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8 Bank Marketing Priorities—in order.

The need to balance the short-term and the long-term, when it comes to community bank marketing planning and budgeting, is not new. But the advent of new technologies—inbound, automated email, lead nurturing, PPC, SEO, digital, retargeting—has aggravated the issue. We no longer look at the market and say, “what can we do?” We now look at all the opportunities and say, “what should we do?” For bank marketers, there is a real need for help in setting priorities. What comes first? What comes next? What comes next year? What comes next lifetime?

While every situation is unique, here are some suggested priorities, in order of importance (more or less). Generally, if you don’t have the first couple nailed down, moving to the next few will lead to some wasted expenditures. So, here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Basic mission.
  2. Brand strategy.
  3. Product mix.
  4. Internal communication and training strategy.
  5. Basic selling tools.
  6. Onboarding strategy.
  7. Lead generation strategy.
  8. External brand communication.

Some of this may be obvious. But getting it right, and getting it in order, can be the difference between party coordinator/business card purchaser and marketing driver within your bank. So, put on your driving gloves, and lets roll.

Basic mission.

This is the thinking about who we are, who we’re talking to, what role we will play in the lives of our customers, what kind of people we want to work with (and what role will we play in each other’s lives), and what are the key values without which we’d rather be out of business. It’s pretty logical that you can’t start talking until you know what you’re talking about, yet you’d be surprised how many community banks go out and start buying ads and sponsoring things with absolutely no thought to basic mission.

One thing to consider, especially if your bank is just starting up, is whether you want to hang your mission on the personality of a key leader. Some banks do this with great success. But if you decide to build your mission on the personality, connections, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishment, preferences, and reputation of the founder (a pretty easy shortcut, actually), you need to consider succession issues and what this means for future chief executives.

Brand strategy.

Once you have your basic (de facto) mission under control, the next priority is branding. This is a tough one for a lot of community banks, because the branding effort is expensive and time consuming, and it’s very hard to link it directly to revenues. But if you brand haphazardly or cheaply (or by default), you’re doing the equivalent of dressing in mismatched clothes, wearing someone else’s clothes, or showing up in the wrong attire. Branding is how you present your mission to the world.

The brand strategy starts by cataloging who you are and who your customers are. This enables you to think more precisely about the value proposition you want to present (for example, managers of wealth, ensurers of savings, high-tech servers of sophisticated customers, partners in building the future, solid community citizens…). Once you know who you are, who you serve, and how, then you can begin the process of cataloging your competitors, to carve out a precise niche.

Only then do you start the part of branding most people think of as “branding.” Identification of brand personality and character. Defining colors, type, shape, brand dress, sound, music, voice, tone, smell, taste, textures, icons, photography, imagery, logo(s). A well defined brand can be carved into the grooves of the brand community’s brains, through systematic definition and communication of sensory elements.

Your brand strategy becomes not just a set of standards and guidelines for designing stuff, but the very insider language with which your community bank speaks about itself.

Product mix.

Once you have a clear, documented, codified picture of who you are, who you’re serving, and how, developing a product mix becomes as simple as water flowing downhill. We have a bank client that is not terribly interested in digital lead generation. They know what it is. They’ve educated themselves on its capabilities and potential. And they have consistently decided to pass. They’d determined that this is inconsistent with their brand, which is built on white-glove service for a handful of clients, acquired via personal connections.

This sort of understanding of mission and brand leads to an understanding of everything about products. We want phone banking now, but mobile banking is less urgent. We want high balance checking accounts with sweep features. But overdraft protection is not something we even discuss (overdrafts are rare and we deal with it on an individual basis).

On the other hand, a client we worked with that targeted an entry-level consumer offered a basic checking account with overdraft coverage with fee built in. The idea was that it would cost you very little to have a checking account, if you managed it responsibly. If, as entry level folks sometimes do, you occasionally wrote an NSF, the bank would cover it and charge a fee. So, you were saved embarrassment, and the bank was able to serve you profitably. And because the bank was able to make money serving these folks, some of their customers were people who were unable to open a checking account elsewhere.

