Citigroup sends Salomon brand packing

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Ending the 92-year run of one of Wall Street's most hallowed and sometimes controversial names, Citigroup has announced it will stop using its Salomon Brothers brand. The Salomon Smith Barney Global Relationship Bank will become the Citigroup Corporate & Investment Bank, starting in next year's first quarter.

The move—as much slammed as lauded—continues a trend of dropping venerable names descended from the most successful of New York's immigrant and old-money families in favor of corporate monikers that resonate with a younger, global b-to-b audience. The change comes soon after Credit Suisse First Boston scrapped Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette's name after acquiring the firm.

The initiative is testimony to the allure that the bank's leaders—specifically, Chairman-CEO Sandy Weill—believe the Citigroup brand has in the investment and corporate banking marketplaces.

Other key facets of Citigroup's rebranding include:

• Citigroup Asset Management will replace SSB Asset Management, the bank's funds arm.

• Citigroup Venture Capital will replace Citicorp Venture Capital.

A simpler b-to-b brand

Citigroup, the world's largest financial services company, will begin running ads for Citigroup Corporate & Investment Bank next year, said spokeswoman Christina Pretto, declining to be more specific. "We're letting the memo speak for itself," said Pretto, referring to a May 23 e-mail sent by Weill to New York-based Citigroup's 230,000 employees.

"There are advantages to having a more unified brand," read Weill's memo. "Marketing and advertising campaigns in one business group can be leveraged across the company. More importantly, simplification of our branding can bring further clarity to our identity in the marketplace and among clients."

Weill wrote that all Citigroup businesses would begin using the company's logo, which features a blue wave and red umbrella.

A subsequent e-mail from Mike Carpenter, Salomon Smith Barney Global Relationship Bank chairman-CEO, said: "During the transition period, which starts immediately and will last through the end of the year, you will see gradual changes throughout the organization, including our e-mail address, intranet site, client presentations and an overall increasing reference to Citigroup."

Neither Weill nor Carpenter returned calls seeking further comment.

Much to lose, gain

Citigroup's move is at once shrewd and risky. The Salomon Brothers brand is one of Wall Street's most storied.

The firm gained renown over the years for such feats as financing the U.S.'s involvement in World War II through Treasury auctions and engineering New York City's fiscal bailout in 1975.

Transferring Salomon's brand value into the Citigroup name is a Herculean task, said Natalie Croft, director of Brand Finance, a London-based financial marketing consultancy. "The downside is they risk losing the equity in Salomon's brand," she said.

"The risk is that clients choose to take their business elsewhere because they don't feel as secure in Citigroup as in Salomon."

More recent events, however, have detracted from Salomon's luster. Its brand took a hit after the 1989 publication of Michael Lewis' "Liar's Poker," which depicted a culture of greed and excess at the firm.

In 1991, Salomon took a further hit when shareholders brought suit against then-chairman and CEO John Gutfreund because of purported derivatives trading irregularities that happened on his watch. Gutfreund subsequently left the firm. Reached at his New York office earlier this week, he declined to comment on the dropping of the Salomon brand.

Although the rebranding carries risk, Citigroup has had marked success in recent years in extending its brand from the consumer arena to the corporate. And Weill's argument for a ubiquitous brand is one that is gaining among branding experts.

"Generally, speaking, the rule of thumb is that broader is better," said Nick Hahn, partner of marketing at e-finance consultancy Capco. "You're always better off with bigger, fewer brands. There's less room for confusion."

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