4 Marketing Metrics Banks Should Measure (But Probably Don’t)

Writing in CB Insight, Marquis Software’s Jay Kassing related a comment made to him by a friend:

“Too many bank marketers aren’t as interested in results as they are in checking things off their to-do list. These marketers are more interested in getting things done because delivering on what you promise to get done holds a great deal of cache with senior management. It is very good to be seen as doer. At most every place like this…hard marketing results are never discussed…the catch-phrase ‘it will be good for the brand’ is commonplace, but provable facts aren’t a requirement to get a pat on the back.”

Spot on. Couldn’t agree more. The question this raises is: Why is it this way?

The answer lies in understanding which metrics Marketing tracks, and the metrics it (probably) doesn’t track. Here are the issues:

  • Digital metrics don’t link to economic results. Page views, likes, follows, and a whole host of other digital-related metrics are relatively easy (and cheap) to track, but smart managers know there’s little connection between these metrics and bottom line results.
  • Campaign metrics don’t scale. Campaign-specific metrics are helpful to gauge the success of particular campaigns, but you can’t just aggregate campaign results to get a picture of how marketing is doing, as a whole.
  • ROMI metrics are a joke. Some organizations have attempted to calculate a “return on marketing investment” metric, which, while admirable, falls short of achieving its intended goal because smart managers know that customer/member growth and profitability is impacted by more than just what marketing does.

As a result, management lacks a “language”– a set of metrics–by which CEOs and CMOs can objectively discuss the impact marketing is having on the firm. And so we get the behavior described–accurately and elegantly–by Kassing’s friend.

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Four Strategic Marketing Metrics

What marketing needs is a set of strategic measures that give management a platform for evaluating and discussing marketing’s contributions and performance. I’d like to propose four metrics, in particular:

1. Cost of acquisition (COA). I run into plenty of marketers who say they know their cost of acquisition. Sure, whatever. The reality is they don’t know their true cost of acquisition, primarily for two reasons: 1) They don’t track their marketing costs at a level of granularity that enables accurate calculation of COA, and 2) They don’t track acquisition-related costs that occur outside of marketing.

The first point is about not allocating marketing costs to specific products/services that would enable a more accurate calculation of COA. The second point reflects the fact that activities that happen in the branch lead to acquisition, yet are rarely captured in COA calculations. Likewise, in IT, the cost of developing digital account opening tools isn’t typically factored into COA estimates.

And although marketers tell me they know their cost of acquisition, what they’re narrowly referring to is their cost of account acquisition. When I ask them how they segment their customers, and what their cost of acquisition per customer per segment is, the conversation goes silent. And when I ask “what’s your cost of acquiring $1000 in deposits?” they head for the door.

But true COA is a strategic measure. If you know what your cost of acquiring a customer in your most valuable customer segments is, then you might find that an increase in COA over time is being caused by the mix of customers, and not because of inefficient spending or performance on the part of marketing.

If you know what the percentage of COA coming from outside marketing is increasing, you can explore ways to improve branch sales productivity. If you know your cost of acquiring $1000 in deposits, you’ll know if your marketing budget is going to produce that $20 million deposit growth goal you’ve set for 2016.

The list of what-ifs doesn’t stop there. But I will.

2. Customer lifetime value (CLV). I don’t understand the prevailing wisdom on this metric. Marketers talk about CLV as if it were something you can calculate before acquiring a customer, in order to figure out how much to spend to acquire that customer, or to price services for that customer. Good luck with that–too many variables influence what might happen with a customer’s relationship in the days/months/years ahead that make forecasting CLV nearly impossible.

But as a backwards-looking measure, there’s huge value to a CLV metric.

There’s no reason why banks and credit unions couldn’t add up the revenue generated for each customer/member over their tenure with the FI, look at channel activity to make some cost assumptions and allocations, and calculate a lifetime profitability number for each customer/member. If you can segment your customers, you can calculate an average CLV for each segment. Then, with your COA numbers in hand, figure out if it’s really worth investing more in marketing to acquire customers in that segment.

And if, at the aggregate, the bank’s or credit union’s total CLV is increasing year over year, you know you’ve improved either or both acquisition and cross-sell. If the aggregate CLV decrease year over year, you lost too many customers, or were unprofitable in channel delivery.

I don’t know of any FIs calculating CLV this way. Maybe I don’t talk to the right people.

