Branding key issue in bank reviews

Canadian banks are in the midst of an identity crisis. Ever since last year's aborted mergers between CIBC and the TD Bank, and the Royal Bank and the Bank of Montreal, the country's big banks have had to reconsider their strategies...

Canadian banks are in the midst of an identity crisis.

Ever since last year’s aborted mergers between CIBC and the TD Bank, and the Royal Bank and the Bank of Montreal, the country’s big banks have had to reconsider their strategies for becoming more competitive both at home and in a deregulated global financial market.

One of the first to make a move was TD Bank, which through its merger with Canada Trust has gained in size, but is left with the considerable challenge of branding a new company of blended identities and cultures. Not surprisingly, an advertising agency review is expected to be one of the first orders of business for the new TD-CT.

Meanwhile, last October, CIBC began a review of its business.

Brand identity is viewed as such a critical aspect of CIBC’s future that the firm conducting the agency review on its behalf – the Westport Consulting Group – has been given a key role in helping to shape and define the bank’s positioning.

John Laurino, managing director of Westport, says the new positioning – which will replace CIBC’s three-year-old positioning statement ‘Seeing Beyond’ – will be kept a closely guarded secret until its launch by the new agency.

As for which agency that will be, Laurino says the choice will come down to which shop best understands the new positioning and proves they can execute on it.

‘We have a completely different approach [to agency reviews],’ he says. ‘It’s all based on the positioning and brand work and its interpretation, not the financials or how much you’re going to be able to cut the [agency] fee or any of that stuff.

‘In today’s world, branding is so important that getting the right agency for the right reasons and making sure everyone is on board conceptually is much more important than trying to beat them up on the fee.’

Laurino says a long list for the CIBC account has been developed, but that none of the agencies taking part in the review will be named. A winner will be announced around the end of April, he says.

Westport, which specializes in strategic planning and product development, has worked with a long list of top U.S. financial institutions, including Bankers Trust, First Interstate Bancorp, People’s Bank, Bank of America and Citicorp/Citibank.

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