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Jumpstart Your Marketing Plan in Just Five Days

What You Will Need: Curiosity and an Open Mind

You see them each day. Some wait on the teller line or rush to the ATM, a few speak with loan advisors, still more are unseen-calling your customer service phone line or navigating your website. Whether you call them "customers" or "members," there is one thing you eagerly want to know: What makes them tick? For instance, why does a recent college grad choose to open his checking account at a particular bank, and not at the bank across the street? What motivates a 39-year-old mother of three-who's been satisfied with her financial institution for years-to choose a competitor for her mortgage? Which is more important to most consumers-great customer service or great rates on loans?

A world of market research exists that can help financial marketing execs pinpoint what drives consumer banking habits. But according to Jeb Cashin, vice president of marketing communications at Harland Clarke, some bankers assume they do not have time to use this research in ways that can boost acquisitions and growth.

"It takes just a few hours to get a snapshot of how consumers perceive your institution and to begin fine-tuning your marketing goals," he says. "Start on Monday, and by Friday you'll be on your way."

Cashin's "Five Day Plan" need not require a big budget or endless staff meetings. What it does entail is a willingness to dig around, ask questions and, most importantly, have an open mind.

Monday: Dust off past customer research

"Don't discount past research. It's a low-cost way to get thought-provoking information," Cashin says. "Pull out that customer service survey you conducted last year that's buried in a desk drawer, or the demographic profile of new accountholders from last quarter."

Perhaps circumstances prevented you from taking action back then. But it is not too late. Set aside an hour or two and read these reports again, pencil in hand.

"Look for trends over time," Cashin says. "Has your financial institution made progress in a certain area, for instance, shortening teller wait time or simplifying an overly complicated website?

Are there still holes that haven't been fixed? Examine this data with a fresh eye."

Tuesday: Shop around

When was the last time you anonymously opened an account at one of your branches? Have you gone into a competitor's branch and taken note of what they do differently, and whether it is working?

"Take the afternoon and become an anonymous shopper," Cashin says. "You'll suddenly start to see things the way accountholders do." This includes calling customer service lines and tooling around on competitors' websites. Write up a brief summary of what you find, for your eyes only. Underline those areas that require further follow-up. (To learn more about Harland Clarke's Mystery Shopping service, see our Solution Spotlight.)

Wednesday: Take stock of your existing marketing initiatives

Carve out 30 uninterrupted minutes and jot down your answers to the following questions: Who exactly are you trying to reach, and with what message? How oft en do you send direct mail or run ads to a specific demographic segment?

Are you trying to appeal to everyone," asks Cashin, "or to a specific group, such as Hispanics or Gen-Y urban dwellers?" Even more important, are you reaching out to the right consumers, based on your branch locations? "Young singles in the city choose their banks differently than do families in the suburbs," Cashin says. "You've got to really know your potential audience."

Then connect the dots. Do your current initiatives address unresolved issues you may have uncovered on Monday when reviewing old research findings, or any problems you may have noticed on Tuesday's shopping trip? Consumers are telling you what they want, loud and clear. Are you providing it?

Thursday: Calculate your 90-day check-writing ratio

It is common knowledge that when someone opens a second or third checking account, it may not become his or her primary one. This is especially true for those who already use direct pay or direct deposit at another institution. In fact, it is estimated that nearly a third of new accountholders leave an institution within the first year. Therefore, once you've acquired a new accountholder, it is vital to engage them immediately.

Check-writing ratio-the number of checks an accountholder writes in the first 90 days after an account is opened-is one indicator of how engaged your accountholders are. Contact whomever in your bank or credit union handles transactional reports on deposit products and request a report on all new deposit accountholders who have written at least one check within the past 90 days.

"What you are looking for is how many have written, say, 20 or more checks in those three months, versus just one or two," Cashin says. "For those in the single digits, consider sending them 'switch kits' to help turn them into primary accounts. But save your money on the zeroes. They are not going to engage."

Your check-writing ratio is not a complete picture, as it doesn't include online banking, for example. But it is a good start.

Likewise, review your institution's new account checklist to ensure that it fully engages new customers and that it is being used by your employees. (See our onboarding article in the Q1 2007 issue of Delivering Value at

Friday: Count the footnotes

At the end of the week, we will keep things as simple as counting 1-2-3. Before you shut down your computer for the weekend, pull up a recent offer on the screen-say, a solicitation for a home improvement loan or credit card- and scroll down to the bottom.

Now count the footnotes. "The more you have, the less likely it is that consumers will see your institution as their advocate," Cashin says. "Make your offers clear and simple."

Next Step:

Formulate an ongoing marketing research strategy

Once you have gotten your five-day snapshot of what needs to be done, it is time to take things to the next level. "Over the coming months, there are three key steps you can take that eventually will help generate steady improvement in acquisitions and engagement," says Cashin.

  1. Regularly re-evaluate your accountholders' behavior. Using the trends you have noted in your past research, set up quarterly, semi-annual or yearly customer surveys. "Establish your budget first," Cashin says. "Then determine the best method and frequency. At the end of the day, you have to measure what motivates your customers."

  2. Benchmark your customer advocacy. The truth is that it is not enough to provide good service. The goal is to become a customer advocate. "Traditionally, service benchmarks have been about measuring teller wait time and website navigability and the like," Cashin says. "While those are vital and will prevent customers from leaving, industry research has demonstrated that it may not necessarily make accountholders buy more products." Deeply engaged customers-who have more than one account with your bank-are more likely to believe you are on their side. This means measuring four less obvious indicators-simplicity, transparency, benevolence and trustworthiness. (See sidebar below: "Deepen Your Accountholder Relationships by Becoming a Consumer Advocate.")

  3. Market appropriately. Even if your financial institution is a consumer advocate, you still have to ensure that your message gets to the right consumers. “Spend money where you’re most likely to get a return,” Cashin advises. “Like those with the zero check writing ratio—don’t waste money trying to switch them. You have better odds with the single digits.” The key is to get time-saving and cost-effective predictive intelligence about who is most likely to buy what. (See case study on page 16.)

Deepen Your Accountholder Relationships by Becoming a Consumer Advocate

The more of an advocate accountholders consider their financial institution to be, the more likely they are to consider purchasing their next financial product from that bank or credit union. According to Forrester Research, there are four factors that influence advocacy.

Jeb Cashin is vice president of marketing communications at Harland Clarke and associate editor of this newsletter. Previously he was vice president of consumer marketing. He has held roles in internet marketing, business development, and product marketing. Jeb has been serving the banking industry for 19 years. He can be reached at or 770-593-5608.