CMO Interview with Jennifer Marino

August 12, 2020

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Jen Marino was most recently the Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Rockland Trust Company, where she led the company’s branding, communications, strategic planning, and customer experience efforts. Rockland Trust is a $11.5 billion community-oriented commercial bank serving eastern and southeastern Massachusetts plus Rhode Island.

Under Jen’s leadership, the bank integrated and leveraged cutting-edge technology to enhance the customer experience, including launching a new online platform that opens both business and consumer accounts in less than five minutes. She also made Rockland Trust a leader among regional banks in the use of AI.

Before joining Rockland Trust, Jen spent eight years as a marketer with Liberty Mutual, most recently focusing on customer advocacy.

Jen Marino

Q.  Jen, let’s start with brand tracking. What does it actually measure?

A.  Brand tracking measures how many people in a market are aware of your brand and are willing to consider it. This is the primary focus. However, many other things get added to a brand tracking study as companies have figured out you need other necessary elements to answer this question fully. Examples include competitive awareness and consideration, plus how it compares to your brand, awareness of key messages and whether they resonate with your target audience, and effectiveness of your campaigns across different media vehicles. 

Q.  How do you set about measuring the effectiveness of individual ads and of a campaign as a whole?

A.  Some companies just use brand tracking to do this. There are other companies, like Ipsos, that try to simulate someone watching a show and then play ads and question whether consumers remember what brands were shown and their key messages. There are also testing capabilities that measure ads before you produce them called copy testing. However, all of these rely on a person to tell you what they think, which can be flawed. 

Nielsen now conducts neuroscience testing where they place a cap over someone’s head to measure what happens to a person’s brain when the ads are aired. They can use this technique to determine whether or not a brand and message is resonating with someone and contributing to the formation of long-term memory, which is crucial if you want someone to remember your brand when they purchase the services or products you offer.

Nielsen can take thousands of datapoints from your brain each second someone is watching an ad and tell you when attention is waning: their eyes are going other places, their brain’s activity is changing, and because they’ve collected this data, they know, for instance, that when people’s faces are shown there is more attention paid to the ad, and when the ad moves away from either an animal’s face or a person’s face, attention immediately goes down. These kinds of insights can be used to edit an ad towards increasing the measures mentioned earlier.

Q.  Attribution — understanding the journey a prospect takes while becoming a customer — is crucial to real marketing effectiveness but incredibly difficult to get right. You don’t want to put too much weight on Google search results, for example, because you might miss the importance of all the other things you did that your client encountered. Connecting online and offline behavior is particularly hard. So, how do you get attribution right? Or right enough that you have confidence in your marketing mix?

A. I’ve used a methodology of media mix analysis that not only can attribute different media and the role they play in a purchase, but also how someone decides to purchase. It’s a methodology that utilizes agent-based modeling, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Scientists use agent-based models to understand how disease spreads. 

Regression media mix analysis has been around forever. That’s just looking at what happens to sales data after a particular ad or promotion runs. You can build a model that shows there’s a relationship between X and Y, and here’s what it is.

This takes it a step further. It goes beyond saying I ran an ad and sales changed, because there’s a lot more going on. A lot of things affect how a company sells its products. In financial services, for instance, rates greatly affect when people change banks, open checking accounts, or take loans. The economy affects things. If the economy starts to dip and people’s credit ratings go down, we’re not going to approve as many loans. All of that affects not just your bank but the whole industry. You want to understand the part all those factors play. 

In addition, you’ve got banks like BofA and Capital One that have great awareness across almost all markets. They don’t have to do as much to remind people that they’re there when people are in the market for a product. They can just tap them on the shoulder. It’s much easier for them than for banks with lower awareness that need to educate someone about who they are and what makes them different.

What this model does is take into account everything from your share of voice to what people are saying on social media, to the brand tracking data, and then it also adds in how your ads are performing and your sales data. It then understands, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, how sales progress over time at your company. With that understanding, it can predict what will happen if you change the scenario up — if you change the way that you spend or the level of your spend, or if you change the vehicles you are using. 

You can later look back at those predictions to see how accurate they were. At Rockland Trust, we found they were fairly accurate. The error rate was below 10%.

Q.  How should a marketer at a regional bank think about public relations?

A.  Public relations can be quite important to any bank or brand, but even more so if it’s regional. The reputation a community bank has can help acquire new customers or drive them away. 

