Issue: March 2009
Customer have threatenend it, and some have done it.
The remaining hometown banks can’t quantify it.
A PNC Bank spokesman in, ahem, Pittsburgh, says it is nothing on which his company will comment. “Well, that’s something that we typically could not disclose for a particular region,” says Fred Solomon.
We’re talking about the bounce — customers leaving National City as it begins a two-year transformation into PNC Bank.
The real numbers may never be known, but stories of Browns fans or Northeast Ohio boosters who have already bailed are out there. But some of the region’s marketing minds say PNC can take some of the spring out of a fleeing customer’s step. Just because houses and investment portfolios have lost massive amounts of equity lately doesn’t mean the brand of a bank that’s nearly as old as Cleveland has to as well.
Dave Cockley, who teaches marketing in the University of Akron’s college of business administration, says National City’s new owners need to work to make sure the signs, logos and letterhead are the only things that switch in coming months.
“What PNC has to do from a brand standpoint is to try to manage and reshore that link that people have with National City and Cleveland and Ohio,” says Gary Hunter, an assistant professor of marketing at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Cockley puts the stress and strain surrounding the sale more succinctly. “It would have to be Pittsburgh, wouldn’t it,” he laughs.
Here are their suggestions for what PNC (or any business) can do to help stave off customer flight in the wake of a takeover.
Keep customers updated, educated and placated:
Let Jim Rohr, PNC’s chairman, explain the changes through direct mailings. Companies taking over troubled competition often rush to erase history, but PNC needs to move slowly and cautiously, says Cockley, who is both a Clevelander and a National City customer. Also, throw weary customers some perks to keep them focused on staying, not straying. “It’s not giving away the shop,” he says, “but offering some new marketing overtures to enhance it.”
Power to the people: Accentuate your human capital, the faces at local branches that will likely stay the same through the change. “If they replaced all those people, that would be a disaster,” Hunter says. “Run promotions that emphasize that they’re still the same people that you’ve come to know and trust.” If PNC doesn’t capitalize on that strategy, he says, one of Ohio’s remaining banks surely will.
Let Sleeping Dawgs Lie: Know that large segments of your new market already have some pretty negative associations with the P-word. Hunter has heard students boo classmates who reveal they’re from the Steel City. As PNC builds its reputation in the region, Cockley says the bank should stick to sponsoring civic organizations and nonprofits and steer clear of the stadium. “PNC probably wouldn’t opt to sponsor something that had to do with the Browns,” he says. “It just bubbles up to the surface the rivalries and the feelings.”
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