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TD seeks to adapt marketing for the digital banking age

A Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) sign is seen outside of a branch in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 26, 2016.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Toronto-Dominion Bank's marketing strategy has long rested on the importance of customer service. But do advertisements based on comfy green chairs and longer branch hours need a refresh when bank customers use their smartphones?

It's a question that's top of mind for Theresa McLaughlin, TD's relatively new chief marketing officer.

She oversees what is arguably the most important financial marketing position in the country – even competitors acknowledge TD's leadership – at a time of tremendous change in the banking sector.

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TD scored a huge success last decade with ads showing a couple of grumpy old men bemoaning the convenient hours of TD branches, and the bank's iconic green chair underscored the message of comfort.

The problem is the role of branches is diminishing for all banks, forcing them to find other ways to differentiate.

"It's harder in a digital world to make the emotional connection with consumers," Ms. McLaughlin said.

Consumer expectations are not always being set by banks, but rather the seamless experiences they encounter with the likes of Amazon.com, Uber and Netflix. The pace of change isn't going to let up: Ms. McLaughlin embraces the widely held forecast that there will be more changes in the next five years than there have been in the past 100.

"How do you take all the good things that we've done today and bring it into what the customer of the future looks like?" she said.

Her answer: The message of comfort stays, but the delivery gets a revamp.

Ms. McLaughlin assumed her role in January after the retirement of Dominic Mercuri, a legendary figure on Bay Street who is credited with developing the image of the green chair.

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But while Mr. Mercuri oversaw a strategy that worked wonders when bank branches were still central to customer interaction, this is no longer the case.

Mike Pedersen, TD's head of U.S. banking, noted this trend at the Barclays Global Financial Services Conference last week when he said the lender is closing about twice as many branches as it is opening and is rolling out smaller formats.

At the same time, new rivals are on the rise. Nimble financial technology firms are looking for ways to grab market share from established banks, often with edgy advertising directed at younger consumers. Big firms, such as Apple Inc., are inserting themselves between banks and their customers with slick mobile payment services.

To maintain their relevance, the banks are trying to adapt.

In the case of TD, it is moving its brand – valued at nearly $13-billion, according to Brand Finance PLC – to an environment in which the bank can interact with customers in a variety of ways.

It has increased its spending on digital media by about 50 per cent over the past five years, to the point where the budget now exceeds what is spent on traditional media.

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The bank's TD Thanks You campaign is an important part of this approach. The online ads feature candid shots of customers receiving gifts from ATMs. One has been viewed nearly 24 million times on YouTube. Like many social media campaigns, TD also measures success by the number of times a spot has been shared and commented upon favourably.

"It's that notion of consumers deciding what your brand is, versus us telling that story," Ms. McLaughlin said.

TD is also driving home the message that its services are tech-savvy. An upcoming campaign will highlight cutting-edge financial features that customers can use on their phones, such as the bank's new financial budgeting app, MySpend.

While advice, service and convenience may still resonate, the definition of comfortable banking increasingly rests on the number of banking transactions you can make from your home.

"It's a journey," Ms. McLaughlin said. "There is not going to be a mark in time when we say, 'Now we're moving to the future.' We're evolving as we go."

And the green chair stays.

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About the Author
Investing Reporter

David Berman has been writing about business and investing since 1995. He has written for a number of magazines, including Canadian Business and MoneySense. He worked at the Financial Post as an investing writer and daily columnist before moving to the Globe and Mail in 2008. More

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