Q.  Do you recommend a regional bank use a PR firm, or do it in-house with a PR director or manager?

A.  I think an outside perspective is always good. My worry about companies across the world, in any industry, that bring everything in-house, is that there’s no outside perspective anymore. Anybody who’s been part of a company knows that the longer you’re there, the more you simply talk to yourselves. Outside perspectives are really valuable, particularly in PR, where there are all types of things that come up. You need to hear about what other people are doing, and how it worked, and why you might want to try doing something differently. 

You want to listen to people who are truly experts and who have learned from the experiences they’ve had working with other companies, sometimes not even in your industry. 

Q.  What role does social media play in the marketing mix when your target is small businesses?

A.  Small business owners are consumers too. Many companies are now beginning to realize and accept this notion. Since both consumers and business owners use social media in their daily lives, any marketer needs to understand how to naturally fit into their target’s life to deliver relevant messages. Social media has a role here. 

Q.  What are your thoughts on the Facebook advertising boycott? Have you seen evidence that social and environmental concerns impact the decisions people make about banking products? 

A.  Facebook continues to be controversial. People care more and more about social and environmental issues. There’s no question.

The reality is that, today, Facebook is still one of the best social media platforms marketers can use to target people because of the data it has access to. You don’t want to support something that you don’t believe in, but you still need vehicles that help you get to the people you’re trying to get to. If there were another way to do it, great! 

Companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are becoming monopolies, and there’s no way to get in front of their customers, or users, without going through them. But you do have to be aware that people care today about what you stand for and the decisions that you’re making. So, if you make the decision to advertise in platforms that have content you question or don’t want to be near, it’s important to be mindful of where your ads are placed and what is surrounding your brand. 

Q.  Tell me about the use of online communities to engage customers and provide insight.

A.  Online communities can be very effective for regularly communicating to your customers and getting their feedback on many different topics. It’s not the only answer but it’s an inexpensive and consistent way to stay on top of what they’re thinking. The important thing is to understand the limitations of it and have other tactics in place that mitigate those limitations.

Online communities are great because they are dedicated audiences, and in every company where I’ve built online communities, we’ve been fortunate in that we didn’t need to pay them. People love to be able to give their opinions if you are really willing to listen.

The limitation is that your customer base is much broader than that online community. It’s very rare — I’ve never seen it — where the online community perfectly matches the demographics of your customer base. Given that, you have to know that when you are asking questions of that online community and getting feedback, it’s not representative of your entire customer base.

It’s also not representative of any new types of customers you’re now targeting. If you’re targeting a younger segment and they’re not part of that online community, then you’re not hearing that voice. If you’re making long-term strategy decisions, you have to figure out how to bring those other voices in.

Q.  What does a good marketing stack consist of? What software do you prefer to manage and measure your marketing efforts?

A.  It depends on what you are doing inhouse and what you are using outside agencies for. For example, I’ve used Salesforce to not only manage householding but also for digital media buying. Therefore, all the tools that come with that platform are pretty robust. As I mentioned before, media mix analysis helps to measure marketing efforts. But in every case, you also need a strong business intelligence warehouse that contains the data you need to keep track of customers and efforts so that you can historically measure the impact of what you are doing and how you are touching people.

Q.  Should the CMO manage the marketing technology budget?

A.  I’ve seen it work many different ways. It depends on the bandwidth of the IT department. In any case, the CMO needs to have a dotted line at least to this area to ensure it is effectively able to facilitate the strategies of marketing and customer experience. 

Q.  What’s the right way to organize the marketing department at a midsized bank?

A.  This also depends on the bank. If it’s primarily a consumer bank with branches, then organizing around customer journeys can be very effective. If there are large businesses such as commercial banking and investment banking, then it can get complicated as you still need to be fairly lean at a mid-sized bank. So, sometimes organizing around the business units works better in these cases. The most important thing is to integrate efforts across the team to think holistically about the customer’s relationship.

Q.  Every bank and insurance company wants a relationship with its customers. But more and more, interactions between consumers and financial services brands are being mediated by technology. How can brands use technology to create relationships with people? 

A. That’s a question every financial services brand is grappling with! I don’t have the perfect answer, but it has to be about providing easy solutions for customers that allow them to quickly transact while still getting the advice and content they need to feel secure about more complicated decisions. 

Q.  Interest rates paid on consumer deposits have been at historic lows for what seems like forever. How is that changing consumer behavior?

A.  Actually, this is good for banks in the sense that rate becomes less central to the conversation. If you’re having a rate discussion, you’re not differentiated. It’s forcing banks to think about what they will provide to customers that avoids commoditization. 

