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Oct 10, 2005
How To

How Citigroup's Brand Police Make Cross-Media Campaigns More Effective: Five Tips

SUMMARY: In his official capacity as Citigroup's Brand Police Officer, Steve Cone helps marketers avoid the three most common mistakes, integrate online and offline campaigns and figure out how to globalize creative. He says, "I think marketing has been going downhill for the last two decades." Find out why, and how he aims to stop the trend.
Want to integrate your campaigns across TV, radio, online, print, direct and out-of-home? "It's integrated marketing, and it's not something that is done often or well," says Steve Cone, Managing Director of Ad & Brand Management for Citigroup Global Wealth Management.

Cone describes himself as the "brand police."

This November, Cone is a headline speaker at Ad:Tech New York. Here are highlights of some of the advice he'll be presenting for you there.

Tip #1. "Brand police" microsite

Cone and his team run a microsite that allows marketers of the Citigroup brand to review the branding "rules."

"We have brand guidelines for each of our brands across the world," says Cone. Whether a brand is being touted online, on TV or on college campuses, the rules must be followed.

"We have to review the vast majority of our major promotions to be sure that the message is correct and that the visuals are correct and hopefully compelling," Cone says. "In addition to having legal and compliance sign-off, they also have to have marketing sign-off [the materials], as well."

The most common errors Cone sees in marketing materials are:

a. Type errors: there's too much type and the eye refuses to read it, or the type is too small -- or both.

b. Promotion is void of personality: "It just sits there using the usual financial services images, which nobody cares about."

c. No compelling deadline or reason to respond.

Interestingly, Cone and his group do *not* hold an annual marketing conference to go over the brand messaging with the global marketers.

"I speak at a lot of different groups of marketing people," he says. He travels to them regularly and talks to them on the phone when a brand message has not been upheld. "But," he says, "there's nothing dramatic here. People follow the rules. They want people like me to tell them how to make their promotions better, more exciting. They want to list the 50 reasons why this is important. I remind them, give me three good reasons, period. Not five. Not 10. Just three."

Tip #2. Inject personality into campaigns

"I think marketing has been going downhill for the last two decades," Cone says of the industry. "More and more advertising looks and sounds the same."

"I think many people are under the false notion that consumers buy from companies, not people," Cone says. But for Citigroup, positioning itself as an institution has never been an answer.

Cone works with marketers across businesses to create a personality that personifies what the company stands for. Financial services companies run the risk of being seen as nothing more than big business trying to make a buck. "That's why it's important to inject personality, with a spokesperson or a slogan or a logo," he says.

For example, a number of years ago, Cone helped create a promotion that highlighted the company's own people, which was wildly successful.

While some within the company believe that it's dangerous to tout a particular "face" of the company, when that person might not necessarily remain forever, Cone answers, "So what? I think it's important for someone to say, 'I am responsible for this business,'" he says.

And in this age of personalization, people increasingly want to know who is speaking to them. In fact, he adds, the recent Dove ads that have received so much attention for showing "real" women in their underwear could have gone a step further by actually saying who those real women were. "I think it's a great campaign, but I think they missed the mark by not saying, 'By the way, this is your neighbor.'"

Tip #3. Avoid "homogenized Kodak moments"

Recent surveys have found that, particularly in financial services, consumers are bored with advertising -- so bored that "they tune out everybody," Cone says.

Ads that show happy families being happy together simply because they use a particular service no longer work. "It behooves us to create advertising that's newsworthy and dramatic -- which is harder to do today, but more important than ever."

For example, he cites a recent Citigroup campaign that highlighted identity theft, now a hot topic in the news. The popular TV and print commercials generated attention and drove consumers to a website, where they could find answers if they thought they were a victim.

"The campaign really woke America up to the issue," says Cone.

Tip #4. Internet versus TV

That campaign was indicative of an interesting fact that people tend to forget, which is that TV viewership has remained steady all these years and that the average hours an American spends watching TV is still beyond what people spend online.

When people say the Internet is the be-all and end-all, "I issue caution," he says. What works online?

Citigroup's Smith Barney has had success with a website that allows visitors to see the position, in real-time, of the stocks and bonds that they own.

The Smith Barney site allows users to register as guests so they can interact for a certain amount of time before deciding to become clients. It also enables Citigroup to send their names to a consultant who can be in touch with those leads to see if they'd like to become clients.

"The Internet is great for doing transactions where it's easier and less threatening than talking to a person," Cone reiterates. "You see that in all sorts of categories, from buying cars to making dinner reservations to checking bank balances and online dating."

Tip #5. Keep creative as same as possible around the globe

Messaging and visuals for brand messages in a global campaign can be the same 99% of the time, Cone says. "It's over-hyped that there are cultural challenges. At least in financial services, everyone in the world wants to have a better life, and we're trying to help them achieve that financial security."

(MarketingSherpa note: Naturally this does not hold true for the nuances of a campaign, or for specific offers and body copy, but rather for the overall branded feel of your messaging around a product or service.)

Cone says it's more important for the brand to have consistency and stability across the world. Cone makes sure that "our brand family is not misused, and that the logos are always done correctly across the board."

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