Podcast Transcript: How to bring a brand story to life in an industry undergoing consolidation and acquisitions

Mar 16, 2020


1200x628_VyaPodcast_EricGOur Guest: Eric Giesecke, Chief Marketing Officer

Company: WesBanco

Website: wesbanco.com



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Episode Transcript

Allan: Martha can you imagine this – how would you like to ring the bell at NASDAQ?

Martha: Oh! Wow that would be really exciting.  Although I am afraid of heights, aren’t the usually like high up there, looking down. I am not so sure if I could do it or not.

Allan:  I think you’ll figure out a way. Martha we may not have that opportunity but listen in to see how our guest is going to have that opportunity, it’s pretty exciting.

[Music Playing]

Allan:  Hello and welcome to Bank Marketing Today by Vya.  I am Allan Greer and together with Martha France, we’re interviewing bank marketing leaders about current trends, new marketing technologies, branding and the overall state of the banking industry.  We will be joined from time to time by additional co-hosts and experts.

Martha: Our guest on today’s episode, Eric Giesecke, who’s the CMO at WesBanco has some really wonderful thoughts on the challenges and opportunities presented by building brand awareness, going through acquisitions and how he goes about drafting and sharing the WesBanco brand story.  For this interview, our colleague, Liz Schaefer was your co-host.  So let’s get to it and listen to your conversation with Eric Giesecke of WesBanco, as he shares his insights on bank marketing today.

Liz:  Hello, I’m Liz Schaefer, and today Allan Greer and I will be talking to, Eric Giesecke, CMO, WesBanco.  Welcome to the Bank Marketing podcast Eric.

Eric:  Thanks, I appreciate it.  Glad to be here.

Liz: For any of our listeners who may not be familiar with WesBanco, can you tell us a little bit about the bank and your role there?

Eric:  WesBanco is what we call an emerging regional bank with a community bank at its roots.  We were founded in 1870, in the City of Wheeling in West Virginia.  For most of our history, we were pretty content to just be a locally focused community bank.  Several years ago, there was a decision made to start to expand more aggressively and geographically.  And so that started with a series of acquisitions in different contiguous markets.  We’ve tried to locate acquisitions that are contiguous to our current footprint so that from a travel perspective it makes it easy.  We tend to know more about locations that are adjacent to us versus going to the West Coast or going all the way down to Florida.  So we’ve grown very rapidly in a pretty short period of time, we’ve doubled in size roughly over the last five years or so.

Allan:  That’s amazing.

Eric:  Yeah. It’s been exciting to be part of the story, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of growth challenges and some growing pains.  When you expand that quickly, you tend to focus on the customer upfront and you put everything else on the back burner. And so eventually those things start to catch up with you in terms of systems, technology, investing and marketing.  I’ve spent most of my career at two different banks.  One was National City, that was acquired by PNC, so I grew up on the corporate banking side.  I was a corporate banker for a long time and then switched over to marketing and have about 10 years or so in marketing, all with PNC.  I was brought into the organization to really help us accelerate our marketing effort, build out a marketing vision, get the team excited, start to think about where we need to invest, and help to prioritize our investments.  So that’s what we’re in the midst of doing.  I’m about five or six months into it and I’ve been really enjoying it so far, and the culture is very strong.

I think that’s part of what WesBanco has been successful at, is really staying focused on acting like a community bank, really focusing on the customer.  Even as we’re growing, we don’t want to lose sight of our roots.  I think we’re a well-kept secret, honestly from a marketing perspective. 

Allan:  With your growth it seems like you’re not going to be a secret too much longer.

Eric: Right, that’s true.  What we know to be true on the marketing side is that, you can have a physical presence and potentially have been in a community for a long time, but it doesn’t mean that you’re top of mind from a marketing perspective.  So, we really need to balance all that is great about our company and our culture with just telling the story, because we’re not doing that today.  We recently were ranked number seven on the Forbes’ world’s best bank list.  That’s all based on our customer satisfactions scores, so again we have a really good story to tell.  We just haven’t been telling it enough or in the right ways, that’s really what led me to the opportunity.

Allan:  That’s great and certainly I appreciate the information on the bank and a little bit about your background as well, but what got you to banking in the first place?  You started at National City, correct?

