Building a bolder brand from the inside out.

How KeyBank moved advertising in-house and
regained control of their narrative.




17,000 employees
Cleveland, Ohio


ATMs across 15 states



Reduce unnecessary media spend

Encourage overall brand awareness

Move media buying in-house


50% decrease in average CPM

4x increase in video complete rates

2x increase in time on site, leading to significant engagement

“I think more than ever, you must have some level of relevance to the person that you are talking to. At the end of the day, you need the ability to target, segment, test and get really granular about your audience.”

Justin Morcelle

CMO, KeyBank

The right connections can change everything. When Justin Morcelle, the CMO of KeyBank, connected with the CMO of another well-known Ohio brand, he couldn’t have known how much it would affect his company’s future. During their talk, Morcelle learnt that the CMO had bucked convention and recently brought all her media buying in-house. Although their connection was brief, it stuck with Morcelle — and ultimately led him to making one of most enterprising decisions of his career.

“Part of what we’ve been trying do is create a bolder vision for our marketing team,” said Morcelle.

Along with Jeff Nomina, KeyBank’s data management platform administrator, Morcelle has been blazing a new trail for the 200-year-old bank since he became CMO in 2018. With a background as a CPA — complete with a decorated resume filled with international finance institutions — he has all the analytical, data-loving chops one could hope for in a head of marketing. Nomina, who started at KeyBank around the same time as Morcelle, brought years of agency-side media buying to the table. Together, Morcelle and Nomina have been working on bringing KeyBank up to speed on digital marketing. And neither one of them would be satisfied until the KeyBank brand got the recognition it deserved.

At the core of their mission was creating personal, one-to-one connections with their audience, which includes everyone from retail and small business to investment and corporate clients — spanning 1,197 local branches and 1,572 ATMs. Although they are on the Fortune 500 list and ranked as one of the top thirty largest banks in the U.S., KeyBank’s competition is stiff. The biggest finance players in the U.S. hold trillions in assets compared to KeyBank’s billions, which translates to astronomical and seemingly unbeatable, marketing budgets. Keeping up meant that “We needed our client journey to be a competitive advantage for us,” said Morcelle. To bring his vision to life, Morcelle’s approach needed to push a little beyond the bank’s comfort zone, but still be dependable. Bold, but also proven.

A new era for a time-honoured brand

Though KeyBank was using tried-and-true marketing tactics that had worked for them for years, Morcelle knew the company could do better. Along with his team, he was curious whether a modern, data-driven approach could make the right difference — especially in their audience segmentation and digital media buying. What KeyBank had was, as Morcelle put it, a “blunt instrument” for their marketing. What they needed was a fine-grained tool that allowed them to craft the kinds of experiences customers actually wanted.

Part of the problem was waste — irrelevant experiences, ad redundancy and superfluous ad spend. KeyBank was unable to exclude certain segments, like their employees and current clients, from their marketing outreach. Nor were they able to prevent ads from being served to unresponsive audiences on repeat. And with several DSPs, they ended up paying for the same ad space multiple times through different providers. As Morcelle said, “You can think about how much media we were wasting by talking to people about things they already have.” Without a unified marketing platform, KeyBank didn’t have the big-picture view to ensure that their customer experiences reflected the best version of their brand.

In order to make the changes Morcelle and Nomina wanted to see at KeyBank, they knew that something big had to change. KeyBank needed more control over its marketing. Remembering his connection with his fellow Ohio CMO, Morcelle seriously considered bringing his media buying in-house. Because this investment in marketing technology would be the first of its kind at KeyBank, Morcelle engaged in a formal RFP process and brought on third-party consultants to ensure the company was making the right decision. As Morcelle says, “We needed a partner that had a demonstrated track record of creating great client experiences. So that was first and foremost, but we also wanted a partner that had both the scale and the demonstration of a willingness to continue to invest and innovate in their platforms and in client experience. At the end of the day, we landed on Adobe.”

Simple changes, serious results

KeyBank decided to put Adobe Audience Manager to the test. As the day-to-day director of their new data management platform, Nomina was pleased with how well Audience Manager integrated into KeyBank’s existing systems and workflows. With his own two hands on the steering wheel, he could begin to incorporate the use case capabilities the company had previously lacked, like exclusions and frequency capping. With new technology in place, Nomina and Morcelle had some early wins — their average CPM dropped from $4.50 to under $2.50, especially in display. And by implementing frequency capping and exclusions, they saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It just made sense from every single angle. I can put more media in the universe for the same amount of money,” said Morcelle. This proved to their team — as well as the business at large — that bringing their marketing in-house was a very good idea.

As Nomina says, “Now that we’ve brought things in-house, it gives us a lot more viewability into how our digital advertising is performing. We’re better able to sync it with our metrics and we can use it as our source of truth.”

