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Why brand strength matters to banks: Morgan Stanley CMO

A panel of corporate executives on stage at the Interbrand Best Global Brands Summit 2023 in New York City.
Marketing executives spoke about the value of brands on a panel at the Interbrand Best Global Brands Summit 2023. From left, the moderator, Daniella Bianchi, Chief Strategy Officer, Interbrand; Janet Lee, CMO, Samsung Electronics US; Alice Milligan, CMO, Morgan Stanley; and Brian Buckley, CMO, Nasdaq. Credit: Shane Handler

As Morgan Stanley works to integrate recent acquisitions like brokerage E-Trade and asset manager Eaton Vance into what was traditionally a staid investment bank, the company's brand has taken on a more important role.

"I do think the brand does lead the business in terms of importance," said Alice Milligan, chief marketing officer of the New York City-based bank. She noted that outgoing CEO James Gorman has often called the Morgan Stanley brand – which Interbrand valued this year at $11.4 billion – his firm's "secret sauce."

Milligan spoke on a panel in New York City Wednesday at the agency Interbrand's Best Global Brands Summit, alongside fellow chief marketing officers Brian Buckley of Nasdaq, which hosted the event at its Times Square offices, and Janet Lee of Samsung Electronics US.

Six banks were named to Interbrand's 100 Best Global Brands list this year, including JPMorgan Chase at No. 26, Goldman Sachs at No. 54, Citi at No. 58, HSBC at No. 65, Morgan Stanley at No. 66 and Santander at No. 77. Among payments networks, Visa was No. 37 and Mastercard was No. 41. Most of the most valuable brands on the list are not financial institutions, but instead consumer companies, led by Apple, which has a nascent financial presence.

"A lot of the marketing and the campaigns that we've done have really been looking at how do we sort of respect the legacy of a firm that's been around for 88 years, but recognize that the world is changing and be a brand that appeals to next gen audiences, diverse audiences and maybe traditional audiences that might not have thought Morgan Stanley was for them," Milligan said. "I think that combination and play, the actual strategy of the firm and the value of the brand and bringing those together really drives growth."

To broaden its appeal, Morgan Stanley has been aiming its marketing at women, many of whom felt ignored by wealth managers in the firm's research, Milligan said. "We saw that many women who were decisionmakers, breadwinners, financial decision makers in the family, felt that financial services didn't speak to them, used a lot of jargon, was kind of intimidating and unappealing." The bank turned to partnerships to burnish its image, sponsoring the Women's Tennis Association and its Come Play program, which hosts tennis clinics and events for girls in underserved communities.
The bank relaunched its overarching brand, which encompassed the E-Trade and Eaton Vance acquisitions, after an 18-month process that included digital surveys, infographics, and a photo contest for the 80,000 employees to submit images of "what they thought an old school brand with new ideas meant," which became part of the advertising campaign, Milligan said.

Like many banks beginning to use artificial intelligence throughout their operations, Morgan Stanley's marketing department has started to consider how to use AI tools to manage the content it produces, Milligan said. "How do we take our content and do it in the right channel for the right communication?"

For instance, an equity research report, a dense tome written in a technical style, might be the perfect format for an analyst, but "if you're trying to appeal to a Gen Zer or Millennial on social media, they may not want that," she said. AI could use that report to generate short videos or social posts that are faithful to the facts in the report — a consideration for compliance-minded banks.

Nasdaq didn't appear on this year's list, but Buckley said the company had been taking its brand more seriously since having the value of the brand quantified last year. "Obviously, the stronger the brand, the bigger the opportunity this creates as well for the company to move into new markets," he said.

The exchange is taking the same route to unifying the brands under its aegis, Buckley said.

"A lot of the acquisitions we made over the last few years, we weren't quite as proactive in how we integrated them, and we've now put them in place," he said. The company bought Verafin, a financial-crime-fighting software company, in 2021, and closed on its purchase of Adenza, a risk-management and compliance software maker, this month.

The priority now, he said, is focusing on the customer experience when it comes to brand marketing: "Talking about why we exist versus what we do and what we produce."