3. Digitally-influenced sales (DIS). If your FI isn’t shifting marketing dollars from offline to online channels, you’re in the minority. If your FI is expecting that shift in marketing dollars to produce a radical shift in the channels in which product applications are submitted, you’re smoking dope. Sure, it will happen someday–but not this year, and not next year.

So for now, you need to know what percentage of the sales coming thru the branch and call center were influenced by the digital channels. Without it, you have no idea if the money you’re shoveling into the digital channels is really working. Likes, follows, and favorites don’t count.

If year over year, the percentage of sales that are digitally influenced isn’t increasing (and increasing significantly), that’s a warning sign. Bank of America says that 60% of its sales are digitally-influenced. Most community bank and credit union executives I talk to have no idea what percentage of their sales is influenced by digital channels, and when they guess, the number is a lot closer to 6% than to 60%.

If management just wants you to “check the box” that you’re doing things in the digital channel, ignore all this.

4. Referral performance score (RPS). Consumer research has shown that the top two ways in which people show loyalty to the companies they’re loyal to is by buying more from them, and referring the brand/company to friends and family. How many of your customers/members grew their relationship last quarter and referred family and friends? If you don’t know, then how you possibly understand how you’re doing at driving customer/member loyalty?

The answer is you can’t, and that’s why you need a new metric. I call it the Referral Performance Score: The percentage of customers that grew their relationship (by adding new types of accounts) multiplied by the percentage that provided a referral. I’d suggest taking the absolute values of those percentages, as multiplying two percentages results in a smaller number.

The RPS measures behavior, not intention. Can you imagine the salespeople in your organization going to the boss at the end of the year and saying “I intended on selling $1m worth of products/services this year, so you should base my bonus on that.” Ludicrous. Yet, many of you continue to measure referral intention instead of behavior. And you don’t even look at what percentage of customers are growing their relationship. Average number of products per customer is nice, but not very informative.

Words of Wisdom from Ringo Starr

As Ringo once said, “it don’t come easy–you know it don’t come easy.” He was talking about marketing measurement, you know.

The irony here is that tracking at least some of the metrics listed above will help correct a “check the box” mentality, but a check-the-box mentality will help ensure that these metrics never get tracked or used.

If you want strategic marketing metrics, you’re going to have to make a strategic decision to track them, and use them to manage marketing.

I’m not optimistic that a lot of banks and credit unions will make this strategic decision. I presented this list of metrics to two different audiences recently, CU directors (at the CU Director conference) and a group of (really smart) credit union CMOs at Cornerstone Advisors’ Marketing Roundtable.

Anecdotally, the feedback I got from directors was overwhelmingly positive. The reaction from the CMOs was more muted. It’s not that they were against these metrics or didn’t see the value–but with all they have on their plates, they immediately recognized how daunting a task it would be to pull these metrics together.

Advancements in marketing measurement (below the mega-bank level) aren’t likely to come from individual FIs. Instead, the advancements will come from the vendor community. There are a number of fintech vendors coming out with good tools and technologies for marketing measurement (won’t mention them here, lest I get accused of “endorsing” them). You don’t hear a lot about this because, frankly, demand for these tools is nowhere as great as it is for practically all of the other technologies and tools they offer.

That will change. The five- to ten-year trend in community banks and credit unions is a move towards a much more strategic approach to marketing and a more strategic marketing department. With that trend will come a need for more strategic marketing measurement.

Until then, I hope this Snarketing post gets a lot of page views, likes, and retweets.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Check out more of his ideas and research on Cornerstone's Insight Vault. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

This article was originally published on October 29, 2015. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Greg Shaver says:

    You nailed this one squarely on the head.

    Sadly your comment about the “check-the-box” mentality is 100% true, and I agree wholeheartedly that the advancements in marketing measurement will come from the vendor community.

    I do believe there is a movement towards strategic marketing metrics, but for me it is at an excruciatingly slow pace. I like all 4 of your suggested metrics, and I agree, Net Promoter Score doesn’t really tell you enough about your customers. (I think that’s what you were referring to in #4).


  2. We see the same thing in our Digital Marketing Blueprint engagements. We are asking marketers to provide insight on COA and LTV and many don’t know. We ask what the average NII is for their top product lines and many don’t know. This is why we are continuously pushing marketers to move beyond vanity metrics and start measuring the impact their marketing has on the bottom line. The good news is digital helps in this journey. The bad… digital takes work and I find many marketers simply don’t want to do that because it is safer to operate off a checklist.

