Building Credibility for Bank Marketing

By Kate Young

Let’s say you had to sell a 25% marketing budget to your CEO. Could you do it?

It’s not a frivolous question—that’s a real figure, championed in all seriousness by Salesforce marketing guru Mathew Sweezy at the 2017 ABA Bank Marketing Conference. Meanwhile, Chris Nichols, chief strategy officer at CenterState Bank, recently pointed out that high-performing banks spend about four times more on marketing than the average bank.

That said, many bank marketers continue to face an uphill battle when it comes to gaining traction within their own organizations.

So instead of being tapped for strategic planning input, marketing departments are often saddled with the random tasks that don’t easily fit into other job descriptions: Ordering the company golf shirts. Manning the barbeque grill at the community fair. Suiting up as the bank mascot.

Marketing at a bank can easily be sucked into a vicious cycle of low priority to-do’s, flat budgets, limited resources, and mediocre results.

How to break the cycle?          

It starts with elevating the status of marketing within the bank. To find out how to make that happen, I asked some of the faculty members at the ABA Bank Marketing School for their advice. Here’s what they had to say.

  1. Become the department of customer data.

“Marketing is not just about advertising and branding,” said Tom Hershberger, president and CEO of Cross Financial Group. He teaches Marketing Intelligence at the school, and recently authored the fully updated and expanded eighth edition of Marketing Financial Services. And he’s quick to note that these days, marketing is overwhelmingly about data.

But data has become a bottomless sea. Hershberger recommends that you encourage management to tell you what they need answered. Then put together the specific data that matter most. “It’s about focused curiosity,” he said. “Think about the questions you need to be asking right now.”

Marketers should also be tracking, benchmarking, and measuring performance data over time. “Many people at the table are making decisions based on what they think they know,” Hershberger observed. “But opinion is the worst metric in the room.” When marketing can provide hard data to identify the best opportunities for the bank, it will have earned its seat at the table.

  1. Get a seat at more than one table.

It’s easy to assume that the proverbial “seat at the table” involves only a table in the c-suite. But to be successful, a bank marketer needs to be a key figure at more tables than that.

To isolate the most useful data, marketing will need to be at the IT table. To navigate the fine lines of relationship management, marketing will need to have strong presence at the compliance table.

And don’t forget the ALCO table. Does anyone from your marketing department attend your bank’s asset liability committee (ALCO) meetings? If not, Jeff Marsico, executive vice president of the Kafafian Group, recommends that you ask your CFO why not. He teaches a course on Marketing’s Impact on Bank Profitability & Strategy, and he points out that the liquidity position of your bank is a critical marketing consideration.

“A bank balance sheet is like an aircraft carrier,” Marsico explained. “You can’t turn it on a dime.” If you wait for your CFO to tell you that the bank needs deposits by next month, he added, it’s too late.

Attending ALCO meetings will help you identify the type of customer your bank should be going after while there’s still time to do something about it.

  1. Speak the right language to the right people.

Do you know how and when to talk about ROI, ROA, ROE, and RAROC? Do you know the difference between an efficiency ratio and an expense ratio? Or what your bank’s cost of funds is?

To gain credibility within your organization, you need to make the case for how marketing participates in the profitability of the bank. And you need to do it in the terms that are meaningful to your management.

“A bank CEO is right to expect marketing to answer key questions,” said Laura Pomerene, school faculty member and SVP/marketing director at First National Bank and Trust in Beloit, Wisconsin. Accountability for the results of your marketing efforts is one of those expectations.

If you’re thinking that it’s going to be difficult to master these numbers, you’re not the first. But it’ll be a whole lot easier than trying to advance your marketing without them.

  1. Foster a culture of respect.

It’s an age-old issue in every industry, but one that still requires attention: It’s difficult to accomplish anything when stakeholders and team members are sniping among themselves—or worse, undermining each other. All departments must function as a unified team.

When sales and marketing work together, the outcomes are much better, so there’s no room for an us vs. them mentality. And as marketing focuses on ways to increase revenue and drive engagement, management should reciprocate by removing obstacles, such as silly tchotchke fulfillment and other low-level tasks.

“We all bring unique talents and skills, and we must recognize that a creative mindset is still an anomaly in banking,” said Joann Marsili, school faculty member and SVP/marketing and sales director at Fidelity Bank in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “We should do all we can to embrace it, as it will break barriers and create relevancy in different ways.”

As the guardian of the brand, marketing has an opportunity to make a difference here. Communicating and reinforcing the values of the bank can go a long way toward improving the organization’s culture. Working with HR, marketing can even integrate the bank’s value statement into the hiring process and ongoing training. Of course, you need full buy-in from executive management to make this work.

  1. Understand the changing environment and how banks fit into it.

When pitching any marketing strategy, “make sure people understand the why of what you’re trying to do,” said Lance Kessler, bank consultant and faculty member at the ABA Bank Marketing School.

He points out that the banking industry is now at a strategic inflection point, and banks ignore that at their own risk. Understanding the market—and responding to it—will be key to survival. That means focusing more than ever before on the customer experience.

“Being complacent is a death sentence,” Kessler said. “If you do what you’ve always done, you won’t be around for long.”

Kate Young is the content editor of Email: [email protected].

Learn more about establishing marketing credibility at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference, September 23-25, 2018. We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore!