Skip to main content

Mark’s Minutes

How can you leverage the little QR Code in your marketing?

By Mark's Minutes

The QR Code has blossomed into a legitimate marketing tool.

The humble beginnings of the QR Code started almost 30 years ago. It was created to use as a tool to track parts and inventory. The new code provided a faster scanning process than the traditional bar codes. The QR code quickly became adopted my many other companies, and the use of the code expanded into other applications.

Consumer use keeps growing

As the usage of the QR code increased, additional applications began using it. By 2011, roughly 14 million Americans had interacted with a QR code. However, it’s estimated that in 2022 approximately 89 million smartphone users in the United States have scanned a QR code!

The reason for the growth? Greater convenience in many applications. Over the past few years alone, we have seen how virtually every restaurant has a QR code for menu activation.

Using QR Codes in Marketing

The QR code has become more flexible to be used in more circumstances. For instance, today’s QR codes can be personalized to the company. Company logos and different colors can also be added to the QR code design, making it more memorable to the consumer.

We have seen QR codes on posters, TV Screens, Billboards, Business Cards, Busses, Direct Mail campaigns and even bathroom stalls! They really have become ubiquitous.

And, best of all, they are now trackable!

How Westamerica has been using QR codes

We like QR codes for all the same reasons the marketer does. They work because they minimize the effort to get to information. QR codes are the one-click solution in the analog world. They create a simple bridge between the old media and new technology.

The trackability of QR codes can now provide input on where leads and contacts may be coming from. We have been using trackable QR codes in our direct mail efforts and are now able to report to our clients on what engagement looks like though the mail channel.

Trackability of QR codes provides valuable information on engagement.

Not only can we track engagement, we can also identify time of day, device used, and location. Are you using and tracking QR code activity?

Now is the time to start.

Thanks for joining me today!

Promoting Financial Safety and Security

By Mark's Minutes

The recent events of Silicon Valley Bank and then Signature Bank failures have brought the topic of financial institution security and safety to the forefront of consumer’s minds.

Although the issues are very different from the 2008 mortgage meltdown, the consumer emotions are the same – fear, concern, wonder and worry.

Educate the Consumer to Reduce Concern

Much of the concerns that many consumers have come from a misunderstanding of how the financial insurance programs work, as well as what determines the safety of a financial institution.

Truthfully, not much is discussed about this topic in traditional marketing any more. The further in the rear view mirror we are from major events, the less it seems to be promoted.

The consumer is likely assuming that all is well.

Practical Marketing Opportunities During this Period

Here are some practical ideas that you can put to work quickly. These approaches will serve to both calm your account holders while also providing opportunities for business growth if done correctly.

Outbound Letter to Existing Accounts

Make sure to publish a letter from your CEO to all your existing accounts reinforcing your safety and secure financial position. Remind them of their insurance coverages. Keep copies of your company annual report at the ready.

Prepare to Welcome New Business

During this current season, consumers will be reassessing their current account circumstances because of either concerns with their current provider or an under-insured situation that have to rectify. That means they are going to be looking for a new place to put their funds. Make sure that you are ready with:

• Competitive Deposit Rates

• Increased Advertising Spend

• Expanded Merchandising and External Signage

• “New Accounts“ Messaging and Info Packets

Sharpen Training for Staff

Make sure that your front line team is up to date on their knowledge of insurance and account vesting. You want to instill confidence in all front line communicators.

Strategic Retention of High Deposit Accounts

Do you have some clients that exceed the deposit insurance thresholds? Now is a good time to identify those clients and invite them in to review their current account selections and account vesting. You want to ensure that they are covered adequately lest you run the risk of losing them to another institution. With different account vesting, account holders can actually cover their accounts well in excess of the $250,000 limits.

Remember, there is always opportunity amidst chaos. This topic will be front and center for weeks and possibly months. Be prepared.

Thanks for joining me today!

