Our Guest: Tom McEntee
Company: NBT Bank
Allan Greer: Hey, Martha, if you were a CMO brought into an organization, how would you approach effecting change in the most impactful way possible?
Martha France: That's a good question, Allan. On the one hand, you want to have a positive impact right off the bat, right? But you really need to earn the support of the organization. Our guest, Tom McEntee, shares his approach at NBT Bank. These are tips any CMO can use right away whether they are new in their role or have been there for years.
Allan: You're exactly right. And Tom also has some great ideas about balancing the mix of in house talent versus outside agencies and using data to support those decisions. You're going to want to hear out Tom's approach along with how he co brands the bank and the banker.
Allan: Hello, and welcome to Bank Marketing Today by Vya. I am Allan Greer, and together with Martha France, we are interviewing bank marketing leaders about current trends, new marketing technologies, branding and the overall state of the banking industry. We will be joined from time to time by additional Co-hosts and experts.
Martha: In this episode we spoke to Tom McEntee, Chief Marketing Officer at NBT bank. We had a wide ranging discussion on everything from how to structure your marketing team, balancing in-house versus agency talent, how to overcome challenges when marketing to different geographies and a whole lot more. You did not want to miss this conversation. So let's get to it. We hope this episode of Bank Marketing Today helps simplify your marketing tomorrow.
Martha: Hello, I am Martha France and today I am joined by my co-host Allan Greer and we are truly excited to be talking with Tom McEntee, Chief Marketing Officer at NBT Bank. Welcome to the Bank Marketing Today podcast, Tom.
Tom McEntee: Thank you, Martha it’s good to be with you today.
Allan: Tom, we're really excited to talk with you. And to kick things off, I just wondered if you could share with everybody how you got into banking and what drew you to NBT Bank.
Tom: My entire career has been in the financial service and insurance industries. But for a good part of that has been with larger organizations like JP Morgan, Citi, MetLife - really big companies. But the great thing was, while I was at those different organizations, I was lucky enough that I had various roles. Whether it was when I started out in sales, and then went into operations. I eventually moved into digital strategy and web stuff. I did all that before I really shifted over to marketing. And I think that really helped me. I think having those pre-marketing roles helped me to see through different lenses as it relates to the customer journey or customer engagement. And that's been a huge help. As I moved into marketing, and really started to focus on different engagement strategies, I met the folks at NBT, and I was really interested in joining a smaller company. Their a community based, community focused organization and at the same time, they were very focused on making a significant shift and how to engage with customers. A big part of that was wanting to ramp up their digital engagement and digital marketing program. And that was a big part of my background. Initially, that was a good part of the fit. Then as I had conversations with different members of the executive management team, one of the things I quickly realized was that they weren't just talking about this desired shift, they were actually doing it. They were investing a lot of resources and those things showed me that they were heads down focused on making this desire a reality. The other thing I took away from those early discussions was that there was this consensus of a test and learn mindset. They wanted to try new things. They didn't tell me “okay, here's what we want you to do specifically”. It was, we want to move in this direction, help us figure out how, and that hasn't changed. We still have that test to learn mindset. I think that's one of the things that really makes it fun coming to work.
Allan: You know, it's a very interesting background. I wonder if you could expound a little bit about that? Because I'm curious as the banking industry is, like a lot of organizations, very competitive, obviously. So what do you think differentiates NBT and what you're doing today?
Tom: So in addition to the test and learn mindset that we just talked about, I think the biggest differentiator that I have seen, and still experience is really the culture of the bank. And I know that may sound a little bit cliche, a lot of people in companies talk about that.
Allan: I think it's very important for sure.
Tom: Yeah, it is. Some may say it's cliche, but I think it's one of the most important things in any organization. And I really feel it's true for us. My boss, he has this mantra, kind of a motto, “take care of our employees, and take care of our customers, and everything else will take care of itself”. The first time I heard him say that I just thought it was great. And so myself, my peers and others in the organization, we really take that advice to heart.
