3 Tools Every Marketing Leader Should Use

The other day I was asked what tools I think are important for marketing. So I answered. Here are three tools I would encourage every marketing leader to use (and they persist, regardless of what changes in marketing).

Over the years, like many of my peers, I have used quite a few marketing tools. Thinking back over the last 24 years I have been in this space, it is remarkable how much has changed, and equally remarkable how much has not. Over that time, we have seen some interesting tools and applications come and go: Remember when FeedBurner was a necessity? While the modes by which we do marketing change — and so do the tools — the core of what we do as marketers does not. So then, what tools do we use that persist?

Recently a very aggressive marketing firm launched a bot-driven campaign on LinkedIn that targeted marketing leaders. The automated process sent a connection request. Once the connection was accepted, a video was sent in a message explaining how you were found. Although it was obviously automated, I chose to respond to the message, because, why not?

What I found on the other end, was an actual human being who I engaged in a conversation. This is interesting for two reasons: one, it never hurts to be kind to people, and two it created a connection point for me with someone who is new to our our field and seeking to disrupt it (or so they claim).

The interaction lead to a short, but effective conversation resulting in a very thoughtful question posed to me, “What are the most useful 3 software tools for you?”

This random interaction, initiated by an automated process, lead to useful and interesting question. It caused me to think, take the time to explain my thinking, and to make a tough decision about what is actually useful and what tools persists through change.

Here are three marketing tools I encourage every marketing leader to use (and they do persist regardless of what in marketing changes):

Flowcharting & Diagramming as Marketing Tools

The two big stars in this marketing tool set are Omnigraffle for OS X and iOS and Visio for Windows (or LucidChart for a cloud based service) — and despite what either claims, they essentially do the same thing. Both tools allow users to rapidly produce flow charts and visual documents. Regardless of how you do marketing, generally there is a process. As the head of marketing for a financial company, I have to create and communicate specific approval processes for compliance and to maintain consistency. I do that with these tools.

But beyond process documentation, these tools are easy to use tools to do wireframing, a quick mock-up of a marketing piece, or even to create a mind-map. Both tools even offer a quick way to mock-up your office layout (if you like that sort of thing).

The utility to here is speed and ease of use. It is a great marketing tool that has been in my arsenal from the beginning.

Cloud Based File Sharing as Marketing Tools

Since desktop publishing starting dominating the marketing landscape in the late eighties and early nineties, the need to share large digital files to facilitate marketing has always been a need. I remember my days in college where every computer on campus had a Zip Drive to make this easier. With the advent of cheap storage and reliable broadband access, physical drives, FTP servers, and large format email services are no longer necessary. But the need is there.

Whether it is Box, DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud or any other slew of services, it really doesn’t matter which you use. What matters is having the ability to share, in real time, files with a team securely without worrying about complex infrastructures. This has enabled us to work better with staff (both local and remote), vendors, and clients. When sharing a file is as easy as saving a file, that is a tool that everyone should use.

Spreadsheets as Marketing Tools

Not just an accountant’s best friend, spreadsheets are quite possibly the most important software innovation. Ever. And I only wish I was exaggerating. All superlatives aside, if you ponder for a moment all that has been made possible with the use of spreadsheet software, it is pretty remarkable. For all of our advancements in business intelligence (BI), machine learning (ML), and analytics, the one tool that most executives reach for when they want to understand and play with data is Excel (and sometimes Google Sheets).

Ponder this: what do you use to build and massage your marketing budgets? What do you use to manipulate, look at, and explore your analytics? What does your team use to present reports to you ? My guess is that most of you, like me, eventually ask for the data in a spreadsheet. And while we are at it, I do not know a single BI or analytics tool, or data platform (like say a CRM or email system) that does not allow for import or export into structured data.

There is a reason for this. Tabular data is the simplest way to store data for visualization and analysis. If you are good with Excel and have good data, you can do quite a bit.

Why These 3?

When I was answering this question in a LinkedIn message thread, something very simple struck me. We make marketing way too complicated and the tools we use as well. Many of us who run marketing departments and teams spend too much time looking at and evaluating marketing tools, and not enough time doing marketing things. So at the end of the day, what is important to me, not only as a marketer, but as an executive? What stands out is the ability to quickly communicate visually, quickly share files, and to quickly look at and manipulate data.

Increasing FinServ Market Share in a Rising Rate Environment

If you are a marketing leader in a FinServ company, then you are interested, and mandated, to increase the market share for your institution. The reality is that it is never easy to increase market share. Especially if the market is investors. Especially in a rising rate environment.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if you are a marketing leader in a FinServ company, then you are interested, and mandated to increase the market share for your institution.

Great, I am a genius, we can all go home, right?

Stating the obvious, and being able to execute effectively on those mandates are two separate matters entirely. The reality that I face, and I am certain if you are reading this you face as well, is that it is never easy to increase market share. Especially if the market you are trying to increase are investors. Especially in a rising rate environment.

