Think plaid

By all accounts, merging the respective identities and assets of gargantuan Toronto-Dominion Bank and mighty Canada Trust in 1999 was one of the greatest Canadian marketing challenges of all time.

By all accounts, merging the respective identities and assets of gargantuan Toronto-Dominion Bank and mighty Canada Trust in 1999 was one of the greatest Canadian marketing challenges of all time.

Persuading interested parties that it was a marriage destined to be blessed with prosperity all round was as tricky a branding exercise as TD has ever faced, says SVP/CMO Dominic Mercuri, who adds that the results were ‘probably the biggest thing this bank has ever achieved.’

It was a year in the making and another in the execution. It began with ‘assembling what we called a ‘plaid’ management team [i.e. a mixture of the two co's colours,]‘ says Chris Armstrong. Then TD’s CMO, he is now sales and marketing vice chair of TD Waterhouse USA, (TD Ameritrade.)

The team’s first task, he says, was ‘a lot of analysis to really understand customer attitudes. We learned there was a real sales culture embedded at TD that Canada Trust didn’t have. On the other hand, what the Canada Trust side brought was an incredible customer satisfaction index – with measurement right down to the branch level and even payment [incentives] for branch people for improvements in customer satisfaction.’

TD’s AOR and DM agency were brought in early. The former, says John Boniface, president of FCB Toronto, ‘worked with [the client team] to create a new brand that would differentiate itself on service and on how the customer would feel about banking [with the new entity].

‘We needed to come up with a simple, relevant proposition, delivered clearly and impactfully with consistency in a category with competitors who regularly change direction, messaging and advertising campaigns,’ Boniface explains. He adds that what aided this effort enormously was the plaid team’s ‘belief in and practice of integration – the power of one idea, one look and feel, executed consistently across all channels.’

Meanwhile, Steve Forchon, president of Toronto’s Response Innovations, got busy on what he calls ‘one of the most complicated communication programs imaginable.’ He remembers that the atmosphere was fraught ‘with competitors’ claims that the merger would compromise Canada Trust’s well known commitment to excellent customer service. And research confirmed that consumers were nervous.’

What solution did Forchon propose? ‘An easy-to-understand integration communications package that would [reassure] bank customers that the high level of service they enjoyed would not be diminished after the merger.’ The package also needed to inform them about changes to their accounts and services, retail branches, telephone and Internet banking services well enough to forestall a disastrous flood of phone complaints and enquiries.

As if that weren’t a tough enough task, Forchon says the DM piece, dubbed ‘Accounts and Services Guide,’ was actually customized to the personal product profile of every one of Canada Trust’s 3.8 million customers.

The time-sensitive mailings, which ran to 43 million personalized pages, were produced using proprietary ‘virtual imaging’ technology and sent out in four waves over a period of four months to coincide with the conversion of TD Bank and Canada Trust branches in four regions across Canada.

The results were positive. Forchon says the project was brought in on time and for only 53% of the budgeted $10 million. Phone enquiries were a scant 3.1% and the attrition rate was nil. Small wonder that the DM campaign snagged a gold in the Canadian Marketing Association RSVP Awards the following year.

And the combined efforts of the plaid team and its agency partners resulted in the new TD Canada Trust entity actually adding to its market share immediately after the merger.

Enter the big green armchair

Everyone agrees that the secret weapon in all of this was the eureka realization by a brand expert who happens to have almost a wizard’s name. It was Ian Mirlin who conjured up the notion that what was needed for instant brand perception of the new entity was ‘an inhabitable metaphor.’

Currently stepping down as CCO at Young & Rubicam Toronto, he was at the time of the merger a partner in the Harrod & Mirlin arm of FCB. Although Mirlin insists that a lot of people he ‘doesn’t want to steal the limelight away from’ were involved, Armstrong is equally adamant in crediting him with the lion’s share of the insight that – after kicking around the notion of a bench or a pillow – ultimately produced the big green armchair.

It was quickly adopted to symbolize what Mirlin calls TD Canada Trust’s ‘commitment to a palpable brand that people could actually touch and even sit in [rather than just] an amorphous promise.’

Thanks to a dynamic introductory campaign, what the green armchair came to convey beyond its palpability and recognition factor, says Boniface, was ‘that comfortable, hassle-free banking would be delivered through key operational initiatives including [Canada Trust's famous

'8 to 8'] longer hours at more branches, paperless banking and easy account switching.’

When the tagline ‘Banking can be this comfortable’ was added to the mix and liberally deployed, the result was a winning strategy that’s still cleaning competitors’ clocks today. The fact that roughly one in three Canadians choose to bank with TD Canada Trust is just one sign of the brand’s success.