Eric:  I did.  Well I initially came out of an MBA program and was looking at different opportunities, different industries, and I had a marketing focus as an MBA graduate, but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with it.  I was in Cleveland at the time, and I wanted to stay in the Cleveland area ideally.  National City had a training program that would take MBA grads into the corporate banking area, and you would spend about 15 months rotating through different areas of corporate banking, and then you would be placed into one of those areas.  Even though it didn’t really fit with the classic marketing track that I thought I wanted, I just had a really good experience through the interview process.  The company was a Cleveland institution, very solid.  A place that you could build a career, very strong culture, and I liked the idea of learning an industry through a training program like that.  That was really what led me to banking and I didn’t know enough to really make a better decision.  I really had no concept – my concept of banking was my debit card and a branch.  I had no idea that banks had corporate banking, I didn’t know what that was or what it meant.

It was just an eye opening experience and the rotational aspect of the training program allowed me to see a lot of different areas in a short period of time and then I was able to land where I wanted to and really started out as a junior – they called them relationship managers, but it was basically a junior corporate banker.  And that part of it I loved because it allowed me to be out with customers all the time.  And walking through their businesses, hearing about their business strategies, as an MBA graduate it was a like a real life case study every week as I was out talking to customers.  My time as a banker was a lot of fun, it was great experience, and really what led me to marketing was just PNC looking for somebody to head up the corporate banking marketing function, and they wanted somebody who actually knew the role and knew that side of the bank.  I joke that it took me 10 years to actually land a marketing job when I had my MBA in marketing.

Allan: 10 years is nothing.

Eric:  Right, it went by quick I will say that.  So anyway, that’s kind of what led me into banking.

Allan: That’s interesting.  It’s always fascinating how people generate their careers and how it transforms every time, appreciate you sharing that.  In some other exciting news, is WesBanco is marking its 150th anniversary next year, which is pretty incredible, and how do you plan to share that message and how do you plan on celebrating that?

Eric: We’ve got our own full internal plan for it.  A lot of it is going to involve community engagement, we’ll think about how we celebrate that in all of our markets through customer appreciation events, there’s going to be a lot of messaging around.  We will be talking about it regularly on social media.  All of our media messages next year will utilize a special logo that we developed for our 150th anniversary, and we will really make sure that celebration and that anniversary is a key part of all of our marketing messages next year.  We plan to take a group of our executives to the NASDAQ and ring the bell at closing time.

Allan:  That’s neat.

Eric:  Yeah a lot of really neat ideas, a lot of them focused on the customers because that’s who we feel we owe our success to and our employees, that’s the other big leg of our stool in terms of what makes us successful are really our employees embracing commitment to the customer.  That’s how we want to bring it to life next year.

Allan: Sounds like it’s going to be a hopping year.

Eric: Yeah it should be.

Allan:  Right now it’s time for a quick sponsor break we’ll be right back with more from our guest, Eric Giesecke, CMO of WesBanco.

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Leading banks partner with Vya to implement compliant multi-channel marketing initiatives. Vya offers a full range of integrated marketing resource management tools and services to help banks simplify marketing operations and make time for strategic endeavors. To learn more visit vyasystems.com at vyasystems.com or request a demo at vyasystems.com/bankmarketing.

Liz:  All right Eric, can you tell me about what your biggest marketing challenges are?

Eric:  For us here at WesBanco, the biggest challenge is something I alluded to earlier which is all around our lack of awareness.  People just don’t know enough about us and don’t know the name enough.  And so what we really want to focus on is brand awareness.  We did a brand health survey this year and just got the results back about a month ago.  It confirmed what we thought which is, at the markets that we’re in that are larger, where we’re dealing with more competition, we don’t have as many branches.  We’re less well-known and that’s because we’re just not competing from a share of voice perspective when it comes to marketing.  But some surprises were, even in the markets that we’ve been in for a long time, and we felt that the awareness would be much higher, it’s not as high as we thought it would be.  Again I think it’s back to this notion that, if you’re not in the marketing channels and you don’t have a message that’s consistent and compelling, or even if you’re right around the corner, a majority of the people may not know that you exist so to speak.  If you don’t tell your story, you’re absent from the market place essentially.  So that’s our biggest challenge on the brand awareness side and we’re going to be launching a brand campaign, we’re really working on our brand story and what we want people to take away from the WesBanco story.  And we’re planning a more robust and centralized media plan that will hopefully cover the major markets that we’re in through a series of advertising and messaging and different channels so that we start to move the needle on that awareness challenge.