When Finding New Investors Seems Easy

For those of us in the FinServ industry that ply our trade in investment banks, credit unions and certain funds, or are dependent upon rate to determine product value, we oft find ourselves at the whim and mercy of the Federal Reserve and general market forces. We like market stability, it is our friend. It allows us to predict, safely, the amount of capital we can raise. It also allows us to compete on something other than the rates we offer (which, let’s be honest is a whole lot more fun).

However, if market stability is our friend, our bestie is a dropping rate environment. That is, when the Fed decides to lower rates, pushing down the value of investments (which costs us less) and rates for loans (which makes them more attractive). This is the butter zone for increasing market share for two reasons: more investors will grab rates before they drop (decreasing decision making time) and you can outpace competitors by being the last to lower your rates.

Rising Rate Environment

Unfortunately for us, we find ourselves in a rising rate environment. The most recent activity by the Fed not only came with a bump, but a strong indication that more increases are likely. What this means is that we cannot count on either differentiation or lagging rates as strategies. In fact both strategies, although they work in stable markets and dropping rate environments, are likely to cause a reduction in market share (or at the very least severely weaken your ability to retain investors).

So regardless if your a brokerage firm, bank, or somewhere in between, I offer two key  strategies to consider as ways to increase market share.

Strategy 1: Do Not Worry About Cost of Funds

Your senior banking or operations officer may not like this one. But, if you are like us, this is a fairly useful strategy. Before I go on, let me define Cost of Funds (COF) in its most basic terms: it is the weighted average of the interest yields owed to investors (here is a longer explanation). If you do not know your COF, talk to an analyst, find out what it is.

Logical thought compels us to accept that an increase in our COF without a increase in loan yield (the weighted average of your capital deployed) means margins will get thinner and profits will drop. While this is technically true, there is one interesting phenomenon that as a marketer you should not ignore.

At volume acquiring new customers above COF does not create a significant increase in COF. Let me explain. If a bank has a COF of 3.0% and total assets of $90,000,000 then acquires $10,000,000 in new capital at 3.5% the new COF would be 3.05%. The reason for this is that the new capital is a smaller percent of the holdings than the existing capital. The larger the financial institution, the less effect on COF is seen.

The strategy then becomes to find a way to offer a special investment product at a rate that is above market average that only applies to new customers or new investments by old customers. In other words, do not be afraid to pay a premium to attract new customers because in this environment the best rate wins.

Strategy 2: Do Not Be Afraid to Use Incentives

The harsh reality faced in a rising rate environment is this: when investors know rates will rise, they are less likely to tie up capital now when they can wait. This is problematic even if you have competitive, or even premium, rates. They simply may not be as good as rates may be in six months or a year.

This is compounded by the fact that competition is leveled down to a rate discussion as most investors make their decision to invest based on rate first, so again differentiation is almost meaningless in marketing terms. Do a Google search for investment advice, it turns out the advice most people give is to get the best rate you can. Not find a place you trust or a cause you believe in.

So we have to be creative and find new ways to give potential investors a reason to invest with us that lies just beyond rates. If all things are equal, and rates are the same, what can you do for investors that others can’t that makes a difference?

There are many paths you can go on here from personalized service to reduced or no fees to feature based investment products. The idea is simple, find incentives that match your core investors desires.

The Truth of the Matter

There is no guarantee that having better rates and nice incentives will help increase market share. It just does not. What it does do is it remove obstacles to growth and eliminates variables as your problem solve. Nor does having them mean potential investors will know about them. You still have to do the work to get the message out there.

Grow the audience, deliver relevant and easily understood offers, and provide excellent customer service. Those things are critical, but absent a product offering that people actually want, they are equally as useless as good product offerings with no marketing. In the FinServ industry there are no shortcuts to increase market share.

Why GDPR Matters More Than You Think

The GDPR grants European Union (EU) citizens power over their personal information, giving them a literal off-switch for how their personal data is used. While this gives more control to consumers, it creates more work for marketers and potentially more litigation. This matters more than you think.

GDPR is here, and yet the world still spins. For some all is well, for others all is not well. Nonetheless, let me take this opportunity to share with you a story.

Fresh out of graduate school I was on a mission to prove myself capable in the business world. I took a position as number two at a privately held accounting firm. This was the halcyon days of Sarbanes–Oxley. Google was not yet the dominant species and your personal information was as likely to be in a file cabinet as it would be on a server. Back then, protecting customers’ digital information was a certain form of alchemy. An alchemy I was able to practice during my first tax season.

For the uninitiated, tax season is a non-stop cavalcade of social security numbers, W2s, receipts, and bank routing numbers. We were a midsize firm, hosting our own servers, with twenty thousand or so clients. We looked like a tasty (and easy to acquire) target for the nefarious sort. In the middle of my first tax season, we became a target.

