Pushing Through the Creative Bounds in Bank Marketing

Understanding risk and its various forms is fundamental to the banking industry. We have entire internal departments, national and state governmental agencies and tracking systems set up to monitor and reduce risk as much as possible. It’s one of the major reasons financial institutions are similar in product and services, and the most successful finical institutions manage their risks well and have a solid understanding of their own operational risk tolerances.

When it comes to bank marketing, the risk “shadow” of banking often creeps into the creative process. In some ways, this is good, as it helps to keep bank marketers out of potential UDAAP traps and makes it easier for regulators, auditors and compliance types to check off on well-established standard industry strategies and tactics.

In some ways, it is also bad, as it’s why 62 percent of banks share a common word in their name. If your bank has the word “First” or “State” in it, congrats! You share a name with 1,968 other financial institutions. And it’s why so many bank brands look the same with similar colors, stock photos and copycat promotional campaigns.

As Josh Mabus of the Mabus Agency and I discuss in this week’s Marketing Money Podcast, bank marketers often face risk frustrations when trying to push the creative bounds in bank marketing.

One example we discuss on the podcast: A bank once asked an agency to bring it something unique and creative that would stand out and be a differentiator for its brand. The agency came back with a pitch for a truly different campaign. And after the big pitch on the campaign, the first question from the bank to the agency was, “can you show us another bank that has done something similar to this?” Frowns all around.

This story is not unique to our industry in the marketing space, and I’d bet many bank marketers are nodding their heads from a shared experience in pitching ideas to bank management that were rejected at some point in their career.

So, in an industry that is risk adverse, conservative and well-regulated, how do bank marketers approach delivering creative that stands out in a sea of bank-think sameness?

Build trust and reassurance. A “captain obvious” answer here, but if you haven’t built the trust with your management to execute differentiating creative, you probably need to work on communicating your vision for marketing and winning your internal audience first.

Start small and scale up. So senior management is not that into social media and may not even understand it, but you know it has a broad audience that is extremely cost effective to reach. Take a small amount of dollars from another area and redeploy it to hopefully show some success. I’d suggest maybe your print budget if you still have one, but that’s just me. A word of warning: Just like most branding or marketing campaigns, finding a direct ROI with social media in the short term is extremely difficult for banks as we do not have a physical retail product. So don’t measure your success on a lack of a quick return. Think of it more as the new TV. Or at least pre-streaming TV advertising.

Look outside banking for examples. Traditionally, banks are not the most creative of businesses when it comes to advertising. If you are trying to find your out-of-the-box creative idea, look past banks and find another industry that can help you back up your pitch or idea. With the rise in digital banking due to COVID-19 branch closures, it might not hurt to observe and or mimic the mobile phone industry’s marketing as an example.

Finally, focus on brand and not products. Although it takes much more faith and qualitative trust, branding provides a much richer opportunity to be creative than product marketing, although there are certainly examples of banks that have pushed creative product campaigns.

In branding campaigns, for the most part, you can remove and even sometimes avoid bandwidth exhaustion from deep compliance signoffs, pricing and related frustrations by simply telling your brand story to grow your audience with a creative message that shows value, especially in today’s uncertain marketplace. To hear more about approaching creative approval and efforts for your bank, listen to this week’s Marketing Money Podcast.

John Oxford, director of marketing at Renasant Bank, and Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, are co-hosts of the Marketing Money Podcast.