As financial services companies continue their strategic planning for calendar 2018, it’s important to develop a communications plan to support the approved business objectives. Equally important is to have that communications plan and corresponding budget finalized and approved during the fourth quarter of 2017 in order to “hit the ground running” in January of the New Year.
The beauty of this approach is the enabling – or perhaps “empowering” is a better word – of the MARCOM department to be proactive in its go-to-market strategy. This is done with confidence when the plan has received input and buy-in from the line areas that marketing is trying to support. So where do you start? We offer the following tips for communications planning for financial services organizations.
Start with the basics
Once your bank’s or credit union’s strategic focus has been mapped out and objectives finalized (or are close to being finalized), this information should be shared with the marketing folks (if they’re not part of the strategic planning process already, which hopefully, they are). With a clear understanding of the company’s direction, the communications planning function can commence, following these guidelines:
Understand market conditions
When you consider communications planning for financial services, it’s necessary to clearly articulate the current market conditions that your bank or credit union is operating in, including what the current year’s performance has been, citing successes and failures. The situation analysis is important as its sets the stage for the direction the organization wants to take and gets the marketing team focused to build a plan that is on target and on task. This section of your plan should contain available primary and secondary research, as well as customer insights.
Define your goals
It’s important that the objectives of the communications plan are clearly stated upfront in the plan. Particularly in financial services marketing, the objectives should be broken down by business line or product, stating outcomes such as desired percentage increases over the previous year, and other quantifiable metrics (e.g., total dollars, new accounts, applications, etc.), which could be used in the plan evaluation. In addition, clearly stating the communications objectives to support the business plan are important, such as lead generation, cross selling, brand awareness, etc. The communications efforts support the sales program.
Highlight key buyer personas
To support your goals, you must clearly define who your prime prospects are, segmenting by products and services. In this section of your plan, your target audience contains critical information as the communications strategy and implementation steps will be predicated on this guidance. Providing as much information as possible (e.g., demographic, psychographic, geographic, etc.) for your retail, commercial and municipal customers/members – both current and prospective – drives the communications planning process. We recommend taking the target audience analysis even further through the development of “personas” in which we dig deeper to understand motivations to buy, decision making process, etc., in order to better craft our messages to connect with each segment of our audience.
Create an action plan
At this point, an overarching communications strategy needs to be developed, which articulates the overall approach and begins to establish key messaging. The strategy must support the company’s brand while focusing on the individual products and services being taken to market. This strategy is supported by specific action steps or tactics that represent the implementation of the plan. The combination of paid, earned, digital, social, direct and other tactics makes up a comprehensive plan (using all or some of these channels, as warranted). A paid media strategy and suggested execution also should be part of the plan.
Know your bottom line
Probably stating the obvious here within the context of communications planning for financial services, right? A line-item budget should be developed, either using a zero-based budgeting approach or working within a pre-determined marketing budget. We would also establish stated, agreed-upon metrics for success (e.g., ROI, product production, brand awareness, etc.).
The existence of a detailed communications plan enables (“empowers”) your financial institution to be a leader in this crowded industry segment, and hopefully, with a clear positioning strategy in place, makes your bank or credit union stand out.
Jay is a seasoned communications professional who focuses on strategic planning and tactical implementation. He’s “lived” on the corporate and agency sides, and concentrates on financial services, health care, and business-to-business. And his family. And is appreciative for all.