From April 2-4, I had the opportunity to attend the Financial Brand Forum and learn from other like-minded marketers, bankers and strategists. The only problem with the forum was that there was so much information, I would struggle to fit it in one article, but here I go!

First off, what you already know, but still need to contemplate: Strong brands make more money! Take Nike, Starbucks, Apple. Sure, they have a great product (as far as most are concerned), but what really sets them apart is their focus on their brand and their consistency in that branding, product and message. Financial institutions must embrace this logic to set themselves apart from the pack. Consumers LIKE brands that look and act differently. Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz said, “The only competitive advantage we have is our people.” Emotions drive us and then logic reinforces the decisioning. This is important when building marketing plans and building programs to attract customers and keep customers.

Many specific banks were highlighted in this forum, and how they are doing business differently and how that nurtures their growth. Umpqua Bank was specifically highlighted for their culture that embraces the customer experience and their focus on bridging the gap between digital and offline banking. One marketing success story was around a lemonade stand marketing initiative, where kids applied and received kits to open their own lemonade stand business, and the conversations with family members & people in the community resulted in a 30% lift in account openings. Empowering customers led to growth, and their attitude to “do anything to help others” created a culture that the customer base wants to embrace.

A recurring theme at this forum was the emergence/crystallization of activity-based marketing. If you can engage people while they are in the process of buying, changing or looking, your rate of conversion is exponentially higher. Consumers are using their phones for research, coupons and receipts – so banks need to make sure they are providing those services. Also, the point of interaction is changing. Banks must market much earlier in the discovery process, utilizing smartphones and other online communications. A telling example came when Aite asked consumers “who would be best to provide excellent mobile shopping applications for savings?” 53% said Financial Institutions over Amazon, Ebay and others.

As usual, social media is still a hot topic for bank marketers, and the notion was repeated that social should unequivocally exist in tandem to broader marketing plans. Data and segmentation are playing a bigger part than ever into social campaigns. Here are some interesting stats:

  • 32% of Financial Institutions are shifting TV dollars to online videos
  • 95% of smartphone users look up local information and check their phones 150+ times a day
  • 61% of them call businesses from their smartphones and 59% of them say they visit that business.

These stats and others highlighted a growing need for banks, lenders and credit unions to start thinking mobile now, and in many cases, mobile first. With all of the possibilities that mail has to interact with a smartphone, the pairing is just getting stronger as the years progress, and smart financial institutions will already be ahead of that curve. I’m already looking forward to next year’s forum. You can read part 2 of my experience here!

Tammy has over 15 years of marketing experience and over 20 years of professional customer expertise.  Her expertise in the financial services industry included being a consultant to numerous financial institutions and being Vice President and Market Manager for National City Bank. Tammy is past co-chair of the American Financial Services Association marketing committee and is a member of the Professional Services Marketing Association.