Tom: And, you know, we do follow that type of approach, whether it's a big initiative or a small project, a campaign. That's really how we think about things. And I think that does really make a difference. We have the products, services and the technology in place, that I feel could compete with any bank out there, but a dedication to supporting each other at the employee side, our customers and the communities, and do that each and every day. And that happens organically. That's something really hard to compete with.
Martha: Tom, can you tell us a little bit more about the approach you took when you when you joined NBT Bank and how you how you took on the challenges that you were facing as you came on board?
Tom: I'm not sure if my approach was terribly innovative. When I joined, I just wanted to get to know the marketing team members a little better. There were seven people, myself included, eight people. I just wanted to get a better understanding of their role at the bank. So I just started talking and asking questions like, What do you currently do here at the bank? Do you like what you're doing? What do you want to do? And there were different reactions to that. Some people said, “I want to keep doing what I'm doing, I think I'm really good at it”. And that's great. Others said, “Well, I'm doing a couple of different things and I really liked this one thing better than the other. And I want to really focus heads down on this first area”. And that's great, too. So we slowly started to restructure the team of it, not the entire team, but parts of the team. And we did it in a way that could meet both the employee's career goals, as well as the organization’s. And as we started to make these changes, we started to see some quick wins, both on the campaign and the project side, but also on employee engagement satisfaction. As an organization, we do the annual employee engagement surveys, and just speaking for the marketing team, the scores just kept going up. The organization has been doing better each year, every year, as well. So now we've grown the bank's marketing team, from eight people to eleven, one of the outputs of that has been moving a significant amount of our external work, the work that we would outsource, in-house. We have the data that validates it. So we look at channels like paid search, email, marketing, and organic social that we moved in house, and we've seen increases over the last few years from anywhere from 60 to 100%. Depending upon that channel, we still utilize our agency, and some other external vendors for some things, but we're constantly looking at ways to expand the marketing teams responsibilities.
Martha: A lot of analysts have written about this, you know, how do you structure your marketing team? And what do you outsource to the agencies versus what do you pull in house, but I think that can be really challenging, especially as marketing has become so specialized with so many different channels. So what have you found as far as your mix and as far as what you want to continue to outsource versus what made sense for you to bring in house?
Tom: There are certainly advertising functions, or other marketing functions where you want that agency expertise. They do that all day long, for lots of clients, not just us, and or not just banking clients, but for lots of clients across various industries. And so they're constantly accumulating learnings based on the clients that they're helping and what they're doing. And so you want that the benefit of their expertise. Secondly, our agency, they've developed great relationships, both on the traditional media side, the TV, radio, and out of home outlets. So they have those relationships, they know how to negotiate and how to place quickly and efficiently. They also have those relationships with Google and Facebook that can help because as you know, Google's coming out with something new and the preferred agency will have access to that new feature maybe a little bit early, and you can test and learn there. We do lean on them for different things, but thinking about the digital channels like Google and Facebook, with the tools that that they have that these channels have created, that idea of self service is becoming more and more a reality. So we could move more of that stuff in house in the future. So we're creating the content, right? We’re placing and then measuring success of that content. The technologies have been a big contributor. But I think the biggest driver looking to move more in house has really been about creating that environment where career growth, it's always top of mind for the entire team. The changes, they not only create growth for the employees, but they've also allowed us to redeploy dollars that were previously spent on external resources that we can reap and redeploy them towards things like additional media or additional sponsorships and marketing we've used it to fund new headcount. I don't have the magic number, that ratio. It's really just an evolution, and you just do it little by little.
Martha: So it sounds like you very much took the approach of developing your team versus right away trying to hire in the new expertise.
