From cereal and baking goods, Dan moved on to other high profile brands, M&M/Mars and Colgate Palmolive, to his present position as Brand and Communications Executive at Bank of America.
But he says he wouldn’t have switched from the exciting world of retail brands to banking if not for the commitment to the brand from Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis. “Ken Lewis’s vision is of making Bank of America one of the world’s most admired companies in any industry. He inherently gets the relationship of branding to organic revenue growth and to being one of the world’s most admired companies. So one of the reasons I came to work here is that Ken Lewis and his management team understood the value of building a strong brand.
He understands that in order for a brand to be successful, there must be buy-in from the top decision makers. “Brand managers need to be realistic when they join an organization about how much they can fundamentally impact the company’s philosophy around branding.”
Instead of doing battle on that front, Dan gets to concentrate his attention on building a brand that is consistent and relevant across multiple geographies, demographics and lines of business - – from individuals with bank accounts to international investors and corporate clients.
However, he acknowledges that he has his work cut out for him. After all, financial institutions are not always known for their strength in branding. “It’s counter intuitive because we’re an industry where consumers should have high emotional involvement with their financial services. Wealth accumulation is about your retirement fund, financial planning, rainy day funds, college education. It’s all the things that people care deeply about. Yet they don’t have an emotional connection to the people who are helping them manage that. And so I think that’s a really exciting brand challenge to take on.”
Still he’s not the only one who’s noticed there’s a hole to fill in financial services branding. “The level of competition has definitely increased. If you look at what financial services companies are doing in this arena now versus ten years ago, there is a markedly different level of competition. Still there is a lot of catch-up on an industry-wide basis versus other industries that have been doing it a lot longer.”
And for someone in financial services, he’s realistic about immediate signs of ROI. “When you truly track branding efforts, you track years if not decades. To show measurable progress, you can’t just say get back to me in five years. If you look at any brand you admire, you chart how they’ve built that brand over many years, not just short term.”
Perhaps a good example of long-term brand management is Dan himself. When you take into account that at the age of four he knew his passion was marketing it’s not surprising to learn how much calculation he spent getting to where he’s at today. Reasoning that it wouldn’t be easy to find a job with an undergraduate in marketing and facing a chicken-and-egg scenario where you need an MBA to get a job at a top marketing company, while at the same time you need work experience to get that MBA, he chose to study finance at college. Armed with his finance degree, he got a job at General Mills – ideal because of its strong consumer marketing reputation.
He went on to earn his MBA at night and switched from finance to marketing at General Mills. As he describes it this wasn’t easy and left him tainted in the perception of his colleagues. “One of the reasons I left for Colgate-Palmolive was because, at General Mills, I was a former finance guy who got his degree at the University of Minnesota – both negatives in their eyes. At Colgate I was seen as someone who worked hard and got his degree at night from one of the top 20 programs and had marketing experience from one of the best training grounds.”
“It’s all just perspective. I was the exact same person when I left General Mills. I took barriers at General Mills and turned them into opportunities at Colgate-Palmolive.”
Now that he has his career where he wants it, he can spend more time concentrating on his goal to reinvent the financial services industry – an area where a past in finance and marketing melds beautifully.