June 30, 2017

How Sterling National Bank Developed a Unique Brand Image

Topline Summary

One of the most difficult but important things marketers can do is find a way to make their brand stand out from the competition. This is an especially weighty challenge in the financial industry, as Suzanne Copeland, the former CMO of Sterling National Bank, will tell you. Faced with regulatory restrictions and fierce competition, Copeland applied renegade thinking to separate Sterling from the pack. In this episode of the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Copeland explains how the bank’s brand positioning allows it to provide one-of-a-kind customer experiences. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

You can listen to the podcast below or continue reading for this episode’s highlights.

Creating a unique brand experience is crucial not only to marketing, but also to business success as a whole. At Sterling, this was no easy feat. As Copeland points out, “Everybody tells you that their customer relationship is better. It’s kind of hard to really tease that out to some specifics that explain exactly how you’re better.”

Abstract problems like these require creative solutions. For example, Copeland’s content marketing strategy at Sterling went against the grain to reach to its audience, and you may be surprised to learn that digital marketing had little to do with it. The company wanted to bring its message to the consumer’s doorstep—literally. The finished product for Sterling was Connect Magazine, a print publication featuring the success stories of some of its clients. Copeland says, “We have been publishing Connect Magazine for over seven years now, and a key feature is that we do client profiles. We have a cover story with a client talking about their business.”

Connect Magazine continues to spread brand awareness for both client businesses and Sterling National Bank. Copeland continues, “[Featured clients] sprinkle in where Sterling has helped them with their business.” By mentioning how the bank has assisted clients, the publication also gets people talking about Sterling. As Copeland notes, “There is some relationship building with regard to the prospects and, quite frankly, most of Connect is mailed to prospects and that helps build our brand. But at the same time, it is going to our clients…It is also creating brand ambassadors that will praise our services.”

Like Copeland, many marketers face the challenge of presenting a uniform brand image. The team at Sterling is constantly maneuvering to keep all employees on the same page. “We have a lot of different sales people with a very specific approach,” Copeland says. “It’s really hard to be efficient with that. So, for us, the challenge is how do you have a really lean organization? How do you create some level of consistency and some configurability so that you can address vertical markets?”

Copeland urges marketers everywhere to hone in on their core business to find a unifying message. She says, “The other thing now I think that we can do ourselves is just be maniacal about focusing on our business strategy, really understanding what is it this company is doing.”

Perhaps the biggest blunder a marketing team could make is to seclude itself from the company’s other operations. “The biggest ‘don’t’ for me is getting cornered in the marketing world,” says Copeland. “You’ve got to be able to have relationships beyond that in the organization, and really understand what other parts of the organization are doing, and not just say this is the marketing domain and that’s the only place that I stay.”

Meet the Guest

Suzanne Copeland is the former CMO of Sterling National Bank, an institution that offers banking services and solutions to business owners and consumers. She holds an Executive MBA from the University of Memphis. After starting her career as an art director, Copeland moved into a corporate leadership role at First Tennessee Bank in her hometown of Memphis. Copeland started at Sterling in 2009 and has since launched Copeland Collaborative, an initiative that provides consultation for women at Sterling and executes strategies to improve employee engagement.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to distinguish your brand from the pack.
  • Tips for building relationships with clients and prospects.
  • How to maintain a consistent brand message.
  • Advice for understanding both your brand and your industry.

Quotes from Suzanne Copeland

  • Wherever you are, you really need to know: how does this business run, how does this business make money and what [are] the activities that you are driving in marketing?
  • I still think if you can get in front of the absolute right person at the right time and say the wrong thing, it won’t work.
  • I do think having a personal brand is really important.
  • The more and better data you have, the more discreet your activities can be toward changing particular behaviour.