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Rebranding a Financial Institution


Riggs Bank


You may not recall this, but at one time not terribly long ago, banks were not allowed to expand by putting branch offices across state lines. When that law changed, the leadership of Riggs Bank, which served Washington, D.C., realized they needed to open branches in the suburbs in order to grow and to stay competitive. As you likely know, D.C.’s suburbs are either in Virginia or in Maryland, depending on which side of the Potomac they are on. 


As expansion plans were being drawn up, Stephen Hawley Martin was called upon to add “Martin Brand Power” to the equation. 


Stephen’s research indicated Riggs was well established and well regarded in metro Washington. It had been around a long time and was regarded as safe and solid. It was also thought of as being stuffy and aloof, particularly by newcomers to the market and by those living in the suburbs. This finding set off alarm bells about the expansion plans.


Digging into the bank’s history, Stephen found that Riggs had provided financing for some very special projects, including the renovation of Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), construction of the Capitol Building Dome, the Alaska Purchase, the National Zoo, the Iwo Jima War Memorial sculpted by Felix de Weldon, and the wire strung by backers of Samuel Morris from Washington to Baltimore in order to test the first telegraph.


In anticipation of moving into the suburbs, it was clear to Stephen and then to management that the bank’s image needed to be softened in order to make Riggs more approachable and likable. The strategy Stephen recommended to accomplish this was to evoke emotion—evoking emotion, if you haven’t picked up on this already, is extremely important to creating “Brand Power;” it’s an essential tactic that plays a role in creating Brand Power.  In this case, nostalgia was the emotion. Below is one TV commercial from the campaign:









As Riggs began opening branches in the suburbs, a series of TV spots rolled out that continued the nostalgia theme, calling attention to projects Riggs had been involved with in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Below is a spot from that series:





The result? Making Riggs the hero of its story worked. The campaign was a huge success. Riggs met all of its objectives in terms of attracting new customers both in the District of Columbia and in the suburbs.


If you’d like to have a conversation with Stephen Hawley Martin to discuss the possibility of having him create a roadmap that will lead to increased sales for what you sell, send him an e-mail. There will be no obligation on your part, it won’t cost you a thing, and who knows where it might lead.


Send Stephen an email

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