The CMO Interview

Wells Fargo Aims to Beat Banking-Biz Woes With Data

CMO Reynolds Says Consumer Insights Must Inform Marketing

By Published on .

SAN FRANCISCO ( -- It's tough being a CMO today, period. Now imagine being the CMO of a large U.S. banking institution. Wells Fargo & Co. chief Sylvia Reynolds -- like CMO's of many financial-services organizations today -- certainly has her work cut out for her.

Sylvia Reynolds
Sylvia Reynolds
The company last month launched a new advertising campaign to announce that Wachovia Securities had become Wells Fargo Advisors, one of the more recent steps by the fourth-largest U.S. bank to fold Wachovia into its brand since acquiring it last year. Invoking "150 years of financial strength," the campaign sought to reassure Americans that Wells Fargo was on solid footing despite the multitudes of bank closings around the country.

Yet banks remain at risk for more backlash from a sensitive public that's had to tap into its tax dollars to bail them out of their financial mess. When Wells Fargo announced in August it was raising the pay of its CEO, John Stumpf, by a few million through a cash-and-stock package, a public outcry ensued. When word got out that the bank was hosting its annual lavish employee recognition gala in Las Vegas earlier this year, Wells relented to public pressure and canned the event.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that the percentage of Americans saying they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in American banks had dropped to 18%, compared to 32% in July 2008.

Ms. Reynolds, CMO-enterprise marketing, oversees marketing for the embattled financial-services brand. Reporting to Carrie Tolstedt, senior exec VP and head of community banking, she joined the bank in 2001 and leads the development of integrated marketing strategies across its multiple business lines and national geography. A 26-year veteran in financial-services marketing with stints at Bank of America and Citicorp Mortgage, she began her career at Wells Fargo as head of marketing for its consumer credit group. Today, she is responsible for brand strategy and advertising, database and experiential marketing, integrated program and product development, market research, diverse-segments marketing, marketing technologies and data analytics.

Wells Fargo, whose agency of record is DDB, Los Angeles, and OMD for media buying, reported spending $378 million last year on advertising and promotion.

In an interview with Ad Age, Ms. Reynolds talked about the hurdles Wells Fargo has yet to overcome and the strategies she's implementing to do so.

Ad Age: Can any amount of marketing restore consumer confidence in the reputation of financial-services brands?

Ms. Reynolds: I don't think that marketing is the main way for our industry to maintain or restore public confidence. Certainly, our advertising and marketing should speak to the current environment and the pain consumers and businesses are feeling. But ultimately, how we treat our customers will determine whether they continue to place their trust in us. So certainly it's about more than marketing. Ultimately, we have to show our strength and stability and earn our customers' trust every day through what we do, whether that's continuing to make credit available, changing some of our overdraft policies or helping our customers with a mortgage modification when they need it.

Ad Age: So what do you see as your biggest challenge right now?

Ms. Reynolds: One is we are in the midst still of a very significant economic downturn. Continuing to grow revenue is a big task for marketing. And now with the merger with Wachovia, clearly marketing has a large role in making sure the integration works for the customer and businesses. We need to be truly thoughtful about how everything fits together -- that's been an important charter for marketing.

Ad Age: What's your strategy for melding the Wachovia and Wells Fargo brands, given their distinct heritages?

Ms. Reynolds: Our strategy is essentially to combine these brands respectfully and honor what's strong about the Wachovia brand; many strengths are common to Wells Fargo.

In the campaign we introduced the name change, which is incidental. What's important is there are a lot of uncertainties, and Wells Fargo now brings to the table the strengths from Wachovia that can help customers.

Our biggest challenge in bringing the brands together is to reassure Wachovia customers that the things they loved about Wachovia will remain part of the new company, in particular the brand's focus on outstanding customer service. Our other challenge is building Wells Fargo's brand recognition in areas where Wachovia is very strong but Wells Fargo has not traditionally had a store presence.

Ad Age: How are you working to restore the company's image in an industry whose mistakes have become a huge public burden?

Ms. Reynolds: Responding to public concerns about our industry begins with action. Wells Fargo has taken a long, hard look at our actions and business practices to make sure they don't send the wrong messages. For instance, while recognition events have been an important and successful way to reward and incent our team members in the past, we recognize this is a different environment. So we have cancelled all team-member recognition events for 2009 and 2010. Ultimately, I believe these events are important for the success of any organization, and in the future we will have these events. But they may look very different.

Ad Age: In the midst of all of the challenges, what marketing opportunities exist?

Ms. Reynolds: Marketers can play a significant, strategic role in times like these by bringing the voice of the customer into the company, making sure that our lines of business and executives have the data they need to understand the customer mind-set so that we can help our customers succeed in this very difficult economic climate. More than ever now, my team is digging deep into market, competitive and customer data to provide that insight. That in turn will help us ensure that we are communicating successfully with our customers about how we can help them in these unprecedented economic times.

Ad Age: Speaking of consumer data -- what are you collecting and how are you using them?

Ms. Reynolds: We are using these customer insights to inform everything from deciding which products and services we'll focus on in a given period to where we advertise and the language and images we use. Our previous advertising campaign -- "Someday/Today" -- was about customers imagining what financial success looked like for them in the future. But people aren't focused on saving for their dream vacation anymore. So our new "With You When" campaign is much more oriented to how Wells Fargo can help customers manage through whatever life throws their way. The message is still positive, but it's grounded in the reality of today's environment.

Ad Age: How is Wells Fargo using social media to get through the current rough patch?

Ms. Reynolds: Our social-media strategy is as important to us as it's ever been because it allows us be where our customers and potential customers are, to dialogue with them and to help them succeed financially. In early 2009, we launched our fifth public blog, which focuses on the Wells Fargo-Wachovia merger. It's designed to provide our customers with updates on the merger and to listen to what they think about it. It's been an important way to share the latest information.

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