Tom: Yeah, I'd say that's true. When I joined the bank, I mentioned right, one of the primary goals was simply to expand our digital marketing capability. And I didn’t know at that time how many people we would need, or if we even had the right people in the right roles. So it really was a learning process for all of us on the team and for the partners that we work with. But as time passed, and learnings grew, we started to find the right balance of digital and traditional channel mix. And when you find that right balance, and I'm not saying you find the balance and it stays that way, it does evolve, of course, but as you start to find that right balance that influences who's on the team and what are the roles on a team, and people start to do more things. So you know the term engage with customers through their preferred channels? We know it's used quite often. But it really does continue to drive much of what we do here at NBT. While we may be a regional bank, we truly are a community bank at heart. That's how we manage our business and the communities that we serve, they tell us how we need to engage with them. Your customers want to tell you what you need to do in many ways. And so our job in marketing is simply to meet those needs. And at the same time, evolve the team at the best possible pace.
Allan: I have a question about the commercial side of your business, you know, researching the bank, you have a retail and a commercial side. And I'm curious if you could share a little bit about how you do that? I mean, do you have a team that, hey, these guys handle commercial and these guys handle retail? Or is it a blend? How do you do that?
Tom: It's definitely more of a blend. There are certain things we do within the commercial space. So we know that commercial banking, supporting commercial banking there are a lot of differences and actual differences between supporting commercial and supporting retail. Commercial is much more of a handshake type business, right? So your focus there is going to be more about sales and collateral development for our customer facing commercial team members. A sponsorship strategy to make sure that our brand is recognized in those markets. So that when a commercial banker is connecting with a potential customer, our brand is already out there. And then co-brand awareness and by co-brand I mean bank and banker co-branding, because often there's you know, whether it's larger commercial banking, or small business banking, the banker relationship manager, they have their own brand in their respective market, and you want to leverage that. But you also want to make sure that the markets are connecting the banker with the bank. And so you have those nuances from the marketing team side, we don't really separate, okay, these people do commercial and these people do retail. A lot of the skill sets can be applied to both. So content strategy, creative design, and placement with our agencies can go across. We do have people that will, maybe be let's say, we have someone or someone’s that are responsible for our sponsorship strategy. As an example, I mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of cost savings by bringing things in-house is that we are able to increase things like media spend and sponsorship spent. We also were able to, about two years or so ago, we moved what we call sponsorship audit and renewal in-house. So we use rely on an external agency to go in to work with the venue or the outlet to negotiate the sponsorship deal. We just started getting more and more educated about the different outlets and venues. And so we took that in-house. So we're saving money from the agency spending piece, or the third party piece, but we also built up the acumen internally. So we have a couple people that manage everything around commercial sponsorships. Coming back to the commercial banking strategy piece, one of the challenges of a bank our size is competing against larger regional and international banks within our footprint that have a much larger marketing budget than us. It's a challenge. But it doesn't stop us from creating that strong presence, the brand presence, when you look at our geographic footprint, a big part of our footprint, central upstate New York, Northeastern PA, but then we're also in five New England states. And so we wanted to look at how we can continue to improve our brand presence. And so one way to do that is through something called a testimonial campaign, and I know for folks that are listening a testimonial campaign is nothing new. But one of the things we love about it is that it allows you to identify customers that we've been able to help in different ways and then create content in partnership with our agency who has helped us develop it with the customer and just tell the story of that customer and how we partnered with them to help them and help their communities, and then run that content across everything that makes sense, whether it's TV, radio, social, or digital. It's a great way to tell the story. The beautiful thing about it is, they're authentic stories. This is not an ad campaign where we're making something up. This is a customer that's trying to do something in their community, and we're able to help them. And that's a great way to level the playing field across different size banks.
Allan: I think it's a great segue into my next question, because I'm really sort of wondering how you do this, because where you are, you know, you're in a unique geographic location because you got the big cities, you mentioned New England, and upstate New York, then also, you're in New York City. So you know, it's almost like the message is, I would think you have to be different in how you approach it. And obviously, I know you have national banks that deal with this all the time, but as a regional bank, I think you'd have kind of more unique opportunities to really target people at their local level. I am just wondering how you go about that?
