The Rising Role of Marketing in Banking

By Shelly Loftin, CFMP

The pace of technological change in banking has not just transformed the customer experience and banks’ back-end operations. It has also shifted the marketing function in banks. As part of this evolution:

  • Relationships between marketers and traditional agencies have evolved.
  • Technology has empowered consumers with more information and more ways to buy.
  • Social media offers new channels for informing, winning—and, yes, losing—customers.

These radical shifts bring with them a serious change in expectations—both from the C-suite and from marketers themselves. Chief marketing officers are no longer seen as simply brand ambassadors responsible for advertising, events and promotional items. Many now assume the responsibility for driving growth and owning the entire customer experience, regardless of channel.

A study by the CMO Council and Deloitte found that, over the past decade, CMOs have been increasingly asked by corporate leaders to elevate their activities from brand and marketing campaign management to enterprise-wide growth and revenue generation. However, this new set of expectations can produce ambiguity. While more CMOs and marketers are being invited to the executive table, many are struggling to deliver the value now expected of them.

This disconnect between the strategic focus that bank management needs and the tactical activities that remain dominant (and important) for marketers is one that today’s training and credentialing must address. Well-designed professional development opportunities can help marketers to bring evolving expectations in line with day-to-day responsibilities and facilitate a shift to an enterprise-wide mindset that benefits banking as a whole.

There are three key areas where marketers can develop a significant career advantage. ABA’s marketing education programs—from the Bank Marketing School to the Bank Marketing Conference, both of which prepare bankers to earn and keep the Certified Financial Marketing Professional—help facilitate the shift of the bank marketing mindset from brand engagement and tactical advertising to the role of customer experience champion, growth driver and change agent.

Pursue customer experience expertise

Marketers must look globally at the customer experience, not just through the marketing lens. For example: How does changing a process because of a technology change or compliance shift change the user experience?

Connecting internal and external customers within a bank requires a working knowledge of and access to multiple systems, departments and data. In this way, marketing executives can become bank intelligence integrators, initiating data-gathering and analysis from all customer touchpoints and channels. Once provided with access and a working knowledge of all this data, the next step will be properly predicting customer expectations.

To create true connections within your customer experience across multiple channels, marketers must know, test, evaluate and have the power to improve every piece of the customer experience. This requires cooperation and understanding from multiple teams and a clearly articulated vision from leadership to listen to the voice of the customer.

For example, in exploring a new digital product or service, it is common for a product and/or technology team to be leading the charge. When they make key functional decisions about how the product will work, it can adjust the experience the customer will have without anyone acknowledging the options or that there might have been a better way. If marketing has a seat at that table, the decisions can be made every step of the way with a balanced view of customer experience and operational efficiency. The traditional banking view is to build the offering how it works best for the bank and then hope the customers like it enough to deal with it. The modern marketer needs to listen to customers more and become more assertive on customers’ behalf in the boardroom.

Speak the language of the C-suite

CMOs must be prepared to show how their marketing efforts support bigger stakeholder objectives. In fact, they must learn to position insights and initiatives not as marketing objectives, but as ways for C-suite colleagues to reach their goals.

For example, marketers can connect customer initiatives to key financial metrics, such as operating margin and shareholder value. A collaborative approach with CFOs requires unique skillsets that translate across an organization to create value.

It can be difficult to articulate in financial terms the value of branding done right. Asking for a ROI on proper branding is like asking for an ROI on your mother. Good moms make a big difference in the daily life of their children; however, it is hard to show quantitative impact in a bar chart. The bigger picture can be broken down into some manageable analytics designed to highlight marketing’s impact in various categories. Net promoter score is a good example of a metric to showcase customer satisfaction. While it has gotten some bad press as of late, that was simply because companies had tied huge compensation packages to the score, which can lead to some unethical behavior on behalf of some people. However, as a metric to discuss how customers feel about their experience with you, it is very effective. Growth metrics within deposits or loans are also good to share with leadership so they understand how certain campaigns are boosting the bottom line. The key is to chat with your CFO and get a clear understanding of what metrics would help leadership better understand and support your efforts.

Shift to a strategic and collaborative mindset

Marketers need to understand strategy, culture, compliance and technology—and how they drive change throughout the organization. Bank marketers in particular can create an advantage by cultivating a data-driven mindset, both personally and within their teams, without losing creativity.

Thanks to the role they play in both creative disciplines like branding and events and in mastering data and analytics, marketing leaders are in a unique position to enable synergies between quantitative and qualitative functions within an organization. Within banking, there is also an advantage for marketing leaders who can encourage open expression of ideas and create an environment where conflicting points of view can be shared.

Marketing can lead the shift to thinking of data as an asset and work with other team members to get a holistic view of what information is housed in which system. Armed with that knowledge, they can begin to build better marketing campaigns in addition to creating stronger product offerings, developing more productive internal processes and realizing operational efficiencies by eliminating duplicate data sources.

At the end of the day, companies that embrace marketing as a revenue-driving, experience managing function are setting the stage for better results due to a collaborative mindset. Marketing team members are in the perfect organizational sweet spot to help tear down silos and usher in a new team-based approached to leading cultural change within existing organizations.

Thanks to a shift in marketing training and development, bank executives hiring a CFMP will know that not only is their certified employee a strong marketer, but that they also understand the importance of profitability and speaking the language of the leadership team, and know and value the importance of building marketing programs from the start that are collaborative with the bank’s technology and compliance framework.

A former community bank marketing executive, Shelly Loftin, CFMP, is SVP for retail banking, marketing, payments and lending programs in ABA’s Office of Member Engagement.