Our Guest: Sean Hampton, SVP Chief Marketing Officer
Company: BOK Financial
Martha France: Hey Allan in talking with our guest, Sean Hampton, from BOK Financial about marketing operations excellence I really like how he also clarified true differentiators versus table stakes.
Allan Greer: Yeah, it was really interesting, and I have to tell you, any time “steaks” are involved I am 100% in. So, let’s get this thing rolling.
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 with additional co-hosts and experts. In this episode we spoke to Sean Hampton of BOK Financial. He provides a lot of great insight into achieving marketing operations excellence as well as how to differentiate.
Martha: Yes, Sean talks about the banking table stakes and keys to really stand out in the marketplace. And at the end we’ll share a link to a report that breaks up the must-have characteristics of a bank, so let’s get to it. We hope this episode of bank marketing today helps simplify your marketing tomorrow.
Martha: Hello. Hi, I’m Martha France and I am joined today by my co-host Allan Greer. We are truly excited to be talking with Sean Hampton as the key Chief Marketing Officer at BOK Financial. Welcome to the Bank Marketing Today Podcast Sean.
Sean Hampton: It’s great to be here.
Allan: Sean I noticed you have an interesting background with marketing in the areas of Martech and sales and sales support. You have experience with Janus Henderson and companies like Merrill Lynch. Tell us more about your journey into marketing at BOK Financial.
Sean: My background is not a typical traditional marketing background, but I think marketing is not a traditional role anymore. But we’ve really started evolving marketing to a much more ROI-driven, business-centric model. When I think about my background, I’ve spent time in sales, I’ve spent time in operations, I even did a little stint in Treasury Services, I’ll tell you that story at some other point.
But I’ve found along that road is no matter what the actual profession is, everything needs to be managed like a business. And I feel like that’s where my path has led is going into these types of businesses, especially the businesses that are a little more abstract to identify, do the inputs equal 2X, 3X, 4X the outputs. I think that background has really helped me think more about each one of these areas as a business.
Allan: Marketing operations is an evolving function. It could be hard to find a consensus on this definition exactly and I totally understand that, but how do you define marketing operations and is it a distinct group within your marketing organization?
Sean: Yes on that so you could imagine if we had three hours or four hours or 15 weeks to talk about that, we could talk about that for a long time. Marketing operations is much more tangential than just a function. It’s much more of a mindset. While we do have a group – and I have a phenomenal group at BOK Financial in my marketing operations group – I expect that everybody in my team thinks about marketing as an operational element within their role.
Martha: Now Sean you’ve talked about a marketing operation mindset and thinking like a business. Why is that important to the success of a marketing organization?
Sean: Good question. I think in all businesses whether it’s marketing, whether it’s in sales, everything is getting more expensive. We have more ideas; we have to reach more customers and our budgets are shrinking. We don’t have the budgets that we had in the past, so we have to think about our business in a very flexible and scalable way. What I mean by that is when we run a campaign we don’t just start with blue sky and say, “Okay this is a new campaign. This is a unicorn campaign.”
We think about what campaigns have we done like this in the past. What has been successful and what process can we re-use and then we try to make sure that we use that same process, so we get the most efficient and effective use of our team members. I think where it’s not so operational though is the talent. Talent is really where the element differs because a creative individual is a creative individual by nature.
They are paid and they are incentivized to do something different than what we’ve done before that is going to be more provocative. It’s going to capture the audience’s attention. And so, in those types of roles we don’t expect as much of an operational element there. We want to make sure that we are giving them the ideas and allowing them to be as creative as they need to be to get the work done.
I think you could look at that, our creative team, our digital teams, our social media teams where you really are going to differentiate your product based on what the output is, that’s why you don’t want to get so operational. Otherwise, what you end up getting is a lot of me-too type of advertising, me too type of content and then it gets lost in a sea of sameness. That’s the difference where you have to be careful not to operationalize everything.
Martha: Yet at the same time you are trying to move beyond that traditional approach, right. So how do you move beyond that traditional approach to develop this marketing operational excellence and operations focus?
