Pop-up View: The ABA Bank Marketing Conference 2019

Banking & Financial
Customer & Brand

Fueling a passion for fresh perspectives, Kat Cole, COO of Focus Brands, captured the attention of bank marketers at the 2019 ABA Bank Marketing Conference with ease. Kat’s scrappy approach to dealing with the challenges of turning the sweet and savory Cinnabon brand around in a down economy at the height the Atkins diet craze made a fairytale story feel obtainable. It was the perfect story for bank marketers to hear as they continue to deal with the threat of FinTech and transaction innovation.

Impacting the customer experience

It is hard to tell where Kat’s success story really starts, helping her family transition through rough times or taking her first retail job to pay the bills after her mother’s divorce, but her journey during her first year waitressing at Hooters stands out. At Hooters she covered roles from manager to cook – nearly every position at the restaurant – and later became the franchise’s best employee. Later still, Kat became vice president at age 26. That insight – how every worker impacts a customer’s experience – has become a passion for her that borders on obsession. Kat noted, “The people closest to the action know what needs to be done long before we do; be obsessed with the reality of your customers.”

“Be obsessed with the reality of your customers.”

Kat Cole

Kat’s passion for gathering that fresh perspective, or “fresh eyes,” is a daily focus for her both in leadership and in management. As the head of Cinnabon, with no budget, she created a MMDD clipboard for every Cinnabon location. On it anyone could log what “Made My Day Difficult” for any reason — sometimes writing it with a “large angry marker” as a cathartic release. But Kat did not just gather this info, she reviewed it and looked for patterns. What problem or problematic customer request was there? Was this something that was shared at all locations? That became her “one thing to change.” She noted, “Get at the issue that gets in the way. Make sure that your investment pays.” That change led to progress, and to Kat, “Progress is perfection.”

“Progress is perfection.”

Kat Cole

Kat also took the time to look at what Cinnabon threw away – not only in the trash, but what they were spending money on that had little or no value to the customer. Then she gave herself permission to change it. She told the crowded room of marketers, “Give yourself permission to change. Improve your relevance to customers in some way.”


Kat give the audience 3 questions to use as a tool:

  1. “When do we say no?” There will be lots of answers but look for the patterns. What is behind the reasoning? ID common opportunities.
  2. “What do we throw away?” What are we spending money on that is not valued?
  3. “Tell people what your role is and ask if you could do one thing, and you were me, what would you do?”

Kat also made two guardrail points to guide decisions about what to do with what is learned:

  1. “If we don’t, the competition will.”
  2. “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.“

Finally, there were two points that all marketers need to keep in mind, especially as we get excited about our marketing ideas.

  1. “Execute first. Story-tell second.”
  2. ”You can’t force someone, you need to emotionally compel them.”

Was there more to the ABA Bank Marketing Conference this year? Oh my yes, but this opening keynote was the perfect information at the right time and made everything else just icing on the cake.

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