Liz:   How do you go about crafting that brand story, especially for WesBanco with 150 years of history?

Eric: It’s challenging because you take for granted what you know about your own organization, and when you try to communicate that to a mass audience, you end up relying on a lot of what you know to be true, but other people don’t know that.  You have to get very specific about what it is that we offer that a customer would choose, and why would they choose us over another bank, and how do you drive the preference for your brand.  I think that we really focused on three things, what is our culture?  How does it show up every day?  Because we want our brand story to be directly related to our culture as a company.  So that was one part of it, the other part of it was how do we view our brand internally?  So, we did a lot of interviews with people around the company, a lot of executive interviews and really asked people their perception of our brand and then we followed up with asking people externally about our brand and bank brands in general.  And you kind of push a lot of that data and insight together and you start to think about what’s believable, what is true to who we are, and how can we tell it in a way that people are going to pay attention to.  We work with an agency that helps us think through all of this.  It’s collective thinking, but we’re really looking to their help to really tell the story in a way that is going to resonate with people and make them look at it through the eyes of somebody that just doesn’t know who we are.

Liz:  Right.

Eric:  I think the challenging part about the fact that we’ve been around for 150 years, which is great, but there’s a downside to it as well is if you overplay that, especially to a younger audience, you can be perceived as stodgy, not innovative, not modern.  We have to really lean into the benefits of all this experience in these years that we’ve been around, but also communicate that we’re a brand for the younger generations. So that another big part of it.  But I think ultimately, you don’t want to tell a story that you cannot pay off on when it comes to people’s day-to-day experience.  It definitely has to be authentic; it has to be believable, and hopefully you tell it in a way that is compelling for people.

Allan:  With that whole brand story, what are thoughts about creating brand consistency across the organization in all the different branches, with all the different contacts that you have.  What are your thoughts around that?

Eric:  Well I think it’s incredibly important, it’s not something that we have paid enough attention to as we’ve grown, as we’ve acquired other banks, they’ve all had different logos, colors, and branch designs.  If you are not thinking about it more proactively and deliberately, you do end up with this kind of patchwork of brand elements which doesn’t help to tell your story consistently.  We’re really working on, as part of brand story development, what are our brand standards, what are our brand guidelines, what type of signage, elements and design elements can tie together all of our branch locations, so that when you walk into one branch, it doesn’t feel completely different from another one.

Allan:  Do you face that right now, do you think?

Eric:   We do. Some markets are worse than others, but for instance the bank that we’re acquiring in Bowie, Maryland, Old Line Bank, we’re in the midst of that acquisition right now.  They have a color scheme that is very different from our colors, the furnishing, the paint, the design elements are all different.  We’re working on that now and really looking to build out these brand standards and guidelines for all of our markets and we’ll start to put those in to practice early next year.

Allan:  As a marketer, how do you sell innovation internally?  From the executive board on down?

Eric:  When you pose the question as do we want to be known as innovative.  Most people will kind of cock their head and look at you because our industry has not been known as being particularly innovative.  Now that’s changed with the digital and all the online experiences that you can have, but at the end of the day, we still tend to provide a service that hasn’t changed all that much.  We move money around for people, we take their money in, we keep it safe and we lend money out.  That’s essentially what banks have been doing for 150 years, like we’ve been doing.  The ways that we do that has changed, but the same basic, value proposition that we provide has been there for a long time.  The innovation piece really needs to be with the customer in mind.

Allan:  Thinking too as you were talking about that leading back to the Old Line acquisition, can you tell us a little bit more about your experience with that part overall throughout your whole banking career?

