CMO of the Year

Davis Named Industry’s Top Chief Marketing Officer

“When Brad Davis, evp of marketing and brand management at Seattle-based Washington Mutual, talks about “shaking hands with a new market” and using “guerrilla tactics to break through the clutter,” he’s not just parroting some jargon gleaned at a self-help seminar.  He’s the real deal.  Take the firm’s aggressive rollout in Chicago — the nation’s third-largest market.  It began in June and by year-end no less than 70 branches will be in place.

Given the stakes, it’s hardly surprising that an inventive marketing campaign better go along with that.  Here’s a sampling:  pizzas that unexpectedly arrive free at your doorstep; London cabs that will go to any WaMu location in the city; 10,000 wallets left on city streets with coupons worth as much as $50 to open WaMu accounts; a 50,000 person barbecue at Chicago’s Grant Park where country singer Tim McGraw will perform.

This is all follow-up to WaMu’s successful push into New York, which earned the bank a 2003 Effie Award.  The campaign included the kind of high-profile advertising one might expect from a bank:  “Fake Free Checking,” which poked fun at the competition and appealed to consumers’ distaste for being nickeled and dimed by fees.  But WaMu also reached out in less typical ways, such as sponsoring an event for the city’s many affordable housing groups; sending 15,000 teachers and guests to Broadway shows; and teaming up with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer David Hume Kennerly to organize a photography competition for middle school kids. For Davis, all these marketing initiatives represent a fundamental philosophy:  “You have a choice,” he says, “you can either market to the scene, or be a part of the scene.”  He has clearly chosen the latter.

But besides sometimes playing a worthy civic role, strategy is integral to understanding the people in the local market and catering to their tastes and desires.  “They give us an opportunity to talk to people … I feel passionate that I’m not a banker, but a retailer with 500,000 daily customers.”

And being a successful retailer and creating a meaningful brand is a lot more involved than clever advertising, it’s about the experience when the customer walks through the door that “brings the brand to life.  Great brands are operational,” he says, “not about advertising.”

So how do you take a brand and make it tangible?  Leave no stone unturned.  For instance, three years ago WaMu decided to rewrite the text at the cash machine.  “Nothing says you’re a number faster than a phrase like ‘your transaction is processing,’” he says.  WaMu changed the messages to have a more human feel, such as “It’ll be just a moment.”

More important than the machines has been WaMu’s insistence that employees understand the brand and deliver the right experience to customers when they walk in the door.  That starts with hiring, and WaMu makes no bones about how little it wants to be perceived as a stodgy old bank.  “When advertising for new employees the job listings reads:  ‘We’re a bank looking for people who have no interest in working at a bank.”

Clear enough.

–Michael Sisk

Source:  U.S. Banker, November 2003

The New York market entry was produced in conjunction with Opts Ideas CEO Michael Christman and award-winning creative director Jim Walker.