With more than 1,300 U.S. branches and a Canadian parent company, TD Bank hardly qualifies as a community bank. But the institution is trying to underscore its local-bank bona fides with marketing campaigns touting its support of neighborhood causes.
Through February 2016, TD Bank will raise funds to benefit an eclectic collection of charities and individuals picked by its employees. Five hundred branches will take part in the Bring Change initiative over the next nine months. Every Monday, using social media and other marketing channels, a subset of them will unveil a group or individual they've chosen to support.
In May, for example, the branch in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., chose to support a food bank run by Full Gospel Assembly, a local church. The branch in Cherry Hill, N.J. (where the lender is headquartered) is helping a local family whose home was recently destroyed in a fire. Bring Change came seven months after TD Bank launched its much-talked-about Make Today Matter campaign, which was also crafted with an eye toward benefiting hyper-local charities.
"Our core strategy is we're a human bank," said Vinoo Vijay, TD Bank's chief marketing officer. "We keep asking ourselves, what does a human bank do? We're a big part of our communities and we want that to come across."
Campaigns like Bring Change hint at a shift taking place in how banks seek to generate loyalty, said Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
According to Perner, consumers frequently find differentiating between banks to be a difficult task. In the past, banks sought to stand out using marketing that focused on personal milestones with a strong emotional element, such as purchasing a first home or planning for retirement.
Bring Change and a growing number of campaigns like it indicate a move to a "broader, social approach" to bank marketing, Perner said. They also serve as a reflection of the public's sour perception of banking overall.
"Certainly, this is an industry that needs some rehabilitation," Perner said.
While corporate socially responsible marketing has been around for years, and has been practiced by other banks, few companies have been able to match the impact of Make Today Matter. TD chronicled it on a website and in a viral, four-minute You Tube video that has been viewed 5.1 million times since it was posted on Nov 24.
Branch-level employees helped select 30 individuals who each received $24,000 to spend on good works in their communities. The only requirement was that the money had to be disbursed in a single 24-hour period.
TD is planning a similar multimedia treatment for "Bring Change." It has already created a website, www.tdbringchange.com, to tell its stories.
The actual giving will occur on Fridays TD wants contributions to come in the form of spare change dumped into coin-counting machines the participating branches. (The coin-counters, or "Penny Arcades," are a ubiquitous feature at TD branches, which stretch from Maine to Florida.)
The $234.4 billion-asset TD Bank will donate $2,000 to each of the weekly causes, which are as diverse as the bank's markets. The TD branch in Live Oak, Fla. is supporting Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a program that helps at-risk young people, while the TD in Gloucester, Mass., has chosen to help the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association. In Rock Hill, S.C., the TD branch picked Cheer for Children, an organization that seeks to promote a culture of kindness in schools, as its beneficiary.
Nancy Lee, who teaches social marketing at the University of Washington's Dan Evans School of Public Affairs, said TD's work falls into the category of cause-related marketing, which she described as an initiative aimed at stimulating customer activity in support of a cause.
An extensive distribution network paired with innovative use of social media testify to good, fundamental marketing techniques, but Lee said she would have liked it better if TD had picked a single overarching cause, like fighting hunger or improving local schools, for its branches to support, rather than assembling a collection of well intentioned but unrelated efforts.
"I wish every company would marry a social issue versus dating around," said Lee, who is also the president of Social Media Marketing Services, a consulting firm in Mercer Island, Wash.
For Vijay, however, offering branch employees a free rein to select groups or people that matter in their communities is what sets TD's marketing apart.
"Our employees feel passionately about the needs in their communities, and we want to [align] our employees' desire to make a difference," he said. "Great moments come from having the truth behind them. You can work very hard to have a conversation, but if you don't start with who you are and what is in your heart" it won't be effective.
Other banks are using similar strategies. For the past two years, the $7.6 billion-asset Chemical Financial Corp. in Midland, Mich. has set aside Columbus Day a banking holiday but one on which Chemical had previously remained open for business to allow hundreds of its employees work on projects around the state. In the most recent "Chemical Bank Cares" day on Oct. 13, 2,036 of its employees donated time to more than 237 projects.
John Hatfield, the company's director of marketing, said "Chemical Bank Cares" serves to underscore the company's commitment to Michigan.
"Our goal is to be Michigan's community bank," Hatfield said. "I think our customers do expect this level of involvement and we do not disappoint."
At Associated Bancorp in Green Bay, Wis., CMO Christopher C. Piotrowski has a team of marketers dedicated to corporate social responsibility projects. And Chris Dods, executive vice president and marketing communications division manager at First Hawaiian Bank in Honolulu, touts the $3.6 million his company gave to charities in 2014.
In an island environment, the degree of separation is very small, so in the aggregate it shows up everywhere you look," Dods said of his bank's philanthropy.