Q.  What’s your sense of the state of banking’s digital transformation?

A.  It’s interesting. I would have said before COVID that it’s coming along, that there are many more people who are willing to manage their bank accounts online than ever before, but that there was still a large percentage of the population that was not there, yet.

But when COVID hit, suddenly, it was the only option. You couldn’t walk into a branch; they just weren’t open. So you had to call a call center (and sit on the phone for hours because no call center was staffed to handle the volume), or figure out how to manage your account online. Across the country, more and more people signed up and people had to teach themselves to do at least the basics online. Customers moved online much more quickly than they were prior to COVID.

Now that people have seen they can do X online and they’re asking why they can’t do Y. They’ve seen that maybe they don’t need to go into a branch anymore. There will still be a subset of the population that just likes to talk to somebody, that likes to do business in person. But it’s just going to be smaller and smaller as time goes on. 

Banks are going to be forced to evolve much more quickly than they originally thought, and it’s going to give FinTechs an edge because they were obviously already there. Banks are going to need to figure out how to get up-to-speed quickly with the capabilities they now need to serve their customers and keep them satisfied — before those customers look for other solutions.

Q.  How much of an impediment to this are core banking systems?

A.  They’re a big impediment, frankly. These banking systems have not changed that much. The issue is, what do you do? Some offer APIs, but it’s not as easy as one might think. And the other issue is security. The more you open up your core, the more systems you plug into your core, the greater the risk and the greater the impact of a data breech. So, providers are trying to patch them up to make them more secure, but they weren’t built with the current demands in mind.

Q.  Is there a future for bank branches in a digital world? Or are they just expensive billboards? 

A.  There’s still a role. But they don’t need to be large spaces that conjure up visions of teller lines. 

Q.  Small business lending has been a hot topic recently. COVID-19 has borrowers asking for the convenience of an online loan application process and immediate disbursement from their banks. Why aren’t more getting it?

A.  There is a lot of uncertainty with COVID-19 and the economy. Building an algorithm that can work in good and bad economies to effectively manage loan risk is tricky. The demand for digital loan processing is new and we don’t have the historical data to predict how these digitally approved loans will perform in a downturn. In addition, there’s nothing stopping someone from getting loans approved at multiple places at once, adding to the risk. 

Q.  How do we get more banks involved with the FinTech ecosystem? By that I mean by getting involved with accelerators, being open to proofs of concept, or even just attending a demo day or a meetup in order to learn about what’s going on in the innovation community. I’m always surprised that I don’t see more local bankers at these events.

A.  There are a couple of issues. Early on, FinTechs came out very strongly saying they were going after banks. Some bankers immediately put a wall up and it took a while for them to get over that. 

Now, that has changed. FinTechs realized they need banks, and banks realized that FinTech actually have some great innovations. But that still lingers a little. There’s still this fear from banks that FinTechs want to take their customers.

Also, they haven’t yet figured out how to invite the right people to these events. Many times, the right people just don’t know about them. 

Q.  Which technologies do you expect will have the biggest impact on regional banks over the next five years?

A.  Online deposits are already out there. That’s working. Banks have decent solutions if not great solutions. Online loans are next, particularly business loans. No business wants to wait around for 60 days to get a loan approved, particularly when we’re not talking about really large commercial loans.

Next, people want to be able to manage all of their relationships in one place. They don’t want to go to online banking to see their deposit account, somewhere else to see their business loan, and then somewhere else to manage their investment account. They want it all in one place and they want to be able to make payments if they need to. If banks can’t offer this, then it’s only a matter of time before customers say, “figure it out or there’s no benefit to me in keeping my full relationship with you”.

Finally, there are too many people today — we’ve all read the research — who can’t come up with $400 in an emergency. Banks have the data to be able to help people figure this out. Now, we know there are going to be people who spend more than they make. The reality is that there’s only so much you can do because it’s a behavior they’ve got to manage. But for people who don’t know what to do and are asking for help, or for young people starting out who don’t know how much to save or what the longer-term view looks like, or how things escalate over time, banks have to come up with a solution. If they don’t, someone else will.

Look at Venmo. People use it to pay their friends, and the balances just sit there. They don’t move it to a bank account. If someone like Venmo figures out that there’s a lot of money sitting there and creates a solution for managing it better, then they can just take that customer, because banks aren’t doing it. What it tells me is that there’s not enough incentive for people to move it out of Venmo and into a bank account. That’s absurd.

Q.  Is PFM part of the solution to that?

A.  Too many PFM solutions get too complex too quickly. People look at them and don’t know where to start. There are some really robust solutions available but nobody wants to use them because they’re too robust. Or, they’re too basic and don’t help people with a longer-term focus.

