer relationships, and we are uniquely positioned to meet their evolving needs. We’re listening and responding with new innovations and products to help them create the lives they imagine.”

The new brand experience will feature a new Sallie Mae logo that symbolizes customers’ life journeys through flexible, differentiated storylines and a new font in lowercase. The coral dot represents the customer and serves as a starting point for their path, wherever it may take them, and how Sallie Mae can help them on their way, according to the company.

At a time when many graduates are struggling to pay off their college loan debts, Sallie Mae is looking to educate a new wave of economically responsible students with the campaign. The company needed the rebrand to let people know what it is, and more importantly, what it isn't.

“We’re in the student loan business and we were still connected with our history of working closely with the government. Monoline student loans, that’s what we’re known for and we’re proud of that. But I think there were some challenges. There wasn’t a really strong brand familiarity. Our name recognition was low. I think there was a lot of confusion about who we are and what we do. We need to be clear what our story is and who we are,” Sallie Mae’s new chief marketing officer, Donna Vieira, told The Drum.

Sallie Mae hasn’t been a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) since 2004 and now doesn’t have a role in the federal student loan business. The company has only been a standalone consumer bank since 2014.

Vieira, who came to the company earlier this year from JP Morgan Chase, said the rebrand is the biggest signal of the new Sallie Mae, one that promotes responsible financing. “We’re here to build prosperous futures…we help two million families provide education for their children, and we’re very proud of that, but we’re also more than that. As our customers are changing, we have listened.”

The road to financial independence for students and those just out of college includes credit cards and personal loans. “We’re going to be focused on providing a set of financial services…as they progress through their life journey,” said Vieira.

She noted that 93% of the market is made up of government programs, so the private market is only 7%. Sallie Mae, being an advocate of responsible financing, tells students and families to “go after and find the free money” (i.e., scholarships). The company has a free online scholarship database, home to more than 5m scholarships that are collectively worth over $24bn. Over the 2017-2018 academic year, more than 16,000 students reported getting a scholarship from that database.

“These are parts of our story that we have not been good at telling,” said Vieira, adding that the new website, logo, and campaign will help pull the company’s story together in a cohesive way.

The campaign promotes being responsible and taking charge of finances. A video shows students being proactive, with a voice-over that states, “Hey Sallie, let’s do this. Let’s follow my dreams…because my dreams won’t wait.” Images promote the new credit cards along with the student and personal loans and savings options.

“It’s all about being responsible and not taking on more debt than your family can support, because it’s not going to be beneficial for us; we are not a non-profit business — we need people who can pay back their loans responsibly,” said Vieira.

The entry-level student card even has a provision built in that states that those who make payments on time will get rewards that go to help pay down their student loans.

“We hear from our students and our families, they want to be on the road to financial responsibility. If we’re serious about building prosperous futures, financial responsibility is a key foundation.”

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