Sean: Yes, in our business that’s a tough question. We are not Amazon, we’re not trend setting here where our clients and prospects want us to be so coy or so different that they feel like we’re not able to identify what we are within our brand. The way you can do that in my view is the content that you write, the thought leadership that you are giving to your clients and the partnership programs that you give to them that help them understand who you are as a business and understand that you are a partner to them first of all and the product portion coming second.
Really making sure that the differentiation is in the information you’re giving them that they can’t get somewhere else and making sure that they feel like their relationship with you is very unique, very individualized, while we’re still looking at a commoditized group of product offerings that really don’t need to be that differentiated. So, you really spend the time and effort in that partnership relationship that leads the client and the prospect into your products and then they start looking at your products in a differentiated way as opposed to just the same products they could have got at any other one of our competitors.
Martha: That’s kind of how you start that relationship that really differentiates and then you bring them on, I see. It still does seem though that it’s starting to have this operational focus, starting to really manage the organization as a business, but there could be a risk of becoming too technically focused. How do you balance that with still being effective at the strategic level?
Sean: Martha that’s a really important question and I think that is, without giving too much of the secret sauce, I think that’s where you really differentiate yourself. So much of this is driven by the people that we hire within our group and I can’t accentuate that enough. I think that at the end of the day, businesses, at least until we get into the matrix type of environment, businesses are still run by people. Products are consumed by people.
We really look at the folks that we hire to make sure that the talent pool that we’re bringing in has the ability to think both strategically as well as in a tactical way. Let me make this a little bit finer of a point. Being strategic without the ability to look at the tactical application is academia. Being tactical without everything focusing on a guiding vision or a strategy becomes an assembly line.
It starts with the vision, making sure that you are always diligent to do the things that meet your brand promise, meet the pillars of what the businesses that you are focusing on and always making sure that we’re doing things that meet that vision and not just getting things from one side of the desk to the other.
Martha: Yes, I think having that mix of being able to see things both strategically and tactically, it’s so important. It can be hard to find because people do tend to kind of be one way or the other. But when you find that person that’s really important. If we switch kind of to more the tactical, more the nuts and bolts, I know you have a background in Martech. What are your views on the Martech stack and what’s important in terms of optimizing it?
Sean: Yes I think you hit the big question. I’m going to focus on the question that you asked which is optimizing your Martech stack. When you are looking at your Martech stack there’s a million names out there. I don’t remember the exact number, but I believe in the last five years, the marketing technology space has basically gone from about 350 different names to over 4,000. How am I as a marketer -- first and foremost - and a technologist maybe as a hobby - how am I to pick out those names that are the best names?
First of all, the first thing you have to do is really focus on what are you trying to get those technologies to do. What are the requirements that you’re trying to meet that that technology is going to help you meet? In doing that you have to also make sure that you have a sound process. I read somewhere technology doesn’t make a bad process better, it only makes it worse, and it makes it more confusing.
With those 3,000 something names out there and all of these people peppering our inbox with, this is the best product for, and we can solve all your problems with this, it’s easy to get lost in the sales pitches and it’s easy to get lost in what those products are going to promise that they’re going to do.
Number one, we have to have a really good relationship with our technology team, and I can’t emphasize that enough. If your marketing team and your technology team are not willing to work together and finish each other’s sentences you will start putting products in place that don’t actually meet the business requirements. The second element to that is you need to have a liaison there or what I would call a translator.
This is somebody who works in that agile team or somebody that works in the architecture team that is able to ask those difficult questions of, “You told me you want to do this, is that defining the correct thing that you are asking it to do so.” If we went on and built something that did this, would that meet the need? Always asking that and then and then and why. That’s really important.
I think the second thing that is really important from a Martech stack is buy what you can handle. There is this huge flight to going to the big box names that everybody trusts and believes and a lot of times what will happen is we’ll overbuy technology, and we buy the Cadillac when really all we need is a golf cart. If all you really need is a golf cart, go out and buy a golf cart.
The second part of that is making sure that that golf cart is accessible by other golf carts. What I mean by that is make sure that your technologies can plug into each other. They have the good APIs. They’ve got the good layering so that this system is talking to this system so that you don’t have to have manual integration or manual implementation. That’s why I think that real good relationship with technology teams comes in, because they understand that hand holding that happens behind technologies.
