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Developing a Bank Marketing Plan: Seven Steps

I am big on planning.  It works. If you are going to be successful, you need to start with clear goals and a well-developed plan.

Planning Makes a Big Difference

·       Helps you focus your marketing efforts and spend your marketing dollars more effectively.

·       Forces you to really think about what you are doing and why.

·       Gives your staff/agency/marketing partners the direction they need.

·       Enables you to easily share information with other key players within your bank.

·       Builds credibility for your marketing department and helps demonstrate your value to the bank.

·       It makes you a better marketer.

In this post, I will outline my approach to marketing planning, which I have fine tuned over many years of managing bank marketing departments. I don’t know if it’s the right approach for you, so I suggest that you take a look, choose the parts you like, and combine them with your own ideas to build a planning process that will work the best for you and your bank.

7 step process

  1. Meet with Your Exec(s): Meet with bank execs to get a sense of the overall direction and bank priorities for the coming year. At this early stage, you probably won’t have a draft of the business plan to refer to, so, you will need to find out about any major new initiatives (new products, new technology, branch openings, etc.). This information will help you start thinking about major campaigns and projects you will need to work on. Clarify their priorities for marketing. Discuss major campaigns and projects you are considering and get their initial feedback.
    This is also a good time to review the ongoing elements of your marketing plan and recommend any changes: your Market Position Statement, your Role of Marketing document and your Marketing Functions chart.
  2. Host Key User Meetings: Don’t try to create your plan in a vacuum. Set up planning meetings with all of the key users of your marketing services: usually department heads for areas such as commercial/RE loans, business services, personal loans, retail banking, your phone center, online/mobile services, merchant services, wealth management, etc. You’ll also want to meet with the leaders of the markets outside of your main office community to assess their special needs and competitive challenges.
    Use these meetings to learn about your key users’ business challenges as well as their priorities and any major new projects they are planning for the coming year. Get their feedback about your current marketing efforts on their behalf and what they feel is and isn’t working. Ask them how marketing can help them meet their business goals. It’s also a good time to share info on bank-wide campaigns and plans you are considering as well as specific projects for their areas/products that you may propose.
  3. Involve Your Marketing Staff: If you have staff, conduct a staff planning session and present the info/ideas/feedback you have gathered so far. (Some staff may have been involved in your key marketing user meetings, too.) Encourage them to present their own proposals, new ideas, suggestions for improvements, particularly those that pertain to their responsibilities. Brainstorm solutions to your department’s critical marketing challenges. Review ideas you’ve been gathering in your ongoing “future ideas” file and notes that were placed in project files for ways to improve the next time around.
    By involving your marketing staff in idea creation, budget research and plan writing, you can provide them with new challenges and opportunities to be creative and develop their skills. Assign each staff member some planning and responsibilities; they’ll end up feeling a greater sense of ownership in the success of their projects and a stronger commitment to meeting department goals.
  4. Evaluate Options and Dig In: Using the bank’s business plan as a foundation, you will need to address the priorities of your bank execs and your key marketing users. One way to start is to place all of the proposed projects on your Major Marketing Projects Calendar and see what works and what needs to be discarded/postponed for another year. You won’t be able to do everything that is on your wish list or the wish list of your key marketing users. This is where your knowledge of marketing and your understanding of your management’s priorities come into play. Once you complete a good working draft of the Major Marketing Projects Calendar, you should have most of the information you need to draft your Overall Marketing Plan for the year.
  5. Develop and Present Your Budget: Now it’s time to work on the first draft of the budget. If you have marketing staff, have them research costs that pertain to their projects/areas of expertise. Start with ballpark numbers from last year’s budget (incorporating any variances and expected cost increases) and get estimates and bids on new projects/materials. Looks for ways to reduce costs as you gather information. Once you have a well-researched budget and have finalized your Major Marketing Projects Calendar and your Overall Marketing Plan, it is time to present them to your execs. Your budget/plan presentation meeting will go much better if you’ve developed a realistic budget, because then your management can choose to keep/cut projects based on the value to the bank vs. the actual anticipated cost.
    During the review process, your management will ask hard questions, evaluate your proposals for new programs and question the true value of ongoing programs. You need to be well prepared. Remember, it’s their job to balance your recommendations, the needs of key department heads and the business goals of the bank. It’s likely that they will cut some of the campaigns and projects you’ve proposed in order to control expenses. Once initial cuts have been made, you may still be asked to go back and review your budget and make recommendations for further cuts in order to meet a target budget. If further cuts are needed, you may have another meeting with management to review your recommendations and get final decisions.
  6. Finalize Your Budget, Calendar(s) and Plan: Now you have the information you need to make all the changes to your budget, adjust your project and event calendars and finalize your overall plan. Once your management has finally signed off, you may still have to wait for final board approval, depending on how the budget process works at your bank. If bank budgets are not approved until the January board meeting, you may need to get special approval to move forward with projects slated for January since the work will need to be done in December.
  7. Communicate: Once your budget and plan are approved, it’s time to communicate your plans for the coming year with key employees. Good communication is key to developing support for your marketing programs, but not everyone needs everything.
    Here’s a list by type of employee that should give you a good place to start.
  • Marketing: First, your marketing staff will need copies of everything as soon as possible so they can start working on Project Implementation Plans and preparing for the new year.
  • Bank Execs: They should receive a copy of the Overall Marketing Plan, all four quarters of your Major Marketing Projects Calendar, the summary page of your final budget, the Market Position Statement, The Role of Marketing and Marketing Functions.
  • Key Users (Dept Heads): You will want to share the Overall Marketing Plan, the Market Position Statement, the Role of Marketing and Marketing Functions, as well any applicable plans/budgets with your key marketing users so they know what marketing support they can expect from you and the general time frames. If any experienced significant cuts during the budget review process, it’s a good idea to meet with them personally to explain the reasons behind the decisions. They should also receive Project Implementation Plans that relate to their areas.
  • Other Managers, Supervisors and Officers: Each should receive a copy of the Market Position Statement and each quarter’s Major Marketing Projects Calendar as the year progresses. By sending it quarterly, you can provide the most updated version (changes are inevitable). You may want to send the Overall Marketing Plan to some managers.
  • All Employees: as you launch major campaigns and promotions, all employees should receive copies of bank-wide Project Implementation Plans so they understand the programs and the bank’s goals for them.

