10 Big Mistakes That Mess Up Financial Marketers’ Strategic Plans

Here are some of the most common sins banks and credit unions commit when building a strategic marketing plan. How many are you guilty of?

1. Disconnected Goals & Objectives

All too often, financial marketers struggle to tie their plans to the organization’s goals and objectives. Many times marketing plans are developed independently and separately from the institution’s strategic plan. Some are built in a vacuum. Your marketing plan should flow directly from the overall strategy. The two can be created successively — strategic plan first, then marketing plan — or crafted together, in tandem. With either approach, the synergies between them must be deliberate and obvious. Financial marketers need their institution’s strategic plan in hand and must reference it often; you can’t build a battle plan if you don’t know what you should be fighting for.

2. Too(l) Tactical

Marketing plans can get mired in details. There are often calendars stuffed with various initiatives involving a bunch of busy work. You want to avoid turning your marketing plan into a list of activities that are too heavily focused on tools and tactics.

“In my experience, implementation is the primary focus for many financial institutions and is based off of tactical objectives,” says James Robert Lay, CEO of CU Grow. “We see executives or board members push for the latest digital marketing tools simply because they heard about them at a conference or because a competitor began using it.”

To keep your marketing plan elevated at a strategic level, Lay offers this simple tip: “Start by identifying what problem you are trying to solve and how digital marketing may help you solve that problem. Begin with the end in mind.”

3. Looking Back, Not Forward

Many marketing plans aren’t written strategically, they are photocopied from last year’s plan with only tiny tweaks made here and there. Banks and credit unions keep engaging in a long list of activities out of habit — things they do because “we’ve always done it that way.”

The speed of change in both the banking industry and world of marketing is accelerating, so don’t rubberstamp a boilerplate plan. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. Financial marketers have to be prepared to respond, and vigilantly sweat their strategy down.

4. Failure to Segment Target Markets

Ask a retail financial institution to define its target audience and you will frequently hear something like, “All people ages 18-55.” They might say it “skews slightly towards women.” This is essentially the same thing as saying, “We’re targeting everyone with money and a pulse.” That isn’t a targeted market segmentation strategy, it’s basically the same thing as saying “we serve the entire market.”

Everyone’s heard the expression, “You can’t be all things to all people.” But when you define your target audience so broadly, you’ve committed a major error in branding. You should be concentrating your brand on a specific, focused segment. Instead, by essentially targeting “all people,” you have to offer all the things those people want — all the product, services, rewards, benefits, features, online access, service options, etc.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy is noted for saying, “Try to appeal to everyone, and you will end up appealing to no one.”

How can you address specific segments in your marketing plan? Gen Y? Hispanics? Women? College students? Single mothers? The underserved? There are a million different ways to slice the audience; the trick is finding the right ones for your institution.

5. No Research (or Not Enough)

The CEOs and CFOs at most financial institutions would love to see marketing plans supported by more research — geodemographic data, peer comparisons, industry trends, products per person, depth of wallet, etc. Bank and credit union marketers need to build their case to justify the budgetary investment, and this is where research is indispensable.

Somewhat ironically, it isn’t the lack of data most banks and credit unions struggle with — they have mountains of information right at their fingertips. Turning all the available data into insights with value is the biggest area of concern. In marketing today, victory goes to those with the best algorithms. Good data + good analytics = great results.

6. Inadequate Attention to Digital Marketing

Banks and credit unions need to constantly be shifting more of their focus and more of their budget into digital channels. The online and mobile space is where the financial marketing game is primarily played today, and in the not-so-distant future it will be the whole ballgame.

When building your marketing strategy, make sure that you keep digital channels in the forefront. Pay special attention to your website, SEO, online advertising, mobile marketing, SEM/paid search, email, content marketing, online/digital video.

7. Weak Competitor Analysis

A strong competitive SWOT analysis needs to look beyond rates, fees and products/services. You should also be comparing yourself against each competitor’s reputation, service, locations, marketing, technology and key audience segments. When listing your institution’s strengths and weaknesses, be sure to define who you can steal business from (and how), and who you have to worry about defending yourself against (and how). Thorough research including mystery shops will aid you greatly in this process.

8. Ignoring the Brand

Branding isn’t something you do once every few years. It takes constant attention and care to build a strong brand. And yet many marketing plans pay only a passing glance at branding initiatives, if they mention branding at all. This isn’t unique to banking either. It’s easy for executives in any industry to become myopically obsessed with sales — “It’s all about the bottom line and moving widgets out the door.” Anyone at any company is susceptible. But an organization can’t say it takes its brand seriously if it isn’t integrated into both the marketing- and strategic plans. What is your brand promise? How will you express that through marketing in the upcoming year? How will marketing be leveraged to differentiate your institution?

9. Bogged Down By Bureaucracy

Many strategic plans can suffer from “constipation by committee.”

“A few months ago, I attended a meeting where members from the marketing, operations, IT and lending departments debated on what specific promotions should be on their financial institution’s home page,” recalls Lay at CU Grow. “There were six people in this three hour meeting. Add it all up and that’s 18 hours of time spent on the placement of promos.”

Too many people assemble for too many meetings that run far too long. To some management teams, this may feel like they are accomplishing something, but really it is a horribly inefficient and painful process. At the end, someone transcribes an amalagamation of random ideas into a document, labeling the finished product a “marketing plan.” This isn’t strategic, nor effective leadership. Someone needs to take charge, and that person is probably you.

10. Not Communicating the Plan

Once a marketing plan has been created, it shouldn’t be relegated solely to a shelf in the CMO’s office. It needs to be shared with management, and key elements need to be communicated to both the board and staff. Ongoing marketing updates — with results — should also be provided to each internal constituency periodically throughout the year.

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