Our founder came crashing into my office, and of course, I was with a client. He yelled in a panic, “We’re being hacked! What do we do?” As I calmed our client’s nerves, assuring them their information was safe; I walked into our server room, and turned off the power. I then calmly turned to our founder and said, “Now they are not hacking us anymore.”

We had an off-switch.

A way to protect our data by simply removing our system from the source of the problem: connectivity. In a lot of ways, that is the spirit behind the European Union’s (EU) new data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR grants EU citizens explicit power over their information and the right to decide what companies keep, how it is used, and whom it can be shared with. It also grants the right for EU citizens to take their information back (and in essence removed from a company’s servers). For a fantastic primer on GDPR compliance for marketers, check out Heather Fletcher’s guide.

It is an off-switch for the storing and use of personal information.

More Control for Consumers

The GDPR is not just about protecting privacy. It is about shifting control of personal information into the hands of consumers and away from businesses. A strangely anti-libertarian move that introduces conflict between data retention laws in regulated industries (such as banking and securities in the U.S.) and the individual rights it grants to consumers (something the inevitable case law to sort out). The intent is clear; consumers should have control over their personal data, not corporations.

While the implications for marketing are not yet be fully known, the GDPR requires (massive) changes to systems. Especially niche ones that specialize in consumer data and analytics. Entire industries may vanish and new ones are already emerging. The impact of the requirements, and how they are enforced, effects marketing technology as it is now, and how it is developed. Not to mention the impact on the development of AI, machine learning, and other emerging marketing technologies.

This is not conjecture, the GDPR text specifically calls this tension out. In the provision on Legitimate Interest one section reads, “Abiding by all this likely drastically reduces the amount of personal data a controller or processor is able to freely process both due to subjects not opting in and the loss of prior collected data.” The framers of the GDPR expect a sizeable decrease in the personal information that can be used in marketing. Opening the door for a new set of regulations FinServ marketers need to manage.

More Regulations for Marketers

Ahh yes, the fiery ritual of regulatory compliance. The ebb and flow of pushing boundaries and finding leverage points in regulations. Teetering on that fine edge marks the life of a marketer in the FinServ industry.

Raise your hand if you have had an excellent marketing piece rejected because it did not pass regulatory muster.

While the job for marketers is to find creative and engaging ways to generate interest in products and services, for many in the FinServ industry, it is their compliance officers job to make sure it is within the legal boundaries of what is acceptable. GDPR may make the relationship between marketing and compliance more crucial.

Up until now, all FinServ marketers had to worry about was regulators liking what we say about our products and services. With the introduction of stricter consent rules, comes the introduction of more regulations.

Organizations impacted by the GDPR, will now have to demonstrate compliance in new areas, including audit trails for how data is acquired and consent was earned. The costs associated with this are enormous. As much of the data that is collected and processed, exist on disparate systems. For some companies, it may be cheaper to pay the fines, then to do the work to come into compliance.

More Gray Areas for Litigators to Sort Out

I take a great amount of joy in using data to solve organizational problems, especially in marketing. There is something about eradicating opinions with a well-executed A/B test. Better yet, using historical customer behavioral trends to build predictive models and forecasting tools. For those who do business in the EU, however, those scenarios are now a bit more difficult.

While gray areas are found in most of the GDPR, a couple of provisions introduce gray areas for common marketing practices. The two provisions that may yet reek havoc on marketing are the profiling and processing provisions.

GDPR compliance requires that individuals be able to opt out of being subject to automatic decision making, which already includes the use of cookies on websites, but can also mean personalized marketing. Further, individuals must also give consent to their information being processed, whatever that means.

While it is uncertain how the inevitable lawsuits and regulatory challenges will shape these areas, what is clear is that the GDPR was designed to force change. This means that EU citizens can say no to being part of marketing automation, and no to their information being augmented by third party services. Both common practices in digital marketing.

You need not be clairvoyant to see the litany of litigation that will challenge these provisions. Especially when business start shutting down or are fined for doing legitimate activities with consumer data. At the very least, many of us will need to start keeping an audit trail of where, how, and why we obtained information about our customers. Just in case.

A New World of Marketing Possibilities

To my boss at the accounting firm, my solution to our hacking problem was unorthodox and revolutionary. It was something that he would never have thought of. A course of action that was as creative as it was pragmatic.

It was literally an off-switch that changed the way we dealt with hackers.

And what do marketers do best? We take constraints and limitations and exploit them, find the leverage points and go. While the GDPR introduces new limitations, it also opens up a whole new world of marketing possibilities we do not know yet. There GDPR is here and make no mistake, while the US may not adopt all of what the GDPR is, similar controls will make their way across the pond.

Consumers will be given an off-switch for their data and that changes the game.

So Why Does GDPR Matter More Than You Think?

Whoever figures out the leverage points within the GDPR and how to use them as an advantage in marketing gets to define how our game will be played.