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Billions and Billions Wasted. It Is Time To Stop.
By Steve Cone

No, not the subprime mess or related meltdowns in other financial instruments. I am referring to the billions that Banks waste in non-descript so-called marketing programs that do nothing to move the revenue needle and reinforce the notion that many bank CEOs and CFOs have that marketing is a voodoo practice at best and at worst a budget that can be slashed at the first sign of bottom line stress in the annual revenue plan.

Like many other industries Banking has forgotten the basic techniques that are necessary for customers and prospects alike to pay attention to offers and respond.

The primary reason bank promotions stand little chance of getting consumers to pay attention are these two words: 40 Billion. 40 Billion a month, yes a month, is spent on above and below the line advertising and promotion in America. That figure translates to some 3000 ad messages a day that the average American is subjected to. Why should they pay attention to your institution and your marketing team's efforts amid this avalanche of ads on TV, radio, in print, branch posters, outdoor, on the web, and via e mail and direct mail? Of that 40 Billion a month several Billion is generated by the financial industry with little direct impact on the consumer.

Further, the challenge of "breaking through" all the clutter ( the term for massive amounts of advertising bombarding us all ) is particularly difficult for the banking industry because of its aversion to launching cutting edge promotions that are visually and verbally unexpected and that step outside the messaging norms of what the industry has always produced. If you go back and look at bank advertising done in previous decades and for that matter centuries, you come to the quick conclusion that not much has changed since Alexander Hamilton invented the monetary system.

I can also say with assurance that bank marketing is boring consumers more than ever before as they glaze over most of what is put before them. At my previous employer, Citigroup, I saw ample evidence through consumer research that the last few years have been particularly difficult for any banks to get much attention to their advertising and collateral materials detailing one product or another.

The reason for this lack of impact is neatly summarized in what I call the six deadly sins of "dead on arrival" marketing. Sins that the banking industry have been committing for years and in my opinion seem to be embracing as standard operating procedure. They are:

1. No stand out definitive brand promise that is capsulated in a unique long- standing tagline. In fact taglines today are changed all the time, are mostly generalities that could apply to any company in any industry, and are completely void of consumer recognition. What you should insist on is a tagline that is the essence of your reason for being and what clearly sets you apart from every competitor. And once you have this line show it everywhere, make it the headline of every ad, and insist it never be changed or altered. ( my new book is focused on this very topic )

2. A complete lack of attention to creating marketing messages with some personality and attitude that can get attention in the ad-clogged world we inhabit.

3. The use of the same images over and over and over - like the ever popular stock photos of smiling couples happily pondering their financial future, or team sport metaphors, or the always popular lighthouse shining the way to our collective financial future. And let's not forget the images of couples walking hand in hand on the beach, or patting their thorough bred race horse, or shaking hands with a guy in a suit - in each case we don't know who these people are and we don't care.

4. Print ads, posters, and collateral material that employ small white reverse type that art directors love. Only problem is no human can read a single line even if they wanted to.

5. No clear and compelling reason to respond to the product or service offer.

6. The illogical view that one print ad, one e mail, one postcard, or one piece of direct mail is capable of gaining quick attention and if not your marketing campaign has failed. The fact is you need repeated high impact communication to build awareness and the sales that can come from that if the other sins above are avoided.

My advice is let your competition continue embracing these marketing sins. Meanwhile, you can practice effective marketing by doing what other smart marketers do to build strong consumer interest and increasing revenue streams. They do so in part by creating visually stimulating ads that break out the pack, and by using spokes characters or spokespeople that are clearly not faceless, nameless, stock photo models but rather project a real personality and are broadly appealing and credible. Your own employees can be very effective spokespeople as can local or national celebs who have a true interest in your institution.

Other techniques to employ include tripling the type size you currently use, and always giving a clear benefit for responding right away in every promotion. Politicians have a built in response device-election day. Every marketing promotion should highlight its own "election day." .... when you need to hear from the customer or prospect and why it is important that you do.

A few companies and other groups do a solid job making consumers snap to and pay attention to their messages, offers, and requests for purchase. Companies like Apple, Dell, M&M Candies, the City of Las Vegas, Nutrisystem and Continental Airlines. And in the direct marketing space a few financial standouts include Geico, Fidelity, Key Bank, Progressive, and Schwab.

With all the stress in the financial world today why add to it by wasting your precious marketing dollars on bank marketing as usual? Nothing that is usual in marketing works anymore. Point in fact, it never did.
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Steve Cone is Chief Marketing Officer of Epsilon, a full-service database marketing company. He has served previously as a CMO at Citigroup, American Express, Fidelity, and Key Corp. His just released 2nd book on Marketing is titled: Powerlines: Words That Sell Brands, Grip Fans, And Sometimes Change History.

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