Handshakes and Hashtags

By Wade Owens

Hello. My name is Wade Owens and I’m a recovering banker. After 23 years in banking and wealth management, the time came to hang up my suits in favor of jeans and a dress shirt. And, as I write this, I am secretly wearing running shoes as well. Shhh.

I packed up my necktie just a year ago—starting over as CFO for a digital marketing agency and technology consultancy. It’s been an immersive plunge into the realm of digital marketing. And a real eye opener. It’s a wild world of omni-channel marketing and customer experience out here. My work in banking would have been so different if I’d known then what I know now.

What I would tell the banker I used to be?

As I reflect on my 23-year career of serving customers within the banking and wealth management businesses, I’ve started a list of things I got wrong. And I think about what I’d do differently.

  1. I once thought of marketing as nothing more than “hand-to-hand” relationship building in the community. The “shoe leather” technique.
  2. I once thought a “sales plan” was the same thing as a “marketing plan.”
  3. I once viewed the bank’s marketing department as secondary, or even tertiary, to my success in building meaningful relationships with my customers, investors, board of directors, and other community stakeholders.

I will save the latter two beliefs for another time. For now, I want to focus on how I could have enriched my relationships—with prospects, customers and my employers—by examining that old shoe-leather technique through the lens of today’s customer journey.

Bankers can’t afford to view marketing as an afterthought.

Many banking professionals view marketing as motley assortment of signage, collateral materials in the branch, and advertising that might include TV, radio, and newspaper spots. Yes, those items are important from an awareness standpoint.

But in my years as a banker, I never considered them important enough to move the dial in terms of growing my portfolio and client base. At the end of the day, it was those relationships—those handshakes—that drove the business.

Times have changed. And so have the customers.

Today, we are in the midst of a generational paradigm shift—a fast-paced move toward the digital future. Don’t get me wrong, both the marketing tactics I mentioned and the shoe-leather approach are still important. They simply are not the drivers of business they once were.

Today, those tactics have to align with your customer’s omni-channel journey—which, for the most part, starts online. In this new marketing world order, the digital content customers consume online has to be reflected in your traditional media as well as in what customers experience when they step into a branch.

Let’s consider that handshake for a moment.

I know firsthand that handshakes have always signaled that you’ve closed the deal. But in today’s reality, your customer has made critical choices in an entirely different orbit.

Think about how you approach your own buying decisions. For example, I recently purchased a car for my 16-year old daughter. This was a decidedly different experience than when my dad helped me buy my first car. Before I even darkened the door of a dealership, my daughter and I amassed a ton of data about the type of car that made sense, the risks and benefits of each tradeoff (gas mileage versus horsepower) and the relative costs of each vehicle within my geographic market.

This is exactly what’s happening before your prospects and (pardon me for being blunt) your “loyal” bank customers pick up the phone or walk into your banking office. And that’s not all.

Your customer base is only getting younger and savvier.

They continue to exhibit digitally-driven consumer behavior across the spectrum of the online journey. From initial product research, to product education and evaluation, to final purchase, most of that customer journey, and their decision-making, takes place without you. And with mobile now dominating the consumer journey, it’s happening right in the palm of the customer’s hand, the same hand you seek to shake.

So, how do you insert yourself into this new customer journey today?

You have to address the ever-evolving customer journey. Specifically, you need to strive to show up at every stage of the customer’s enhanced, digital, due diligence process.

You will be able to create and maintain a meaningful customer-centric experience if you:

  • Create a solid strategic foundation.
  • Gather insights from ongoing data analytics.
  • Deliver a consistent and cohesive messaging across all platforms and channels—and those still-important personal interactions.

Here are two things that I would suggest you do before you begin thinking about your goals for 2018:

  1. Get to know your sales staff. Help them understand how the bank’s brand is positioned at the highest level and what the brand stands for. This will help them connect their own stories and points of view to the bank’s story and point of view.
  2. Join the next sales team meeting or business development meeting. Find out what they do on a day-to-day basis. How do they pitch in the marketplace? Who are they losing business to? Why? Try to better understand the “hand-to-hand combat” piece of growing a banking business. That information will be invaluable as you look to the future of your marketing strategy and execution.

Clicks and bricks.

These days, it helps to think of your website as a digital branch. Every prospect, customer, and business client will likely visit multiple times a week.

So you’d better be prepared to deliver the right message, at the right time, in the most effective way—with every click and every walk into the “bricks.” Your bank needs to be where your customers are looking for you, with messaging that is hyper-relevant to them, and with product/services that fit their buying habits and lifestyles.

Building trust and fostering personal relationships with your customers is still important. But the how, when, where, and why of it is almost exclusively at their choosing. It doesn’t happen with a handshake anymore. It happens in the disparate, fragmented space of today’s digital, omni-channel customer journey.

Many financial services institutions are still grappling with this new reality. Many others are already embracing it. If you don’t, you risk losing the battle for new business. It’s that simple.

Wade W. Owens is the Chief Financial Officer for Imaginuity, a 20-year old full service marketing agency and technology consultancy based in Dallas, Tex.  Wade’s banking career spans over 23 years in a variety of different organizations where he spent his time managing risk, building relationships and engaging in the philanthropic community. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn.