Sponsorships help BMO Harris introduce itself to Milwaukee area

M&I Bank, founded in 1847 and once the largest Milwaukee-based bank, will officially change its name and systems to BMO Harris Bank in October.

In an attempt to build its brand in the region, BMO, which acquired M&I parent company Marshall & Ilsley Corp. for $4.1 billion in July 2011, is ramping up its branding and marketing efforts ahead of the switch with major Milwaukee entertainment sponsorships.

It announced in August plans to sponsor the new BMO Harris Pavilion, which debuted at Summerfest as a replacement for the M&I Classic Rock Stage. The BMO Harris Pavilion overlooks the lakefront and has a seating bowl for 5,000 spectators and standing room for another 5,000.

BMO also made an undisclosed contribution to the Bradley Center in May, which has been renamed the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The sponsorship is part of a campaign involving several Milwaukee area businesses to support the arena, built in 1988, until a new one is built for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Those sponsorships are part of a national plan to introduce the BMO name to customers and potential customers in each of the 650 Illinois, Indiana, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, Kansas, Nevada, Florida and Wisconsin communities that BMO now serves, said Vanessa Hall, senior communications manager for U.S. corporate communications at BMO Financial Group.

“We see Milwaukee as really a vibrant and really exciting market to be a part of,” said Justine Fedak, senior vice president of marketing for BMO Harris Bank. “Our strategic plan was to look at all of the opportunities that currently existed in Milwaukee that we were already involved in and to continue to maximize those marketing efforts.”

The recent investments enhanced continuations relationships that M&I had with community venues, Fedak said. M&I was a Bradley Center, Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles sponsor and sponsored the M&I Classic Rock Stage at Summerfest.

“The Bradley Center to us was a very important and critical part of the downtown core. Summerfest is something we’ve been involved in through the previous organization,” she said. “We’ll continue to do what M&I has done for many years, which is to recognize the importance of the community.”

Permanent structures were a logical choice for familiarizing customers with the new name, so they are exposed multiple times and remember the bank, Fedak said.

“Those are two marquee positions in Milwaukee that have really helped us get our name out there quickly,” she said.

The bank also sponsored this spring’s “Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum and the ongoing “Summer of China” event at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Fedak said.

BMO conducted market research to determine consumers’ knowledge of the existing M&I, Harris and BMO banks, and then decided to focus its national television spots on the Helpful Steps for Parents program that was part of Harris Bank.

Instead of a direct introduction, BMO is offering valuable tips to customers and passively presenting the new name, Fedak said.

“That’s a good testament to taking an approach to introduce the brand not just for the sake of talking about yourself, but also offering people something that’s useful to them,” she said.

But BMO hasn’t put on the branding full court press yet, to assure it doesn’t confuse customers while the local branches are still M&I Bank. The company plans to continue aggressively marketing itself nationwide next year.

“We’ve kind of politely introduced ourselves. We haven’t fully introduced ourselves because we’re still operating under the M&I name,” Fedak said.

Current M&I customers have been informed of the acquisition and name change through six to 10 letters throughout the transition process, she said. Each customer will be informed of changes to specific accounts when M&I changes over to BMO in October. No specific date has been set yet.

BMO recently announced plans to close 17 Wisconsin M&I and Harris Bank branches because of proximity to other locations following the acquisition.

The company doesn’t have plans to open new branches in Wisconsin at this time, but Fedak identified Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Florida as some of the key markets it is targeting going forward.

“We really see Milwaukee as a market that we want to invest in certainly because of the history we have there because of M&I but also because of future growth opportunities,” she said. “The opportunity to grow our business with customers would be greater in Milwaukee and Chicago given the market share and given the size of those cities.”

BMO has aligned itself with M&I and the hometown bank’s values and service, Fedak said.

“We want to be sure that as our branches change their signs and that the look and feel of the branches is different, that people recognize the customer service they were getting with M&I is what they’ll continue to get,” she said.

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