5 Tricks to Becoming a Financial Marketing Entrepreneur

Financial services CMOs are under a lot of pressure. Insufficient budgets, regulatory burdens and the demands of multiple initiatives complicate your efforts to keep pace with changing markets, technologies and consumer behaviors. Sound familiar? Now is the time to be an entrepreneur.

When you think about the word entrepreneur, who or what comes to mind? Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Oprah Winfrey. Terms like “go getter” or “risk taker” may occur to you. Or perhaps qualities like creative, passionate and innovative come to mind. If you are like most people you think that these traits are reserved for others – seldom for bankers, and rarely for bank marketers. But that is exactly what is needed to help you rise above the challenges you face as a financial services marketer.

There are numerous personal characteristics, both academic and anecdotal, attributed to entrepreneurs. Flexibility, responsiveness and quick learning are often cited. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson says “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” That statement certainly speaks to some of key qualities that identify an entrepreneur. But to keep it simple, here are five characteristics and corresponding action steps that will pump a little entrepreneurial spirit into your efforts:

#1: Be Willing to Reinvent Yourself

It used to be that a consistent set of skills and a standard career path meant your work life journey would be fairly predictable. Not today. No marketer can afford to be trapped in routine and afraid of risk. Entrepreneurs know that we must be far more agile. A willingness to reinvent yourself, your department, your mindset is what it will take to thrive in this post-Recession economy. In fact, I think this is the single most important characteristic for marketers to personify.

Five years ago GMAC Bank reinvented itself as Ally Bank. It was more than a new name and new look. They redefined their character to escape a declining image and align with customer’s perceptions of the TARP-tarnished industry. They changed structure, modified products and evolved.


Reinvention isn’t always about such an extreme makeover. Sometimes it is more about adding on, than taking away. As an example, the genesis of social media marketing (remember, Facebook is only 10 years old) pushed many in our industry to expand their skill set and learn entirely new ways to network or interact with customers. Some even reconstituted their careers. That is a form of reinvention. With that in mind, here’s what I’d suggest:

Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:

  1. Observe your habits and routines and ask yourself if there is a better way to get the job done. Periodically, break from your everyday schedule and try a different approach. And make time to observe trends from outside the industry that influence your customer’s experiences and expectations. The awareness you achieve makes reinvention possible.
  2. Entrepreneurs know their strengths, and weaknesses. In order to reinvent yourself you have to identify the shortcomings that need attention. What do you need to help position you or your institution for future success? What processes aren’t giving you the result you expect? Look honestly at what needs improvement. Ask for some peer feedback.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you take bold steps to reinvent yourself or your marketing efforts, failure is a possibility. But as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.”

#2: Do the Research and Take Calculated Risks

According to Steve Tobak in an article for Entrepreneur Magazine called What Makes Great Entrepreneurs Tick, entrepreneurs are sponges for information. They take in and assimilate large amounts of data and then create a product/service or solution based on the research. Simply stated, they do their homework.

Whether you are deciding on a new product launch, determining which customer segments are most receptive to your mobile banking promotion or gauging the profitability of your next big idea – it all starts with research. Understanding relevant data makes innovation possible, and certainly boosts your credibility with the C-Suite. Using that data to evaluate risks and prompt action is the next step. Remember, entrepreneurs are risk takers who know the seven most expensive words in business are: “We have always done it that way!”

Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:

  1. Identify the top three consumer segments in your market (which usually comprises 50-60% of your customer/member base). Learn all you can about their financial behaviors and preferences.
  2. Determine one unmet financial need within each customer segment you identified.
  3. Design one innovative solution for each unmet customer need.

#3: Embrace Your Role as A Problem Solver

Being a problem solver goes hand in hand with the prior characteristic. Research helps you identify the unmet need; designing solutions addresses the need. Most entrepreneurs are not inventing something new but making an existing product or service better, or positioning it to solve a problem.

Last year, HomeStreet Bank’s CEO Mark Mason was named finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He’d taken on the rescue of HomeStreet Bank at a time when many observers thought it would be shut down. Turning around struggling firms had become his specialty. He’d also led the turnaround of Fidelity Federal Bank in California. In both cases, he took bold steps to solve problems. As he told the Seattle Times, “It’s like triage. You have to quickly assess the most critical needs, address them and move on.”

Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:

  1. Ask yourself what unresolved problems exist in your market (or organization or customer segment), and whether or not you can effect a reasonable solution. If the answer isn’t clear from assembling internal data; pull together experts from different disciplines and integrate their intelligence to help you assess and solve the problem you hope to address.
  2. Decisiveness is a critical problem solving skill. After analyzing several possible solutions to the problem at hand; arrive at a decision quickly. There are lots of “ready, aim, aim, aim…” bank marketers out there – you need to be a “pull the trigger” type.

#4: Be a Self-Promoter

Think of an entrepreneur that you know or know of – they are usually excited about what they do, and they tell everyone. I often cite Umpqua Bank’s CEO Ray Davis as an example.

This video is a great example of self-promotion in its most effective form. As entrepreneur Nathan Hangen suggests “self-promotion is the art of spreading ideas, concepts; self-adulation (on the other hand) is just the promotion of accomplishments.”

Hesitance to self-promote stifles campaigns, and careers. Many marketing directors I know struggle to gain acknowledgment from the C-Suite. They forget that their first target audience is internal (your colleagues and coworkers, your management team, etc.). Don’t be shy about your vision for the department or organization and what resources you need! Marketers are communicators, after all.

Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:

  1. Identify your personal blocks to self-promotion. Were you brought up not to brag on yourself? Do you believe self-promotion will make you look arrogant? Do you think others will tell your story for you?
  2. Understand your value proposition. Whether individually or organizationally, the foundation of authentic self-promotion is knowing your strengths and how you demonstrate value.
  3. Cultivate strategic relationships with five colleagues. Develop a plan to connect with them regularly and go out of your way to assist them with their challenges.

#5: Live and Work from a Place of Passion!

Okay, you’re probably thinking… I have to come up with a brilliant idea to boost our mobile banking participation because my short sighted CEO wants a 30-day miraculous success story, and the last thing I need here is some talk about passion….. But here’s the thing – it’s all connected. .

Marketing entrepreneurs know that passion is a key ingredient in entrepreneurship. You may not be passionate about your latest banking product; but you are passionate about something. It could be downhill skiing, cooking, playing golf, grandchildren, chocolate, reading, etc. There is something around which you become more animated and driven. Regardless of what that is, there is one thing for certain – when you’re passionate about something it is rarely on the back burner.

Procrastination and perfectionism kills passion every time. The marketplace is far too dynamic for marketers to spend 9 months developing the next campaign. Agility is the name of the game. Some of the most successful marketing is happening in real-time. If you believe in what you’re doing and what you need to accomplish, let your passion trump your fear of failure…or fear of success.

Action Steps for the Marketing Entrepreneur:

  1. Find the smallest step towards the one thing you haven’t done yet because you want it to be perfect. Then take that step.
  2. Declare what you’re going to accomplish to someone – or a group of people. Ask them to hold you accountable.

Finally, the financial industry is experiencing a time of unprecedented, rapid change. We need entrepreneurs with great ideas and the drive to make them a reality. Cultivating these five qualities will develop your entrepreneurial spirit and help you make a difference. Inc. Magazine columnist Jeff Haden once wrote “Good entrepreneurs make money, great entrepreneurs make serious money, but… remarkable entrepreneurs do more than make money. They are the few who possess qualities that don’t appear on balance sheets but do make a significant impact on the lives of their employees, industries and communities”.

Be an entrepreneur.

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