While many of these steps can vary, depending on how you approach marketing planning at your bank, I strongly recommend that you meet with all of the key users of your marketing services and get their input, and if you have marketing staff, I think it’s important to involve them in the development of your plan and budget.

More Information

Additional information on marketing planning can be found in two other posts on my blog, ” Elements of a Bank Marketing Plan” and “Defining Your Marketing Functions.” Let me know if you have any questions!


Defining Your Marketing Functions

Marketing’s key responsibilities can vary greatly by bank. They are usually based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Your bank’s approach to marketing
  • How your execs view the role of marketing at your bank and their priorities for marketing
  • Your marketing staffing budget
  • The skills of the bank’s current marketing staff and the skills that exist in other areas of the bank
  • Office politics
  • The size of your bank: the smaller your bank is, the fewer of these functions you can take on.

There is no right or wrong answer and your functions will change over time. As your bank grows, marketing often takes on more functions—either in-house or by outsourcing some of them. Let’s look at typical functions within a bank marketing department:

Common Marketing Functions

Common Bank Marketing Functions

Marketing Planning and Strategy

You should start with a good basic marketing plan, which identifies how marketing will support the bank’s business goals and provides an overview of significant marketing initiatives for the year. It’s important to set goals and measure your progress against them. You will also want to develop more specific plans for your major projects and prepare an annual major projects calendar. Your plan should be accompanied by a detailed budget. We’ll talk about the elements of a good marketing plan in a separate blog post.


It’s important to define your bank’s brand and brand personality in order to build your identity and use your marketing and communications to reinforce it at every opportunity. Your brand is built and reinforced by everything you do in marketing, but also by everything your management and employees do. It encompasses your bank’s philosophies and values, your top exec’s management style, the look and feel of your facilities, your products, your customer service, your advertising and community outreach, your reputation, the events you do…you get the idea. Just about everything affects your brand. Marketing should be overseeing and protecting the bank’s brand.


Advertising is the most visible element of your marketing program. Many banks do traditional advertising (print, radio, TV, outdoor)—both image and product advertising—and more are venturing into online advertising. It is likely that you will have at least some responsibility for advertising compliance, and you probably have responsibility for advertising compliance record keeping. Most banks have a compliance person who reviews and approves all of your public materials.


Promotions are usually product-focused campaigns and may or may not include advertising support. Some promotions are only conducted within the bank or are targeted to very specific groups through direct marketing. They usually entail special offers for a limited period of time and an employee sales component. Also included in this category: branch and drive-up merchandising such as digital boards, posters, counter cards, banners, brochures, handouts, displays, promotional giveaways and more. In most banks, marketing manages product promotions, but may or may not manage sales campaigns.

Direct Marketing

In banking, this usually means direct mail pieces and marketing emails, but it can also include targeted telemarketing campaigns, or a combination of the three.  A few banks are doing targeted text messaging. As more banks can send targeted messages and offers within online and mobile banking, new direct marketing opportunities will begin to open up for marketers.

Online Communications

Online communications is the fastest-growing function within many marketing departments. While some small banks are still treating their websites like static brochures, more banks are using their websites as a way to become a real resource for customers. Online encompasses several areas, but you may not be involved in all of them, yet.

Online Functions

Online Marketing Functions

  •  Website (bank and product information, financial resources and content, online applications, product recommendations, online offers, personal financial management, etc.)
  • Search engine optimization (SEO/helping your bank be found in online search)
  •  Online advertising (banner ads, pay-per-click, QR codes, mobile SMS text messages and advertising within social media)
  •  Social media communications (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.)