Tom: It comes down to strategic alignment. And I know that that's an often used term but it is extremely important to us. And it's not something that happens overnight. It's taken us a bit of time to build those relationships internally with various business partners. And like you said, the partners have different needs, and the geographies have different needs. So sometimes it’s the basic things of having that bi-weekly or monthly meeting with different partners, and trying to understand what they're trying to do in the markets against their strategic objectives. Commercial presidents in their different regions, they know their market, right? They know who the customers are, they know who the competitors are, and down to the street level. And so they're going to want certain things. So we evolved that years back, we would say, let's say we would sponsor a bunch of different events at a certain level. And sometimes when you have those types of events, you know, you could be one of 10 sponsors, and you kind of get lost. So I rather than doing ten S\small, let's do two big. And let's own that event. Let's make NBT the forefront brand there. But then you also you have to have those discussions with your product partners, whether it's consumer lending, or retail, specialty lending, you know, in the solar space, just department list goes on and on. We've put a lot of time into developing and strengthening those relationships. Now, of course, we have to execute, right? And the more we execute, I'll say, you know, the more credibility we build up. And so if we continue to execute, then what happens is those partners start to bring you in earlier in their strategy development process. And if they do that, that just gives us more time to create an optimal go to market strategy. And just as importantly create that resource allocation plan. We get out ahead of it. On the strategy side, everything else will fall into place.
Martha: That's so critical, because I think so often marketing departments are just on the back end, they're just being told what to do, versus really helping to set that strategy upfront.
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Martha: I just want to circle back to something that you said earlier that really piqued my interest. When you talked about co-branding the bank and the banker, I totally get what you're saying now, but I've never heard it said that way before that you're actually co-branding the bank with the bankers. And I was just kind of curious if you could talk a little bit more about that? It sounds like maybe you're doing a little bit more than just putting their picture on a piece of material. Or what do you mean by cobranding, the bank and the banker?
Tom: When a new banker comes over to us from a different bank, or goes somewhere else, there’s always that book of business aspect. And not that they're bringing a book or things like that, but they have relationships. So when a banker joins NBT they're bringing their reputation in their respective community market with them. That's always helpful and so we want to leverage their reputation in their respective market to grow the business. At the same time. depending upon the market now, so there are some markets where we've been for a very long time, 160 years, that we're fine on brand awareness and preference, but there could be a newer market that we're entering that we need to do more to increase our brand awareness and preference. When you have that challenge, there's different ways to go to tackle that challenge. One is, so the co-branding pieces, we want to leverage that existing reputation and connect ourselves with that. Banks will look at sponsorships and things like that. And hopefully, it's not superficial, you're finding the right things to sponsor. The right causes, the right things for the community, you’re not just putting your name on a golf event to get your name out there. That may have some benefits, but that's not what we're about. We're constantly working with those bankers saying, “Okay, what do you think is the right place for us to be when it comes to things like sponsorships contributions and advertising”. And since they know their markets, we have this certain level of trust with that, and then we'll work with them to execute. And so when we execute, the sign will say NBT Bank, but the people that are out there supporting the name are those bankers. And so we'll do things like that, and sponsorship, and yes, we'll do the Meet the Team, and like you said, putting their name and face on some collateral, we try and do that in different ways. We try and show the communities how serious we are about supporting the community. So it's not just about the one banker, it's about the team that's in that market. So whether it's commercial or small business banking, or, you know, lending, retail branch managers and their team, so we try and go beyond just that one lead person and really show the community that we're here to support you in a lot of different ways. It's a constant effort, but a good effort to connect what they're doing as part of the bank, and to make sure that the brand stays top of mind.
Martha: Yeah, definitely sounds like kind of bringing us together definitely is a more powerful way to approach the market, that's for sure. What are some of your biggest marketing challenges? And how are you addressing them?
Allan: We only have certain a certain amount of time for them those podcasts.
