Faced with a rash of big, media-savvy competitors in the traditional and on-line brokerage world, private banks and trust companies have turned increasingly to advertising to woo customers from among the emerging affluent.
One high-profile example this month: J.P. Morgan & Co. launched a branding effort for its private bank. The print ads feature the slogan, "J.P. Morgan works for me."
Consultants and bank advertising executives said that to shake off their staid, reserved images, private banks need to find new ways to attract customers. The traditional methods - seminars at private clubs or referrals through word of mouth - won't be successful at attracting the newly affluent away from the likes of Merrill Lynch & Co. or E-Trade Group Inc., for that matter.
Private banks "tend to be reluctant to be too aggressive reaching out to customers," said Norman R. Lubin, chief executive officer of FMS Group, a communications consulting firm in Blue Bell, Pa. "But these new customers react well to firms that market to them in a way they're comfortable with."
Bryn Mawr Trust Co., which manages $391 million of assets, has gone so far as to begin developing an interactive Web site. Designed by Ardsmore, Pa.-based Kingswood Interactive, the site will target current and prospective Bryn Mawr Trust customers and offer capabilities that range from transferring funds and paying bills to checking stock quotes. There are no immediate plans for on-line trading.
"We need to be much more active attracting customers," said Nancy Logan, vice president of advertising for Bryn Mawr Trust. "That's true whether it's through ads or through our salespeople."
The Internet site is the latest step for Bryn Mawr Trust, which in September launched a local branding campaign featuring the tagline, "A World of Difference." The print ads, created by the Havertown, Pa., agency Marketing Edge, were run in upscale magazines like Town & Country and are to start appearing in regional editions of Fortune and Money, Ms. Logan said.
More experienced bank advertising executives said their branding efforts show signs of success.
Northern Trust Co., a Chicago company that manages $299 billion of assets, has run its "Trust Northern" print advertising campaign for five years - featuring customer testimonials. "It has done what we wanted it to do, raise awareness," said Beverly Fleming, senior vice president for marketing. The ads also attracted new customers, she said.
Ellen J. Roberts, vice president for media and investor relations at Wilmington Trust Corp. in Delaware, said a one-year-old television ad campaign has boosted name recognition in targeted markets by "double-digit" percentages.
The ads, created by the New York agency Korey Kay & Partners, ran heavily on television last year in new markets for Wilmington Trust, including New York and areas of southern Pennsylvania. The company, which manages $24 billion of assets, also ran the spots in southern Florida and in its home markets. This year the campaign has turned to print advertising.
The worst tactic is to do nothing at all, said FMS Group's Mr. Lubin. "Complacency is a strange strategy."