  3. Mike Higgins says:

    Ron – Dead. Spot. On. Since I am a fan of this post, I’m not going to rehash what you have said. I will address “how daunting a task it would be to pull these metrics together” in the last section.

    I agree, the data to get to a channel/segmentation COA and CLV is the goal. Marketing expense is effectively deployment of capital (expense not incurred ends up as capital on the balance sheet). Marketers need to deploy capital with the same degree of acumen an investment advisor would. Bank stockholders should demand it; credit union boards should too – their members are not second class citizens to bank stockholders.

    A blunt “butter knife” approach can be used to yield some results as to the effectiveness of marketing investment. Let me start with a little background for clarity.

    Let’s define “marketing dollars” and direct expense associated with the marketing department. Their salary, benefits, promotional, customer retention and acquisition related expenses. I want to create direct accountability of this expense bucket. Forget allocations and shared expenses for now.

    From a strategic perspective, I want my marketing dollars doing three things: growing loan balance, growing low cost relationship deposit balance and generating non-interest income. Accounts and customers/members are valuable tactical objectives, but the result I am looking for is balance growth and non-interest income generation

    Because the strategic priorities just listed contain two balance sheet categories and one income statement category a little creativity is in order to develop a meaningful overall marketing effectiveness metric. Fortunately, non-interest income can be “grossed up” into an asset balance earning the net interest margin via the following:

    Balance Equivalent Non-Interest Income = Non-Interest Income / Net Interest Margin Percent

    This allows us to get to a measure of strategic volume per marketing dollar which is defined as:

    (Average Loan Balance + Average Relationship Deposit Balance + Balance Equivalent Non-Interest Income) / Marketing Dollar

    Again, from the department of redundancy department, the four strategic marketing metrics of COA, CLV, DIS and RPS will provide marketers with laser-like precision to become more focused and efficient, but at the same time, overall effectiveness can be measured and benchmarked without much difficulty.

  4. Greg–Thanks. Keep in mind the “check the box” comment came from Jay Kassing’s friend (hey Jay: care to share who that was?). And yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to get at with #4.

    JR–When you say “we are pushing marketers to move beyond vanity metrics and start measuring the impact their marketing has” I cringe a little bit. The reason why is that part of the problem here is that marketing (the department) often doesn’t have the resources or strategic clout to make this change in focus. IF the CEO and CFO don’t buy in, forget it.

    Mike–Great ideas and approach. One pushback, though. You wrote: “From a strategic perspective, I want my marketing dollars doing three things: growing loan balance, growing low cost relationship deposit balance and generating non-interest income.” Yes, YOU may want to do those things. But when CEOs are asked what they want from marketing, they typically talk in terms of “awareness’ and “lead gen”

  5. Ron… you are 100% correct that CEO and CFO have to buy in so marketing can get the resources required to make the required strategic changes. In this case, it is important to set proper expectations.

    That’s why we share this is a journey and requires a marathon mentality to help an executive team and their marketing department push through what Gartner calls the “Trough of Disillusionment” in their Hype Cycle model.

    From my perspective, digital marketing is much more than just a marketing department evolution. Instead, it really is the start of an organizational evolution. I see hope and opportunity for those who embrace this change.

  6. Spot on!

  7. kevin tynan says:

    Ron, does your CLV metric consider the propensity for product purchases? For instance, as consumers get older they are less likely to buy additional products either because they have them or they don’t want them. So it may not be viable to extrapolate a few years of data to predict a lifetime value. Or is that an inherent deficiency in calculating CLV?

  8. Jay Kassing says:

    Ron, Not sure that sharing who I was talking with is my place. I will let them chime in, if they choose.

    When considering the marketing “box checkers” can we truly expect for them to discern what style of metric is state of the art?. This is a akin to a non football fan deciding between the Wing T, the modern spread or the west coast offenses. To be fair, the non-data savvy marketer is likely not in a position to identify what is required vs. achievable in time vs.easy to implement today…as it relates to metrics. They are probably not even collecting relevant data – let alone understanding what/why?

    I do not disagree with your points in any way. I simply state the obvious – anyone who has not employed data analytics cannot reasonably be expected to know or value the difference in methodologies. Those of us who live it every day, see the value and nuance clearly.

    We all need to do a better job in educating the marketplace on the benefits of leveraging client data, taking action and measuring the results (in all ways!)

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