Eric:  So – fortunate or unfortunate I’ve been on the side of being acquired and I have been on the side of acquiring, so it is at some point in your banking career if you’re there long enough, you’re likely to experience one or the other.  My acquisition experience was different because we were acquired at the height of the financial crisis, and there was a reason banks were being acquired.  There was a relief that associated with that acquisition.

Allan:  So they are not all bad, a lot of good ones?

Eric:  Right.  I think as I was at PNC and we started to think about how we expand our revenue when there’s still a lot of banks that were competing with those over 4400 banks in the United States.

Allan:  That’s amazing.

Eric:   And we’re one of the larger ones and so when you think about how many small banks there are and they’re all competing for the same discretionally dollar, the same consumer, you have to start thinking about revenue.  And so naturally the way banks think about revenue is to expand geographically or to expand into a product offering that they don’t have today.  The other element around acquisitions, is not only expansion, but sometimes it’s about scale, cost, savings, and really how much cost efficiency you could gain by having two organizations combine, a sharing around support functions and what not.  So banks are in a state within the industry where if you’re not growing, it’s likely a matter of time before someone comes along and knocks on your door.  All that being said, I do very much believe this notion that banks are not bought, banks are sold.  So, if a bank does not want to be bought, it’s not going to be bought.  But then at some point you run out of strategic options for the future of that institution.

I think that bank acquisition activity is going to be an ongoing aspect of our environment for the foreseeable future because the cost of technology, the cost of digital, the cost of compliance those are all going up. Unless you have some scale, it’s really hard to keep up with those forces that are impacting the industry.  The magic around acquisitions is not being completely dishonest with the customer, right?  You don’t want to do that anyway, but the idea of telling them it’s going to be seamless and you’re not going to have to experience any change, don’t worry about it.  I think you’re much better served to just be direct and let them know that there will be some change, but it’s going to be change for the better generally.  And keep the communication ongoing and very open.  Listen to whatever feedback you’re getting from customers around their concerns, make sure you’re addressing those concerns.

Allan:  It probably is a good opportunity for that.

Eric:  It really is.  Changing a banking relationship, whether it’s somebody’s personal banking or a business banking relationship, it’s hard.  Generally, people don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’d love to change my banking relationship today.” It is one of those things that you generally don’t want to have to do if you don’t have to do it.  I think usually, in an acquisition – generally speaking I think the majority of people are going to stick around and see how it goes.  But they’re going to be much more open to the idea of switching, that’s where it’s so precarious I think for a bank to get it right because they’re ready to change if they have to and it will probably take less than it has taken before.  So, we're very sensitive to that.  We've done enough acquisitions where, we have an approach, we have a formula that we follow, we have a very consistent set of consumer messages and customer contact points.  And we just try to make sure that we are being very proactive, listening to the customer, listening to people at the bank that we're acquiring, that's another big part of it.  Those people have good ideas, they're likely a fair number of them are going to be employees of the combined organization.  So you want them to have a good experience and you want them to feel like this is a good thing, and that they're moving to a culture that they would choose if they were out there looking.  But you definitely learn through experience about how to go about it and what to avoid if you need to.

Liz:  Can you tell me where you like to go to learn and expand your knowledge?

Eric:  Yeah, I'm a big consumer of thought leadership on the marketing side.  Looking to firms like Gartner that are very research driven, I tap into a lot of their content, I will get on the phone with their analysts, and talk about things that they're seeing, best practices.  I try to listen to our marketing partners like you guys in terms of what are you seeing with other customers?  What are you seeing in the industry?  Too often marketers look at agency relationships and marketing partnerships, as you're just fulfilling that executional need.  And I really view it as our success is your success, and vice versa.  So let's think about how we get smarter together.  So I tap into existing partners and partners that we don't work with today.  I'm always very willing generally, unless my schedule doesn't allow it to get on the phone with a potential vendor or agency and just learn about what they do and what makes them different.  So I think it's just an openness to what's out there, what might be trending.

Allan:  I have a question too kind of related to the industry and I’m very curious maybe from a generational point of view.  But where do you see the banking industry going?

Eric:  From what I've seen, there certainly is a huge rush to digital.  And that's driven by just people's online behavior in general, right?  The Amazon effect has --

Allan:  It messed up everything.

