The Ducks are There. Take the Shot.

Ad agency folks are famous for their metaphors. When we came up with a campaign idea, for instance, and were curious to know whether it would pass muster or not, we’d say, “lets run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it,” or “we’ll put it out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up.” When we were working on a campaign and felt that, from a strategic point of view, our messaging was not being directed to the appropriate target audience, we’d call that “shooting at ducks that aren’t really there.”

I just recently saw some statistics around financial industry marketing budgets. Now, I guess I’m reminiscing a bit because any mention of “budget” brings me back to those ad agency days, when your survival hinged on a client’s budget. Every one of us assigned to the account was either working or worrying; working to grow the brand or worrying that the client might find a reason to cut their budget. We never lost a client to another agency, but I remember the host of downturns that sent shockwaves through the agencies where I worked. As soon as the client got a whiff of an economic slowdown, the marketing budget was always the first to go and with it, the agency personnel who worked on that account. (Often, unfortunately, it included agency personnel who WEREN'T working on that account, which was even more frightening.) When the economy turned around, we were always the last to see the benefit of the rebound. I suppose it was because clients tended to feel a bit “once bitten twice shy”. They wanted to be certain, before recommitting to the agency and spending more money, that the recovery was real and long lasting.  We’re in one of those downturns right now, and we’re seeing the same response: Reduced spending on marketing.

The Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2021-2022 revealed that the cuts in the financial industry are pretty dramatic; “marketing budgets as a percent of overall company revenue dropped to their lowest levels in history — to 6% in 2021 from 11% in 2020. Despite facing in-year budget cuts in 2020 due to the pandemic,” says the survey, “most CMOs expected budgets to bounce back in 2021. This budgetary optimism was misplaced, as marketing budgets have fallen to their lowest level in the history of the survey.” Forbes says that “these findings reflect not only an ongoing downward pressure on marketing spend caused by the pandemic, but also a strategic shift in enterprise resource allocation decisions.” According to Gartner, the marketing budget dollars are shifting from marketing to martech solutions; that banks are redirecting the dollars they would ordinarily dedicate to building brand and promoting products/services toward their “digital transformation.” 

In response, those in charge of marketing (the CMO if your bank is large enough and fortunate enough to have one) “are reimagining the capabilities that can be supported by their internal teams.” In other words, bringing the work in house. Nearly 30% of the work previously done by outside agencies, in fact, has been moved to in-house resources in the last 12 months.

So, in summation, what we now have are smaller marketing budgets managed in house, and more often than not, by staff members who have suddenly found themselves with added responsibilities. In other words, a stretched staff, that frankly has neither the funding or the time, to continue to do what banks must do: Sell themselves. Not just “even” during tough times but “because” of tough times.

What I mean is this: The ducks are out there. Simply because banks are compelled to race to the best digital experience doesn’t mean that they can take a vacation from building their brand, differentiating themselves, building trust and relationships… 

ON24’s “2021 B2B Marketing Trends Report: How to Augment the Marketing Organization for a Digital-First Future” speaks to the damage that cuts in a marketing budget can do: “If companies stay flat, freeze, or dramatically reduce their spend in marketing and sales now, they are less likely to recover fast enough against their market competition when the time arises.”

Traditionally, brand awareness has been the ultimate goal of every marketing strategy. With digital transformation we’ve seen a massive shift toward performance marketing — metrics-driven, online marketing campaigns in search of clicks or conversions — and away from brand/relationship building.  There’s a clear danger in this. ON24 has this to say about it: “The truth is, performance marketing may create a jump in short term sales, but it won’t keep your customers coming back again and again. You can sustain performance only with a concurrent brand campaign.”

Are banks running that “concurrent brand campaign”? I can tell you this: The successful ones, the ones that will come out of this downturn stronger, are. There’s no better time for your marketing messaging to stand out in your crowd of competitors than those times when your competitors are silent.

Like I said, those ducks are out there. Take the shot. Especially now, when you can be the only one in the blind.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit BankMarketingCenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.



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‘A Walmart-sized battle’ about fairness between community banks and core providers

Having spent the last 40 years in the marketing industry, I’ve always wondered why when I log into my Farmers and Merchants Bank account, the name Jack Henry Associates, Inc. shows up. Fortunately, I know who Jack Henry is, but for most people, that has to raise a red flag. Who the heck is Jack Henry and how did he get unto my account? Why did Farmers and Merchants Bank send me to him?

Who is Jack Henry?

Turns out, the company, as well as its competitors – like Fidelity National Information Services (FIS) and Fiserv, Inc. – is a big deal in the banking world, providing what The Wall Street Journal recently described as “much of the modern banking system’s financial plumbing, especially for smaller banks.”