Tom: I'll just give you, a couple of them. From a macro environment perspective, I would say we need to continue to stay very agile in how we're engaging with the market. And a big reason for that is the current interest rate environment, and just the overall volatility in the markets. It creates a challenge. So we have to say agile and react to things almost real time. Inflation, obviously a problem right now, hopefully, it's cooling, but we'll see. With high inflation comes fears of recession and those fears can then translate into how customers react. We work with, and when you look at the business, commercial side, there's many, many customers that are borrowing and growing or borrowing to grow. But they're doing it in a very surgical way. They are not just taking a flyer on something. They're really thinking hard and our commercial business bankers work with them and say, “Okay, let's see what your borrowing needs are and what your growth plan is. And let's react to that”. And then on the consumer side, that is a challenge in the financial literacy sense. We work hard to create the right content and then get it out there in a way that makes sense for the customer. How customers consume that financial literacy and then react to it in a positive way, can be a challenge. And so it's not just creating a brochure, its video content. It's going through different channels like social, your website and mobile. And so that's an evolving challenge that it's fun to react to, and creating that new content and then seeing an improvement in financial literacy and seeing an improvement on how they're managing their accounts. That means that we're doing our job.
Allan: I have a kind of a two part question. Two things we are thinking about is, and this is not asking to divulge any secret sauce, but you know, data analytics is always on the forefront of talks, almost every business, but I'm wondering how you’re using that? And then also along with that, what technologies are out there right now that you're excited about?
Tom: On the data side that's something that I get extremely excited about. Anyone on my team can tell you, it's probably super annoying.
Allan: But very important, right?
Tom: Yeah, one of my go to questions is what does the data say? My team members went to a conference and they brought back the coffee mug and it says on it, “Whose your data?”. I proudly display that mug on my desk.
Allan: So, that’s my next t-shirt.
Tom: So for the marketing data strategy piece, I think we've come a long way in a very short period of time, I'd say even over the last 18 to 24 months. So this was an area that we used to rely on other groups, whether it was external agencies on campaign reporting, or our internal data strategy team that's part of our systems and technology group. And that was fine, but you really wanted to start to take ownership of that, especially from the marketing engagement piece. You know, we've been talking a lot about cost savings by building things in house and this was one of the other beneficial outputs was, we save some money in one place and then we were able to fund a headcount to add to our data strategy efforts. So we have a couple of people that work on data strategy from the marketing side. And what they've done is set up relationships with some of our other data analysts, whether it's in the product group, or Systems Group, or elsewhere to help start to connect the dots on the full customer experience. So that helps us to really move forward in terms of the marketing ROI, then we go to the next level. And so as we've made progress, the data piece, what we've done is start to build that business case for marketing automation enhancement. We have robust CRM capabilities that we utilize across lines of business and adding, we're integrating with that, in the near future is marketing automation. Data Analytics has definitely influenced how we make decisions with regard to campaigns and go to market efforts. We have some marketing automation, but we want to add some more pieces to really round it out. The one other piece I'm excited about I would say is the role of video. When it comes to customer engagement and service, we know that when the pandemic hit, that really accelerated the adoption of digital channels. On the customer side, when it comes to banking, many banks or branches could have been closed or it was drive up only, or walk up only, or by appointment only. Also, we know a lot of people were kind of hunkered down in their houses, but they still needed to manage their banking. And so digital, just accelerated. Digital is a hugely important channel for us. But branches are not going away by any means. And how customers engage with our branch people could be different for different customers. So using things like video chat when they can't get to the branch or prefer not to, that's going to be I think, an exciting thing. And it's just another way for us to make it easier for customers to engage with us.
Martha: Yeah, I noticed in some of the research I did that you have digital branches, and they have tech bars. Is that right? Can you tell a little bit more about those?
Tom: As we stand up a new branch or are refreshing an existing branch, we look at what are the ways again we can make it easier for customers to do their banking and engage with us and tech bars, having technology, their iPads, things like that allows either the customer themselves or one of our branch relationship bankers to stand with a customer and maybe show them how to do things. It could be helping them find specific content on the website, or helping them enroll in online banking, or how to sign up for E-savings, electronic payments and turn off paper. It goes back to the goal of our team members are our branch relationship bankers and their management, it really is to service their customers, our customers, in a way that best fits their needs. And so we looked at the tech bars as really just one of the many tools in our service toolbox.
