Whether during crisis or not, it is vital to have a blended plan!
We have all been living and working in a season that has put our crucial communications in the spotlight, and too many community banks have fallen far short of the ideal. At few times in modern history has it been it been so important to let our customers know about current and rapidly changing information. The grand lesson is that having limited means and tactics for communicating with and marketing to our communities is detrimental to customer relationships and the image of the bank. The time is now to prepare for the next Covid-19 crisis while hoping that it will never come. If we have our turbo-charged systems in place, our institutions will be all the better if we use them for more normal sets of circumstances while they are at the ready for the sudden and unexpected.
We also know that having limited platforms for messaging is not the way to go. While your website is the home base for all consumer information, and your phone number(s) is the most direct way for customers to reach you, neither works as the only way to converse with your audiences. People expect (and need) communications across multiple media methods, and your marketing platforms and tactics can make that happen. If you have reservations about social media or are avoiding the cost of having a highly mobile responsive website, you may have learned some hard lessons via negative customer feedback (known and unknown) during the pandemic. These are but a couple of examples of your core marketing strategies that need to be in place regardless of your bank size or footprint.
As you evaluate your strategies and methods it is best to consider a diversified blend. You should want to vary your positioning, timing and audience appeal using multiple media platforms. Some will read every email from their financial institution, while others pay better attention to a direct mail piece or possibly a digital ad that pops up on their mobile sports app. You will also need your platforms to be quickly adaptive so that a customer doesn’t see a Facebook post about your lobbies closing due to Coronavirus, yet is not able to find more extensive information on your website moments later. This may sound obvious, but many community banks are poorly prepared to do it extremely well. Those that communicated most effectively during shelter-in-place not only kept their customers comfortable but were even able to market to them appropriately about other services. They shone during that time because of the real value that they had to their communities.
A key question for now is whether you are using the right mix of platforms in the correct frequency and intensity. As a marketing agency we work constantly with clients on finding the right balance and integration for each bank’s marketing systems, and we are often surprised at the lack of prioritization for having a well-diversified strategic system for marketing and communications.
Here we will look through various tactics, followed by the process steps for finding the right mix for both crisis and ongoing marketing. We recommend having a fitting blend for your bank, regardless of size, within these key marketing tactic categories: Traditional Marketing; Social Media; Website; SEO; Digital Advertising
Following is a breakdown of each. Undoubtedly you are utilizing some of these, but your opportunities to do more of them, mixed correctly, can make all of the difference.
We are all familiar with these foundational elements of marketing for any business. For community banks, being locally present and well branded is key and these methods are still relevant and needed. The following all classify as traditional marketing platforms, in no particular order:
- Brochures/Statement Stuffers/Posters
- Newspaper/Magazine/Program Ads (Schools etc.)
- Direct Mail Campaigns
- Outdoor Signage
- Radio Campaigns/Voice on Hold
- Television Campaigns
- Collateral Print Design
- Press Releases/Annual Reports
- Product Development
- Marketing Plans & Strategies
Your social media strategy is crucial, and it needs to be done well. This is an ideal way to quickly and effectively reach consumers and, when used correctly, sets you apart from the national financial institutions and even your local competitors. Reg Z and similar watch systems factor in, and the FFIEC social media guidelines mainly govern this area. The right mixture of organic traction, well planned campaigns and social media advertising (brand awareness / ongoing plus boosted posts) will bring very measurable results.
Our agency steers the social media presence for community bank clients via the right mix of:
- Community presence / organic / your people
- Resources and expertise: articles, blogs, tips
- Products and service: marketed briefly and positioned to help the consumer
Here are some vital strategies regarding social media campaigns and advertising:
- Just posting doesn’t cut it anymore. Sponsored (paid) posts and social advertising campaigns are prioritized over regular posts on business newsfeeds to consumers.
- Algorithms change constantly to best serve the platform user, not businesses.
- Visually appealing graphics & videos tell your story!
- Well planned campaigns that are expertly managed & budgeted adequately achieve measurable results.
There are key elements to having the right website. Its design, development and management determine its viability and success with users. It is literally your window to the world at all times and is the front line for your brand, business development and customer interaction. Here are high points within those three areas:
- Design: Custom design is crucial to your brand. Keep in mind that your core systems and your front-facing website are two different things, and your front-facing site is where your audiences meet and interact with you. Sitemapping for the right navigation organizes everything. Functionality consulting to get the UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) right is vital.
- Development: Have a highly mobile responsive site or you can lose 68% of the online market. Make sure that the site integrates with “bolt-on” systems (core online banking, etc.) well. The site needs to be SEO ready.
- Web Management: have the right ongoing support even beyond your IT. Important other action elements are software updates, SSL security and even ADA compliance.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
SEO determines organic search results for web users. SEO drives long term, measurable engagement by building your bank’s online reputation and rankings over time so that your brand, products, and services are prioritized by Google and others. It takes lots of work over periods of time, and results are trackable and significant. Some of the essential components of impactful work on SEO are:
- Citations (online directories)
- Keywords (and phrases)
- Site Speed
- GMB (Google My Business) account accuracy
- Mobile responsiveness
- CTAs (calls-to-action)
Digital Advertising is a category of visual ad display placements and text ads that is targeted to specific audiences. Typically these audiences are determined by geography (within ‘x’ miles of each brand location) and demographic specifications within regulatory guidelines. As consumers ourselves we commonly see text ads at the top of search engine results pages when we use key words/phrases such as “banks in Jackson” or “small business lenders in my area.” We also see display ads re-served to us on mobile apps and websites, just like Amazon tracks and re-serves product ads to us on those screens. Various digital methods prevail in this category:
- SEM (Search Engine Marketing)/PPC/Google Ads
- Domain Retargeting
- Keyword Contextual
- Search Retargeting
- Behavioral Targeting
Where we go from here
From here we make a strategic plan and implement it. Here are steps included in many of the processes for our community bank clients:
- Define your marketing goals and outcomes
- Outline your positioning-the WHY for your bank
- Determine platforms and implementation time frames
- Market Surveys can be targeted, brief/pointed, and can capture key data
- Compile all of the above into a blended plan outline
- Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan
- List our who is responsible and be realistic about expectations
- Monthly meetings or check ins are crucial to the process
- Measure ROI (requires marrying marketing with your internal conversion system)
- Process with your team and a marketing partner or agency
- Be deliberate and leave the old shotgun approach behind
- Create system accountability or have a marketing partner do that for you
Undoubtedly the right marketing, whether during a crisis or beyond, will change the future direction of your bank, its brand and market share. The blending of strategies and platforms in the right combination will help you to succeed and shine during any societal or financial climate. All of this leads to you having the greatest impact possible on the lives of your internal and external customers while being a dynamic community partner.
Chris Bates is the CEO of AgoraEversole, a marketing agency endorsed by multiple state banking associations. AgoraEversole is serving community banks throughout the Southeast and the nation with comprehensive traditional, social, website, SEO and digital advertising solutions. They can be reach at www.AgoraEversole.com or 601-366-7370.