Professor Michelle Roehm Discusses Brand Shift for First Community

8.8.2011 Article, Business Analytics, Faculty News

First Community removing the emphasis on bank
Reposted from Winston-Salem Journal | By Richard Craver

First Community Bancshares Inc. is removing "bank" from its brand in hopes of increasing consumer awareness of all its financial services.

The logo and signage for the Bluefield, Va., bank, which has five branches in Forsyth County, will read "First Community" over time, officials said Friday.

Ginger Salt, the bank's chief marketing officer, said it is dropping the word "Bancshares" to emphasize its personal and commercial financial products in an all-under-one-roof campaign.

"By removing the emphasis on bank, we give ourselves the opportunity to talk about all the services we provide, allow for greater cross-sell opportunities and create stronger brand alignment, all of which are important for our long-term growth," Salt said.

It is considered by analysts as one of the stronger community banks serving the Triad and North Carolina.

The bank also launched this week a new advertising campaign in the Triad built around the theme of community.

"The concept of community is no longer about where you live but about the people with whom you connect and share common interests and experiences," said John Mendez, the bank's president and chief executive. "The campaign positions First Community as a group of financial experts that is as important, as meaningful and as valuable as any other community in the lives of our customers."

Although some banks, such as Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., do not have the word "bank" in their title, it's rare for a regional and community bank not to include it. Even those that go by initials in the brand, such as BB&T, have an implied bank reference.

In fact, First Community would join Wells Fargo as the only banks serving the Triad without bank in their brands.

Salt said First Community did not opt to remove bank because it may carry a negative connotation with some consumers, particularly since the federal bailout of banks in 2008-09. Yet advertising experts say de-emphasizing bank could help distinguish First Community among those consumers.

"The word bank has earned a double meaning since the Great Meltdown in 2008," said John Sweeney, director of the sports-communication program at UNC Chapel Hill. He said there is the image of Wall Street villains "with their ludicrous debt ratios, bonuses and failure to take responsibility for all the damage they did."

Then there is the small-town banker image, "a place of honest actions and civic goodness," Sweeney said.

"Why First Community has decided to put itself in an intriguing kind of limbo is fascinating," he said. "My guess is that the consumer's association with the word bank is now so toxic that you can't believably sell the Jimmy Stewart image.

"The commercial has the look and feeling of a small-town bank, so the intention is clear even if the dreaded word has been quietly dropped."

Michelle Roehm, a professor of marketing at the Schools of Business at Wake Forest University, said the "more compelling part of the change seems to be the opportunity to attach the brand to a bigger idea than just the transactional nature of banking."

"With the abbreviated naming, community becomes a noun rather than an adjective and thus gets primary emphasis.

"And, importantly, the associations to community are positive, emotional — and perhaps quite strategically — would be friendlier in feel to female customers."