A Marketer’s Guide to Branch Planning

By Mary Ellen Georgas-Tellefsen

When was the last time you, as a bank marketer, visited a branch? Do you know what the branch managers are doing on the front lines every day to market the bank’s products and services? Have you asked for their insights on the customer experience? Or what they think about bank sales goals and marketing plans?

If you can’t remember the last time you visited a branch or talked with a branch manager…

You’ll want to finish reading this article and make an appointment to visit a branch as soon as possible. You’ll be amazed at what you learn and—if you are open to it—just how many insights and aha! moments you can have at a branch. These insights will help you build stronger value propositions, create more effective sales and cross-sell campaigns, make smarter spending decisions, and understand better what your customers really think of your bank.

You might be thinking that’s a crazy idea. Branch traffic is down, after all, and the number of U.S. bank branches is in decline. But consider these three things:

  1. About half of new customers still choose a bank based on branch location.
  2. Over half of new checking account sales occur in the branch channel.
  3. For most banks, branches remain the most critical channel for delivering essential customer interactions and experiences.

Digital channels have not outmoded personal advice, guidance, or even certain transactions for many people—including millennials. This is especially true when it comes to big-ticket credit and investment decisions. Customer experience is about using all channels in a seamless way, including the branch.

Don’t assume branches are going away. Assume instead that you can help your branch managers find a better, more productive use of the branch space.

You’ve heard of banks reconfiguring branches or using extra branch space as a yoga studio, a community meeting space, or a coffee bar with free Wifi. Of course, it may not be logical or practical to turn every branch into the neighborhood coffee bar. The point is to identify the particular features most needed in each specific branch location. That could mean:

  • Work space for independent contributors—especially sole proprietors and small businesses—with secure Wifi and a quiet work environment
  • Small, hyper-efficient transaction zones—dedicated to high volume, digitally-oriented activity
  • Credit and lending answer centers staffed by knowledgeable advisors

These innovative ideas have the potential to bring more people into the branches for a specific purpose, utilize the space in a more cost-effective and profitable way, and introduce your brand to people who may not have considered your bank for their financial needs. Now, maybe they will.

Overcoming the consistency conundrum.

For years being a mass market retailer has meant consistency—an idea that has manifested as a cookie cutter approach to branches, offering all branch capabilities in all locations. The underlying philosophy was that every branch had to be all things to all people. But by sharing and analyzing better data from customer channel usage and branch traffic, we can challenge that philosophy and create branches that cater to the needs of the neighborhood.

At many institutions, bank management sets branch-level sales and retention goals from their offices. And in many cases, goals are based solely on historic performance—without real knowledge of what’s happening in the branches. As we’ve seen, this can lead to overly-aggressive behavior and poor sales protocols. Perhaps we’ve been looking at this all wrong. Perhaps we should be supporting each branch manager, and looking at each branch as an independent small business.

Here’s how to build a plan for branch success from the ground up, based on the knowledge we use in marketing every day.

Apply market opportunity analytics.

  • Determine whether market households and businesses are growing or shrinking in your bank’s geographies.
  • Identify which consumer and business segments are large and growing—and which are small and decreasing in size.
  • Assess what the branch manager knows about his or her neighborhood. Which Main Street businesses are opening/closing? Are home values increasing or decreasing? What about shifts in the local workforce, unemployment trends, and product inquiries and sales?
  • Realize that micro-trends could be one of the keys to success for the branch of the future. The branch manager is probably in the best position to know what’s happening in their neighborhood—and can help the bank capitalize on micro-trends and happenings.

Define bank strategy and value proposition.

  • Ensure there is a clearly articulated and differentiated value proposition that every bank employee can understand and communicate to customers and prospects.
  • Utilize the value proposition as ‘guide rails’ for assisting branch managers in creating and prioritizing sales and marketing plans.

Measure branch transaction trends.

  • Provide branch managers with a consistent set of key performance metrics and a performance dashboard so that they can see how they are doing against their own plan—and that of other branch managers.
  • Don’t forget that some of the most important performance metrics include omni-channel transaction and product usage patterns of customers domiciled in the branch, in addition to sales and customer retention stats.

Understand branch performance relative to peers.

  • Work with branch managers to conduct a strategic assessment of market and branch analytics. Perhaps some branches should be targeting cost savings and efficiencies while others should be hotbeds of sales and new customer acquisition.
  • Set appropriate goals for the appropriate branch by providing context, such as market and branch performance rankings. This allows the marketing team and senior management to help guide the direction of each branch plan. And it sets each branch manager up for success.

Devise appropriate marketing and sales programs.

  • Define branch-specific marketing and sales campaigns to fuel new-to-bank acquisition and raise awareness among key segments.
  • Provide calling lists of prospects, informed by branch goals, segmentation strategy, and analytics.
  • Design product bundles and communication standards that help managers to easily sell new products and upsell existing customer relationships.

You have an abundance of data that could help branch managers better understand their own small business.

But marketers aren’t always so good at sharing data with the front line. What if everyone in the organization could benefit from the huge trove of data being collected, so that across your network, branch managers are looking at consistent data? How cool it would be to have something analogous to a Google Analytics dashboard for every branch?

Branch managers would likely use the data to make decisions in diverse ways, and that’s the point. That’s because different branches should have different strategic directions, which might include:

  • Targeting efficiencies
  • Maintaining the base
  • Accelerating new-to-bank acquisition

Using data on a branch’s current and past performance, customer base, and potential of the market, each branch manager can create an informed plan for success.

Given the option to either close a branch or find a better way to utilize the space…

Branch managers often become extremely resourceful in suggesting creative ways to maintain branches and jobs. That’s because they understand the importance of their branch to the local community. And with guidance, they can create a business plan that ensures a level of profitability and the continued ability to contribute to a vibrant local community.

Branch managers have to know bank regulations, operations, financial product sets for consumers and businesses, security measures, and sales practices.  Simultaneously, they need to manage and motivate a team of people while also being great at customer service and relationship management. That’s one tall order. As banks increasingly embrace the capabilities that digital innovations bring to the customer experience, why not capitalize on the knowledge of your branch managers to help create your version of the bank of the future?

Or, at the very least, get their help in understanding options to make their branch and your marketing programs the best they can be.

If there is branch downstairs in your building, I challenge you to take a walk down there right now and introduce yourself to the branch manager. Make an appointment to grab lunch together—if they can spare the time—then spend an hour or two observing what happens in the branch. Observe the operation, the customers and the transactions. Then think about how your bank could make every customer experience better and what impact your findings have on how you do your job.

You might be surprised at your findings.

Mary Ellen Georgas is an experienced banking industry consultant and firm leader at Capital Performance Group, LLC, providing strategy, marketing, and digital channel consulting services to the financial services industry. Email: [email protected].