Making Good Marketing Decisions and Avoiding Bad Ones

By Mark's Minutes

Any Marketing practitioner knows that good ideas and creative thinking are the lifeblood of a brand and business. Effective ideas delivered in a creative manner can be the difference between life and death of a company.

Years ago, I worked in the Marketing Department of the Pepsi-Cola Company. If you are over 50, you might remember the Pepsi Challenge in the 1970s. It was a blind taste test that compared Coke vs. Pepsi. Consumers actually picked Pepsi over Coke a majority of the time. That simple idea led to a national advertising campaign and ultimately major decisions by Coca-Cola that were very costly.

Finally in the mid 80s, after the Pepsi Challenge reached virtually every market in America, the pressure Coke felt led to them making one of the most disastrous decisions in Marketing history. They decided to change the flavor of the legendary Coca Cola formula to make it sweeter, and more like Pepsi Cola!

They called it New Coke.

New Coke was a legendary marketing mistake. (Truthfully, in the Pepsi offices we were “high fiving.”) Pepsi even put a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming, “The other guy just blinked.”

At some point, the Coke team looked at the research and decided that the formula should be changed to be more like the competitor. You can bet that they researched the outcome hundreds of different ways. And yet, the results were disastrous.

All of this begs the question of what things you can do to improve the ideas you explore, as well as limit the downside of a potential bad outcome. I believe that there are a few key tenets to follow to end up with a good outcome.

Think of your process as a funnel with a lot of ideas early on that get whittled down to a few good ones:

Clearly define what you are solving for – What is the true goal? What impact will this have on your business? Why are you seeking to implement this?

Engage many opinions early on – Use a classic brainstorming approach to come up with as many ideas as possible. No criticisms at this stage. We’re going for volume.

Sift and assess – After you have secured a reasonable number of possible options, sift the number down to those that have a reasonable chance of success. These will be evaluated on a deeper set of metrics and a higher level of scrutiny. Understand the financial implications of each option and the potential for sales and other market goals.

Review with stakeholders – After you have identified these several ideas, pull those players in that will have a learned opinion on the decision. Be ready to accept constructive criticism in areas that will make your ideas better. The purpose of this is to ensure you do not move forward facing any major unforeseen issue.

A final thought
There is inherent risk with everything you do. You can analyze possibilities until you run out of time. You will not be rewarded for what you do not do. Make your best decisions and make them quickly. The marketplace rewards the leaders. If you make a mistake, fix it quickly and move on.

In fact, that’s exactly what Coca Cola did. They brought back the original, just months after New Coke was introduced. New Coke is now just a memory. (However, I personally think it is the basis for Coke Zero!)

Now get in the game and make some bold decisions!

What to Do if Your Brand is Not on the Right Track

By Mark's Minutes

Last week we talked about the key components of your brand and the importance of your ability to stand out from the competition. The goal of your brand is to separate yourself from other similar service options.

You want to be the primary choice for those looking for your product or service.

You Can Please Some of the People Some of the Time….

You know how to finish this sentence: You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Your branding and messaging should be focused on those that you can serve effectively and profitably. If you are not bringing the right consumers in, you may be sending the wrong signals to the marketplace.

Your brand may not be on the right track and ready for a refresh. Where to start?

Start at the Beginning

There are many approaches with all covering many of the same steps. I like what marketer Frank Schab has suggested in these seven steps below.

Unpacking these topics should be an exercise over days and weeks. Here are some conversation starters for interaction with your team.

1) Discover/Develop Your Brand Purpose

Why do people buy your products? Why should they buy from you? What are the reasons you are in business? What is your mission? Why you over someone else?

Can you find the points of difference among your service and products?

2) Know Your Competitors

How do you stack up in terms of process, products and preference? What do people say about your company, products, people and service? What do they say about your competition?

Answering these questions honestly will tell you where you have work to do and/or where you are strong.

3) Determine Your Target Market

After solving for your purpose and your competitive advantages/challenges, you can objective identify where you can compete. Who are the consumers that you can attract and keep? Which market segments fit with your goals for growth? Which segments might your competitors be ignoring?

