The Siren Song of Bank Marketing

By Mark Gibson

Where do bank marketers come from?

Any easy answer to that question is likely to be flawed. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a career that attracts people from such diverse educational backgrounds and career tracks. In addition to financial services and marketing-related programs (two disciplines that sometimes blend like oil and water), bank marketers are also drawn from journalism, the arts, psychology, data sciences, retail, and the service industry—really any area that involves curiosity and a desire to help the public.

Timing, chance and personal connections are other common variables. No one ever wakes up and realizes that they’ve somehow become an orthopedic surgeon. But a career in bank marketing is different. It often unfolds project by project, opportunity by opportunity. Until you realize it’s what you were meant to do.

How I got here.

I started out studying engineering at General Motors Institute. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) Then I grazed on liberal arts at Ohio State until an advisor steered me toward accounting in the university’s business school. But it was attending a consumer behavior class in marketing that changed my trajectory. I loved how you could apply psychology and sociology and behavioral economics to actually influence how a consumer would buy and use a product.

Decades ahead of the curve.

Ohio State was very early into digital marketing as well, which was fortunate for me. I was one of eight students who enrolled in what was then called “Videotex.” That’s where I learned that Chemical Bank was offering banking by personal computer. And CompuServe was allowing consumers to communicate with each other—and even buy products—online! Finally, Time Warner was piloting a cable service where you could select your own movie to watch in real time. Not impressed? It’s actually pretty mind blowing when you realize the year was 1982!

I got my first job when a local research company called my Videotex professor asking for an intern. I got my second job when the CEO of a retail design company called my masters advisor at Ohio State asking for someone who knew about banking.  So I chose marketing, but banking and technology chose me.

So, in my early twenties, I was thrust into online banking and smart cards and branch-of-the-future design, advising leading banks and speaking all over the world. Again, pretty heady stuff.

Bank marketing on the other side of the globe.

In 1994, one of my clients in New Zealand—ANZ—asked me to join them to run their marketing department on an interim basis for 6 months. My wife was pregnant at the time, but she was a trooper and agreed to accompany me on the assignment. What a learning curve.

While I was very familiar with marketing concepts like segmentation and value proposition, I had never developed an advertising campaign in my life. I had also never managed more than two people—and now I had a team of 80. Talk about baptism by fire.

But what I learned changed my life forever.

As a consultant, I arrived at the client site, delivered recommendations, but had limited ability to ensure that solutions were implemented properly, or at all. I realized that management on the client side had much more control integrating all the necessary ingredients and aligning the various departments to ensure a successful launch. And even more importantly, they could then build on that success and take the program to the next level again and again over a period of months and years.

I learned that bank marketing—done right—touches nearly every crevice of an organization, from purpose and culture to segmentation and value proposition. Yes, there’s branding and advertising, but an enlightened executive team understands that marketing is the “strategic glue” that holds a high performing enterprise together. It was really exciting, rewarding—and yes a bit scary at first—to be put in such an impactful position.

You can go home again.

When I returned to America, I made it my goal to recreate my marketing director experience. Within a year, I was fortunate enough to land the job at Compass Bank in Birmingham, Ala. There, I joined an entrepreneurial management team with a growth agenda and a belief that great marketing could make a difference.

We embraced customer segmentation, business insight, and product development that led to:

  • Totally Free ATM
  • Compass for Your Business
  • Business Class
  • Preferred Banking
  • Build to Order Checking

These and other innovations made a real difference in customers’ lives and the bank’s bottom line. We measured the impact of virtually everything we did, and as a result, the lines of business advocated for our marketing budget to increase nearly 1,000% in 10 years. I’m very proud of that.

After BBVA acquired the company, I stayed for two years and learned the kind of invaluable lessons that only a global company can teach. Then I applied the craft to two community banks in the Northeast.

One of my favorite projects is blending a bank’s heritage with its customer segment objectives to create a powerful differentiating brand. At Rockland Trust, our multi-platform content partnership with The Boston Globe was probably my most innovative branding endeavor. But I think the work we did at NewAlliance Bank to craft and launch the Do Your Thing campaign was the most meaningful and impactful from a business generation standpoint. And it’s still my personal favorite.

Coming full circle.

Two years ago, after nearly two decades of working within the bank, I decided I could have more impact on the industry and on peoples’ lives if I rejoined the consulting ranks and advised my peers. I still wake up every day believing that bank marketers can create products and value propositions that improve the lives of clients—and by doing that, help their organizations and communities grow and thrive.

Mark Gibson is senior consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic, and project management services to the financial services industry. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn.