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The State of Bank and Credit Union Marketing in the U.S.

Today's bank and credit union marketers are facing a period of big data, increasing devices and more communication channels than ever before. In addition, consumers are challenging the pricing and service levels they receive from their financial institution, and are willing to speak their mind using lightning fast social media channels. 

To better understand what bank and credit union marketers are thinking and doing during this period of unprecedented change and opportunity, I partnered with Jeffry Pilcher from The Financial Brand to develop the 2012 Bank and Credit Union Financial Marketing Survey. More than 300 bankers responded from banks and credit unions of all sizes thanks in no small measure to our many friends on Twitter who helped distribute the links to the survey.


The results of the survey underscore the primary challenges facing financial institution marketers today:

  • The need for better measurement of marketing results during a time of constrained budgets and limited human resources.
  • The importance of expanding share of wallet through cross-selling, especially with credit products
  • Changing the media mix used for integrated customer communication - with a greater emphasis on less familiar online and social media channels


Over 300 financial organizations participated in The 2012 Bank and Credit Union Financial Marketing Survey, including 101 banks (33%), 143 credit unions (47%), 33 community banks (11%) and 26 other types of financial organizations (9%). All asset sizes were well represented.


Majority of Challenges For Marketers Are Internal

With all of the external challenges facing financial organizations over the past several years, ranging from new regulations that impact fee revenues to the continued distrust of the financial services industry in general, it is interesting that marketers viewed the majority of their challenges in 2012 as being internal in nature. Even though 84% of respondents mentioned that their budgets would either increase (45%) or remain the same (39%), 46% of marketers believed the primary challenge would be insufficient budget or manpower. As could be expected, this challenge was less prevalent at the largest banks. 

As has been noted in various studies and covered in a recent post, difficulty in measuring results was also a significant challenge, but this was inversely correlated to the size of organization, with more than 40% of banks under $1 billion noting measurement as a challenge and less than 25% of organizations over 10 billion noting this as a challenge (my travels indicate that measurement is better at the larger banks, but by no means considered adequate). Conversely, the challenge of 'silos', I.T. inflexibility and  regulatory issues were much more challenging at the larger organizations than is noted by the consolidated results.

Many of the internal challenges shown above could be reduced if marketing departments could better align with other C level players within their organization. By providing better analysis of results from an ROI perspective and through better marketing planning, marketing would be invited more often to the strategic planning table, allowing them access to the players who could partner for improved departmental integration.

Customer Acquisition and Organic Growth are Job #1

When asked about the top priorities over the next 12-24 months, there was significant consistency between large and small institutions, with the majority of respondents agreeing that there is a need to acquire and cross-sell additional products and services. This makes sense due to the focus on fees and revenues in 2012 and beyond (and with the public highly sensitized to any fee changes). Bottom line, the only way to improve margins will be to make every relationship count and to improve on acquisition program effectiveness.

There was consistency as well around the fact that loan products (especially mortgages) would be of primary importance in 2012 from both large and small organizations. As can be expected, there was a disparity in the responses around the importance of free checking, with the smaller community banks and credit unions placing more emphasis on these products than the larger organizations. The desire for auto loans and the refinancing of autos was also the domain of smaller financial organizations. Interestingly, there was also a reverse correlation between the desire to promote online banking/bill pay and the size of the financial institution. This may be the result of larger banks believing that these are services sold at the new accounts desk and don't require additional promotion.

Communication Channel Shift Impacting Marketing Emphasis

The 2012 Bank and Credit Union Financial Marketing Study shows that financial organizations of all sizes are responding to the public's use of digital and social media in their shifting of dollars away from traditional channels such as print, radio and TV. What is interesting is that the shift is occurring much more dramatically in larger organizations than in smaller firms. In addition, while direct mail use is either staying the same or increasing at small and mid-sized firms, the largest organizations are definitely reducing their use of this channel. 

Finally, if the survey results are any indication, onboarding at banks of all sizes will become mainstream in 2012, with more than 50% of banks in all asset ranges placing a greater emphasis on new customer welcome programs this coming year.

In 2010, The Financial Brand conducted an online marketing survey to measure the use of digital and online channels. In that study, only 69% of banks and credit unions said they utilized email. In this year's study, that number increased by 10%. Similarly, 68% now indicate that they pay for online banner ads compared to only 54% in the 2010 study. Those pursuing an SEO strategy also grew by 13 percentage points since 2010. It is anticipated that these shifts will continue as more people consume information electronically.

Finally, almost three-quarters of the banks responding indicated they used Facebook for marketing, a dramatic increase from the 2010 study when only 46% used the most popular social channel. The change in use of Twitter increased by 19% since 2010, while the use of YouTube increased by 24%. In both the 2010 and 2012 surveys, virtually the same number of banks and credit unions said they had a blog (18%), while several of the other channels were just coming into existence in 2010.

More to Come

In the next several weeks, more insight from the 2012 Bank and Credit Union Financial Marketing Survey will be analyzed and shared, highlighting more variations found between types of organizations, sizes of firms, etc. In addition, we hope to use the findings from this survey to provide strategic recommendations around where banks and credit unions could best allocate time and resources for the greatest impact.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on the findings, please share them with us in the comment section below. In addition, if there is a section of the research that you would like us to dig into quickly, let us know.


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Jim Marous

Jim Marous


The Financial Brand

Member since

08 Jan 2012



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