3 Proven Ways Financial Marketers Can Laser-Focus on the Customer

2022 looks to be as challenging as 2021 as the mix of competitive, consumer and pandemic trends could easily overpower financial marketing teams. To avoid that, it is crucial for institutions to refocus on the consumer. Three simple projects provide critical input for specific sales and marketing campaigns.

The staggering pace of change over the last two years has left many financial marketers feeling overwhelmed by new consumer behaviors, new competitive threats and new innovative disruptions from inside and outside the industry. Many marketing stakeholders report feeling a sense of helplessness as each extension of the pandemic drives further uncertainty as to what is coming next.

This reaction is understandable. However, these feelings cause teams to lose confidence and productivity, if left unchecked. To combat these feelings and regain control, teams should undertake a few simple customer-oriented initiatives to catalyze kicking off the new year.

The marketplace is a competition, and it is natural to focus on competitors. The pandemic has provided once-in-a-lifetime challenges which have no immediate answer. Watching to see what competitors do and how they succeed is not only natural; it’s good business. This heightened focus on competitors, however, can easily throw our focus on the consumer out of balance.

I want to share three simple projects that your team can execute with minimal investment and disruption. Each of these is focused on better understanding your customer. Taken together, they can deliver greater insight into who your customers are, what preferences they have, and what experiences they are having with your brand. The results of these projects will provide critical inputs into developing a more robust platform to conduct meaningful sales and marketing campaigns to meet your bank or credit union’s 2022 goals.

1. Find Out What People Are Thinking With Surveys

The first step in re-orienting teams to focus on the customer starts with nailing down what people are thinking, which requires asking them directly. There is no better tool for this than a simple survey. Most marketers know this, but few follow through. They let “great” get in the way of “good enough.” Marketers should keep the focus of each survey simple and send out surveys often.

There are many opportunities to collect data through surveys. Start with a simple survey every six months to all customers, follow up with another survey based on the type of response (negative or positive) again at the end of marketing campaigns, after rolling out new functionality, and lastly, after customers complete a specific interaction with your brand. We are only scratching the surface here.

Over time surveys become a natural part of the brand landscape. The data gathered through surveys forces your team to examine the customers’ comments in a new light. Longer-term, this data will turn into something infinitely more powerful — actionable information.

Why It Matters:

The data gathered through surveys forces your team to examine consumer comments in a new light. Longer-term, this data will turn into something infinitely more powerful — actionable information.

In 2022 there is no longer any excuse not to be generating meaningful consumer surveys on an ongoing basis. There is a wealth of information online to learn how to think about surveys. You do not need advanced degrees in measurement or statistical analysis to get started. There are compelling software options like Qualtrics that are configured easily, leveraging a library of prepared questions to get started quickly. Over time software like Qualtrics can produce more sophisticated surveys, advanced analytics and integration into leading CRM’s like Salesforce.com.

Best Practices:


  • Keep surveys short — this is an area where less is more.
  • Make the surveys user-friendly by structuring multiple-choice questions or Likert scale ranges.
  • Survey often, so that knowledge builds over time.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer incentives for completion.
  • Structure software license fees to grow with you ver time. A good software partner understands this and will accommodate your needs.

The data collected from your surveys will be a crucial input to the next initiative.

2. Bring Your Customers to Life With a Set of Formal Personas

The second step in re-orienting teams to focus on the customer involves the development of formal personas. A persona visualizes a semi-fictional customer based on honest consumer feedback (from surveys, focus groups, etc.), buying behavior, and third-party market research. Well-developed personas contain information on who the consumer is, their challenges, and their preferences.

Customer personas are often classified as low-value or “busy work” because they do not deliver value to the organization. This happened when they were treated as something that needed to be done and checked off a list rather than something integral to the organization’s success. For this reason, many marketers miss out on the power of personas.

Take the Extra Step:

Your institution may regard customer personas as low-value work. Well-written personas are anything but. They bring individual customer segments to life.

Well-written personas should bring the individual customer segment to life and should trigger a sense of empathy within the groups using the personas. A group of personas should illustrate the differences in the various segments within a financial brand’s consumer base. You will know that your team has constructed great personas when they start referring to them as people in their marketing conversations rather than as inanimate objects. Imagine overhearing the conversation where two marketers are comparing and contrasting “Midlife Molly” versus “Retiree Renee” as if they are people they have coffee with weekly. This is the hallmark of a great persona.

Best Practices:


  • Start by reviewing any existing segmentation or CRM data.
  • Develop a working set of personas, called assumptive personas.
  • Review survey answers for common points of view and preferences.
  • Layer in third-party research.
  • Continue to update and expand the personas as they become more precise.
  • Push the use of the personas in a campaign and creative strategies, web development and product discussions.

Personas will be a foundational part of the next initiative.

3. Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes and Map a Customer Journey

The third step in re-orienting marketing teams to focus on the consumer involves mapping a customer journey. Very few activities will provide more insight into your customer or member’s experiences. At its core, a customer journey map is a visual representation of your customer’s interactions with your brand.

In a mapping workshop, brand stakeholders will have the opportunity to “step” into the consumers’ shoes and see each interaction from their point of view. The team selects one of the formal personas and chooses a relevant journey that customers would experience in real life.

Journeys can range from the simple — canceling a check — to the complex — refinancing a mortgage. Once the persona is selected, each step of the customer journey is mapped out, decisions are documented, and critical interactions are identified. Additionally, journey mapping can define the quality of the interaction at each step in the journey as positive, neutral, or negative.

Best Practices:


  • Watch YouTube videos and read online articles about journey mapping. The amount of online content is worthy of a college-level seminar.
  • Start simple with a roll of paper taped to the wall and some sticky notes.
  • Then look to evolve using generic flowcharting software like Lucidchart or niche tools designed especially for journey mapping like Smaply.
  • Break the journeys into manageable chunks by selling motion — acquisition, onboarding, growth, and retention.
  • Take time to compare and contrast how different personas react to the different journeys; this will provide good insight into requirements for personalizing massaging and campaigns.
  • Establish a parking lot during your sessions. Journey mapping sessions generate a lot of insights which can create conversations that, while valuable, have the potential to derail the session.

These three projects can serve financial marketing teams by breaking free of reactive thinking and refocusing time and energy on the most important resource a brand can have: its consumers. These projects can be executed in a simple way as well as a very comprehensive way.

For this reason, I urge you to move with a sense of urgency using a crawl, walk, run approach. I caution you to watch out that “great” does not get in the way of “good enough.” Lastly, beware of the formation of the committee mindset where activity gets confused with results, and good ideas die a slow and painful death while demoralizing stakeholders.

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