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How bank CMOs became the new marketing evangelists

  • For as long as banks have been talking about modern, digital financial services, the role of the CMO has been rising
  • Top marketers at giant financial institutions are becoming the new most vocal people demanding change in marketing, evangelizing a cleanup of digital media
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How bank CMOs became the new marketing evangelists

It’s time for banks to clean up their houses.

At least, that’s the message Bank of America svp Lou Paskalis sent last month when he announced the bank will hire a brand safety officer to ensure the company’s ads aren’t served up next to controversial content.

“I get a text from my chief financial officer every time there is news about a brand safety issue. I know why he is sending them to me… at some point he is going to say ‘gee is marketing safe to invest in?’ and we don’t want that,” he said.“We have to clean up our house right now.”

Paskalis is part of a growing, yet somewhat puzzling trend: Top marketers at giant financial institutions are becoming the new most vocal people demanding change in marketing, evangelizing a cleanup of digital media, or simply becoming more “woke.”

It’s perhaps a little ironic: These are heads of marketing at companies that are part of an industry still recovering from the reputational crises brought during the financial crisis. Their investment banking counterparts continue to rack up fines for things like anti-money laundering violations and market manipulation — things that have long run rampant in the industry and perhaps always will.

But the general population continues to bank with banks and turn a blind eye to Wall Street antics. Financial products are necessary and people love their iPhones and Echo devices even if they are financed by Wall Street. But above all, it’s important to remember that even if people don’t like banks, they trust them. Recent research shows 87 percent of customers are more comfortable handling their finances with banks rather than non-bank financial services providers, such as fintech apps.

It began last fall when JPMorgan Chase CMO Kristin Lemkau wasted no time showing on Twitter where she stood on the controversial planned interview of right-wing provocateur Alex Jones by Megyn Kelly and removed its local TV and digital ads from all NBC news programming until after it aired.

Banks wouldn’t be the major entities they are without customer trust. But in the age of fintech, the basis for trust is becoming less about brand and almost entirely dependent on customer experience. That means marketers need to be as connected to product teams as they are to customers and have the data science skills to bring them together.

For as long as banks have been talking about modern, digital financial services, the role of the CMO has been rising. Five to 10 years ago the role of the CMO was primarily in the domain of storytelling, media distribution and other advertising or CRM-driven things. Those things are still part of their core responsibilities but today banks are shifting from product-centric to customer-centric business strategies driven by data and insights.

“As data is fueling the next generation of digital solutions, the way we develop, deliver and market solutions is evolving as well,” said Jennifer Breithaupt, CMO of the global consumer bank at Citi. “We’re focused on harnessing the power of data to continuously enhance the customer experience and to give time back to our customers.”

Incidentally, Citi, which has the smallest branch network of the top four national banks, announced Monday that it would soon make its mobile banking app and features available to everyone — even people who don’t have an account at Citi. When that becomes available it’s going to create even more opportunities for Citi’s marketing function to digest even more data and create even more digital experiences out of it.

As products and the organizations creating them change, become more digital, marketing needs to change as well. For example, earlier this year JPMorgan Chase began a GIF campaign across its social media channels to build customer relationships and promote its peer-to-peer payments feature, Quick Pay with Zelle. The campaign is evidence of changes in banks’ digital marketing and messaging to customers; as their interactions with every other brand become faster, more personalized, more relevant and more meaningful, banks are trying to emulate that by focusing on engaging people over micro-moments rather than life’s biggest moments (like college graduation, first car purchase, first home buying experience).

“What changes is how you connect,” said Donna Vieira, chief marketing officer for Chase’s consumer bank. “The channels, mediums and media you use, the copy and creative form like memes and GIFs. Clearly 15 years ago this would be nonexistent but it’s how this audience communicates with each other tells their stories and what they find engaging.”

In financial services, there has historically been a divide between the businesses leads in customer experience and design, for example, versus the marketing function, which has been responsible for how the company engages the customer and sell product, said Michael Lacorazza, head of integrated marketing at Wells Fargo.

Now those product teams are looking to marketers to help them figure out how to navigate customer expectations — especially now that so many of the customer solutions Wells is building are digitally driven. As such, Lacorazza said anecdotally that he’s observed a growing number of cases of CMOs moving into general managerial, operational and P&L roles.

“Historically that hasn’t been an easy transition to make, in part because the experiences CMOs had were seen by the business side as more like arts-and-crafts instead of business- or P&L-minded,” he said. “That’s not the case now.”

Beyond product, engaging with customers and potential customers also involves leaning into a growing hunger from the audience for an understanding of companies’ values and evidence that they’re putting their money where their mouths are. Leaders coming out of marketing might be more familiar with social media and therefore be more comfortable speaking out on different platforms and better understand customer expectations. (Although it’s probably also much less risky for a bank if one executive’s views align with the common perspective on a variety of issues; those in the minority may not be as vocal on Twitter.)

But increasingly over the past year its the CEO that has come out of major banks to weigh in on national conversations — barring Chase’s Lemaku, who has been vocal on Twitter throughout the various high school shootings this year so far.

“Every one of the banks is going long on messaging on purpose,” said Bhushan Sethi, PwC’s people and organization financial services leader. “Their stakeholders are no longer just Wall Street analysts or potential employees, they’re the general public at large… because of their role in society they are picking their issues on which to speak publicly, political or not.”

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