Internal communication and training strategy.

Every community bank marketing executive knows that having your internal ducks in a row is crucial, when it comes to rolling out a campaign or special initiative. The same applies to inculcating a general understanding of brand culture, features and benefits of the product mix, and general concepts about service strategy and target audience.

Ideally, you’ll be able to work with HR to recruit for certain brand attitudes/behaviors (Trader Joe’s is one of the best brands in the world for this. Have you ever noticed how fun, funny, and genuinely helpful those people are? It’s crazy!). But following recruitment, it’s important to have a systematic, documented program for general brand and product training, as well as an ongoing system for providing insight and managing roles, responsibilities, and expectations for specific programs.

There are plenty of community banks that have come out of the gate strong and generated a successful couple of years, on the basis of these first four elements. But now it’s time to take the news outside the bank.

Basic selling tools.

Lobby brochures. Sell sheets. Posters. Feature/benefit charts. Product information on the website. Phone scripts. FAQ sheets for each product. Cues for cross selling.

Once you’ve got your mission, brand, product mix, and internal communication approach down, it’s time to put gas in the engine and start taking it out and about. This would be a good time for some role playing. For each product, have someone who is knowledgeable about the category (and the competitors’ products) play the customer. Have your best sales person play the CSR. Walk through the selling process for each component of the product mix. As you observe, make special note of questions that are asked and objections that are raised.

Sales experts say that a sales professional’s success is directly correlated to the number of objections he can answer, the number of answers he can give for each objection, and deep/fluid product knowledge. Chances are, your CSRs will not typically perform like world-class sales stars. That’s why you need to arm them with sales tools that:

Onboarding strategy.

The least costly sale you can make is a cross-sell (an add-on sale to an existing customer). A smallish community bank can be comfortably profitable, by driving up its cross-sell ratio (or onboarding ratio). That’s why a lot of banks talk about onboarding, but most don’t do much about it. It isn’t glamourous. It doesn’t lead to the coveted new money. What it does do is make hay where the sun shines—make water flow downhill.

Effective onboarding falls into one of four categories (or is some combination of the four):

Lead generation strategy.

With a solid understanding of mission and target audience, a well-conceived brand strategy, a strategically-designed product mix, aligned selling tools and training, and a sound onboarding approach, a fairly small bank can be strong and profitable. However, the limit to growth is based on the personal connections of bank people and word-of-mouth among bank customers. There are, of course, success stories in this realm. But generally the ceiling is hard and low, and you start to hit it pretty early in your bank’s lifecycle. At this point, it is important to have a growth strategy that involves external leads.

Lead generation generally includes a combination of the following:

External brand communication.

In what marketers sometimes call the shiny object strategy, you will frequently be asked to advertise brand communication in various community publications, or to sponsor various things in your community. The reason you’ll be given is, “it’s important to get our name out there.” The problem with this thinking is that if you don’t have a sound mission and target audience, brand strategy, product mix, selling tools and training, onboarding, and lead generation, it may not do you any good to “get your name out there.” In fact, it may do harm.

Brand advertising, as a rule, is not good at lead generation, causing affinity to one or more products, or leading to transactions. That does not mean it isn’t valuable. But beautiful image ads in high-profile places is no substitute for the blocking and tackling in points 1-7.

Here are some times when external brand communication has value:

This is not, by any means, a complete list of brand communication circumstances. However, it is important to maintain the discipline—know when you want to promote the brand, recognize those situations, and use the tools you’ve determined to be strategically advantageous. In other words, avoid shiny objects.

Think before you do.

Maybe it was George Patton who said that no strategy can withstand the heat of battle. Yet, neither George Patton nor any other general would go to battle without a strategy. The big idea is that you should think through how you are going to market—in detail almost everyone will find excruciating…anticipating every imaginable circumstance. A good chess player is always thinking eight moves ahead. If you are doing competitive strategy on the fly, you will almost certain lose when you encounter a good chess player.

Put first things first. It’s not as much fun as putting cool things first. But that’s why they call it work.

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