Dare to Differentiate

To reach new customers, Park Sterling Bank’s branding campaign emphasizes the bank’s special technological products as well as its customized services.
To reach new customers, Park Sterling Bank’s branding campaign emphasizes the bank’s special technological products as well as its customized services.

North Carolina Bank Touts Scale and Nimble Service

By Ed Avis

If Goldilocks had a bank account, it would probably be at Park Sterling Bank. The nemesis of the three bears would be persuaded by Park Sterling’s new brand-building campaign, which emphasizes the Charlotte, N.C.–based community bank’s own notion of an ideal size: not too small and not too big.

“There ought to be a bank large enough to have the products, but still be small enough to customize those services for individuals and companies,” explains Jim Cherry, Park Sterling’s CEO. “That’s Park Sterling today.”

That’s the particular middle-ground differentiation message the community bank’s new concerted branding campaign is driving home. At $2.3 billion in assets and with 54 locations, the bank is larger than many other community banks in its primary marketplace in Charlotte, but of course tiny compared with behemoth Bank of America headquartered in the city.

While every community bank has cultivated its own particular image and brand, community banks nationwide continue exploring new messages to effectively cut through the media clutter and call attention to and differentiate themselves, whether against similar-size community bank competitors or against the very largest megabanks. Touting its “just right” Goldilocks message is where Park Sterling landed to address its own circumstances and goals.

“There ought to be a bank large enough to have the products, but still be small enough to customize those services for individuals and companies. That’s Park Sterling today.”
—Jim Cherry, Park Sterling Bank

Launched in September, Park Sterling’s branding campaign features newspaper, radio and digital advertising designed to tell potential customers about its technology-based products and services that consumers might anticipate from one of the largest banks along with its superior services consumers would expect from a community bank. Supporting the technology half of its branding message, the bank has introduced a mobile bill payments service as well as a debit card that cardholders can turn off via a smartphone.

One of the bank’s newspaper ads shows a Chihuahua and a Great Dane standing beside a medium-size doghouse—the house is clearly too big for the little dog and too small for the big one. Underneath the image the copy reads, “Some banks offer you answers that are too big and impersonal, some offer answers that are too small. At Park Sterling Bank, we are committed to providing Answers You Can Bank On every day to everyone.”

The bank’s normal marketing firm, Planet Central, helped develop the branding campaign in a process that began in late 2013. The first step of the process was to find out what existing customers thought of the bank, Cherry explains. “A good portion of the focus groups and surveys were of our own customers,” he says. “Because we didn’t want to go out and market something that our own customers would say, ‘Well, that’s not the Park Sterling I know!’ ”

Once Park Sterling confirmed it was successfully satisfying its existing customers, the bank’s executive team worked with the marketing firm to hone a message to appeal to potential customers. Soon after, various multimedia ads were developed to illustrate the bank’s particular message.

Emphasizing Park Sterling’s goal of delivering sophisticated technological services, one initial campaign radio spot for example features a woman who learns that her bank didn’t offer the debit card that can be turned off or on with a smartphone, but Park Sterling does. She intones: “Huh. Park Sterling is one of the only banks big enough to have the experts and innovative resources I need, yet small enough to care.”

That radio spot was scheduled to run for about two months. “I can’t tell you if it’s converted any new business yet, it’s way too early,” Cherry says. “But anecdotally it feels like we are increasing our awareness and generating a lot of enthusiasm.”


Ed Avis is a freelance writer in Illinois.