JIM CALHOUN – Webster spokesman

With the turn of the New Year comes a new season for advertising, and the marketing departments of financial institutions across the state are currently working to craft their strategies.

This year, a few groups are deciding to stick with the tried and true, others are still working on their focus and a select few are building a whole new brand.

One such company is the Connecticut Online Computer Center, which for many years has been known simply as COCC. The group provides technology services for financial institutions.

“We shifted to COCC exclusively because people hear Connecticut and think we’re only in Connecticut, when in reality two-thirds of our customers are in Massachusetts. We have another 10 or so in New York and we’re expanding into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. We’ve got quite a bit going on, and not just in Connecticut,” said Bob Bessell, public relations coordinator.

He said COCC has never tried to market itself as a small firm, but hasn’t exactly been “terribly aggressive” in its marketing overall.

“Basically, our mission was to serve the customers that we had and grow at a modest rate in order to have the volume necessary to really serve those customers well,” he said. “With volume you can do more things, because you have group buying power.”

Now, with a goal of growing larger, the image has to change.

“We’re telling the whole world ‘here we are,'” he said. “Most people don’t know what COCC stands for, and don’t know that we’re in Massachusetts, and don’t know about our services.”

COCC has now launched a full-court press – talking to the media, advertising, sending out its information to the consultant community and joining the appropriate organizations in different states.

“We’ve also stepped up our activity in terms of creating alliances,” said Bessell, adding that COCC has most recently aligned with Baker Hill, a commercial loan origination and tracking service. It also has joined with Sedona Corp., a provider of customer relationship management solutions.

Competition is stiff in the technology services market, said Bessell, noting that there are several other groups providing similar services.

“This is a shrinking market and every year there are fewer banks and financial institutions to serve. In that type of environment all of the competitors are ratcheting up their strategies,” said Bessell. “We’re seeing that it takes more effort to close a deal, and everybody is seeing the same thing.”

Despite the new campaign, Bessell said the best way to sell the company is through existing customers.

“Let’s face it – anybody can listen to a marketing spiel, but it’s so much better to hear firsthand what it is we’re doing for our customers and how they are treated in a variety of situations,” he said.

‘Terrific Example’
Jeff Bander, senior vice president of marketing at Webster Bank, said his department’s budget has remained steady year after year and was not cut last year as other banks’ were.

The focus of the bank’s advertising strategy is a catchphrase: “We find a way.”

“It’s more than a slogan, it’s an internal imperative of the association. We want to give the best services we can to our customers from our employee staff,” said Bander. “It’s the message we’re trying to get across to people seeking that exceptional experience.”

Bander said the bank is advertising in a couple of different ways. The spokesperson for Webster’s general advertising campaign is Jim Calhoun, coach of the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team.

“He has just set a terrific example,” said Bander. “Coach Calhoun took a small program and with a lot of grit took it to the top of the mountain. Webster started out as small institution in 1935 and today is the largest Connecticut-based bank. There is a certain type of echo in our experiences, and I feel he is a sensational spokesperson.”

Calhoun introduces the new television campaign, which features actual bank employees talking about how they “find a way” for their customers to overcome banking problems.

Webster echoes those same themes on billboards around the state, and while its print advertising is slightly more specialized to target specific industries, the idea of “we find a way” is still included.

“The current campaign is not about products per se,” explained Bander, noting that there are seven testimonials included in the television campaign. They each deal with different topics, such as how Webster helped finance Connecticut Public Television’s move to a larger facility. Another features a piece about the Mark Twain House in Hartford, which recently financed a new visitor center.

“There isn’t a lot of checking account stuff going on,” said Bander, noting that the campaign is designed less around products and more around building an image.

“The image springs from who we are, it springs from the soil of who Webster is. We were founded by an entrepreneur and for many years were a family-based company. All those heritage points came be the Webster way, intrinsic to the organization. We find a way is an external expression of that,” said Bander.

Valerie Carlson, spokesperson for Bridgeport-based Peoples Bank, explained that the bank’s marketing department is still rolling out its strategy for the year.

“We are continuing to ensure an integrated marketing program as we have for many years now,” she said. “We use a wide variety of media from billboards to television and radio, and on out from there.”

Peoples has recently started a radio campaign based on specific market segments such as women and emerging customers. The bank focuses its strategy on both products and services and more broad-based image building.

The slogan Peoples currently is using is “It’s possible at Peoples.”

“We try to represent the possibilities that are open for customers and potential customers,” said Carlson, explaining that the new ads evoke everything from a young couple starting out to senior citizens who could be planning for retirement or starting a college savings account for their grandchild.

Having been in place for 160 years, Peoples uses its age toward its advantage.

“We’ve been here for 160 years and been through a wide range of market conditions, continuing to serve our customer base,” said Carlson. “The thing about us being around so long is that it demonstrates, in almost a subliminal way, our continuity and strength as an institution.”

However, Carlson was quick to point out that Peoples doesn’t act like an old bank.

“We’re online, we have 155 branches, we opened eight new branches last year in the state and we continue to look into new kinds of ways to provide convenience and financial expertise to our customers,” she said.