As the importance of bank marketing has accelerated in the highly competitive digital era, why are so many community banks still trying to get by with just a skeleton marketing crew?
Banking has become a game of strategy. It is no longer just about improving technology and offering financial services products. It’s about how an institution’s product offerings are packaged and configured as part of a strategic plan to tap into distinct market segments.
The industry’s cutting edge has shifted from bricks to clicks. Customers want effortless, convenient banking. Big banks and fintech companies are leading the way in developing customer-centric products, and are sucking a majority of millennials into their big black holes.
To help community banks compete in this environment, part of the solution is to boost marketing resources and to increase the profile of marketing teams in the corporate suite. Understanding and responding to customer behavior, after all, is the fundamental role of a marketing professional. And that means much more extensive work than designing an ad, building a website or posting on Facebook.
A skilled marketing professional has a background in strategic planning, research and execution, as well as fluency in all communication channels. Bringing the voice of the consumer to senior management discussions can be invaluable as the industry has not historically been trained to make decisions based on what consumers want. Interpretation of market and competitive data, analysis of customer transactions and an ability to succinctly articulate a path forward can make a critical difference for many community banks.
But a cursory look at industry data suggests few community banks are making a serious commitment to quality marketing. Budgets are inadequate, departments are woefully understaffed and few marketers have made it to top-level executive status. This last state of affairs may be due in part to bank marketers who don’t have – or haven’t demonstrated – the requisite skills for joining C-suite executives. Perhaps rule-following CEOs also aren’t ready to embrace innovation or purchase the marketing resources needed to compete in a highly competitive environment.
A typical community bank with assets of around $415 million has one full-time marketing employee, according to a 2015 Cornerstone Advisors study. How can one staffer be held responsible for all marketing and social media campaigns, developing marketing strategies, maintaining websites, creating advertisements, handling public relations and managing new product launches? For a one-person band, there is virtually no time for performance analysis, message testing, research and strategic planning. Similarly, it’s inconceivable that a typical $1.2 billion-asset institution with 10 offices, for instance, could mount an aggressive marketing campaign with a staff of just three people.
Community banks show a similar deficit in funding marketing programs. The same Cornerstone data shows that the median bank allocation for marketing expenses is 0.07% of assets. Not only is $290,000 inadequate for any type of sophisticated program, but it is less than the standard benchmark of .1% of assets used by marketers 40 years ago.
Surely, the explosion of mobile banking growth, competition for millennials and advances by fintech companies are enough to warrant an increase in marketing expenditures. If not, maybe it’s time for CEOs to retire.