4) Build Your Brand Strategy

Key strategic questions to address include your brand promise and why buyers will believe in your brand. What are the pillars that your brand and business are built on? What is the “personality” of your brand?

5) Developing a Compelling Brand Story

The best brands build an emotional connection with the consumer. What are the key things in your story that help you relate to your target market? What elements do you have that no one else has? Stories of customer success and accomplishment with your brand as a support are good places to start.

6) Create a Brand Identity

If you are starting from scratch, you’ll want to build an exhaustive list of options for consideration – logos, colors, themes and even a name. If you are refreshing your brand, you can take the best elements from your current imagery and turn that into a new and improved version. A brand refresh can be anything from changing fonts to a complete makeover of color, style and feel.

7) Live the Brand

This is the essence of the brand. The experiences that your customer takes away from their interactions with your website, your staff, and your management. It becomes your reputation. Remember that EVERYTHING is part of your brand: your pricing, your hours, your store layout, your signage, on hold time, on hold music, chat bot personality. EVERYTHING.

If you are planning to make changes to your brand, make sure to build enough time and finances to do the job properly. Estimate how much you’ll need and then double it. It will always cost more than you think.

The goal of branding is to help you differentiate from others. It is important to be different.

However, I believe it is more important to be desired!

Is your brand on the right track?

By Mark's Minutes

Seems like everyone is focused on their “brand” these days. Serena Williams is on the cover of the current Adweek with an article about her brand.

My first job out of college was with the Pillsbury company. EVERYBODY knows Pillsbury as the parent of the Pillsbury Doughboy. If I could have received $1 for every time somebody poked me in the stomach and expected me to giggle, I would be wealthy!

The Pillsbury brand is over 150 years old. However, the Doughboy was “born” in 1965. By the way, what a great example that is of refreshing a long-established brand with new life.

I checked with several “official” sources on what the definition of a brand is. As you might guess, there are many takes on this important part of your business. We are going to focus on your company brand.

What is a brand?

Here are some good brand definitions (thank you Google):

From Tech Target: A brand is a product, service or concept that is publicly distinguished from other products, services or concepts so that it can be easily communicated and usually marketed. Branding is the process of creating and disseminating the brand name, its qualities and personality.

From Shopify: Branding (a brand) is the process of creating a distinct identity for a business in the mind of your target audience and consumers. At the most basic level, branding is made up of a company’s logo, visual design, mission, and tone of voice.

From the Financial Brand: The collective perceptions and impressions people have formed about an organization, its products and/or its services, whether through direct (ads/purchase) or indirect (word-of-mouth) interactions.

Build your own brand!

A brand should be specific to the business that it represents. We can look at other businesses in our industry circle and say they have a great “brand.” But how did they get there, and how can you take your brand to the same level?

I like some of each of the above brand definitions above because they really force us to ask hard questions about how we appear to the target consumer and marketplace in general. Yes, a brand is something that is advertised. However, is more importantly something that is experienced.

Creating experiences around your brand helps to build a memorable and a positive association. Especially when service is such a big part of the entire product, as in financial services.

Breaking it down

How does your organization perform against these branding attributes listed above?

Objectively compare yourself on these attributes versus your top 3 competitors:

Publicly distinguishable (distinct)
• Does your logo stand out from competition?
• Are the tangible elements of your brand recognizable (colors, style, tone)?
• Are your locations welcoming, clean and contemporary?
• Are the products and services you offer unique and different from others? 

Personality of your brand
• High tech or high touch?
• Hip and modern or mature and dependable?
• Knowledgeable and helpful or structured and inflexible?
• Leading or lagging? 

The answers to these questions are not necessarily right or wrong. They are only relevant to those you are trying to serve. If you feel like your brand might be out of sync with the marketplace, it might be time for a brand refresh.

We’ll talk more about that in the next issue.

How should you handle NSF policies in marketing your checking account?