The third thing is really looking at technologies and thinking of what do I buy and what do I customize or what do I build. If that technology is going to be a source of your business differentiation and it’s so different that it’s something different than anybody else in the industry or anybody else in marketing does a lot of times it’s better to build it.
If it’s something that everybody else is doing, go out and find the best product out there that is going to meet that need and take advantage of the really intelligent folks that have built those products. I’ll give you a great example of that. We use Salesforce and Salesforce has a tremendous number of people that are constantly thinking about the different verticals. For us it’s the financial vertical and they think about the things that are going to change before they change.
If we’ve over customized our Salesforce instance then when that new upgrade comes out or that new change comes out it’s hard for me to take advantage of that if I’ve over-customized my product. Really making sure that we are leaning on the experts at those products that are selling those products that they will know the next thing that they need to do and is either waiting for that to happen or building very loose or easily removable customizations that are done very quickly and very cheaply to get you through that time until those upgrades come out.
Martha: I think that was interesting when you said that it’s important to think about what do I buy versus what do I build. It’s not just what do I build but what do I customize? That customization was part of that, what do I build?
Sean: Yes. The build decision’s a tough one and you really make a good distinction there. Build versus customize are two very different things. For example, if I go in and I take a Volkswagen Bug and I decide that I’m going to modify it to the extent that it’s able to haul a half ton of carrots, at some point I’ve customized it to a point it’s so expensive that I could have easily just bought an F150 pickup.
Making sure that you’re not over-customizing that thing that you are very precious toward to a point where all of a sudden you’re over-customizing it versus something that you could have probably bought off the shelf with very light customization, great clarification there.
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Allan: I love what you said there because we kind of see that in our industry as well. Sometimes people do have a tendency to over-think things, so I think your approach is spot-on. It brings you to the point too of marketing processes, because once you have things in place and you have made some decisions then comes the processing of those decisions. Are there any particular marketing processes or areas of marketing that you think are especially ripe for optimization?
Sean: Yes, I think it’s a great question Allan. I think one that hits all industries is our advertising and how we go out and how we promote our products to our clients, great for optimization. There is more data there today than we’ve ever seen before and if there is something that works don’t fix it until it doesn’t work anymore. So really making changes on the peripheral versus changing our entire process every time.
Advertising, especially with digital media, is a great example of that where if you do A, B, C and D and it results in E then you do it again. It’s only when you don’t get it to go E times 2 at some point we come back and say that process is no longer optimizing. I think that’s one around the advertising. I think the second thing especially in our industry is not being so clever with our artistry or so clever with our creativity that we put ourselves out of range with what our clients are expecting to see from us so stay the course.
Clients expect to see from a financial company a lot of numbers. They expect to see proof points around what we’re doing and why it works. Us going in and trying to be a Nike where we’re going to really draw on the emotive side of a client is more of something that we want to do versus what our clients expect from us. Now that’s what you probably don’t want to optimize, and this is kind of back to the point we’re talking about earlier.
If you have something that differentiates you that does create that emotive relationship with your clients, that’s where you want to not optimize, because you don’t want to run the same thing over and over if you’re trying to create that emotive relationship. That’s what we really were focused on in some of our partnership programs. We’re really focused on our thought leadership. That’s what we’re really trying to use our experts to be our clients and our prospects experts.
We’re using the folks that we have in our company to be able to share with other companies, smaller companies, companies in different verticals that don’t have the resources we do to make them better at what they do within their business or what they do in their personal financial planning. I think sharing that expertise is really a differentiator and that’s really where you don’t want to optimize. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over, great question.
Allan: Hey Sean I really appreciate sharing that information with me again, it’s spot on. I think to me and you mentioned it there as well you’re talking about the data and all that information coming in and how to utilize that information. It leads me to a question about what you might see as the role that data analytics plays in achieving marketing operational excellence?
Sean: Allan that’s a good question and in any conference you go to you cannot swing a dead cat without somebody talking about data.
Sean: Data is front stage for everybody right now. It is the start of almost every conversation. The data is great and data aggregation is extremely important. If you start thinking about data in an AI or machine learning type of a process it sometimes can get a little bit confusing because you start assuming that your data is accurate.
