Bank of the West, the US-based retail subsidiary of BNP Paribas, topped the 2010 JD Power survey for customer satisfaction in California. CMO Andrew Rosen tells Charles Davis an account-switching drive and a review of the bank’s marketing and advertising strategy can keep it ahead of its US-headquartered rivals.
When Andrew Rosen, chief marketing officer of San Francisco-based Bank of the West, looks out of his corporate office window, he can see a JP Morgan Chase branch and a Union Bank sign towering over the road.
It is a not-so-subtle reminder that Rosen faces a growing phalanx of retail banking competitors in the crowded California marketplace. It is also a reminder that Bank of the West – which keeps winning JD Power top accolades for customer service – has to out-think its deeper-pocketed rivals.
“We aren’t going to outspend them on advertising, so we have to build strong brand equity and tell our story efficiently and with a new creative message,” Rosen said.
“We are being outspent, literally 100-to-1 by some of the big competitors in our footprint, and yet we still can rely on our core values of service and stability in ways that really stand out.”
Fresh look and strategy
Rosen joined Bank of the West a little more than a year ago after leaving Washington Mutual, and immediately began a systemic review of the bank’s marketing and advertising, as well as a study of the competitive environment.
“The research showed us that the banking industry has transformed itself,” he said. “The big banks are so much bigger, regulatory actions are costing us all a lot of time and effort, and we have a lot of new competitors. We needed a fresh look and a new strategy.”
So Rosen began a three-month review of the bank’s advertising, culminating in the selection of Heat, a fast-rising San Francisco creative shop, as its advertising agency of record.
“We looked at 10 agencies, most in California, and some elsewhere, but it came down to the fact that Heat are Bank of the West small business banking customers and they pitched us as loyal customers,” Rosen said. “They know how we treat customers and they really believed in our model and our values.”
Other review finalists were Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners and Eleven, both San Francisco-based, and DeVito/Verdi of New York. An undisclosed budget will support broadcast, out-of-home, mobile, online, print and experiential advertising, plus sponsorships.
The agency’s first work, focusing on customer service and Bank of the West’s free checking product, is already on the market after Heat produced the first stage of the campaign in just 14 days.
The print ad features Bank of the West’s iconic bear logo and gets right to the point: “Open a new, free checking account at Bank of the West, and get $100.”
Another spot says: “Free Checking So Free, It’s Worth Reading the Fine Print Below.”
Rosen said the quick turnaround is evidence that Heat “really gets what we are doing,” adding that the agency will work on creative for business banking and launch a corporate Facebook presence, as well as lead a longer-term brand positioning project.
“Heat is able to put their finger on the specific attributes of our brand that customers find compelling and that we want to share more broadly,” he said.
“We have a tremendously loyal customer base, and a memorable bear logo that evokes the West. Now we just need to market in a more effective, targeted way.”
Heat president John Elder said: “Bank of the West is a great bank with tremendous potential to raise its brand awareness.”
“We have always got such great service from them, but they have always been so quiet about the great work they do. They are well positioned as a customer service-oriented, non-money centre institution.”
Elder said one of Heat’s tasks is to convince the disaffected customers of larger banks that banking need not be so painful.
“A bank can be your friend, and it can be pleasant even,” Elder said. “We want to use social media to leverage the word-of-mouth and market the bank through every means we can, right down to the deposit slips.”
Other Heat clients include EA Sports, Riverbed, Yelp, AOL, Ooma, HBO and Adobe. Heat was named 2010 Small Agency of the Year, West Region, by Advertising Age magazine. They are renowned for social networking-based campaigns as well as online and e-mail marketing.
“We have dipped our toes in the water of social media, but we don’t have a complete strategy,” he said. “We are enthusiastic about the potential for the online channel as a way to advertise more efficiently.”
Bank of the West has customers in all 50 states and operates more than 700 branch banking and commercial office locations in 19 Western and Midwestern states.
Prudent credit underwriting, a diversified loan portfolio, and careful risk management have allowed Bank of the West to grow to more than $58bn in assets. It is one of the nation’s largest banks, yet it preserves its local feel and its award-winning style of relationship banking that ensures superior customer service.
“We think we are one of the best-kept secrets in the banking business in the US, and we have quite a story to tell,” Rosen said.
In the 12 months to 31 December, Bank of the West grew its core deposits by 9.7% compared to the previous year. Loans were down 4.4% year-on-year, but at the end of the year the improved economy and an upswing in marketing spending resulted in a pickup in consumer loans and corporate loans.
Revenues were up 5.6% compared to 2009 to €2.3bn ($3.14bn) but the cost-income ratio edged up by 70 basis points to 54.7%.
For fiscal 2010, Bank of the West posted a pre-tax income of €573m compared to a loss of €197m in 2009.