Bank Marketing: 5 steps to take now as you prepare for 2017

Posted by Rick Hall

Those turning leaves mean it’s planning season


On one hand, 2016 has flown by – early signs of leaves changing colors here in New England coupled with debates on the validity of the Farmer’s Almanac forecast for the upcoming winter. On the other hand, it is hard not to feel like the past 10 months have provided a grueling set of body blows to the industry: CFPB, phantom cross-selling, Fintech, tight margins and risk management. These realities paired with other priorities now need to be gathered and organized to make sense of where we go from here.

Welcome to strategic planning season.

Back in March, we provided some thoughts on enhancing your bank’s sales and marketing initiatives  We all know that change is often slow and iterative - but steady and consistent focus on key elements to change are critical in today’s competitive environment. Knowing that resources are going to be scarce and at a premium, it is critical that the time spent looking ahead is intentionally spent rather than boxes you check off as part of a required exercise.

This is really a demonstration in the adage “you get out of it what you put into it”. Marketing needs to constantly demonstrate value to the organization and has a prevue that few in a bank have: cross-business and cross-customer. It’s that time of year to again make your case. We will get into more detail on each of these in the coming weeks but here are a few things you can be (and should be) doing now to prepare:

1. Conduct a performance lookback of the first 3 quarters of the year vs. prior years.

  • What did you plan to do? What did you actually do? What are the drivers for the delta?
  • What percentage of your focus was product marketing, brand awareness, technology promotion, etc?
  • What worked and what didn’t? Why?
If a lookback isn't already part of your annual planning, you need to start including it now. Why? Because the success of bank marketing is measured by demonstrating how your marketing efforts move the needle – think ROI. If you don’t know what the baseline activity is by product, customer segment and line of business, how can you demonstrate the success of your programs? 

A key element of this exercise is to include a financial valuation for these facets that represent normal run-rates and the incremental value your strategy can bring to the table. Many marketers don’t do this because they fear missing the projection, but all leaders expect an occasional miss. The fact is, if you can’t proactively articulate what you recommend, why, and the expected results, your credibility is at risk at the strategy table.

2. Take a deep dive into your products, technology and processes.

We often head into the planning process basing our outlook on the silos created through our primary roles. At the same time, every bank we know of is talking about the customer experience – and how to improve it. But the customer experience is much more than just training and personnel.

We need to start breaking down these silos and take an honest look at our products, processes and technology capabilities. In today’s banking world, it is critical that a holistic view of these three areas become the foundation of your 2017 plan. It is very difficult in this fast changing banking climate to remain relevant to our target customers if we are not looking at the end-to-end nature of our business to compete.

A first step in the planning process is to build a comprehensive roadmap of your bank’s current state in these areas to desired state. This is very different from just dusting off last year’s plan and changing the date – this reforms the lens you look through going forward.

Does your technology drive your process or does your technology facilitate your processes? The answer to this is telling. This is why, at this point, the talk of banks becoming technology companies is very overblown. Yes, technology is important but only in the manner that it makes for a better way for your customers to bank. This means having better underlying processes that enable more efficient methods of selling and building relationships.

3. Conduct a messaging review across all communications channels. 

Review what channels you used and how you presented your intended messages in each, including:

Determine (even if by proxy) whether your channel mix was effective and reached the intended audience – if you had an intended audience – and how your messaging in each supports or conflicts with the others. Evaluate communication methods that you have not used extensively and set a goal to improve how you incorporate each channel in a meaningful way during 2017.

Much is written about the customer journey but what does that mean for your customer base? Are you proactively managing the journey or are you holding onto the side of car just trying not to fall off when your customers make a sharp turn? Measuring and understanding the effectiveness of your channel strategy can make a big difference in your answer when the C-level asks “how are we positioned to move with our customers and prospects?” -  they justifiably expect a well thought out response to that question.

4. Assess whether your bank is truly creating a differentiated brand. 

These are challenging questions to ask and answer, but based on a wide review of banks during the past year – it would appear that too few banks are doing this. We continue to hear about the focus banks have on delivering a differentiated customer experience - but what isn’t clear is exactly what that means.

We don’t mean to give the impression that this metric isn’t important, but there are so many factors included in these responses that you can get false positives – particularly if your customers love you because you don’t change.

5. Prepare your sales channels with better insight into your plans and the strategy behind them.

Part of the role of marketing is to have a good handle on what the competition is doing (or not doing). I have yet to find a bank marketing group that hasn’t been asked by the line, "How do we position this against competitor X? What are ‘they’ doing?"

I’m sorry to break this news but that request will never cease and your offer will never be good enough – that isn’t the point. The best plan of attack is to be sure you understand how competitive your products are in the market - including pricing, technology and supporting processes to sell and support them.

With a clear understanding of your capabilities – strengths and weaknesses – you can do your homework on what your competition (traditional and non-traditional) is doing, and how they appear to be taking products to market. Then you can use that to develop a credible messaging platform for your sales teams and help improve your chance for success.

Arguably this is a fair amount to digest, even if you are already doing this as part of your planning process.

The key is to use the next quarter to roll up your sleeves and challenge your marketing teams to get to a deeper level of understanding of the cause and effect of your strategic initiatives. We will continue to share additional thoughts on these topics in the coming posts but it can’t be stated enough that this is the time of year to really show why marketing can constantly deliver more value.

Start with being able to answer challenging questions.

Topics: Bank Marketing