But here’s the deal: Just as Congress dropped an oversized hammer on community banks when it enacted reforms after the 2008 financial crisis, some small-town bankers and their organizations contend that core providers aren’t playing fairly with them, giving big banks access to their leading-edge technology while making smaller banks delay implementation of their latest software.

For example, the Journal reported in its April 11 edition that Lead Bank, a community institution in Kansas City, Mo., wanted to offer Zelle, the payments app, to its customers. They were told by Fiserv, one of its technology providers that it would have to wait until June at the earliest to launch.

Big banks, however, began offering the service two years ago, the Journal reported.

Therein lies a problem.

Fiserv, FIS, Jack Henry and their competitors are known as “core providers” whose pitch to small banks is that the core providers can give Main Street banks access to the same tech as the Wall Street institutions.

But with a nod to the musical “Oklahoma,” when it comes to this promised technological access, everything isn’t up to date in Kansas City, or at other community banks, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

But community banks aren’t going to let this pass without a fight. In fact, some are filing lawsuits, looking to startups and taking a strength in numbers approach, negotiating as a group for a better deal, the WSJ reported.

American Bankers Association CEO Rob Nichols speaks out

This alleged failure to deal fairly isn’t isolated, American Bankers Association CEO Rob Nichols told the Journal.

“I’ve met with over 3,000 bank CEOs and this came up time and time again; the challenges and constraints they face with their core provider,” Nichols told the WSJ. As you know the ABA represents banks big and small.

But the problem is about more than equal, timely access, according to the story. Community banks and industry organizations say that unfair contracts and sometimes-mediocre offerings make it hard to compete with their bigger rivals.

“Executives at some small banks say they feel they are becoming franchises of the core providers because they are so reliant on their technology,” the Journal reported.

Community banks and core providers began working together in the 1990’s, as the banks sought to computerize paper work. But now, the small institutions turn to core providers for everything from websites to apps.

Ask community bankers, and dollars to doughnuts they’ll tell you that while eye-to-eye relationships are critical to keeping customers, flashy, user-friendly tech is often the difference between gaining and keeping – or losing -- a new client.  Especially with younger customers, tech is critical.

The WSJ cited numbers from the consulting firm J.T. Kearney:

“Midsize and local banks hold 13 percent of primary banking relationships but capture only 7 percent of the customers who switch banks,” the WSJ reported.  Cutting-edge tech is more often than not the deciding factor in the banking choice for customers who switch institutions. Banks with less than $100 million in assets hold only 6.42 percent of industry assets.

Community Banks are putting up a fight

Given the significance of all this to the future of community banking, small institutions are putting up their dukes.

An examples from the WSJ:

  • Millington Bank in New Jersey found that if it sold itself, it would owe FIS more than $4 million, according to court records cited by the paper, an amount equal to a year’s profits. Millington sued FIS and the case is awaiting arbitration.

Aaron Silva’s firm Paladin fs negotiates contracts with core providers on the banks’ behalf.

“They’re not building highways to the banks’ data,” Silva told the Journal, “they’re building toll roads”.

For its part, Fiserv said it has updated its processes and plans a widespread roll out of Zelle to many banks at once. But in this spring of small banks’ discontent with core providers, Lead Bank CEO Josh Rowland and other community banks are growing impatient. He compared their battle with the fight between big box stores and mom-and-pop retailers.

Community banks, he told the Journal, “are fighting a Walmart-sized battle.”

“We’re not going to wait around,” Rowland told the paper. “But it’s harder than it feels like it should be.”

In an earlier article posted HERE, we discussed the importance of reliability and technology for community banks. In light of these recent developments in the relationship between core providers and small institutions, some points bear repeating:

  • “Invest intelligently in technology. Community banks know their markets well, better than one of the big Wall Street players. As a result, your bank should know specifically what technology works best for your customers. Tailor your tech investment to those specific needs.
  • Face Facts. The bottom line is that in 2019, it’s short sighted to rest on the laurels of community relationships and ignore technology. If you want to attract new, younger customers who will one day want mortgages, car loans, or investment services, community banks must adapt to changing times. And remember, your older, established customers may be more tech-savvy than you think.

Too, remember the fate of print newspapers, which failed to adjust to the tech boom and as a result, failed to monetize digital content. As a result, the morning Daily Bugle that used to be part of your morning routine is no more. Without adapting to technology, your bank could go the same way. Consider this chilling number from Finextra.com: In 1985, there were nearly 16,000 community banks. By the end of 2015, there were 5,874.

  • You’re not too small to have a mobile app. With an app, you can maintain relationships, while at the same time maintaining expectations about customer convenience. Maintaining a reliable app boosts customer loyalty.

While the WSJ article, as well as the reality of the declining numbers of community banks may send chills through our sector of the industry, as long as your bank’s doors are open, it’s not too late to change.”

Read the entire Wall Street Journal article here:


What’s been your community bank’s experience with core providers? Send me your story at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com