What's in a name? Millions, if it's Bank of America

NationsBank merger prompts costly campaign to establish a new brand

April 09, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

NationsBank Corp. spent hundreds of millions of dollars building the NationsBank brand.

Then scrapped it.

Now Bank of America, the product of NationsBank's Sept. 30 merger with BankAmerica, is launching what some experts believe may be the largest complete brand change in recent history. It is costing several hundred million dollars and includes details so small, down to business cards, that the bank says it can't quantify it.

"If we think about what a brand is, the name and logo are just the representation of the brand, the limited expression of something much broader and deeper," said Bank of America marketing executive Amy Brinkley. "The brand is what the customer experiences with us."

Bank of America touches an estimated one in three families. Their Bank of America experience is what the bank will be trying to create over the next two years.

The bank will change more than 45,000 signs over the next 12 to 18 months, which it believes is the largest change in the history of corporate America.

The campaign will include extensive advertising, different logos and slogans, new stationery and training that teaches employees to treat every customer contact as if the future of the company rides on it.

The advertising won't begin until September or October, a matter of frustration for some employees, said Ken Lewis, president of Bank of America.

"I'm really impatient that we have to wait this long to begin the brand advertising," he said, "but I understand that it would not make any sense" to do it earlier.

Lewis said the advertising will try to show how the bank meets customer needs and will try to overcome any perception that being a big bank is bad.

The ads will show "big" is convenient and that there are friendly people at Bank of America. The ads may be humorous, too, a different tack from First Union's somewhat sinister ads.

While the advertising and signs are important, some branding experts said the banks' employees are one of the most important components. This concept is fairly new, said Alan Bergstrom, chief executive of the Atlanta-based the Brand Consultancy, who has worked with NationsBank in the past.

"This is creating a strong brand to create loyal employees, having them understand and feel connected. If they know what they are doing on a daily basis, they're going to be more motivated; they're going to understand their role in the brand," Bergstrom said.

While some other banks have adopted branding strategies, the Bank of America change will be watched closely, if only for its size and scope. Banks have never been known as leaders in brand changes, or as exceptionally good with advertising.

"Banks have been very slow to figure out how to apply branding," Bergstrom said.

"I wish I had a nickel for every time a banker said you can't brand a bank, because we're a commodity business. A checking account is a checking account is a checking account because you made it that way, I say."

Bergstrom argued that banks just haven't done branding right -- yet. For example, chickens were a commodity business until Frank Perdue came along -- and grocery store customers bought whatever chicken was on sale.

"Now people look for Perdue chicken -- he's created a brand," Bergstrom said.

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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