An optimist would tell you there is an opportunity in every situation. But in the face of the tough conditions financial institutions face today, marketing execs might not agree. Where are the opportunities in banking? How can you fully leverage your unique value proposition?
By targeting consumers.
Notice the emphasis on the word “targeting.” Focus is an essential ingredient to successful marketing plans for every financial institution (hint: this is where segmentation comes in). The old adage that you can’t be everything to everybody is absolutely correct. If your marketing plan covers everyone with the same blanket, you are diluting your efforts, wasting resources and weakening your ability to create brand awareness.
Don’t presume your institution can achieve success by copying marketing ideas from a high performance competitor — any competitor for that matter. Your marketing plans should be built on opportunities that match your organization’s vision and competencies relative to the market segments that yield the best outcomes.
The most overused phrases in bank advertising are “meeting all your financial needs” and “exceeding your expectations.” Do you really mean that? Many institutions write their marketing plans and advertising copy promising to “exceed expectations.” But delivering on that promise suggests that institutions have investigated what expectations consumers actually have, and have adopted practices that insure the desired experiences will be delivered consistently over time.
Key Questions: Do you spend time each year investigating consumers’ needs and expectations? Do you develop new ways to meet those needs?
Relationship expansion and contraction occur throughout the year. Dedicate time and resources to examining your customer relationships and your trade area potential. A comprehensive situation analysis is a necessary part an actionable marketing plan. Examine your market composition and trends. Determine your market share and brand awareness levels. Analyze the complexion of your customer relationships. Then blend it all together with corporate objectives to direct the most necessary marketing initiatives. Discovery is an essential part of identifying your opportunities.
Chasing fads and hot topics from the latest industry conference can create distractions that cost you time and money. What you need to do instead is examine your organization from three perspectives:
1) Staff skills and expertise
2) Products and service delivery
3) Customer relationships
Each dimension represents a competency that is essential to optimum performance.
Ask your managers and staff to think like consumers. Work to create a customer experience that produces lifetime value in relationships. Be creative with your products and service practices. Actively develop your staff and support systems to deliver experiences that strengthen relationship loyalty. Developing what your competitors do not have or will not offer could be the critical difference to expanding client relationships and enhancing tenure.
Marketing plans that place advertising as a top priority usually address only a small portion of the education opportunities in front of financial institutions. Your employees should be encouraged to continually inform, educate and provide solutions to customers. Educating consumers is a critical trust-building trust within your strategic sales, service and marketing framework.
Key Question: Would you feel comfortable purchasing a product or service from someone that didn’t seem to understand what they were offering?
“Without a solid value proposition, price will always be a problem.”
Most employees can remember how they felt when an inexperienced and unknowledgeable salesperson tried to push them into a product. It isn’t comfortable because there is no trust.
Product and industry knowledge enhances the value of your organization and available expertise. Spend time educating your staff about financial solutions, customer needs and relationship opportunities with clients. Then proactively educate your customers about the solutions that set your organization apart from the competition. Don’t stop with just advertising. Leverage every educational connection with your targeted customers and prospects.
Great things happen when people communicate. Bad things happen when people don’t.
Having defined the direction of your marketing plan is only one step in the process. It’s vital that your plan is thoroughly expressed and understood by all stakeholders, including management, the board, staff… even your customers (or members) to a certain extent.
Employees that know and understand your organization’s objectives are more likely to contribute favorably to the desired results. Don’t rely on email communications to share information and provide feedback. Spend time on communications that allow for questions and feedback. And when talking with frontline employees, don’t use “management speak” — e.g., “Our operational objectives include gamifying and incentivizing desired consumer behaviors to make products sticky and reduce attrition.” Translate your plan into everyday English, or no one will have a clue what you’re talking about.
Document your plans, create pictures of success and get your managers and supervisors engaged in active communication. Banking is a service-based industry. This places a premium on effective internal and external communications.
5. Strategic Initiatives
Tighter budgets have placed a high premium on how effectively your marketing dollars are invested each year. The probability of producing success in a changing marketplace is enhanced with strategic thinking and innovation — the kind of thinking that focuses your efforts on essential, highly targeted business and marketing initiatives.
The majority of your emerging opportunities will not be coming from new “breakout trends” in banking. They will be nurtured from your understanding of your trade area and an intimate knowledge of your customers’ needs for products, information and financial expertise. Limiting the number of your strategic initiatives is critical to leveraging your resources and managing your marketing investments. Be strategic in your thinking, planning and actions.
Do opportunities exist in every situation? Invest in the right organizational practices and find out. Effective planning is your first step. Don’t spend one more dollar attempting to build your brand or acquiring the next customer until you understand your opportunities, unify your focus and direct your resources to the desired outcomes. Plan with a purpose and invest in the things that produce success for your organization.
Perhaps you are in a market where competitors have been distracted by asset quality issues or struggles with new regulations, they won’t be distracted forever. Maybe you have access to a new delivery channel that will strengthen your image as a market leader in technology. You decide where go from here. If you have an opportunity, don’t wait until things get better, pursue it now.
Tom Hershberger is president and founder of Cross Financial Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Tom works exclusively with financial institutions to support business planning, staff training, mystery shopping, customer satisfaction surveys, market research, branding, and corporate communications. You can reach Tom at 800-566-3491.