Bank advertising not just warm and fuzzy anymore

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Published: June 7,2004

Many changes have come to the banking industry, and nowhere is that more evident than in bank marketing departments that are charged with developing and executing elaborate advertising campaigns. Warm, fuzzy institutional advertising has been joined by hard-hitting sales pitches.

“Now it’s my dog’s bigger than your dog. Services and products have really changed,” said Tom Robinson of Robinson & Associates, a Tupelo-based advertising agency. “The bankers of the 1970s and the bankers now are two different people. Some resisted the sales culture, but that’s the culture we live in.”

The Tupelo firm and Maris West & Baker of Jackson handle advertising for BancorpSouth, a regional bank with 250 branches stretched across six states. Maris West & Baker functions as the brand agency and develops creative and the Robinson group fulfills day-to-day execution, according to Randy Burchfield, BancorpSouth’s vice president of marketing.

“Each of them has a role and we see them as partners,” he said. “They are literally an extension of our marketing department.” He says all of the bank’s corporate and regional marketing people strategize and bring in the agency early in the process. The bank depends on the agency for creative, receives options from them and makes decisions according to the budget.

Burchfield says that with banking, as in any business, the basic steps of objectives, strategies and tactics are there regardless of what you’re selling and brings all marketing disciplines into play.

“Certainly our business is different, but the bottomline is that you’re out to satisfy customers,” he said. “We try to align the major part of our advertising effort with focused product campaigns and we have several of those during the year.”

At Hancock Bank, advertising director Darryl Breckenridge says they still do image advertising but now it’s called branding.

“It’s combined with product advertising,” he said. “Branding is like the outer skin that conveys all the characteristics of a company and pre-sells a customer just enough to get them in the door.”

He says the bank, begun in 1899 in Hancock County, uses its lighthouse symbol to differentiate it from other banks in the market. Using the symbol as a spin off for advertising with phrases such as enlightenment, guides and illuminators for leading customers to financial solutions are easy associations.

In Natchez at the Britton & Koontz First National Bank, Marti Seibert is a marketing department of one. She had never worked with an advertising agency until three years ago. When Britton & Koontz bought a Baton Rouge, La., bank, they inherited that bank’s advertising team.

“It was our first experience and it was good,” she said, “but when we needed to bring in someone to work with more closely, we chose an independent person who had previously worked with agencies.”

That person is Vidal Blankenstein of Jackson, a Natchez native who specializes in creative services. The bank, established in 1836, was opening a branch in Vicksburg and wanted to update its logo, image and positioning statement as it looked for an identity in new markets.

“Vidal and I worked together to come up with an opening promotion in Vicksburg that no one has ever done,” Seibert said. “We had brainstorming sessions and she handles the creative, ads and direct mail.”

Their approach in Vicksburg was to ask the question, “When was the last time your banker took you to lunch?” The Britton & Koontz personnel answered by offering gift certificates for lunch at seven local restaurants to customers opening new accounts or additional services. There were also some box lunches available on opening day.

Seibert, a former English teacher who’s been in banking 15 years, says now the challenge for her and Blankenstein is to bring in customers to the Natchez bank’s Baton Rouge branch. The community bank has seven branches in four markets.

“With the removal of regulations, prices and products are always moving and in banking we have to sell like anybody else,” Darryl Breckenridge said. “We have branding within products too.”

He recalls that the first sign of that change was when banks began offering free checking in the 1970s and competition among banks was off and running. Free gifts were given to customers opening new accounts. He said Hancock Bank, one of the earliest in the area to offer premiums, did well with them and still gives away toasters and other appliances.

Using many facets, the marketing department develops support to meet the goals of different lines within the bank. Breckenridge feels that radio and television are most effective for branding and that specific offers are better done through direct mail and print advertising.

“Special offers attract people who may or may not be loyal to the brand,” he said. “We also need to be going after long time relationships.”

Working with the GodwinGroup of Biloxi, Breckenridge, who has an agency background, says the communication for developing a campaign is the same for a bank as any other business.

“We must learn the subjects, how people will respond and what they’ll respond to,” he said. “Different times of the year spark ideas and are more appropriate for selling different products and services.”

The bank’s marketing department and the agency are now formulating a fall campaign with special attention for the five branches recently acquired in Tallahassee, Fla.

Burchfield says BancorpSouth uses all mediums working together to have concerted efforts system wide during the year. There are also local advertising needs.

“It might be different in Little Rock from Jackson but we try to carry the look and feel of BancorpSouth while featuring something local,” he said. “Everything will still have the same look whether that’s sales campaigns and major focus products or overall branding.”

He said the banking system’s marketing efforts are centralized through corporate marketing departments, but they also use local liaisons who are the eyes and ears to communicate information and gather competitive information.

“These are veteran, knowledgeable marketing professionals who are also involved in sales and management efforts,” he added. “We try to synchronize and are able to leverage those efforts.”

He sees bank marketing moving more into targeted segments and predictive modeling in an attempt to determine the type of services customers will need. A change he’s observed is that marketing efforts now play a much bigger role in banking.

“Organizations realize the value in putting more emphasis on marketing efforts,” he said. “The product line is more sophisticated, banks are very competitive and we have more leeway to create products and services our customers need and want.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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