By Mark's Minutes

Overdraft/NSF – An unflattering history

As long as I can remember there has always been a “penalty” associated with writing a bad check. Historically, there was a lot of work that was created when a check bounced. It might take an institution a few calls and even hours to resolve the problem.

After the implementation of Check 21 and the move from paper checks to digital imaging, the risk posed by NSF checks and the operational energy for processing went down.

But like everything, the cost institutions charge consumers for NSF (non sufficient funds) has increased over the years. Today the average is $26.58 according to Bankrate’s 2022 checking account and ATM fee study. Average is just that. On the low end some charge about $10 and others as much as $40 per occurrence!

Depending on which statistics you rely on, the annual amount of NSF/Overdraft fees are in excess of $10B annually! And that is what is at stake for banks and credit unions.

Government initiatives to eliminate junk fees

While many institutions have voluntarily started reducing these fees, many more are reacting as a result of the likelihood of government pressure. In October of 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration announced that they were taking action on “junk fees” (of which NSF/Overdraft is one).

These likely are part of the “exploitative or predatory fee” component in this initiative. They are described as “fees that far exceed the marginal cost of service they purport to cover.”

With all the improvements in process and productivity in the checking sphere, few can defend these fees. That’s why all the major banking firms are moving rapidly to re-write these programs.

Watch your competitor’s reaction to these changes

To believe that an institution can eliminate these fees from their products and happily move forward making significantly less margin is unrealistic. As these firms begin to reduce prices on these fees, they will inevitably have to increase prices of other items.

Pay close attention to your competitor’s checking product details. Not just the rate being quoted but all fees associated with the program.

How to leverage in your marketing efforts

According to The Financial Brand, the most important attribute for choosing a checking account was fees. If you are a value provider of financial services, you can likely win the war on the key areas that make up checking account fees by a simple comparison between your product and other major providers in your area.

Key fees to focus on would include:

• Monthly Charges
• Cost of Checks
• Overdraft Charges
• ATM Fees

Surprisingly, deposit rates were slightly lower in importance behind “convenient branches” in this 2020 survey. However, with the rate environment reaching new heights in 2023, deposit rates should quickly become a major focus in your advertising to aid in encouraging switching.

Thanks for joining me today!

Is your auto lending stuck in the garage?

By Mark's Minutes, Uncategorized

We’ve talked about the challenges in this economy in past updates. Seems like we have a genuine ‘trifecta’ of challenges that will impact auto lending.

1.) Rising Interest Rates – The Fed just bumped the rates up another .25% last week. That makes it harder for you to plan interest rate promotions and margin returns, in addition to raising the consumer’s rate.

2.) The Consumer Fear Factor – The talk of recession gets louder. It almost doesn’t matter if there is one or not, but rather what people think. According to, a full 69% of consumers feel a recession will hit before the end of 2023.

3.) New Car Supply Chain Improvement – With supply increasing, prices of new cars are stabilizing and that is pushing down the value of used cars. While this makes used cars more accessible, the rising rates add another level of difficulty to making the regular payments.

One thing is for certain, selling auto loans will be different in 2023 than 2022. There will still be many cars financed and you can still secure your fair share.

Let’s look at each of these scenarios above and identify approaches your company can use to market effectively in light of these conditions.

Selling Auto Loans in a Rising Interest Rate Environment

We know that most consumers are looking at the monthly payment when they go to buy a car. The question becomes, “How much car can I afford to buy to get the payment I need? When we think of this from the consumer’s point of view, we can offer solutions, instead of just a rate. Your campaigns can focus on “getting someone into the car of their dreams” and helping them “with the most competitive loan terms possible”.

Acting as their consultant you can help them get to the best rate they can within their current circumstances. You also have the unique opportunity to help those credit challenged with a credit building program that might start out at a higher rate (because of risk) but can be refinanced in year two or three based on payment behavior, etc. Longer terms can help offset a higher rate.

Advertising and marketing messaging can promise a free assessment and the best rate possible for their current circumstances. Terms like “See us first; See us before you shop; and Complementary Prequalification” help to set the tone.

