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Investing the E*TRADE Brand with Distinction

Once upon a time, investors had to place a call to their brokers if they wanted to make a trade. But in the 1990s, at the start of the Internet boom, online trading burst onto the scene. One of the pioneers in that space was E*TRADE, a company that sought to put the power of investing in the hands of the average consumer. E*TRADE went on to become a household name. Contributing to that feat was the branding work done by Menlo Park creative agency Michael Patrick Partners.

“E*TRADE was a true market innovator,” recalls Duane “Doo” Maidens, CEO and co-founder of Michael Patrick Partners. (Maidens and co-founder Daniel Patrick O’Brien launched the agency in 1979.) In 1995, E*TRADE approached the agency to help define its brand and create their first website, sales collateral, international affiliate guidelines, and advertising campaign. Over time, they also needed print and online annual reports and retail store graphics. Since online trading was a new concept to many, Michael Patrick Partners set out to help introduce it to America.

Between 1995 and 2000, “we were the brand stewards,” Maidens says.

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Roots of the Campaign
One of the most prominent elements of the campaign was the logo—redesigned by the agency in 2000. The word E*TRADE is in black, with two arrows forming a green and purple asterisk.

“The green represents finance,” Maidens explains. “And in the ’90s, purple was a popular color that fit the brand personality beautifully. It’s a unique color combination that still stands up today, 17 years later.” The logo made such an impact at the consumer level that Communication Arts magazine noted that it was one of the most recognized brands of the last two decades.

Michael Patrick Partners also worked on E*TRADE’s annual reports. As a pioneer in the digital space, it seemed fitting that the company would want to explore the idea of moving their printed annual reports to the Web.

“When E*TRADE wanted to move from a printed environment to an online environment, there were serious communication factors to consider,” Maidens says. While today website technology has advanced to the point that digital documents are interactive, in those days websites were still relatively static. As a result, the creative agency had to take special care so they would not overwhelm online readers with data moving on the page. “Analysts wanted information; we took care to avoid distractions,” he says.

Eventually E*TRADE moved beyond just the digital space and also opened retail branches across the country where their customers could get in-person advice. Michael Patrick Partners assisted with the branding of those stores, too, helping to ensure that customers felt at home in the E*TRADE environment wherever they encountered it.

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Taking the Advertising Campaign Mobile
As the company built its brand, E*TRADE used a variety of methods to get people’s attention. For example, Michael Patrick Partners helped them come up with a promotional campaign in which signs with the distinctive logo were featured prominently in transit and out-of-home environments.

The company also rolled out a large demo bus that they called the E*TRADE Mobile. “It was like a Willie Nelson tour bus that would stop periodically at big venues,” Maidens recalls. Decked out with the online trading company’s logo and colors, “It was highly visual.” Inside were rows of computer terminals and E*TRADE salespeople who could show consumers how to interact in the E*TRADE environment. “It was an interactive play center for adults.”

While the campaign covered everything from print to Web to retail graphics, all elements were either visually connected or related from a messaging standpoint. During the time that Michael Patrick Partners lent their expertise to the brand, E*TRADE exploded from an $11 million startup to $600 million in revenue—to today’s $7.9 billion market cap.

“One of the reasons the E*TRADE brand has had such great longevity is that seamless approach that we took to developing the marketing environment,” Maidens says. “Whatever customer touch point we created, it was a component to a tightly integrated E*TRADE brand.”

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Author: Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer and editor who has written extensively about business, careers and success for such publications as Working Mother, Real Simple, and AARP Bulletin.

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