BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. are going on the marketing and social media offensive with the unveiling of Truist as the planned brand name for the combined bank.

However, the initial social media reaction suggests the banks face a challenge in finding many fans of the name.

A check of social-media comments in the three markets directly affected by the proposed merger — Winston-Salem, Atlanta and Charlotte (newspaper and Facebook) — shows a significant amount of panning Truist at first glance.

The banks disclosed the choice of Truist (pronounced TRUE-ist) Financial Corp and Truist Bank on Wednesday, a little more than four months after they announced Feb. 7 that BB&T would acquire SunTrust in a $64 billion megadeal and that the combined bank’s headquarters would be in Charlotte.

Truist was chosen from what the banks and global marketing firm Interbrand said were “thousands” of choices. According to the Free Dictionary.com, Truist is defined as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.”

“Truist is the first signal of our bold future together,” the banks touted. “It reflects a shared belief in building a better future for our clients and communities.”

The banks have placed two videos on their combined-bank website — www.thepremierfinanicialinstitution.com:

  • The first is a direct appeal to millennials and young adults, potentially those who may not have a bank, asking them “Are you ready?” for Truist, ending with the messages “just wait and see” and “make way ‘cause we’re comin’ through,” and a list of what the combined bank pledges to provide.
  • The second is titled “Making of the brand,” in which bank and Interbrand officials talk about their collaboration.

“Throughout our process, one thing has always been clear: we are creating a bank that will be built around you and what you want in a financial institution,” the banks said.

Meanwhile, of the nearly 100 comments on the initial Truist articles on the Winston-Salem Journal’s Facebook page, the vast majority expressed a dislike of Truist. Some suggested BB&Trust, BST Bank and even Dixie Classic Bank, lampooning the current debate over the name of the Dixie Classic Fair.

BB&T’s and SunTrust’s social media personnel responded to thank positive response to Truist on their Facebook pages.

A poll on the Journal’s website had nearly 75% of 274 respondents as of Thursday afternoon agreeing that they are “not a fan” of Truist, while just 13% clicked on “I like it.”

An online poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had 55% of nearly 3,400 respondents as of Thursday afternoon click on “WTF?”, 41% “Hate it” and 4% “Like it.”

Sports venues

BB&T shareholders will own 57% of the new company. The banks will hold separate shareholder votes on the deal in September, at which time only BB&T shareholders will vote on Truist as the brand.

The goal is having the deal close in late September or in the fourth quarter, although analysts say it could take into early 2020 to gain regulatory approvals.

As a result, it could be late 2020 or early 2021 before Truist could appear as signage on branches.

It’s not clear when there could be a name change on 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.

There’s also the BB&T Atlanta Open men’s professional tennis tournament akin to the Winston-Salem Open.

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.

In the global Brand Finance Banking 2019 study, BB&T ranked 68th and SunTrust 86th.

“Despite bank brands being in a healthier state due to early regulatory intervention in the global financial crisis, U.S. bank brands are still being hindered by perception issues,” Brand Finance said Thursday. “In the (2019) study, U.S. banks did not fare well in terms of reputation and providing value for money.”

Regarding Truist, Laurence Newell, Brand Finance US’ non-executive director, said that “it is important to highlight that prior to engaging in merger and acquisition activities, particularly retail banks will arm themselves with all the necessary data, tools and high level-strategists to guide them through the decision making required to understand what makes the merger work from a brand point of view.”

“They will place multiple scenarios under the scope to help them come up with everything from a name to the new corporate identity that best communicates the value proposition.”

‘Formidable challenge ahead’

Financial services and marketing analysts are taking either a wait-and-see or try-it-to-see-if-you-like approach to Truist.

Wells Fargo Securities analyst Mike Mayo said Thursday that the branding initiative “comes with risks in terms of cost and confusion. The use of the name Truist involves extra upfront costs for the long-term benefit of extra cultural cohesion.”

“The hope is that a new name will help foster a new culture and a fresh start for the merged firm. The name sets a tone at the top that the new bank de-emphasizes legacy affiliations versus what’s best for customers, employees, communities, and shareholders.

“It is safe to say that there is zero name recognition for Truist at the moment, reflecting the challenge ahead since literally every customer is going to see a change, creating opportunities to pick off customers and employees by competitors, which have been vocal about this intention,” Mayo said.

Lauri Bauer, executive director of MullenLowe Mediahub, said that “consumer reaction to this name will be interesting to observe, as it seems to fall outside the heritage naming conventions in the banking industry.”

“What is clear is the formidable challenge ahead to build awareness, consideration and other important equity measures for this new brand.

“In a highly competitive industry that struggles with consumer confidence and trust, the marketing and advertising should be grounded in authenticity and resonate with consumers emotionally,” Bauer said.

“The media investment will need to mirror this approach.”

Chris Marinac, research director for Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, suggested that the banks will take “a slow rollout” with Truist “to avoid major disruption.”

The banks have said they will roll out the logo, signage, typography and color scheme between now and the closing of the deal.

“The name change reminds us former bank brand shifts Amegy — Southwest Bank of Texas, now owned by Zions Bancorp — and Synovus, which emerged from Columbus Bank & Trust.

“These changes may seem strange at first, but with time are accepted and become normal.”

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said he views Truist “as cute. In fact, it is probably too cute to resonate with consumers.”

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

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