September 13, 2023

“Marketing is an investment – not an expense.” We say this to our clients all the time but never does it hit home more than during strategic planning season.

This is the time of year you need to take a hard look at your marketing for the past year and gauge whether it’s aligned with your business goals, or if it’s been satisfying all of the internal voices without an eye to the bottom line. You should be asking questions such as:

  • What has or has not been working?
  • Has the landscape changed?
  • Do we have the tracking in place to properly attribute growth to marketing?

Once you look back, it’s time to look forward. We recommend starting out by meeting with all the department heads individually to discuss what their priorities are for the coming year. Is there a seasonality to what is going on? For example, though no one knows what the Fed will do, what are the projections and how can we prepare for them?  Knowing what each department needs to accomplish, and then being able to step back and see the big picture will help you to prioritize your budget (hint: each department is going to think their goals are most important, it’s your job to determine what matters most to the FI’s overall bottom line). If you are working with an agency, it is important to bring them in on the process because they can provide key information and provide insight from an outsider perspective.  

As an agency that has focused exclusively on the financial services space for nearly 29 years, we have been fortunate to sit in on dozens - feels like hundreds - of strategic planning meetings. Below are some common pitfalls, questions, and conversations we have with FI’s during strategic planning season: 

What are some of the common pitfalls of strategic planning, and what are some things we run into?  

A common occurrence we run into is clients trying to plan for a 12-month calendar – in ink. Changes happen, and it's important to remember to remain flexible during planning phases. How can you plan for something months ahead of time when you don’t have all the information you need up front? 

Our recommendation is to create an overarching plan that is broken down into quarters. Look at the first three months of the year to get a solid understanding. When we say overarching, think “we need deposits, and we are comfortable with our loan pipeline.” What kind of deposit products do you have that are most appealing to consumers? The first quarter might be simple checking, but after taxes come back starting in early Q2, you may want to roll out a CD special (especially if rates hold). However, if the market shifts and rates change – as they always do – you're not stuck doing that CD special since it may no longer make sense.  

If you are not already doing so, pull Google search trends. They can help you determine where to invest your marketing dollars. Trends provide insight into the competitive landscape within your market for that product, how much other advertisers are paying, and ultimately help you determine if it's worth it.  

What kinds of questions should be asked during strategic planning? 

There are a lot of questions that fly around during strategic planning. One of the most important questions that should be asked is “what are the goals and objectives of your FI?”  Depending on your FI, the next step would be to talk to the different department heads to drill down into their goals. Especially for lenders (both residential and commercial), ask how marketing can assist, learn what are the most successful channels for generating leads – some of them may not be marketing specific and that’s okay! Sometimes the best way to help lending teams is just to provide “air cover” in the form of brand awareness to make their conversations easier. Ask if your FI sees any new branches, mergers, or acquisitions happening in the next fiscal year. What about  a core conversion or introduction of new technology? If marketing historically hasn’t had a seat at the table for these conversations, push to change that. Bringing in marketing sooner will help to ensure budgets and efforts are spent appropriately.  

What are tips to get marketing involved in the strategic planning conversation? 

The number one tip we always tell clients is that marketing should always have a seat at the table. When we say table, we mean the proverbial table and the real board table. Marketing needs to be involved in conversations with the board and c-suite to better communicate their department's needs. Conversely, the expectation of Marketing should be that they quantify the results of  campaigns utilizing attribution to measure ROI. The proof is always in the pudding! 

Always work with your agency and internal teams to get key information and make sure the results prove that marketing is adding to the bottom line. The more valuable data Marketing can provide, the more valuable they will be in ALCO and other strategic meetings. We want to drive home the understanding that even the best laid plans sometimes need to be adjusted. When it comes to strategic planning, create a strategy that can be easily adaptable.  That way, if things need to be shifted, they can trickle down throughout the rest of the year.   

This blog has been adapted from our recorded webinar session Your Strategic Marketing Plan. You can watch the full recording here!