Survey: Knowing what your bank marketing team needs the most

In 2023’s challenging environment, the key is ensuring your team has the right allocation of staff and agency resources.

By Ally Akins

In a recent ABA survey of bank marketers across the country, several trends emerged revealing how bank marketing departments are staffed and managed. The 2023 ABA Marketing Organization Survey was taken by 179 bank marketers between April and May.

General economic trends appear to be impacting bank marketing departments, with the vast majority of institutions reporting no additional hiring in the next year, and slightly less outsourcing to third-party agencies. However, the move toward digital and analytic resources is continuing. Major findings include:

  • Marketing remains a highly visible unit and has become increasingly responsible for business initiatives.
  • Although marketing departments are slightly less reliant on outside experts for many day-to-day activities than last year, a significant proportion are utilizing third parties to assist with data and analytics.
  • Lastly, marketing departments are likely to stay the same size over the coming year, despite growing responsibilities. These facts combine to create a challenging environment for marketing leaders, making it imperative that departments improve their nimbleness and efficiency, as well as continue to measure and prove their effectiveness.

If you are interested in benchmarking your team’s resources against peers, keep reading!

Marketing reports to the top

Marketing departments at banks of all sizes are close partners of the executive team. In this year’s ABA Bank Marketing Survey on Marketing Organization and Staffing, over 80 percent of respondents reported directly to a member of the C-suite, and 60percent were direct reports to the CEO.

In a challenging economic environment, it is more important than ever for marketing to have “a seat at the table” and understand the key business challenges and strategies their banks are using to succeed to ensure marketing programs are aligned to assist.

With marketing departments tasked with important initiatives such as promotional campaigns, digital channel management, revenue growth, understanding and utilizing customer data, and digital transformation, it is equally as important for the c-suite to get visibility into all of marketing’s activities and how it contributes to growing the business.

With constrained resources, marketing utilizes outside help

The mean number of full-time employees at each bank respondent’s marketing department was 4. This is the same mean FTE response as was seen in a similar survey fielded by ABA in 2022. When broken out by the asset size of the respondent’s bank, we begin to get a sense of how many FTEs a bank’s marketing department might need based on its asset size. While you would expect the number of FTEs to be positively correlated to asset size, it is interesting that banks do not tend to ramp up their investment in building a marketing department until the $1 billion asset threshold is surpassed.

With small teams across asset sizes at the banks that responded to the survey, it is no surprise that there is significant utilization and reliance on outside help. In this year’s survey, respondents replied that marketing tasks are outsourced less than 25 percent of the time (mean response = 22 percent). In 2022, the mean across all respondents was 28 percent, indicating that some banks may be beginning to reduce their reliance on outsourced help, perhaps as a cost-saving measure.

Interestingly, the larger the bank’s asset size, the more reliance on outside support the marketing team had. This implies that, along with additional FTE, larger institutions also have larger marketing budgets that enable outsourcing.

With rapidly evolving technology and specialized knowledge behind the marketing platforms being utilized by bank marketing teams, it is no surprise that bank marketers are utilizing outside experts to design and execute digital marketing.

Search engine optimization and branding/creative were the biggest categories of respondents’ outsourcing. Unsurprisingly, media planning and buying both digitally and traditionally were also near the top of the list. ‘Marketing Strategy’ is near the bottom of the list, suggesting that marketing leaders view this as too mission-critical to delegate.

This year, ‘data and analytics’ began to appear as an area where bank marketers are utilizing outside help, with 21 percent of respondents seeking assistance. Utilizing both internal and external data to inform marketing decisions can be time-consuming and there is often limited analytical FTE bandwidth internally. This is likely driving the outsourcing identified by the survey.

Future talent focuses on digital and data

When respondents were asked if they were planning to increase the number of marketing FTEs in the next year, only 13 percent had a plan to accomplish this. This is surprising based on last year’s responses, where only 35% of respondents marked that the number of employees the department currently had was sufficient/ideal. The reluctance to add FTEs could be stemming from the economic challenges facing the industry this year, as there is a push by most institutions to become more efficient.

Among the 13 percent who plan to increase FTEs, most are looking for one additional full-time employee. The type of specialized experience/position that banks were looking to hire notates the continued emphasis on digital marketing seen across the industry. Put another way, of the 35 positions respondents are adding, 24 relate to digital marketing and 11 relate to traditional disciplines.

Marketing’s role continues to expand and become more essential to an institution’s financial success. That has not translated in the upcoming year to increased staffing or resources. For banks that are expanding and utilizing outside resources, such as agencies and other third-party service providers, the emphasis is on digital marketing, data and analytics, and creative design. And for smaller banks, the likelihood of outside resources being available is lower, even though the need may be greater.

In 2023’s challenging environment, ensuring your team has the right allocation of staff and agency resources is imperative to continuing to showcase marketing’s value.

Ally Akins is a consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that assists banks in making the most of their customer data. She can also be reached on LinkedIn.