Sales & Marketing Lessons for Financial Institutions From the Retail Sector

On holidays like Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day traditional retailers have door-busters, sidewalk sales and clearance events. And what do banks and credit unions normally do on these days? Close their doors.

Do promotions tied to sales and calendar events work in the financial industry? Do such campaigns always have to be tied to calendar holidays? What does an event-centered campaign consist of? How do you plan for it?

Data suggests that using retail events does indeed work in banking. While most financial institutions don’t usually have events on major holidays, they can still run one-day events like their contemporaries in the retail sector.

Retail Model Produces Results

What’s the reason to mimic the retail model? Because it works. With some sales events, financial marketers can open in one day as many relationships as they typically do in one or two weeks.

Look at these trend lines showing new checking accounts per branch. The gray one shows baseline activity without any event-themed promotional activity. The top two red lines shows what happens in years when an event marketing strategy is used.

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While the average is about 36 new checking accounts per branch per month, during event months (in both of the last two years) that number shot up to over 50 accounts per branch. More than 20 accounts per branch came from a single day. In one instance, a seven-branch institution opened over 150 new checking accounts in one day.

There’s no sacrificing quality over quantity, either. Event marketing data tells us that customer characteristics — such as balances, cross-sell opportunities — are the same for accounts opened on non-event days, and retention is just as good, too.

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What is an ‘Event?’

A typical event could begin with something as simple as a direct-mail campaign and a landing site. Many events include incentives such as special giveaways and other crowd-pleasers like food — one reason tailgate events are always so popular.

Many financial institutions take the theme and turn the promotion into a full-blown event with decorations, employee incentives, in-branch collateral and special appearances. Some banks and credit unions even let their employees wear costumes or event-themed T-shirts and buttons.

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Plan Ahead

While most events may only take a day (some stretch to two and many feature extended hours), planning a successful events takes about three months. Some FIs create committees to include frontline team members, a critical component to encouraging employee buy-in. Once a structure is in place there are themes to decide on, prizes and gifts to arrange, settling on the marketing components, making a schedule and setting sales goals.

Set Your Goals

While two weeks’ worth of account openings in one day is achievable, it’s also remarkable; for varied reasons, not every event is that successful. But, if a solid plan is created and executed, opening one week’s worth of account openings in one day is a reasonable goal. Most event goals are about 5 to 10 openings per branch, depending on performance.

Components of a Successful Event-Centered Marketing Strategy

Decide on giveaways or prizes. Offering a big grand prize, or a grand prize with several minor prizes, works well in attracting prospects. TVs and grills work great during summer and football season, while gift cards are popular in the spring. Aspirational items, such as Apple iPads and Amazon Kindles, are particularly effective prizes. Be creative and involve your customers and employees.

Great events begin with employees talking about it well in advance, or by handing out special buckslips encouraging customers to bring friends to the event. Word-of-mouth promotion is also where social media proves its worth as a low-cost marketing component.

Drive foot traffic by reaching prospects through traditional direct mail and integrated digital media such as landing sites or QR codes. Some of our clients supplement direct mail with newspaper or broadcast ads to support these one-day events.

An event will be a success if branches become destinations. Highlight prizes and free offerings in all direct mail, collateral and advertisements, and begin well before event day. Make it like a party and offer refreshments or even food.

Communication and Tracking

While marketing drives foot traffic and engages customers and prospects alike, employees need to be engaged, too. Our best performing clients keep score. Hourly communication among branches not only updates the event’s progress, but also encourages healthy competition. Good events involve executive teams, including even-day branch visits, and incorporate recognition of star performers and employees.

You will know if your event was successful in two different ways: you will generate one to two weeks’ worth of new PFI customers in just a day, and you will see and hear excitement from your staff and customers.


Achim Griesel is Chief Operating Officer at Haberfeld Associates, is a data driven consulting firm specializing in marketing and training services for community financial institutions. The firm works with approximately 100 institutions to analyze the records of 2.5 million banking consumers every month to determine trends in customer profitability and marketing as well as consumer and small-business behaviors.

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