Data is extremely important. If I think about it this way, I worked for an active asset manager for years and if I think about data being more of an indexing or an ETF-type of a strategy where it’s a passive investment, that’s what data is. It works for a lot of people. If you add the other element of that which is the active management, the individual seeing the information that’s coming through and then making decisions and being able to make tweaks around that, that’s where you really get data working for you because there’s a whole lot of false positives that come out that you make decisions on.
A lot of times some really, really big, six-digit decisions are based on data. And the real magic behind data is being able to have data analysts, individuals that can really see the inconsistencies within the data to go on and pull that information out to make sure that the data is working well.
Data without some type of quality check or some kind of analysis on that data really is just data, and data is cheap. It’s easy to get a lot of data. It’s actually figuring out what data should we use and how should we use it. It’s a great question Allan and that’s another one we could probably spend a good 15 hours on if you guys want to.
Allan: I know. It is such an important thing. You’re right. Data is data but to make it actionable and to make it relevant it’s got to be accurate. You’ve got to have accurate data and you tell me how you’re going to use it and how you’re going to deploy it and all those kinds of things, but so certainly increase your input there.
I wanted to just kind of change the topics a little bit and more about building relationships and I definitely understand that building relationships at BOK is certainly of high importance. I just want to talk about your team culture. How do you value or how do you think about relationships both internally, because you mentioned earlier you’re talking with your different departments for your technical staff and things like that, but also maybe a little bit about building relationships on the customer-level as well.
Sean: You’re making my job really easy here Allan because this is probably the most exciting part of our company. At BOK Financial we’re actually coming out with some new branding work right now and what you’ll see from us is a whole new view of the 'we' and not the 'us'. What we want to talk about is ‘The us’ so that expecting a relationship not transactions is such an important part of what we’re all about at BOK Financial.
I’ll give you a really quick story here Allan. When I interviewed for my role almost every one of my discussions that I had with the executive team felt nothing like an interview, it felt like a relationship and the conversation always turned to, can we have a good relationship. Can that that relationship be something where the one plus one equals three as opposed to just a one plus one equals one. That is really where we look at whether we’re looking at our Consumer Division where we’re dealing with the client face-to-face, whether we’re talking about our commercial bankers that are out there working with small businesses, Native American, healthcare, et cetera or even if we’re talking about our wealth side the thing that differentiates us is that we care a lot more about the relationships and the we than we do about the us.
That’s our focus is making sure that those relationships start. If you look at a lot of our business Allan, a lot of it comes from a handshake between one individual within our company and another individual because they trust each other because it is – I know that this company right now is using us for Treasury Services. Let’s have them meet this person on our institutional wealth side.
That relationship that is built between those two individuals is so synonymous and it’s so synchronous that that client sees us as one company and not as two completely different sections within the same company. Relationships start there.
I think the other really important part of this is if you look at where we’ve come from every one of the businesses that we had that we brought into BOK Financial were all based on hand-to-hand transactions and it was based on the great relationships and word of mouth marketing which makes my job a lot easier.
Martha: It’s so funny that you end in saying it makes your job a lot easier because I was sitting here and thinking, “Boy that’s got to make his job so much harder,” because you have these experts, right? They are talking to people in energy. They are talking to the Native Americans. There’s so many different messages that have to be out there so that those experts are sounding like experts and are talking, saying the right things to those specialized areas. How do you support that, that custom messaging and that sales enablement?
Sean: I would start with looking – I won’t try to get too geeky here. I love quantitative analysis, I love statistics, but the common denominator aspect works in almost every single case. That common denominator which you find in all of our businesses is the human being that’s at the other side of that transaction. There is not one client type that we work with – and you’ve pointed out some of our biggest growth areas right now with Native Americans, with healthcare, we’re continuing to be extremely involved in energy.
In those areas at the end of the day those people make the decision on what companies get their business and which ones don’t. The very first part of that might sound a little bit like a broken record, but it’s simply that individual interaction, whether I’m talking to a CEO, whether I’m talking to a mother and father setting up a savings account for their newborn child, at the end of the day there’s a person at the other end of that transaction making those decisions.
