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The Perfect Time to Grow Your Checking Customer Base

Have you ever thought about the answer to this question: Is there a perfect time to spend marketing dollars to grow your checking account base?

Or conversely, is there a perfect time when you shouldn’t spend marketing dollars trying to get more new checking account customers?

Apparently, most bankers have decided that now is the perfect time to avoid checking account campaigns.  I’ve come to this conclusion because it’s been quite some time since I’ve encountered any meaningful marketing efforts focusing on attracting new checking customers.  No newspaper ads, no billboards, no direct mail, no radio spots, no TV spots…nothing!

An occasional one-off ad or mailing doesn’t count.

It’s because of this drought that now is likely the perfect time to be aggressively in the market with your best checking account offers.

This brings up something I’ve observed over my many years in retail bank marketing.

Most bankers tend to suffer from the lemming mentality.

They won’t put money into marketing promotions aimed at getting new checking customers, or loan customers for that matter, until they observe some, if not most, of their competitors doing so.

Unfortunately, when every bank and credit union is vying for the checking customer, it’s the worst time to be in the market.

Why not take the contrarian approach?

Right now, the products du jour seem to be loan products – particularly mortgage and auto loans.


Ridiculously low rates.

The other day I received the email shown below from my local credit union offering auto loan rates as low as 1.99%.

What next – 0.99% auto loans?

And here’s a savings bank in Lincoln, Nebraska offering a 2.68% rate for a mortgage loan and a Sacramento credit union doing the same.

This ad appeared in the January 17, 2013 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star

This ad appeared in the January 17, 2013 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star

This ad appeared in the February 17, 2013 edition of The Sacramento Bee

This ad appeared in the February 17, 2013 edition of The Sacramento Bee

These rates remind me of a line of lyrics from Chubby Checker’s 1962 hit, “Limbo Rock” – “How low can you go?”  For you much younger readers, you’ll recognize this line from a more recent Chris Brown or Ludacris song.

While your competitors are either out of the market altogether or busy pushing loan products, you might find it an opportune time to be the only bank or credit union in your market soliciting new checking customers.

Imagine how much more effective your checking marketing message can be if it’s the only one in your market – particularly if you have a very strong offer.

Speaking of strong offers, take a look at this lone wolf in the Lincoln, Nebraska market.  This page-dominant ad ran in the Lincoln Star Journal on January 17, 2013.

This ad appeared in the January 17, 2013 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star

This ad appeared in the January 17, 2013 edition of the Lincoln Journal Star

This ad didn’t have to “cut through the clutter.”

There is no clutter.

Unfortunately, most likely this will be a one- or two-time ad promoting the bank’s free checking account.

As the checking account is your bank’s or credit union’s core relationship with customers and the foundation for effective cross-selling, it seems only logical that you’d want to be soliciting new checking customers during a period when few others are doing so.

Of course, the operative word here is “logical.”

As I see it, one of the biggest hurdles facing community banks and credit unions these days is a combination of inadequate marketing budgets at odds with too long a list of desired initiatives.

The last thing you should do is to spread a limited marketing budget across a large number of initiatives – but this is what often happens.

Sprinkling a few marketing dollars across a large number of initiatives is basically a waste of time, effort, and dollars.  No one initiative makes a significant enough impact to be effective and sticky.

With a limited marketing budget, the best strategy would be to identify one or two top priority initiatives and put as much money behind them as possible.

This reminds me of something I read many years ago concerning strategy:  “Sacrifice is the essence of corporate strategy.  Without sacrifice, there is no strategy.”  In other words, you don’t have a strategy if you don’t know what you won’t do.

Bottom line, while you may have a laundry list of desired initiatives, with a limited marketing budget you must sacrifice the majority of these initiatives…at least in the short run.

Talk about timing – as I was working on this blog, I came across an excellent, must-read article from the folks at The Financial Brand titled “2013 State of Bank & Credit Union Marketing.”

The article is based on a proprietary survey – in its third year – conducted by The Financial Brand.  It contains a number of very informative charts and graphs.  One, in particular, is relevant to this blog.

Under the subhead “Top 20 Most Important Products & Services to Promote in 2013″ Free Checking ranks #10 behind Mobile banking followed by a list of loan products.

Number 10!

Ask yourself this question:  Which product will provide your bank or credit union with the most brand loyalty – the checking account or a stand-alone auto loan or mortgage loan?

And another question:  Which of these products will provide you with the best cross-sell opportunities?

After reading this article it’s not difficult to understand why so many community banks and credit unions are struggling.

By the way, you can read The Financial Brand article here.

Tags2013 State of Bank & Credit Union Marketingauto loansbillboardschecking account baseChris BrownChubby CheckerCommunity bankscontrarian approachcorporate strategycut through the clutterDirect Maileffective cross-sellingFree Checking Accountlemming mentalityLimbo RockLincoln Journal StarLincoln Nebraskaloan productslocal credit unionLudacrismarketing dollarsmobile bankingmortgage loansnew checking account customersnewspaper adsradio spotsretail bank marketingridiculously low ratesSacramentoThe Financial BrandTV spots