With the banking landscape changing almost daily in the rush to merge, the marketing side of banking is undergoing some big changes of its own.

There are new marketing techniques to understand, new technologies to master, and new customers to woo. A case in point: "Generation X," the segment of society between 20 and 30 years old best known for its "slacker" image.

At the same time, a new role is emerging for marketing professionals. Marketing departments are getting higher profiles at many banks as top executives realize that their futures may depend on them.

These themes will be addressed at the Bank Marketing Association's 1995 Annual Marketing Forum, starting Sunday in Nashville.

"What we're trying to do with the conference is say, 'This is where things are and this is where they're going.' And if you're not paying attention, you'll lose," said John M. Remsen Jr., executive vice president at Busey Bank, in Champaign, Ill., and a Bank Marketing Association board member. "Things are really changing."

Close to 600 bank marketing officials are expected to attend the conference.

The conference begins with registration and a handful of workshops Sunday. A full program of seminars and sessions gets under way Monday and runs through Wednesday. The conference site: the Opryland Hotel.

According to Mr. Remsen, the conference aims to reflect the technological changes sweeping the industry, with sessions on database, online and interactive marketing.

With such advances in mind, organizers decided against calling the gathering a conference or exposition, words used in the past.

"Forum was a word we thought was more appropriate," said Mr. Remsen, whose bank has some $700 million in assets. "It is much more interactive."

Jeffrey M. Westergren, president of the Bank Marketing Association and a senior vice president at First Interstate Bank, said that while technology will be a focus at the gathering, organizers hope to go beyond that. He said they would show that technology is important, but so are a lot of other things.

Retailing to the customer, strategies for marketing investment products and building brand equity will be given considerable weight, he said.

"We in the bank marketing industry have really got to expand our thinking and our learning," said Mr. Westergren. "To just be knowledgeable about bank marketing doesn't get it anymore. And we need to better understand the technological revolution."

Marketing executives, said Mr. Remsen, also need to better understand their customers. A session on marketing community banks is expected to help; it will feature one of Mr. Remsen's colleagues at Busey Bank, senior vice president Susan Little Abbott.

Another session discusses targeting the so-called Generation X customers, something Busey Bank, near the University of Illinois, does well. Mr. Remsen says developing customers early hooks them at "the front end of a long credit relationship."

"There is an awful lot of talk about boomers and the mature market. But this group is important, too," he added. "Generation X is an overlooked segment. And it's definitely underserved. We really go after the student market."

At the conference, six charter members will be inducted into the Bank Marketing Association's new Hall of Fame, on the BMA's 80th anniversary.

The six, who will be honored for their contribution to bank marketing, are Richard M. Rosenberg, chairman and chief executive officer of BankAmerica Corp; Alex W. Hart, executive vice president of Advanta Corp.; Norwood W. "Red" Pope, executive vice president, marketing, First Hawaiian Bank; John P. LaWare of the Federal Reserve's board of governors; Leonard W. Huck, retired president of Valley National Bank in Phoenix; and a forum speaker, James Donnelly, University of Kentucky business professor.

Mr. Donnelly is scheduled to deliver the keynote address, a look at changes in banking and how customers are affected.

"If you want to keep up with the changes, the forum is the place to be," said Mr. Remsen. "With consolidation and all the changes in the industry, those who come will probably turn out to be the better performing banks."

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