Unlock the Magic in Your Marketing Budget

By John Hanley, CFMP

Poof, 2020 has nearly disappeared!

On one hand, your marketing team has accomplished a lot for your brand. You’ve succeeded in crisis mode. Your social adoption grew by leaps and bounds. Your community bank helped numerous small businesses survive. High five!

On the other hand, projects fell by the wayside. Your web redesign. Your consumer loan social media campaign. Your travel schedule. Your strategic plan for 2021 that looks a lot different than the one for 2020. And now budget season is here.

For bank marketers, there is an art and a science to budgeting. It can be frenetic, and at times unfamiliar. But if executed smartly, it’s an opportunity to earn credibility with other divisions and your leadership team, and it can jump-start your own marketing planning.

Here are seven simple tips for mastering your marketing budget for 2021:

1. Read the room. A marketing leader is required to bring energy and opportunity to the strategic table. Your budget should reflect your company’s key priorities. This sounds overly simplistic, but it’s not. It’s an effort to underline your credibility. Don’t recommend automation spend if your institution isn’t ready. Don’t try and build a digital-first retail brand at the expense of a powerful B2B sales machine. How can marketing channels help your bankers tell the right story? Focus on addressing the key priorities with your leadership teams. Don’t assume a martech solution will immediately address the room’s key challenges.

2. Ask for meetings. A review of marketing spend is a great chance to consult with divisions impacted—positively and negatively—by marketing efforts. So set that up. Ask for meetings. The bank’s leaders are your clients, let them tell you how they felt, what worked, and what you should focus on again. The level-set meetings are a chance to align with sales leaders, but better yet, to demonstrate that marketing isn’t always a quid-pro-quo. Articulate how the messaging and the mix builds the brand—and illustrate lift and expectation over time. (Oh, that theater program ad didn’t yield 20 new accounts Saturday morning? You don’t say.) You’ll find your clients invested in the goals and you’ll find your partners are much more understanding—even excited when they see an activation message in the wild. They’ll be especially excited in the long run when the branding leads to clicks, calls and anecdotal comments in their world.

3. Know the numbers. We’re bankers. We would prefer budget and marketing be a science, but mastery of key performance indicators can help you demonstrate the art to accounting, finance and leadership. Data collection and analysis can be tricky with multiple vendor outputs, dashboards and divisions. But remember—you understand customer analytics better than others. Your research shows that customer habits can drive your marketing strategies. You know that marketing is a long-term curve, not a make-or-break battle. You can demonstrate the value within clicks, likes, time on site, conversions. Presenting overall growth trends, estimating the values of customer analytics and knowing as much details of your marketing spend and what it’s worth on the open market help you have positive discussions with skeptics in your bank.

4. Forget “set and forget.” It’s extremely tempting to pilot media agreements over the course of 12 months. There’s a security blanket in knowing you have a content platform when you need it. However, whenever possible, it’s best to prioritize flexibility. With as many channels as you’re expected to master, it’s not a solid strategy to tie up spend and time in wasted media. Occasionally the static content proves to be more work for your marketing team and results in flat or boring messaging. By July you’ll wish you had flexibility to take advantage of a project or medium late next year. Trust your creative muscle to operate in the moment, rather than your perfect prognostication.

5. Know your magic. Let your light shine. Keep as much tactics, design, productional art and writing in-house as much as possible. Demonstrate that open market cost to your finance team. Even if you have an agency of record that you trust, you’d be wise to develop skill sets in-house that supplement their creative horsepower or digital marketing expertise. This can help you forge a true partnership with your agency, or to pick and choose based on agency expertise, and most importantly, to bring in the right agency or creative partner when you really have a challenge in front of you. And you’ll have the flexibility to pay!

6. Budget from the ground up. Different banks budget in different ways. For some, it’s a percentage of assets. For others, it’s napkin math. For still others, it’s random. If you’re doing your homework, and consulting with region leaders and division leaders, you’ll have the ability to mirror a ground-up budget that reasonably ties expenses to the strategic plan. Perhaps you’re opening a new LPO in a metro center. Perhaps you’re converting an online banking vendor. Your budget should reflect this. The budgeting process is also a chance to jump start certain projects. If you’re ahead of the game in August, go ahead and start that brand standards project, or your local sponsorship. Don’t overlook the opportunity to pack 18 months of planning into a 12-month document. Again, that gives you the flexibility to take on more projects later.

7. You don’t know everything. You may be a beginning marketer, you may be seasoned, but you’ll do best to be honest and straightforward. Don’t shy away from what you don’t know, and become comfortable in that chaos. Marketers build relationships by asking questions, of your CFO, of your CEO, of lenders, of presidents, of managers. Credibility suffers when you haven’t done the work to educate on key performance indicators, messaging, or the creative process. Likewise, your product suffers when you fail to ask questions as homework. The ability to learn from your clients allows you to serve them, share success, and deliver a winning, living budget for your brand.

John Hanley, CFMP, is SVP and senior director of marketing for Equity Bank in Kansas City, Missouri.