Saturday, May 22, 2010

An open letter to bank marketers...

Change is difficult. Consider the difficulty in changing our own behaviors. A friend of mine that runs fitness clubs on Florida’s Gold Coast told me that it can be more effective to increase weight training in my workout regiment if I want to shed some pounds because muscle burns calories. This required me to rethink and change my workout routine. The end result: I decreased my cardio workout and increased weight training five measly minutes.

I did not doubt my friend’s advice. I had difficulty changing my routine, a routine that is totally under my control. Imagine changing the culture of a whole organization. To my bank (thrift and credit union) marketing friends, I throw this challenge to you.

The talent of the individuals facing me these past two days at the ABA School of Bank Marketing Management in Dallas was impressive. Collectively, they have intelligence, education, intuition, and the ability to think strategically. Marketers, in my experience, have demonstrated a greater acceptance of the need for cultural change in banking.

But there is a challenge to them. In many instances, they have been marginalized in their institution; relegated to running the ad budget or organizing the next customer mixer. Many, if not most bank employees, think about the next loan deal, or the next CD promotion. Marketers are the proverbial right brain thinkers in a left brain world.

But banking is changing rapidly. The need to develop a vision and a strategy to support achieving that vision is greater today than at any time since post WWII. If our bank is simply an efficient processor of debits and credits, are we needed? There are plenty of other financial institutions to fill that role. Each bank must assess where it stands in its communities and among its customers. Once completed, they need to identify the type of bank they want to be and set about getting there.

Marketing is in a unique position to play a critical role in evolving our industry and be the lynchpin for cultural change (see link to Susan Heathfield’s blog on organizational cultural change below). The personality of Marketing leaders are typically well-suited for strategic thinking. They have their fingers on the data about the bank’s customer base, markets, and prospects that is critical to creating strategy. They have the skills to design service standards that are truly superior, to implement training that goes beyond compliance, and to demonstrate to employees how to execute on those standards.

But how should a bank marketer implement cultural change in an industry that has not yet embraced it? How should one convince a CEO that the long-term relevance of the bank is dependent on cultural change and not simply minor tweaks to business as usual?

I don’t think this will be easy. But I find the marketing function to be in a unique position to start the process of cultural change. Marketers intuitively recognize the need for change, have the ability to pull back the camera and think strategically, and have the ideas to show a path to successful change and lead their banks back to relevance. Take the initiative.



  1. When a cultural shift originates in the marketing department, it's usually called "branding."

    When I used to do brand consulting work, 95% of the time I would be hired by the VP of Marketing. They knew (1) cultural changes were needed across the organization, and (2) they weren't going to make it happen on their own.

    When done right, branding is one of the best ways to affect large-scale changes across a financial institution. I'm not talking about farting around with one's ads and their look-and-feel. I'm talking about establishing an overall strategy and focus -- what you promise, what you do, how you behave, what you say, what you sell and how you sell it.

  2. Well said. There must be an organizational catalyst for change. The primary catalyst ought to be the CEO. But who to convince the CEO that change is required? Hmmm.

    - Jeff

  3. Excellent subject and I could not agree more. Two statements really strike me and, in my opinion, define the problem. One, marketing is in a unique position to affect change and two, marketing has been marginalized. Until that divide is addressed/resolved, the problem is going to continue.

    Simplistically, if they are to affect and drive the change, marketers need to either build alliances with potential catalysts that have not been marginalized (i.e. CFO?) or find a way to increase their value within the organization.

    Here is a suggestion: if you are hoping to drive change, please do not spend a lot of resources trying to decide what kind of lapel pins your branch personnel should be wearing. That is the type of activity that marginalizes marketing.

  4. I agree Mike. Marketers can lament they have been marginalized by others, but there are things that can be done to reverse the trend, such as you mentioned above.

    - jeff

  5. It's talked about in all sorts of other industries that sales and marketing are beginning to merge together. In other words, one can't fully function without the other. I haven't been around this industry as long as some but I'm keen enough to know that the long running standard for sales departments in this industry is to ignore most marketing department talk. And likewise, marketing departments feel their sales teams don't respect them enough and therefore don't take advantage of quality opportunities that they feel their campaigns produce. If this sounds familiar, then you have your first assignment - fix this relationship. By forging a strong relationship between these two departments, you can start to change the culture of your institution from the inside out much easier then if they're not working in tandem.