U.S. Bank—the fifth-largest commercial bank in the U.S.—is launching a new sponsorship strategy that focuses on purpose-driven activation programs that ladder up to the bank’s “Power of Possible” brand positioning.

The strategy is spearheaded by Chris Lee, who joined the bank in September 2016 as vice president of sponsorship.

If his previous work is any indication, the new strategy may include a realignment of U.S. Bank’s sponsorship portfolio. As head of sponsorship at Esurance, Lee replaced the insurer’s long-running involvement in tennis (US Open, etc.) with Major League Baseball.

IEG SR spoke with Lee about the thinking behind the new strategy and what it will look like in the marketplace. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

On Taking U.S. Bank In A New Direction
I was brought on to help recraft an overall sponsorship strategy. That includes providing guidance to the enterprise how sponsorship can best be leveraged, taking a deep look at our existing portfolio and our historical sponsorship practices, and providing a different direction for sponsorship.

We want to position sponsorship not as an additive offering for the local market, but as a platform from a national brand reputation standpoint.

In my first six or seven months we took a deep strategy review. We peeled back the layers on how the portfolio got to be where it is today. That included the primary drivers and motivations behind sponsorship, how they are managed and their goals and KPIs.

We interviewed 35 people from all areas of the business—community, business lines, compliance; you name it—to draw a conclusion on where we need to make improvements. Then we started to build the strategy, which we’re just starting to roll out.

What we landed on was a more strategic narrative for sponsorship. When we talked to market leaders and business leaders, there was a need for one single message. Before, everything was tailored to the specific needs of the local market. Sponsorship wasn’t thought of as holistic. That’s the big difference.

On The Importance Of Community Engagement
One of the things that we identified early on is that there are a lot of missed opportunities that aren’t being activated. We spend a lot of money on media and advertising, but we were missing the engagement opportunities.

There is going to be a huge shift in how we activate sponsorship. Now it’s about purpose-driven activation. That’s because our community platforms are so important to who we are as a brand, and the fact that we’re a community-based company. How do we create activation programs that give back to the community and consistently ladder up to our bigger corporate initiatives?

We’re having conversations with sports teams on how we activate in the community. Many deals include signage or sponsorship of a team initiative, but do not have community touchpoints or consumer engagement.

We have brought our CSR team into the mix to see what synergies we can create and what programming we can develop. CSR activation is a big one.

On Optimizing U.S. Bank’s Sponsorship Portfolio
We’re looking at where we need to shift dollars from rights fee to activation, and perhaps downsize the portfolio with a less is more strategy. Larger deals that provide more value and a focus on national properties that can trickle down into the local market for activation.

We have incredible support from leadership. There is a strong belief that sponsorship is a valuable tool to drive brand awareness, consideration and direct business. It’s something that we need to do, but we need to take a fresh look.

So far the process is going well. There is a lot of education and communication. We’re using data and research to paint the big picture and looking at things two to three years down the road that will help tell our narrative from start to finish.

On U.S. Bank’s Three Primary Sponsorship Platforms
We have created three strategic platforms that will serve as a guiding principle for the enterprise. These are platforms where we know our audience is.

Sports continues to be important due to its scale, reach and audience. The arts—community arts programs, theater and live music—also aligns with our core consumer. The third area is family destinations: parks, zoos and aquariums.

Some sports align better than others. The four major sports leagues do well, as well as high school and college athletics. Youth sports organizations are a great target because there are so many parents. They also allow you to lean into future customers in the high school and college space.

Those three worlds align from an image, reach and audience standpoint. Many of those properties are already in our portfolio.

On The Importance Of Social Media Activation
How do we create opportunities that aren’t restricted to the confines of a building? We ran a promotion with the Minnesota Vikings around the Vikings biggest fan. It’s less about people in the stadium, and more about engaging fans. It’s not about selling product. It’s about being authentic and homing in on what fans are passionate about.

We need to evolve our partnerships to become more relevant and more efficient. We need to make sure that we’re leveraging every asset that we own. And, we need to tie back every asset to some sort of result that impacts the greater good, as opposed to checking a box that we received a print ad or radio spot.

It’s about using assets as building blocks to do bigger things for the brand.