Decreasing Consumer Fears in Borrowing

Often consumers will wait on an opportunity because of their fear of what might happen. Of course there is no way to eliminate risk (or a recession), but lending insurance products have been created to reduce the risk. For instance, in the event of a job loss debt protection insurance can delay payments for 6 months. Gap insurance can also help to alleviate any fears that might come from the rapid changes in car values that are predicted.

Marketing Against the New Car Dealership Low Rates

We haven’t seen these yet, but the “zero” interest rates will likely appear if the economy cools. Just as the manufacturers have improved supply, demand may drop which means price decreases and dealmaking will start.

The best defense to this is a good offense. Promote yourself as the place to come for auto loans. Create auto buying seminars for the consumer to learn how to secure the best loan, how to shop for the best car, and how to make a smart decision in this new market reality. Reengage your local dealerships and leverage your indirect lending relationships.

There won’t be any much low-hanging fruit to pick from in these next few years. You’ll need to use all your tools to stay in front of the consumer and build your institution as the place to come for all things auto.

Thanks for joining me today!

Growing New Accounts – Putting a New Face on the IRA

By Mark's Minutes

For years, the standard approach to gaining new clients was to throw out an offer of Free Checking or a High-Rate Savings Account to capture consumer attention. But then everything changed. People invested heavily in the market and traditional savings products were pushed down by low loan rates and a non-traditional Fed policy.

Stock Portfolio Losses Have Hurt Average Investors

After the record market correction in September that wiped out 22% of the average portfolio, people are clearly looking for safety in their investments. And while they aren’t taking everything out of their brokerage accounts, they are balancing what they have and being more critical about where they put their new “investment” money.

What People Want Right Now is a Safe Haven

Throughout the years leading up to 2022 savings rates were routinely below 1%. Most longer-term CDs and other savings vehicles left savers with little earning potential. Now with market corrections and Fed rate increases, savings products are much more appealing. One-year CDs are now showing rates in excess of 4% nationally and may go higher!

Retirement products (IRAs/Roth IRAs/Annuities/401K) are always top of mind during the first 3 – 4 months of every year as taxpayers review their current income and estimated tax liability. Their radar is focused on two things:

1.) How can I lower my current 2022 tax liability or improve my refund? (immediate gratification)

2.) How can I generate safety and a reasonable return going forward? (risk avoidance and investment return)

Traditional savings products are the answer!

New Product Strategies for IRAs will Drive New Accounts and New Money

Most institutions are not leveraging their creativity when they promote IRAs. In fact, they don’t even talk of the benefits they just announce, “We have IRAs and here is our rate.” Imagine how far that gets you with any other consumer product!

Adding more personality and product benefits to your IRA offerings will generate more interest and drive more traffic.

Consider some new ideas for this old standby (as an example): 

The Safe Haven IRA – A high-rate IRA plus a checking account that auto deposits on next year’s IRA. The consumer can adjust how much they want to contribute each month based on their current circumstance…more or less depending how much they have available.

The Bonus IRA – A high-rate IRA with a kicker for bringing in new money from another institution. A free checking account/debit card rounds out the package.

It’s time to dust off your IRA, get your creative juices focused on a powerful concept and get your fair share of this business. It’s a great source of new money and new relationships.

Now is an opportune time to take a fresh look at enhancing your deposit product offerings and grow your account holder financial security! Please let us know how we can help!

The Powerful Secret Weapon for Growing Credit Card Accounts

By Mark's Minutes

Now is a great time to pursue new credit card accounts. Especially if you currently have a strong competitive position in rate or rewards.

As we know, in an upward rate environment like we have now, credit card rates move up very quickly. APRs of 20% plus are common in these circumstances. For the credit card user, even a small increase can translate to much larger liabilities in the short and the long term.

Consumers are more aware of these higher rates as rate change notifications are sent out by the card issuers and other financial institutions.

