Susquehanna Bancshares, a Lititz, PA-based financial holding company with assets of $7.5 billion and 156 affiliate bank locations, knew it had a branding problem. With its merger and acquisition activity heating up over the last few years-including the impending acquisition of Minotola National Bank of Vineland, NJ-the company needed a strong rebranding campaign under the Susquehanna Bank and Susquehanna Patriot Bank names, says vp and CMO Stuart Mullendore.

The state-chartered banks also needed an identity and presence within their communities. The banks, which were master branded between June 2004 and last April, also include Citizens Bank of Southern Pennsylvania, Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust, First American Bank of Pennsylvania, Farmers First Bank, First Susquehanna Bank and Trust, WNB Bank and Equity Bank, as well as the existing Susquehanna Bank and Susquehanna Patriot Bank. "Before we began the collapse, there were eight charters with dramatically different names, and vastly different looks and feels," he says. The strategy, then, was to create a branding effort that was bold, simple and direct-something, Mullendore says, that could "break through that clutter" of the competition.

To do so, Susquehanna turned to Diccicco Battista Communications of Horsham, PA. Within the bank's footprint in the mid-Atlantic region, "clutter" comes in the form of Wachovia, Citizens, PNC and Commerce. "They all have huge budgets compared to [Susquehanna's]," says Carol Corbett, Diccicco Battista creative director. "It's a good-sized regional bank, but it's in a very competitive market with a lot of other banks that advertise all the time. Really, what we were trying to do was make this brand work very, very hard."

The print, radio and television campaign, which debuted in October with a budget of more than $1 million, uses the bank's signature colors of blue and green, along with basic questions like how to balance a checkbook and build savings to convey the theme: "A Smarter Way to Money." Says Mullendore: "When it's coming from financial institutions, almost all the advertising that you hear today is either based on technology or service. And I think when you talk about practical matters, you embody both of those subjects." In addition, John Ratzenberger-Cliff Clavin of TV's Cheers, which is now in reruns-lends his voice to the 30-second TV and 60-second radio spots. "He's the 'Everyman,' and if you remember, he was always full of facts and figures" on Cheers, Corbett says. "It just fit in so well."

Ratzenberger is indeed a good choice for the campaign, and Susquehanna plans to capitalize on his involvement by playing the voice-overs through the speakers of its 155 ATMs. The machines, a product of German IT provider Wincor Nixdorf, represent a substantial high-tech commitment for a bank of Susquehanna's size. "As far as we know, they're the only [ATMs] like them on this side of the Atlantic Ocean," Mullendore says. He won't comment on such a venture's cost or timeline-though the machines are in place and only awaiting software components-but says there are plans to update the campaign for maximum ATM use within the first few months of 2006. "Of course, we would have a royalty to pay to do that," he says.

It will be interesting to see what the updates contain. Current ads tell customers to pay more attention to their money, which, as a rule, is good advice. "The average worker across an average life earns an average of $1.9 million. This information usually averages only one response: Where'd it all go?" asks one print ad. However, the campaign's straightforwardness occasionally backfires. "If only 15 percent of the population balances their checkbooks, that means 85 percent of you must trust your bank 100 percent of the time. Or could it be something else?" says another ad.

Calling banks' trustworthiness and competence into question might not be the best strategy for snagging costumers, says Rick Wemmers, a consultant with Bank Marketing Pros of Atlanta. "I do know some banks feel like a competitive strategy is to suggest that your bank is sloppy and your statement is wrong, and I'm sure some banks are guilty of that," he says. "But it's [more] the exception, by far, than it is the rule."

But for a campaign that came together in just over a month, without the involvement of focus groups, Corbett says public reaction has been "phenomenal. We got on the radar of many people, and what we're hearing is really terrific: people walking into the bank and quoting, 'Is that really true? I can't believe it.' So people are really hearing it and responding to it," she says.

Mullendore agrees. "I think it's doing very well, because we never had a presence in the marketplace prior to collapsing charters and creating the master branding situation," he says. "In our area, it's tough for someone of our scale to compete with the really, really large institutions, so we needed something a little different." (c) 2006 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.us-banker.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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