By Laura Pomerene
Eighteen years ago, when I started my career in banking, the role of the bank marketer was exceptionally different than it is today. The marketing department tended to concentrate its efforts on traditional, external communications tactics such as advertising and public relations, and it was a formula that worked since the customer experience was dominated primarily by brick and mortar branches and our employees’ interaction with them. But fast forward to modern times and you’ll find a very different picture.
“Bank marketing is more exciting now than it has ever been, but paired with that is the fact that the job is more important and more demanding than ever,” says Lance Kessler, president of marketing consulting firm Lance Kessler & Associates. “The pace of change is more demanding, and the stakes are much higher since marketing has taken on greater status within banking organizations.”
Greg Walker, vice president of marketing and communications at United Bank in Alabama, agrees. “Today, bank marketing is about much more than packaging—it’s about protecting your brand and driving revenue,” he says. “You can make your work pretty and wrap it up in a nice way, but at the end of the day, if you’re not converting your expenditures into more business or driving revenue, you aren’t being effective.”
Today’s savviest bank marketers get that. They understand the crucial link between marketing and business goals, and they know that demonstrating marketing’s return on investment means having a seat at their bank’s executive table. But assuming a role in your institution’s inner circle can be difficult when marketing still suffers from misconceptions.
“Many outsiders still think of marketers as doing only the tactical, but we all know that’s just one element of the job,” says Kessler. “The strategic side is becoming ever more important, and many bank marketers have some work to do in terms of establishing their credibility.”
These are the issues that I’ve been living and breathing this year, both through my day job heading up marketing at First National Bank and Trust Company in Wisconsin, and in my role as chair of the ABA Bank Marketing School Advisory Board. It’s been an honor serving on the Board alongside Lance, Greg and several other seasoned bank marketing professionals as we work to identify industry trends and shape the upcoming School’s content and curriculum.
The entire program maps back to an important question, How do your marketing efforts contribute to the bottom line of your bank? The ABA Bank Marketing School ensures that marketers can answer that question, providing students with an in-depth understanding of their strategic role in generating revenue.
“I’m a recent graduate of the School, and I noticed that a lot of my classmates were disconnected from the inner workings of their bank,” says Walker. “They were leaders in the marketing department, but they had no interaction with the C-suite, and no role in making strategic decisions. The School shows you how to change that.”
One key way that marketers can prove their value is by having their finger on the pulse of industry trends. As Kessler puts it, gone are the days when banks could sit back and let their competitors test the waters and only adopt those trends that were successfully vetted by others.
“If anything proved that, it was the move toward mobile banking,” says Kessler, who is also a faculty member at the ABA Bank Marketing School. “That was a game changing case where the old ‘wait and see’ model backfired, because those financial institutions that didn’t jump on the mobile bandwagon right away were left in the dust. On the flip side, the prospect of mobile banking was a prime opportunity for effective marketers to say, ‘this will meet the needs of our customers, reinforce our bank’s brand promise and deliver a strong ROI. We should do this.'”
Speaking of trends, the ABA Bank Marketing School is a perfect way to learn the latest and hear others’ first-hand experiences implementing them—all while building a solid foundation of fundamental marketing best practices. Much of the curriculum will focus on the customer experience and how to blend human engagement with the latest in digital engagement. We’ll also explore data-driven marketing and analytics, marketing planning, ethics, leadership, compliance and risk management. After all, today’s marketers must be able to address and mitigate reputation risk while focusing on the balance between bank profitability, fairness and the overall customer experience.
And who exactly should attend? The School draws senior-level bank marketers who are looking for the best in professional development, as well as those who are new to bank marketing. That can mean experienced bankers who have migrated over to the marketing department, or marketing professionals from other industries who are new to the world of banking. “What’s interesting is how these various constituencies all complement one another at the School,” says Kessler. “Whether they are industry veterans or people new to bank marketing, they come at the same challenges and issues from different perspectives, which means everyone benefits from a diverse range of viewpoints.”
As a past graduate myself, I can attest that the School is the perfect blend of practical, professional and personal. We’ve built the curriculum in a way that will help students return to their bank with tools to implement right away. Another positive aspect of spending over a week with professional peers is being able to discuss common challenges and learn ideas from others who’ve overcome them. So students can expect to make career changing connections, and very often life-long friends.
“The networking and camaraderie are incredible,” says Walker, who graduated from the ABA Bank Marketing School in 2015. “I built strong relationships with several of my classmates, and we talk all the time. We even have our own Facebook group. Just the other day I pinged two of my classmates about a compliance question I was grappling with, and it was so helpful to get their feedback and opinions.”
Walker says he was also able to put his coursework directly to use on the job. “I used a marketing plan developed at the School as a roadmap for an actual product roll-out, and I recently applied what I learned about market segmentation to a direct mail campaign that is proving highly effective,” he says.
Also worth mentioning is the career-enhancing Certified Financial Marketing Professional (CFMP) designation, because the School offers a convenient way for qualified candidates to prepare for the CFMP exam. They spend the week studying relevant subject matter, and then can take the exam at the end of the School with the information still fresh in their minds.
I recently asked Lance and Greg what advice they have for bank marketers who are considering the School.
“The word I want this year’s students to remember is ‘adaptive,'” said Kessler. “Historically, bank marketing has been static and formulaic, but the winners in this new era of bank marketing will be the ones who are able to adapt to customers’ feedback and evolving needs. The ABA Bank Marketing School will help students tune into that. The faculty and staff have the passion and commitment to make the School the best it can be. And that, coupled with the School’s engaged students, makes a great combination. It’s one of the highlights of my year.”
Walker’s advice is to “come with an open mind and to soak it all up. The School gives students an opportunity to get out from behind their desk and away from their team for some fresh perspectives, so attendees should take advantage of that. They’ll get to meet new people and focus on doing things the right way, and when they return, they’ll be well equipped to do their job better.”
The ABA Bank Marketing School takes place June 8 – 15, 2016 at the Emory Conference Center and Hotel in Atlanta. Learn more and register today.