That is why we focus so much on that relationship and making sure we’re hiring the best and brightest talent at building relationships over thinking about that next sale or making that monthly quota. One of the things that I’ve noticed and especially in this environment where we are virtual 99% of the time is emotional intelligence. The end-client has to feel like you’re interested, that you’re actively listening.
Things like a simple head nod or a simple gesture that lets that person know that you’re actively listening is extremely important. The other part of that is everybody wants to feel like they’re important to someone else. I think that that’s a really, really important element, so one of the things you’ll see within almost every one of our business meetings or every one of our meetings with our clients is there’s a good five to 10 minutes’ worth of discussion about how the person is.
That’s extremely important and the more that you know about those people that more likely it is that they‘re going to want to do business with your business. Now, that’s not to say that relationships are everything. We still have to put good products out there. We still have to be competitive in the marketplace and we still want to outperform our competitors. At the end of the day emotional intelligence in this environment trumps a whole lot of other things. Emotional intelligence is a really big part of our DNA.
Martha: That totally makes sense. I would think that would be challenging in hiring those people because it’s just not your typical skill which you can readily see but still it’s so important. One of the things we’re trying to achieve is to give mid-sized bank marketers a peer-to-peer forum so really building those relationships. What are some of them marketing challenges you think that are unique to mid-sized banks and what advice do you have for solving them?
Sean: It’s tough surviving out there and being a mid-size bank is a very crowded area. I won’t go down the path of just saying differentiation and expecting everybody is going to understand what that means. We have a really, really great opportunity with BOK Financial because we are a large-scale financial services company. The mid-size bank that we own with Bank of Oklahoma, Bank of Albuquerque, Bank of Texas is really benefited by the fact that we have a large financial organization behind them that has a lot of differentiated products that really, no matter where you go and whatever your client is going to need, we have a solution to be able to solve that.
If we don’t have that solution to solve it, we are not afraid to refer them to someone else because we know that that will come back to us at some point in the future. If I was looking at my business as a mid-sized bank I think it’s really important to look towards the future. How are people going to work with us going forward? Myself when I go to my local bank to go to the ATM or to get a signature guarantee I noticed that the lines have gotten a lot shorter.
People are moving to digital aspects. People are moving to an area which doesn’t have that personalization and that relationship that they do with a banker or with a person that they work with and they get to see when they go and get the dum-dum lollypops or the charms, whatever your brand is. It’s really important that you help people get to those digital areas in a human way so, one, making things easy for people to do.
Check deposits are a lot easier now than they ever were in the past. If you’re not looking at having that app where you are able to deposit your check directly from your home, that’s an area that people are going to expect, that is now table stakes, that’s no longer a differentiator. If you are not plugging in cell or these other items you’re also going to miss out on those.
Making sure you’re taking advantage of the Fintech companies out there, the things that they’re doing extremely well and making sure you’re bolting those arms to your digital experience in a way that makes them understand what they are looking for is something that you’ve already thought about. So being ahead of the curve so that somebody doesn’t come to you and say, “I wish you guys had this,” I think it’s really making sure that you know where your clients are going.
Martha: It’s funny that you mentioned of the mobile deposits being table stakes now and people are really looking for the innovation. We just recently completed a retention study and that’s exactly what we found is that in the lower quadrant the table stakes, the mobile deposits, in that most important, least satisfied right now was the innovation and understands my needs. Those were the areas that really needed to be addressed and you just hit right on it.
Allan: I’m just wondering Sean if you had the crystal ball, where do you think the industry is going further down the road?
Sean: I think the best example is Amazon. I use Amazon for almost everything that I buy. I ordered a pair of golf shoes the other day and it came in an Amazon package that was distributed by a different company. I didn’t know it’s distributed by a different company and quite honestly I didn’t care. When I returned it to Amazon it felt like I was returning it to Amazon.
Number one I think is really making sure that you’re an aggregator of information for your end-user. What’s going to happen in the future is we’re not going to have these companies with these individual expertise, we’re going to have companies that are going to be aggregators of those niche expertise that you know that you’re going to be able to get that under one umbrella.
