Single Strategy Unites 3 Regional Banks

LOS ANGELES When Regions Bank, with headquarters in Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery, Ala., merged with Union Planters Bank of Memphis, Tenn., in 2004, and then merged again late last year with Birmingham’s AmSouth Bank, the result created a $140 billion banking entity with a presence in 16 Southeastern and Midwestern states.

To exist under a single Regions nameplate, the banks needed a common media and creative strategy.

Luckie & Co., a Birmingham, Ala., independent, had handled media duties since 2004, eventually absorbing creative tasks as well. After the first merger, WPP Group’s Mindshare, Atlanta, took over media, while Interpublic Group’s TM, Irving, Texas, joined with the arrival of Union Planters. With AmSouth came IPG’s Fitzgerald + Co., Atlanta, until that bank’s CMO, Scott Peters, became Regions’ evp and CMO and decided to go with Luckie for creative and MindShare for media.

The agencies and client were asked to rebrand Regions Bank while considering the distinctive reputations, histories and marketing associations of each, said Brad White, ecd at Luckie. At the same time, the strategy needed to retain a folksy appeal for what is now the nation’s 10th largest bank.

While AmSouth used “The relationship people” as a tagline, Regions’ advertising had been “more bank-centric” with the slogan “The strength to do more.” “You pictured lots of marble columns,” White said. “We wanted to get away from that.

“AmSouth’s [marketing] was product driven and type A. Regions’ was more laid-back and analytical,” he continued. “As with any large merger, there was an ‘us and them’ mentality. One of the best ways to bring people together is a new culture and new brand that brings together both.”

Union Planters, AmSouth and Regions all wanted a new brand, White said, but each had a unique culture. But executives from all three institutions agreed that an off-putting image would hurt business.

Peters, who came to AmSouth after marketing posts at Fidelity Investments and Citibank, immediately began internal “culture work” to “identify the consistent strengths and hopes for what we all aspired to be” at the three banks. From there, he looked to the broaden the customer base and conducted extensive research “to find out what [consumers wanted] in an ‘ideal’ bank.”

After testing Regions’ positioning statement and 27 different taglines, Luckie chose “It’s time to expect more” to focus on consumers who said, “It’s about me, not about how big or strong you are,” Peters said.

Luckie’s campaign centers on an iconic image of a lime green bicycle to “revert to a less frenetic time, representing simplicity, ease, reliability, familiarity, balance, positive feelings and memories,” all of which were intended to gently transport old customers to a new brand emotionally, White said.

“I like the use of the bike metaphor,” said Peters. “It’s clever to differently present the brand promise to the marketplace, how we exhibited a commitment to making their financial lives easier. The bike brought to life that feeling.”

Some Luckie campaign elements started in Alabama and Florida in August. Street teams pedaled into selected cities on bicycles to hand out literature and entry forms for bike giveaways, supported by radio, television, cinema, outdoor and newspaper ads, sports sponsorships and other promotions. A full-bore brand campaign begins late this month in all 16 states, in anticipation of signs changing to Regions on Oct. 29.

To maintain a friendly neighborhood feel that belies just how big Regions now is, MindShare segmented the now doubled footprint of branches into 65 markets: areas where there were only Regions Banks prior to the merger; territories where AmSouth and Regions previously competed; and regions where AmSouth was about to become Regions. Media would “talk,” “shout” or “roar” in those markets, respectively.

“The client wanted to measure brand attributes, but there was a heightened interest in ROI and tiering,” said Barbara Mende, partner and group planning director, MindShare, Atlanta. “So we divided the talk, shout and roar markets into seven more tiers that determined a media strategy and selection, looking at, for instance, where do target prospects live with respect to the branch?” The strategy yielded practically one plan per market, she said.

Mende said Regions is spending “significantly” to implement the media plan. Last year, AmSouth spent $10 million, Regions $15 million and Union Planters less than $100,000 on advertising. Combined, the bank spent $12 million through May 2007, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

The gambit appears to be paying off, Peters said. In the couple of states where campaign elements have supported the combined operation, the bank’s customer-retention metrics “are running at a better rate than before the merger,” he said.