Product and Services 

Marketing should be involved in the development and introduction.  In some banks, you will actually manage the new product process, but at the very least you should be a part of the product development team.  Less often marketing will be involved in the ongoing management of your bank’s products and services. Areas where marketing can make significant contributions:

  • Product research and analysis including competitive analysis and assessing your customers’ needs
  • New product development (monitoring trends, conducting surveys, managing new product intros, producing product materials, conducting new product training, tracking new product performance, etc.)
  • Product promotions to build awareness and cross sell new products

Delivery Channels

We used to think of ATMs, phone banking and online banking as banking services, but they are now considered to be banking channels since they are simply another way for customers to access their accounts and manage their money. Other channels include branches, mobile banking, remote deposit capture, digital wallets, etc. It is just as important for marketing to be involved in the design and promotion of your bank’s delivery channels as your products and services. Your role may be as a task force member or you may be responsible for channel development, but often ongoing product management is handled by other areas of the bank (or not at all).

Sales and/or Sales Support

Often in smaller community banks, marketing doesn’t manage sales for the bank, but most marketing departments are involved in supporting sales efforts.  Sales support includes product brochures and sales materials (paper and electronic), employee sales contest and incentives, product campaigns and promotions, sales prospect lists, promotional giveaways for calling officers, online product info, product and sales training, new customer onboarding programs, as well as product-focused direct mail, email and advertising/campaigns.

MCIF/Customer Segmentation and Lead Generation

An MCIF (marketing customer information file) system is used to pull all of a customer’s accounts and services into one file in order to get a complete picture of the customer/family relationship. This helps employees better understand the customer’s value to the bank and find opportunities to suggest additional products. At a more macro level, an MCIF helps the bank evaluate customer and product profitability. It can be used to develop many types of lists for direct marketing and cross selling efforts.

If your bank has an MCIF (or a Customer Relationship Management/CRM system), it’s probably managed by marketing. In some banks, the data side is managed by accounting or IT and the system is used by marketing. Smaller banks often have to make do with custom core system reports to segment customers and develop lists.

Bank and Market Research

If your bank conducts research, it is probably a responsibility of marketing. Common bank customer satisfaction research includes shopper surveys, comment cards, phone interviews, how are we doing surveys, online forums, etc.  You may also conduct research to assess hours changes, policy changes, product enhancements and more. Tracking (product, new account, closed account, cross sell ratio, etc.) may or may not be handled by marketing. Employee satisfaction surveys may be handled by marketing or HR. Community banks often hire outside research firms to conduct more complex studies such as image/brand research, new location assessments, local bank satisfaction/propensity to switch surveys and more. When outside vendors are hired, it is often marketing who directs their work.

Public Relations

Public relations enables you to build relationships and trust with your key publics, or stakeholders. Because a good reputation and strong relationships are so important to the success of community banks, most are very involved in public relations. In small banks, some of this work may be done by areas outside of marketing, such as the exec area, but most commonly, it is handled within the marketing/communications department, sometimes with help from a PR firm.

This graphic shows the primary areas of public relations in community banks.

Areas of PR

PR: Communicating with Your Key Publics

  •  Community relations: donations, sponsorships, community events, employee volunteerism
  • Media relations: news coverage on your bank and its employees, providing information to the media and responding to their requests, media training for top staff
  • Customer relations: advising bank management on key customer issues, drafting communications, handling crisis communications, image advertising
  • Employee communications: written materials, events and meetings, brand engagement
  • Investor relations: Communications and financial reports (if you are a publicly-traded bank)
  • Other: You may also be responsible for other communications, speech writing and managing special events for all of these key groups.

Internal Marketing

Internal marketing is regularly communicating with your employees; listening and informing them about key issues; engaging them in your marketing efforts; and giving them the tools they need to excel in your marketing initiatives, campaigns, product promotions, etc. If you aren’t doing internal marketing, you’re missing a huge opportunity to make your branding and marketing more effective. As a marketer, you benefit by having employees who believe in the bank’s mission, understand the bank’s goals, support the bank and serve as brand ambassadors. In some banks, this is handled by HR, but it is important for marketing to make internal marketing a priority.

Customer Service

Community banks often make customer service a big part of their branding and positioning. If service is a critical part of your bank’s market position, it’s important for marketing to be involved. This includes ensuring that there are clear service expectations for employees, communicating the bank’s commitment to service, monitoring service performance, managing complaints, training employees and helping management recognize top achievers.  In some banks, the customer service function is managed by retail banking, operations or the executive area rather than marketing.

Customer Experience

Customer experience is related to service; it’s about managing the whole experience your customer has from the first contact, through account opening and then at all the touch points after that (in-person, by phone, by mail, online, email and mobile). Regardless of who has responsibility for managing customer service and the customer experience at your bank, it will have a major impact on your ability to market effectively, build your brand and retain customers.

Defining Your Key Marketing Functions

That wraps up the key functions most commonly found in a community bank marketing department. I recommend that you start with the chart at the beginning of this post. Use it to help you define what marketing is and isn’t responsible for at your bank. Modify the chart and make it your own. Defining your key functions will help you make sure all of your bank’s marketing functions are covered, either by marketing staff or by someone else in your bank.

When you have defined your marketing functions and your bank execs have signed off, make sure you communicate the information to the other officers in your bank. If you have marketing staff, it is also helpful to develop a breakdown of functions by position. By communicating the full scope of what marketing is responsible for at your bank, you’ll develop respect for your marketing department’s role within your bank.