The initial response was mixed Wednesday to Truist Financial Corp. as the chosen brand name for a combined BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc.

The banks announced Feb. 7 that BB&T is buying SunTrust in a $66 billion megadeal in which BB&T shareholders will have a 57% stake. The deal requires shareholder and regulatory approval and is not projected to be completed until mid-September and could take until early 2020.

The banks, which will go by Truist Bank at retail, said the brand is pronounced “TRUE-ist.” According to the Free Dictionary.com, Truist is defined as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.”

The brand was selected from “thousands of choices” reviewed by bank employees, clients and with the assistance of global marketing firm Interbrand, said Dontá Wilson, BB&T’s chief digital and client experience officer.

“It signifies ‘true’ to our legacies,” Wilson said. “It signifies ‘trust’ in transparency and honesty. It signifies ‘stand for better,’ as in technology, customer experience, partnerships and the future.”

Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest School of Business, said “it is interesting the merging companies have chosen a ‘connotative’ brand name over other approaches that could have been taken.”

“They could have gone with an even more descriptive name, such as Bank of America, or perhaps an invented name that has no meaning.

“But selecting a name that has a positive connotation ... allows the new brand name to work harder from the beginning and still be ownable and unique from the start,” Beahm said.

Beahm said developing a quality name requires a “combination of art and science, unbridled creativity, combined with disciplined process.”

“While many people may not be as familiar with it (Truist) from everyday language, it clearly communicates an idea that most people would find desirable, particularly in a financial institution.”

Beahm said it is “an enormously arduous task coming up with a brand name that everyone feels good about. Brand names almost always require getting used to.”

“So over time, if nothing negative emerges from the research and people grow to like a particular name, it usually ‘sticks’ internally.

“The same process of acclimation must then occur at the consumer level for it to gain traction and build equity,” Beahm said.

Tony Plath, a retired finance professor at UNC Charlotte, said the brand reminded him more of a “lemon-lime soda” than a bank.

“It does cover some of the bases that I know are associated with the rules of branding — it’s short, it’s easy to pronounce, it’s memorable, etc. — but it’s not exactly what I was hoping for here.”

Plath said that Truist may appeal to millennials and young adults from a digital perspective.

Arnold Danielson, chairman of financial-services firm Danielson & Associates, said his “first instinct is that it’s not that powerful.”

What’s the value of a corporate name?

The signage changes will take not affect just the bank’s branches and online presence.

They also affect multiple sports venues, such as SunTrust Park in Atlanta, BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, and BB&T Point in High Point.

According to the 2019 ranking of the Brand Finance U.S. 500 corporations, BB&T was ranked No. 193 with a value of $4.33 billion. It was ranked ninth among banks and 11th among financial services companies. SunTrust was ranked No. 237 with a value of $3.52 billion.

BB&T — short for Branch Banking and Trust — has had basically the same name and brand since its founding in Wilson in 1872. It was founded by Alpheus Branch and Thomas Jefferson Hadley.

SunTrust took its name from the 1985 merger of Trust Co. of Georgia (founded in 1891) and SunBanks, based in Florida.

The banks’ top executives acknowledged that the name of the combined bank is a pivotal decision, along with who would run the bank and where it would be based.

In two of the decisions, they opted to start fresh by creating a headquarters in Charlotte that results in BB&T departing Winston-Salem and SunTrust leaving Atlanta.

The banks said both moves represented ways they could show to employees, analysts, investors and customers how true a merger of equals they were putting together.

“That was very intentional, as we want the building of the brand to be part of that process where we build unity and come together as a company,” William Rogers Jr., SunTrust’s chairman and chief executive, said in February.

“So, while we honor and respect our past, absolutely, we elected to create a new brand that reflects our future as the premier financial institution,” Rogers said.

Still time to change?

Lee Burrows, chief executive of Banks Street Partners of Atlanta, said that “all new names are startling at first.”

“Wachovia became a household banking name. Most customers probably never thought about the Wachovia derivation, other than folks from Winston Salem.

“Chemical Bank became also became a household name, though I have always found Chemical to be an odd bank name. The same was true for Centura and Synovus.”

Burrows said the banks could choose to go in a different direction if Truist doesn’t resonate, especially since they have not rolled out signage, logo, color and ticker symbol.

“There are always names that get scrapped, like Avantor, the chosen name for C&S/Sovran, that never made it onto a sign,” Burrows said.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

Load comments