In its first major branding campaign since becoming a publicly-traded company in the biggest commercial bank IPO in US history last year, Citizens Bank aims to accomplish two goals with its new “Ask a Citizen” ad campaign: to inform customers how the bank can help them manage their financial lives, and to support the bank’s rebranding of its Midwest branches from Charter One.
The campaign features Citizens colleagues (employees) and is supported by TV, radio, digital and outdoor advertising in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The Providence, Rhode Island-based bank also replaced Charter One signs with newly unveiled Citizens Bank signs at hundreds of branches and ATMs across the Midwest.
“Ask a Citizen” supports the larger brand strategy aimed at making banking simple, clear and personal. It underscores enhancements the bank has made, including One Deposit Checking that eliminates monthly maintenance fees for a single deposit, and new education loans that allows college graduates to refinance their student debt.
brandchannel spoke with Lori Dillon, executive vice president of customer experience and brand loyalty for Citizens Financial Group, about the branding challenge and the opportunity for her company.
brandchannel: What are the broad marketing opportunities you are addressing with this campaign?
Lori Dillon: The Midwest has been a key part of our franchise—we purchased Charter One over 10 years ago. But unifying the brands has a lot of positives, and certainly that’s the case now with our franchise being called Citizens Bank.
One of the biggest advantages is our distribution channel. That’s a huge benefit for customers as they travel from, say, Michigan to Cape Cod—they’ll be able to make a much stronger connection. They didn’t necessarily realize that they’re part of a much wider geographic franchise, and we know convenience is one of the biggest reasons people stay with a bank.
And there’s a certain amount of excitement for our employees as well, now that they are part of a bigger bank.
bc: Are there any challenges inherent in this kind of rebranding?
Dillon: We did a good amount of research prior to announcing our name change in the Midwest. It indicated while change is hard, the most important thing is that we’re still the same company.
In addition, nothing is changing with our consumers. They wonder will they get a new account number, will their debit-card number change, is their banking impacted in any way? We’re emphasizing that it’s only a name change but the same great bank, the same great people serving them and nothing is changing about this relationship.
We’ve been doing that through letters to customers, merchandising in Charter One branches and colleagues talking to our customers. We were out in Cleveland last week and got the sense that a lot of customers knew this was coming, so we could focus on how it positively impacted them.
bc: Did your customers wonder what was in it for them?
Dillon: In some sense, yes. That’s why we’ve talked about them being able to continue to bank at one bank, and the benefits of our distribution channel.
To me, though, it was more about getting the message out that there wasn’t a negative impact on them and the same people will be serving them.
bc: Given the advance of online banking, what is the frontier of customer experience these days?
Dillon: Customer experience needs to bring a brand to life, and our brand is being simple, clear and personal. It’s part of how came up with the “Ask a Citizen” campaign.
We’ve been talking about online and mobile banking for years, because customers are starting to change the way they bank. It doesn’t mean they stop going to a branch—they just do it less often.
Banks are thinking differently about how to leverage our branch channels—less about transactions and more about helping customers with advice. Is there a consistency of experience across all channels? How do we make sure that comes to life? That’s a key piece of the “Ask a Citizen” campaign.
bc: How do you focus on the service proposition?
Dillon: We did a tremendous amount of research and found that our core customers aren’t 100 percent confident in how they manage their money. They’re very intelligent and do a tremendous amount of research, but look for affirmation on the decisions they’re making from their inner circle of friends, spouses, relatives, etc.
So a key insight from the research is that our customers didn’t realize they could go to the bank to get advice and affirmation. We wanted to show the human side—bank employees are aunts and uncles, as well as colleagues.
We help with financial things, but we’re leveraging our humanity as well as our expertise. We hit on a gap between customers’ needs and Citizens’ ability to fill those needs. We touch on the personal side of our value proposition so customers realize that our people are just like them and can help them with their financial decisions.