Having proven the value of managing their own marketing, Morcelle soon became ready to take it a step further by adding digital media buying to the KeyBank repertoire with Adobe Advertising Cloud. Only this time, he didn’t need an RFP to make his decision. “We knew the investment that we were making in Adobe. We could see the quality of the product. It was really a very natural fit,” said Morcelle. Because of the tight integration between Advertising Cloud and Audience Manager, the team felt confident they could get up and running quickly, proving the value of their investment yet again. And they were right — KeyBank was able to run Advertising Cloud independently with a team of two in a mere nine months. Per Nomina, “A lot of the credit goes back to the Adobe side of the house and our partnership. We could not have just gone cold turkey the way we did without the Adobe team being extremely supportive and helping us make that pivot.”

Running their media buying in-house, especially for television, meant that KeyBank needed to know their customers better than ever. As one of the beta testers for Advertising Cloud’s partnership with Roku, America’s leading streaming platform, KeyBank had a huge opportunity to use connected television (CTV) to connect with customers — including hard-to-reach segments — in a whole new way. With the CTV format, the company could combine the power of Audience Manager and Advertising Cloud to target ads with newfound precision. This proved extremely valuable, especially in terms of developing brand awareness within the B2B space. “The idea of running B2B ads on television never made sense to us before. You’re not going to go into traditional broadcast with a B2B message. It’s not targeted enough. It’s too expensive. The ability to actually find that audience on a big screen at a price that made sense for us is huge. It’s a game changer,” said Morcelle. As a result of using CTV, Keybank saw their highest 2019 campaign video completion rates come from Roku, where they are now planning on increasing their investment in the coming years.

With a team of just three people, KeyBank was able to make the kind of connections with customers they had only dreamt about previously. In the past, with all their customer information stored off-site and only available through reports, the company was left with a vague sense of who their customers really were. But with real-time insight into their audiences and the ability to experiment, pivot and optimise, KeyBank was finally getting to know their customers in detail. As Morcelle said, “Now we have a clear and deliberate picture of who we’re talking to and why we are talking to them. We can even vary messaging, creative and all of the other pieces to make them more relevant and actionable to even our smallest segments.”

Pivoting on a dime

One of the best examples of KeyBank’s newfound marketing agility is the meticulously crafted multichannel campaign that was set to launch on 23 March, 2020 — but never did. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the U.S. mid-March of that year, KeyBank was forced to push their campaign back several times. When it became clear that the message they had wanted to go to market with was no longer timely or relevant, Morcelle made the tough decision to pull the campaign. But with marketing now in-house at KeyBank, he was able to pivot in a matter of weeks.

Their agility was instrumental in completing one of the most successful campaigns in KeyBank history. The new concept, “Ready for Tomorrow,” was a love letter to the community. Instead of running it as a sales-driven campaign, KeyBank opted to make it a simple, authentic communication to all those whose lives were affected by the pandemic. Still, the campaign was set to be big — fully integrated and multi-channel, including traditional, display, digital, video, audio, social and email. With the objective of establishing a deeper connection with the KeyBank community instead of driving sales, Morcelle set modest KPIs for the campaign. The results were surprising.

“I’ve got to be honest. The response has been amazing,” said Morcelle. Despite the quick pivot — including all-new assets and targeting — “Ready for Tomorrow” wildly surpassed Morcelle’s expectations. Metrics across engagement, page visits, time on site, click through rates and media sentiment were high, going above and beyond the results of their major 2019 campaign. With four times the video complete rates and double the time on site, the spur-of-the-moment, quick-turn campaign was a bona fide success. And a discernible increase in sales was icing on the cake.

Experience-driven brand building

Being able to connect with the right people on the right channels has been instrumental to Morcelle’s mission to build a bolder brand. For Morcelle, telling the KeyBank story happens through customer experiences. And customer experiences are a powerful brand-building tool. As Morcelle said, “Building a brand is about trust. Insights. Being more personal and relevant than my competitors. Right now, I feel like I finally have a tool set that could get us into that game.”

Today, Morcelle and Nomina look back at KeyBank’s marketing evolution with a good sense of humour. As Morcelle says, “We have a joke in the office where I walk by Jeff’s desk two or three times a week and say, ‘I haven’t seen any KeyBank ads today. It’s a good day.’” But the brand’s progress goes so much further than implementing the simple exclusions that block ads from being delivered to KeyBank employees. As KeyBank’s in-house marketing department begins to use the full power of their Adobe products, Morcelle and team have even more tools with which to connect with customers and tell the KeyBank story.

As Morcelle said, “All of the pieces and parts that are starting to come together, that’s how you shape a story and how you create a brand. As we’re building, growing and trying to articulate our brand, the ability to be nimble, test in the marketplace and use analytics to learn and refine — that’s how you bring the branding full circle.”

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