Allan: I think Martha was wondering, if there were martinis as a part of that bar? That is where that question came from.
Martha: That makes the technology all the more confusing when you do. In talking about the branches, I did see that you have an insurance agency subsidiary and that some of them are co-located with your branches. Does your team get involved in the effort of encouraging your banking customers to become insurance customers and vice versa? Or how does that work?
Tom: The insurance agency is obviously an extremely important part of the organization. And while our insurance agents, they do spend a great deal of their time on the road meeting with clients, it's nice that they can also meet at a local branch if that works out better for the client and that's what they prefer. As far as crossover is concerned, we're trying to provide the best possible education to all of our customers whether their existing bank or insurance or brand new, and so we're trying to help them with both banking and insurance. You do have a delineation between banking insurance. And so our bankers, what they try to do is refer if a customer is interested in insurance or expresses a need with regard to insurance needs, they'll certainly refer that customer to our insurance agent that's in that market, and vice versa. So we don't really try and say, “Okay, here are all the banking customers that should have insurance,” we take much more of a life event marketing approach. Our goal is to help them with their all their financial service needs. And if it's banking, great. If it's insurance, great. If it's both, even better, but we don't really have that crossover. It's just more about individual customer needs.
Martha: When you take that approach, then it just kind of happens organically.
Allan: But Tom, where do you think banking is going overall? I mean, aside from including marketing, but just in the industry, where do you think things are headed?
Tom: So it's something we hear a lot at the industry level I would expect we continue to see more consolidation. I'd say at the customer engagement level, nothing shocking here, I think the role of digital banking continues to increase the level of importance and usage. At the same time, I don't expect branches to play a reduced role at all, volume or traffic is, is great. And our team members are just killing it when it comes to supporting their customers and everything they need. We continue to see the mix of digital and in person from a customer preference side that just continues. We're going to continue to leverage technology to improve the experience. We're going to continue to focus on the employees and we're going to continue to focus on the customers. So for us, we're just gonna keep doing what we're doing.
Allan: It sounds like you are doing an incredible job, so congrats on that for sure. You know, where do you go to keep up with things to learn, you know, marketing wise, or just development in general, where do you go for those kind of things?
Tom: Other than your podcast?
Allan: Yeah, well, ours is the most important for sure. That was unpaid by the way, I want everybody to know that.
Tom: So, I do listen to your podcast. Oher than that, when I when I do have time I actually like to listen to podcasts outside the banking industry. I feel like I learn when I hear or read about challenges that individuals and companies face in other industries. As an example, when we look at what's the branch experience, what should it be when we're creating new branch, one things we do is look at, okay, case studies on something like an Apple Store, best in class type examples. I talk to my peers, whether it's NBT bank peers, or others that I've met at conferences, and not just in banking, but outside of banking. Sometimes understanding non-marketing perspectives can be the best way to improve a marketing strategy.
Martha: Well, Tom, I think that you definitely provided some great perspectives and some great insights for our listeners to learn from today. I want to really thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I know that both Allan and I enjoyed the discussion and we wish you continued success at NBT Bank.
Tom: Thank you. It really was a pleasure. I've enjoyed speaking with you.
Martha: And I love Tom's approach to begin with asking the employees what are they currently doing and what they want to do. That's a very simple but effective way to maximize your team's passion and skill set.
Allan: I agree, I also liked his insight that the biggest driver when looking to move more in house is really about creating the environment where career growth is always top of mind for the entire team.
Martha: That is a wonderful insight. So Allan, what are you currently doing and what do you want to do?
Allan: Currently, I am starving, and I really want to go grab lunch and drinks at that tech bar.
Thanks to our listeners for joining us. We'd like to invite you to connect with Martha France and myself, Allan Greer, on LinkedIn. Be sure to subscribe and give us a review. We would love to hear from you. If you have any ideas for topics or questions you'd like us to cover in the future just email us at email@example.com and again that’s marketing@vyasystems with an S dot com. Thank you so much.
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