I think that’s where BOK Financial is really exceeding is that we do have a lot of those niche expertise that we still have the experts in those businesses, but now it’s become the BOK Financial asset as opposed to me going out and having to find all those different niche expertise. I won’t even go down the road of talking about a lot of the online banking although I think we have to think about that.
I think we have to think about a lot of these Fintech businesses that they’re going to be able to do things quicker. I think you’re absolutely ready to partner. I think you’re absolutely ready to partner with those companies that you feel like are going to be the ones that are going to be differentiators within the industry while still making sure that you are delivering your core competency through that larger umbrella.
I think that’s the big part of it Allan. People are going to expect that one-stop-shop, but I’ll give you a great example of this. I was really excited the other day, we stopped at McDonalds to get our kids happy meals and now they sell ice. That becomes a differentiator where I needed to get ice, we’re going to go out and have a picnic. They had something there that exceeded my expectations.
Another great example is stamps and ATMs. God forbid that all of us continue to use stamps, but that’s a real benefit to the client that they now don’t have to go to the post office, they can go directly to the ATM and it gets taken directly out of my checking account. That’s a good example of you have to surprise and delight your clients where they don’t expect it.
Allan: For whatever reason everybody thought about banking and finance in that same model, but I think you’re right on. I think that this could happen. Where do you go personally to learn and to expand your knowledge overall?
Sean: You have to learn and grow in every single test point you have. Whether it is sitting down with my kids at night, and they teach me about how to download an app or how to be more efficient on my iPhone all the way to working with people at universities with the new academic things that they’re being taught, so talking to college-aged students.
We have an individual who runs our Consumer Banking Division. She’s always thinking about a new way to engage her employees to make sure she’s training her employees and she has a lot of really good ideas on how to make sure that we are incentivizing our employees and retaining those employees. A lot of her ideas and thoughts that she’s had I’ve employed within my own business because it’s really, at the end of the day, that’s our most scarce and most important resource is our talent.
The other part of that is don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers. There’s always this fear of, “Well what if I give this company over here? What if I give this financial company my secret sauce?” That’s okay because if they are able to replicate that and they are able to go out and utilize that in a way that makes them more profitable it makes the industry continue to strengthen their saw and makes sure we’re all elevating our game.
The last part of that is always making sure you’re learning from the past. We have a tremendous amount of knowledge at our company that has been through many, many years in this industry and other industries that they bring a different viewpoint on how we got here, what mistakes we made on the way. Making sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past is extremely important.
I think conferences are great. If you go to a conference and you learn three to four things that you can come back and apply then you’ve won at that conference. I have a little posted note-size sticky that goes with me everywhere I go and it’s a saying from the late great Jack Welch. The saying is, “Change before you have to.” If you are forced to make a change because of an industry change or even an individual expectation on your skillset or your knowledge, it’s already too late. Great point Allan I like that.
Martha: Well Sean I think the advice that you’ve given today is definitely going to help everybody that listens to this to be thinking that way and start preparing ahead of that change. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. I know Allan and I both really enjoyed this discussion, and we wish you continued success at BOK financial.
Sean: I appreciate the time to do this. Thank you guys as well. This has been a real pleasure.
Allan: You know Martha it was great how Sean explained that the key to marketing operational excellence in differentiation is people and relationships.
Martha: Yes, I know. It’s the emotional intelligence of the people you hire, the data analysts that make your data actionable. Internal relationships like between marketing and IT and most important of all is your client relationships.
Allan: Yes, I totally agree.
Martha: Thanks for joining us today, be sure to check out the show notes at vyasystems.com/marketingnotes where you’ll also be able to access the report that we mentioned earlier.
Allan: Hey Martha this was a really great episode and I’m really excited, but I’m still going back to that, the table stakes and that “steak” thing is still making me extremely hungry so for dinner tonight it’s A1 all the way. Thanks to our listeners for joining us, we really appreciate it. You can check out more episodes in the show notes at vyasystems.com. Vya Systems is V-Y-A. Systems with an ‘S’ .com or you can listen wherever you listen to podcast.
Be sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you have ideas or topics or questions you’d like us to cover in the future just email us at email@example.com. Thank you so much.
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