The Balance Transfer — A Fast Way to Grow Balances and Accounts

That’s why the Balance Transfer program is an easy and convenient way for a consumer to transfer their credit card balances to you.

Most promotions we are beginning to see are offering a special reduced rate (like 3.99% or similar) on the balance that is being transferred over. Of course, the lower the rate the better as it might be the differentiator when deciding between two providers.

Targeting the Right Consumer

According to Money Geek, current average credit card debt levels are listed below. While average credit card debt is highest in the 75 + age group, they do not carry debt, meaning they likely pay off their credit cards each month. Those ages 54 and below offer a high potential return.

Age Group  Median Credit Card Debt  Average Credit Card Debt  Percentage Who Carry Debt
 Younger than 35  $1,900  $3,700  48%
 35-44  $2,600  $6,000  51%
 45-54  $3,200  $7,700  52%
 55-64  $3,000  $6,900  47%
 65-74  $2,900  $7,000  41%
 75 or older  $2,700  $8,100  28%

How to Promote

There are many ways to promote a balance transfer. Much depends on your budget and target market. Make sure your creative message and imagery speaks to the target market. Age-appropriate imagery is important. Key benefits of the program will vary depending on the age target:

• Younger – Reduce debt, save money, increase overall borrowing power
• Older – Pay down debt, put more money away for retirement, meet growing family needs
Preapproved Credit Card Offers sent to a targeted list via direct mail are one of the best options. Also using email offers to apply for a new credit card along with a link to a web splash page showing the Balance Transfer program details and an application. If you have a strong card program, always show a comparison of your card against the other competitive offerings.

Round out your direct mail campaign with in-branch merchandise and signage. Many companies also include incentive programs for front line staff efforts to generate the best results in selling credit cards.

You need to move quickly. If rates change again the opportunity may as well.

Thanks for joining me today!

Where oh where have the loan opportunities gone? Home Equity!

By Mark's Minutes

The low hanging fruit in lending has seemingly dried up. While the Fed continues to raise rates, we have seen all loan rates increase along with them.

Just six months ago you could find auto loans below 3%, now they are closer to 5% and above. Let’s not forget about mortgages. Those have gone from bad to worse. Today’s average mortgage rate is 6.52%.

But there are options! Within an upwardly moving rate environment, a home equity loan can be a great solution to a consumer.

Today’s homeowner is now sitting on the largest amount of equity in history. CoreLogic analysis shows U.S. homeowners with mortgages (roughly 63% of all properties) have seen their equity increase to an average of over $300,000!

The $300,000 may be subject to a decline as we watch home prices adjust to the new, slower level of sales resulting from the mortgage rate increases.

What’s a marketer to do?

Now is the time to leverage the home equity loan (or line of credit) as a tool to help your consumers with alternative loan choices.

Promote the following benefits in your marketing communication:

1) Pay down higher balance credit cards. The average credit card rate is now almost 20% while the average home equity loan is 7.75% and the average HELOC is 7.30%. If someone is carrying a 20% credit card rate along with a large bill coming out of the holidays, the line of credit could reduce their monthly outflows significantly.

2) As a source of funds for an RV or Boat loan. RVs and other items often carry a much higher interest rate than a traditional auto. Consider a home equity option as an alternative, especially as we move into the spring and summer months.

How to promote

You can promote home equity in two distinct manners:
• Targeted Offers – Use a predictive list to help you identify the highest equity households within your market area. Send a targeted letter along with projected savings seen when converting higher rate loans over to an equity loan.
• Broadscale Marketing – Don’t be afraid to push out messaging to your account holders through email, web banners and other digital messaging.
• In-branch Merchandising – Signage and other POS will help you drive awareness to consumers.
One final note on Home Equity Loans. Please avoid using the term HELOC in your headlines and marketing messages. Most people don’t know what a HELOC means. They might if you added “Home Equity Line of Credit” next to it, but not by itself.

There are loans out there, you’ll just have to look a little harder for them.

Thanks for joining me today!