ABA Bank Marketing Budget Survey: Digital dominates

By Mark Gibson

The principal conclusion from ABA’s most recent survey of bank marketers is that digital marketing is king. Not only is digital media receiving the lion’s share of the budget increase in 2022, it is also ranked most highly for return on investment. This article summarizes some of the survey’s key findings and includes additional insights from two bank marketers to obtain some deeper insights into some of the more important conclusions.

The survey, conducted just before the ABA Bank Marketing Conference in September 2021, focused on marketers’ expectations for budget decisions in 2022. We received more than 120 responses from a variety of bank marketers, whose positions included assistant and specialist all the way to marketing director and chief marketing officer.

Digital budgets increase

ABA first asked where bank marketers expected to increase their budgets for 2022, and the top six slots were reserved for digital marketing channels. Digital advertising came first, with 87 percent of respondents affirming they planned to increase spending, followed by search engine marketing, social media, then content marketing.

Where do you anticipate increasing your marketing budget for the coming year? Select all that apply.


We spoke to Sheila Estes, VP, marketing and communications manager at Cambridge Trust, to gain a better understanding of why so many marketers are increasing their investment in digital marketing.

Estes sees digital advertising as having a number of advantages over traditional advertising.

“You can test and customize creative in real-time,” Estes says. “You can target more precisely and effectively, including look-alike modeling. You can use programmatic media buying and quickly see what is working and shift resources to optimize your spend.”

Sheila says that Cambridge Trust embraces digital marketing for a wide array of business unit campaigns, including commercial lending, CRA mortgage, wealth management and retail deposits. She notes that each campaign resonates with different metrics.

“We have measured increased traffic from each campaign, and some of them respond to offers and direct response (consumer deposits) more than others, which are longer sales cycles (commercial and wealth management).  We see digital media playing an important role in all of them.”

Digital provides greatest return

The second major takeaway of the study is that bank marketers believe that digital media provides the greatest return. Digital advertising and search engine marketing continued to dominate the top two spots, while social media and email surpassed content marketing.

Rating the mediums by greatest return (mean average)


We reached out to another bank marketer to better understand what greatest return means to her, and why digital dominated the field. Gianna Porter is digital experience manager at Machias Savings Bank in Maine, and is responsible for all things digital in the marketing department.

Porter believes that greatest return translates into ROI on your marketing investment. And she says digital marketing is much more quantifiable.

“Digital media is more measurable than legacy media,” Porter says. “You implement a program and you either see visits to your landing page or you don’t. Then you can see how many of those people actually go and apply using your digital application.”

Estes agrees. “There is more ability to track and quantify the results,” Estes says. “In terms of defining greatest return, it is simply: How much business did it generate in terms of new clients and accounts?”

Porter went further: “Because we can measure our ROI, executives view our marketing department with a completely different lens, and money speaks volumes. And when they see that we can make money for the bank, they will allocate more budget for marketing.”

“Our website is our digital branch”

The third major theme uncovered in the survey is that the marketing departments are turning into sales units of banks. The majority of banks surveyed have online applications for both mortgages and consumer deposits. And half of them have a budget for continual digital growth and website enhancement. The combination of digital account opening infrastructure with marketing commitment to digital growth translates into a powerful revenue growth engine. Marketing places digital ads to drive prospects to the website, and the website is designed to encourage people to open the product online.

Does your bank have an online application for the following? Check all that apply.


Do you have a budget for continual digital growth and website enhancement?



Porter adds: “We are really like salespeople. We are literally building a digital branch on our website. We are redesigning our website to be a living breathing ecosystem to feed content to, care for and nurture prospects while leveraging content and inbound marketing.  We plan to craft a personalized experience for each website visitor.”

Marketing is starting to call the digital shots

The final conclusion from the survey is the culmination of selling more through the digital channel and being able to measure the impact of the marketing dollars being invested. Marketing now has a seat at the table when digital delivery and sales programs are being discussed. As Estes says: “Marketing is playing a larger role in sales, actively partnering with our lines of business to help them generate prospects and achieve their sales goals.”

Respondents to the survey wholeheartedly endorsed this view. Nearly 80 percent said they either have great or absolute influence on the electronic/digital delivery strategy and programs at their banks.

To what extent does marketing influence the digital strategy and programs at your bank?




The fact that marketing is influencing digital delivery and sales strategy, and plays a pivotal role in implementing it (running advertising to drive people to the online applications) may help explain why most banks chose not to reduce marketing budgets during the pandemic.

Was your marketing budget reduced due to pandemic?



All in all, the results of this survey indicate that the marketing function is both increasing its role in revenue growth and improving its clout within the organization. And that is good news for bank marketers.

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. He can also be reached on LinkedIn. All charts from 2021 ABA Bank Marketing Survey.