Eric:  Yes, has affected everything, the way people expect to consume information the way they expect to search.  You've got Google, you've got Amazon, you have Apple these tech brands that are very customer experience focused I think are influencing the banking industry.  That was the rise of the Fintechs.  That all was born out of customer experience.  The banks didn't have a great online experience.  And so Fintechs came in and said we can do this in a way that looks better.  The reality is that the banks are still moving the money around in the background.  The banks still control the way people's money gets moved and managed and they were way behind when it comes to the digital experience.  I think banks have done especially the larger ones done a much better job of catching up.  Digital will continue to be a major influence.  I think generational differences we’ll start to see even more as baby boomers retire.  And Gen Z and millennials start to come into those life events that caused them to have a need for a bank, get married, have kids buy a home, it's going to be this tugging at both ends of the spectrum.  Baby boomers are one of the largest generations only outnumbered by millennials.  And so it's this huge, I kind of call it a barbell effect.  You have these two huge generational weights, you know, at the ends.  And how do you satisfy both of them and everybody in between?  Right?

Allan:  No problem, just a small test.

Eric:  Right.  So I think banks are placing bets right now, just educated bets a consolidation will definitely keep happening.  Digital absolutely, consolidation absolutely the customer experience will become more of an element that you differentiate around.  Not so much even your product or service.  I think what's happening right now with digital is it's kind of this digital arms race.  People are just, banks especially are just building more digital experiences and not really necessarily stopping and saying, does anybody care about this, or are they willing to pay more for them?  Would it motivate them to actually switch their banking relationship?  I think there's going to be a lot of noise on the digital front as you continue to build that out.  The future of the branch - I think we will still have physical locations 10 years from now.  I think there will be less, and I think they'll do different things.  There'll be more like a sales and advice channel versus transactions.  Apple has proven it with their Apple stores.  It's not so much about buying product there, it's more about engaging with experts asking questions, looking at new products, etcetera.  I think those are the big themes, digital, consolidation, and the customer experience.

Allan:  Yeah with all that, what do you think excites you most with marketing today and moving forward?

Eric:  I think there is a recognition at this company and at most of the successful forward thinking banks, that if we don't carve out our place in this new kind of digital world with these generational aspects to think about, we're not going to be around.  And I think there was some research that's been done where if you look at the top 100 brands from 75 years ago, or 100 years ago, there's only one or two that are still around, something like that.

Allan:  I'm getting to the age where I probably know most of them.

Eric:   And it's just the same dynamics as any competitive marketplace.  So that makes it exciting from a marketing perspective, because there's so much more that we can do now, from a segmentation perspective, listening to the customer, social media has been a big game changer it's exciting.  You have more tools at your disposal, but I do think it's harder to get share of mind because people's attention spans are shorter than they've ever been before.  So if you don't have a compelling message, and you can't tell it in 15 seconds or less, you're in trouble there too.  A lot of exciting pieces, but it's just a feeling like you can't take your eye off any of the balls that you have in the air.  Keep juggling them and keep putting the right levels of attention around really all the aspects of the customer experience that you're trying to influence.

Allan:  Well, thank you so much for sharing, it’s been a great discussion.  We really appreciate it very much.  It's interesting and wish you all the best with WesBanco and 150th anniversary.  It's still very incredible.

Eric: Yeah, thank you.  I enjoyed the conversation and look for more from us in 2020.

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Allan:  Martha after listening to Eric, what would you say are some of the key takeaways?

Martha:  I heard some really key points from Eric.  First of all, that a bank in the midst of an acquisition must be really mindful to what a volatile time it is for customers, and that customers might be more willing to switch banks at this point than at any other time.  Second, when crafting your brand story, you need internal feedback and external feedback.  Sometimes you can be so close to your brand, it's almost like you have to unlearn something.  So, you really need to look outside to see how customers and potential customers view you and you have to make sure the perceptions are true to the culture and to your brand.  Last but not least, tell your brand story and continually build brand awareness.  I think Eric brought those points home loud and clear.

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Allan:  Thanks to our listeners for joining us.  Check us out for more episodes at vyasystems.com be sure to subscribe and Vya is V-Y-A systems with an S dot com.  Thank you so much.

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Please note:  Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.


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