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5 min read

Financial Brand Forum 2019: 5 Wins in 5 Minutes

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Hosting marketing and sales execs at Caesars Palace is kinda asking for it, isn’t it? If the Roman-adorned casinos don’t distract, surely options like Donny & Marie over at The Flamingo or the endless taxis touting the Cannabis Superstore will, right? Wrong. Let’s just call it. In five short years, The Financial Brand Forum has grown from startup to become the preeminent financial industry event. Why? Great content and great people. We were on site to contribute (my snarkenator colleague Ron Shevlin led a session on competing with megabanks), but I took in some other sessions. Here are my top five winning takeaways in a five-minute read.

1. Provoked by Provocateurs: Kickoff speaker Gary Vaynerchuk wasn’t just the best speaker that I saw at the event, but the best speech I’ve EVER seen ANYWHERE. His session was riddled with dozens of usable strategies, tactics and direct experiences. Agree with his views or not, he threw them down humorously and flawlessly to an audience he had leaning in. Much of the rest of the event was echoing or living up to this session. A few nuggets:

  • Marketing spend is the one place where banks can innovate quickly vs. waiting for long-haul tech and people-based transformations.
  • Drop professional behavior that forgets realities from personal lives, that inadvertently reinforce BS reporting that favors legacies like TV, direct mail and banner ad spend.
  • Find an editorial voice and drop the sales voice. “We have to romance customers and stop trying to close on the first date.”
  • Gary Vee’s recommended marketing mix:
    • Facebook (customized to 30-80 different target audiences)
      • As Webster Five Bank’s Holly Deslauriers put it later in a breakout session: “It’s about the media mix. Our demographic is age 40s and 50s and Facebook is WHERE THEY’RE AT.”
    • LinkedIn
    • Podcasts
    • YouTube with pre-rolled Google search
    • Building out and re-using helpful content across multiple platforms

I heard good feedback from others on Jason Silva, so it’s probably just me. But I found the Brain Games futurist’s session to be an exhausting rapid-fire techno prodding. It’s really weird to see a live speaker dish up a series of videos mainly of himself … speaking. Kind of like showing up at a Van Halen show and Eddie plays videos of himself on guitar. Still, Silva’s positive energy was infectious even if it gave me a headache.

A panel session from The Financial Brand’s own Jim Marous had unscripted (thank you) input on lessons learned from Bankers Trust’s Emily Abbas, Credit Union of Texas‘ Lisa Nichols, Salesforce‘s Christy Poulos, Spar Nord‘s Ole Madsen and TCF Bank‘s Lana Slygh. Shout out to the planners on a diverse panel that included both midsize commercial banking and credit union execs. Jim brought it all together with “Let’s try things and get people involved. We’re all basically in sales now, right?” Or as Vons Credit Union’s Jay Lassiter put it in a breakout, “Everything we do has to be targeted and 20% of our team is out in the field meeting with prospects where they work … supported by QR code info in breakrooms that drive mobile app downloads.”

2. Find Your Inner Editorial Yoda. Digital Growth Institute’s James Robert Lay presented a “how to” guide with a framework and examples. Star Wars nerds of the world united on this: “Nix narcissism and use content-based story selling. Trust is built with content … become your customers’ helpful guide with content … Be their Yoda.” My read: most bank execs think that their delivery needs work but their content is very strong. Is it really?

3. More Examples + Fewer Buzzwords = Always Welcome. Many of the sessions dropped the bubble charts for examples and tactics. Thank you! Ally Bank CMO Andrea Brimmer pulled audience heartstrings with the bank’s Incite-Improve-Inspire strategy of scavenger hunts and clever viral campaigns (“Would you settle for a two-star sushi joint or dentist? Why settle for a two-star bank?”) leading to a claimed 71,000 new accounts in two months.

Umpqua Bank’s Rilla Delorier had to follow that. It was a tall order, but Delorier nailed it with “No more chasing Chase” but leading the “democratization of private banking” with Umpqua’s Go-To approach, replacing digital strategy by “digitizing the bank’s strategy.” Delorier’s cool, calm and collected delivery of experiences was the closest parallel to Vaynerchuk’s gravitas. Powerful and inspiring stuff, GonzoBankers!

But it wasn’t just the ForumX presenters like Delorier and Ally’s Brimmer that brought specifics. In breakouts, I saw contributors like Strategy Corps’ Dave Defazio, Baker Hill’s Deidra Colvin, Avidia Bank’s CarrieAnne Cormier and Katelin Cwieka, Webster Five’s Desrauliers and Vons Credit Union’s Lassiter bringing lots of specifics.  

I had to miss CenterState Bank’s Chris Nichols’ session on robotic automation, but Nichols wins the award for grittiest-slides-for-no-shows.

4. Breakouts Inside of Breakouts … Nice! Another cool conference idea that brought energy to sessions was roundtable-size breakouts within the breakout sessions, which I saw being put to great use in a session on CX from Oregon Community Credit Union’s Deborah Mersino. Be gone, rows of lecture seated yawning masses! Let’s get into small groups and get people involved!

5. Will we meet in the RainMan Room or the Hangover Suite? To give you a sense of industry change, four years ago at this same conference, there was one digital banking vendor and zero CRM vendors in a hall of about 30 niche marketing companies. This year, 90 vendors and all but one of the major digital banking and CRM vendors were there, not to mention a few of the lending vendors. Every single company rep I spoke with reported steady traffic and good quality chats in the exhibit hall. And they were hosting meetings in suites and multi-level loft apartment type booths with sofas and wet bars. And at least one of the booths included multiple shrubberies, so that has to mean something.

Great experiences in the best-in-the-business nerdy hallway, exhibit hall and cocktail mixer chats with all the smart people from banks, credit unions and fintechs.  

Tip of the hat to The Financial Brand’s Jeffry Pilcher for caring and feeding such a meaningful event. The first person I ran into in the hall – wearing signature red tie (“on brand”) – was Jeffry, and the first thing he said was, “What do you think?” He cared enough to start by asking.

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