In the two decades or so that I've worked with branch bankers, I've found that one suggestion tends to cause a disproportionate amount of alarm. It seems the very idea of any handmade, homespun marketing can cause apoplectic arm-waving from otherwise rational managers and support departments.

Managers are more than ready to tell me about the awful, horrible, make-your-eyes-hurt, crime-against-humanity marketing display that a branch produced in 1998 or something. They aren't going to let that kind of travesty happen again!

While that's (somewhat) of an overstatement, I am still surprised at how over-the-top some institutions continue to be when it comes to restricting personalized marketing efforts. Some support departments do more suppressing than supporting. When this happens, branch teams begin living in such fear of breaking marketing rules-from-above that they become acquiescent with the status quo. Their environments become quite impersonal and uninteresting to boot.

I totally appreciate that there are rules, regulations and disclosures involved in marketing of which bank team members may not be aware. But hey, they're trainable. I like to remind senior managers, "You gave them keys to the vault. I think you can trust them with a dry erase board."

I was reminded of those comments on a recent visit to a newly renovated downtown branch in a major metropolitan market. This particular megabank spends as much as any other on national marketing campaigns. And the lobby of this large branch featured numerous professionally produced display pieces as well as video signage.

But I couldn't help smiling at the handwritten dry erase board, helium balloons, and prize registration box a few steps from the main entrance. A young lady stood beside it and encouraged folks to walk over. She chatted with all who ventured near.

Even when the young lady stepped away from that area, I noticed folks pausing to read the dry erase board. It wasn't the prettiest or most professional sign in the branch. But I would wager it was the most read. And that wasn't accidental.

People are programmed to expect that the most up-to-date specials and best deals are featured on the signs we produce ourselves. They have a "catch of the day" flavor that can be more effective at reaching customers.

Giving branch workers the freedom to produce and create even minor marketing pieces can also help strengthen employees' connections with their bank. It's been my experience that people who are more personally involved in the marketing and decorating of their branches tend to be more engaged and take more ownership of their results, as well.

That phenomenon first struck me many years ago. A regional manager who was accompanying me on visits to a few branches chuckled and warned me of what we might see on our next stop.

"To be honest, these guys make me nervous sometimes," she said. "I never quite know what contest they'll be running or how the branch will be decorated. Some of their decorations make me cringe." But in her next breath, she added, "But these guys are always at or near the top of our performance rankings. So I bite my tongue."

After spending a little time in that branch, I suggested to the regional manager that their homespun marketing wasn't about bucking the rules. It was evidence that they were personally vested in making their branch a success. This was their branch, and they were proud to be outhustling their peers when it came to marketing, promotions and decorations.

I'd argue that personal, face-to-face interactions remain the most effective marketing in any branch. And a more involved and engaged team generates more frequent and productive interactions.

I also like to point out to off-site managers that modern technology allows us to forgo frequent road trips while still keeping an eye on marketing efforts and providing feedback. Smartphone pictures of lobbies, signs, displays and contests can provide managers with up-to-the-minute information on what branches are looking like "out in the field."

Technology also allows bankers to share particularly effective ideas with other branches. Branch employees tend to have a better feel than most about what grabs customers' attention. And few things are as motivating as having your work recognized and complimented in front of your peers.

The goal of personalized touches isn't to reduce corporate marketing. Those folks know what they're doing and work hard, too. Rather, the point is to give branch employees just a little room to put their creativity to use and increase their overall job engagement in the process.

Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc., a Market Contractors subsidiary that offers design, construction, consulting and training services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at