There are going to be people with a lot of assets who need a robust solution, but folks who just need help saving money — they don’t need a PFM. They need a simple solution that shows them that they’re making progress and protecting themselves against a pandemic, or against job loss — whatever it is — and that when they retire they’re going to be in good shape.

Q.  Are small and midsized banks missing the boat on APIs?

A.  They’re not missing the boat, but they’re not as easy as one thinks. Not every core system easily allows for them and changing a core system is a major initiative that is very disruptive to customers. Then there’s the issue that not every partner a bank has offers open APIs. 

Q.  What advice do you have for FinTech startups that are selling technology into banks? 

A.  As banks opened up to the idea of partnering with FinTechs, a lot of FinTechs were unwilling to accept that maybe there were serious compliance and legal ramifications to what they were doing. FinTechs would show solutions and there was just no way that what they showed could work. There would be redlining issues, or credit concerns, or monetization of deposit issues — all these different things that FinTechs were just ignoring. If we can’t get past our regulatory, legal, or compliance issues — no matter how elegant it looks — we can’t use it. Today, FinTechs are much better about asking the right questions in advance. 

FinTechs need to be open to partnering with banks in a way that is financially feasible. Rockland Trust is very lucky in that they’re a very profitable bank, but not everyone is there, particularly among the medium sized banks. It’s very difficult, once you pass the $10 billion mark, to have a lot of extra money to experiment with. Once you’re there, you need to spend a lot to come up-to-speed from a compliance and regulatory perspective. So it may not be that there’s no interest, it’s just got to make financial sense. 

Pricing can be a barrier. But once you’ve done several proofs of concept, and can prove that it’s working, banks are willing to invest a little bit more. Until then, FinTechs may need to lower their prices to get to the point where we know their solution does work and can pass all the tests that need to be passed.

Q.  A recent study by Cornerstone Advisors revealed rapidly growing acceptance of digital-only banks. Among US consumers who recently opened a checking account, 18% did so with a digital bank. Are banks you talk to worried? Should they be?

A.  Yes and yes. It speaks to the fact that there are too many banks marketing themselves in a way that makes customers feel they are simply a place to hold money, and that it doesn’t matter who you’re with. When you get to the point where you’re commoditized, and you’re not communicating a point of differentiation, then why shouldn’t customers choose a digital bank, particularly when they’re not using a branch and not earning much interest? Why not use a digital bank for their debit card? I’m sure the banks they were with, or the banks they knew about, were commodities to them.

Until someone gives them a reason to have a relationship with a bank, they’ll do what’s most convenient, and for many people that will be going with a digital bank.

This is particularly true for younger consumers. My kids, who are their 20s, have never walked into a branch and would do everything possible to avoid it.

Q.  Is that point of differentiation the brand? Is it a suite of products and services? Is it a social conscience?

A.  This goes all the way back to marketing 101 and segmentation. It depends on the customer. There are customers where, yeah, what you stand for as a brand from a social perspective matters. It matters enough that they’ll choose your brand over someone else if you stand for something they care about.

It really depends on the customer and what’s most important to them. That’s why still, at the core of understanding how to differentiate yourself, you need to understand what your target customer needs. It’s the only way you’re going to prevent yourself from being commoditized in any industry.

In order to build the right solution, whether that’s a savings solution, a loan solution, or a relationship that happens digitally, banks and FinTechs really need to take the time to understand the customer journey, and really understand what the customer is looking for. 

It’s only through looking at the journey and at what is really getting in the way of the customer feeling like the experience is meeting their needs, that we’re really going to be able to solve their problems.

Q.  Do bank marketers have a role to play in ensuring fairness in terms of access to capital for all borrowers, particularly those who’ve been discriminated against in the past?

A.  Definitely. Marketers need to comply with regulations like redlining and ensure they are developing products for all borrowers. While banks certainly can’t lose money or lend to people with really bad history, there are plenty of people that are just trying to build up credit or recover from a bad situation.

Q.  Can banks shift from a model that relies on punitive fees and deeper indebtedness among clients to one that promotes financial wellness?

A.  They can but it’s also up to customers. If customers keep spending money they don’t have, banks can only deal with those decisions. But they should educate customers on what they’re doing and the benefits of doing it differently. 

Q.  You’re a hockey fan. Is that correct?

A.  Yes! Both my sons grew up playing, so we were the typical hockey parents running around rink to rink. It was a big piece of our lives, but it also bonded us together and we loved it. 

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