5 Essentials for Bank & Credit Union Marketing Budgets

The combination of the pandemic's impact on consumer behavior and the ongoing digitization of banking requires bank and credit union marketers to sharply adjust their budgets (and thinking) to reflect new realities.

Heading into a new year is always a crucial time to reevaluate what your doing, to be sure the new year won’t simply be a repeat of fragmented efforts that aren’t producing results. This year that’s even more important.

The banking industry was already deep into a fundamental digital transformation when the pandemic hit, accelerating many underlying trends and forcing financial marketers to scramble. As we finish what has clearly been a year like no other in history, it might be worth the time to ensure that five key items make it into your marketing budgets for the year ahead.

Budgeting Priority #1: Digital Ad Spending

With so many consumers transitioning their shopping online there’s no justification for banks and credit unions to continue to delay spending on digital innovation. Digital ads like Google pay-per-click (PPC) are a must for even small institutions in this day and age. Furthermore, because so many people are spending more and more time online, social media networks have also stopped being optional for financial institutions. It’s time to authentically meet your customers or members where they are — and that is on digital channels.

We are seeing institutions making significant increases in ad budgets for both text ads and more engaging kinds of content on social media. Even in challenging times most financial institutions seem to be tightening their belts on traditional marketing channels but leaving or growing budgets that impact digital presence.

Clearly this shift is justified. A pre-holiday Deloitte survey found that only 41% of consumers expected to shop in stores on Black Friday, a sharp decrease from 61% in 2019. The actual results were even worse. In-store shopping fell 52%, according to one widely reported source. Guess where it went? Online. What holds true for holiday shoppers goes for financial shoppers as well.

With so many banks and credit unions closing lobbies and moving to online appointments, live chat and video banking, there’s no time to waste when it comes to budgeting for digital ad growth. You’re simply not going to see the foot traffic of the past for many months to come, so at least the early part of 2021 may look a lot like 2020, which means there’s more traffic online than ever before. Digital ads are your institution’s insurance policy for keeping lead generation alive.

Budgeting Priority #2: Shifting Mindsets and Hiring for ‘Digital Branches’

As your institution moves into a truly digital mindset, one of the paradigm shifts that must occur is how you see and categorize spending on digital assets. It is no longer acceptable for banks and credit unions to consider digital spending as just another line-item in their marketing budget. In fact, digital spending is actually a strategic initiative that impacts all of your departments, and budgets should be adjusted accordingly.

Furthermore, digital banking necessities, including websites with robust content management systems (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) tools, video banking and live chat should we considered digital assets rather than digital expenses. We emphasize this distinction by referring to these capabilities as “digital branches.” You are investing in digital capabilities just like you would invest in a building, furniture, staffing and utilities at a brick-and-mortar location. Why not categorize them in a similar manner?

In addition to needing to recategorize your digital spending, we are also seeing a growth in staffing for these digital branches. Institutions are realizing that in order to better leverage and measure the lead generation potential of their digital branch they need a full digital team in place. Websites are no longer digital brochures that you can set and forget. Digital branches need daily updates, and lead generation requires sales follow up. These can only be effectively managed by people.

With increases in staffing comes the need for additional training to ensure your new or reallocated staff will have the know-how necessary to fill their new digital roles and responsibilities. For this reason it’s essential that budgets include some robust digital training for marketing staff.

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Budgeting Priority #3: Content Marketing

Showing the right people the right content at the right time has never been more important. But in order to execute on this promise you have to begin with high-quality content creation.

Your marketing budgets need to include resources for writing and creating “pillar content” that helps drive search results over time. Pillar pages are lengthy, high quality, SEO optimized pieces of content that focus on your key products and services and provide helpful and informative details that answer any FAQs you hear on a regular basis. They can be in the form of an e-book, a how-to guide, a white paper or a checklist,

Once you have some solid pillar content, then it’s time to create smaller pieces that will promote these pillar pages. These can be shorter blogs or other articles that address consumer pain points and help move people along their buying journey. The key is to have all of these articles link back to the relevant pillar page, which will boost domain authority and organic search results over time.

Finally, your marketing budget should include resources for video content as well as social media and other live streaming kinds of production. These will help you appeal to a younger audience and provide needed variety in the kinds of content you can share with your customers and potential new audiences.

Budgeting Priority #4: Automation Campaigns for Processes and Products

According to Think with Google, in 2018 only one in 100 cars were sold online. In the first half of 2020, however, nearly one in ten cars were sold online, a 10X increase in just two years. The importance of this shift in consumer behavior cannot be overstated. If people are buying more cars online, it only makes sense that they’d also be looking for auto loan financing online.

Banks and credit unions must be able to create automated campaigns to promote online application processes. When a consumer comes to your website and views an auto loan page, downloads an auto loan E-Book, and checks your rate page there is simply no excuse not to use this behavior to kick off a nurture campaign to bring that buyer into your online application. If your institution isn’t using automation in this manner you are already way behind.

Great automation can also help cross-sell to existing customers. Smart content should be personalized to the individual based on their known use products and services. If a new customer has recently closed an auto loan and opened a checking account, but hasn’t activated their online banking or debit card, these would be the kinds of reminders you should include in their digital onboarding. We’d also recommend some pre-approval offers as soon as possible after a new account is opened. This is a prime time for cross-selling, so why not automate that process to make it more efficient and consistent?

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Budgeting Priority #5: A Human Face for Your Institution to Reach Younger Consumers

Meeting expectations and humanizing your brand is the final budgeting priority for the year ahead. We are seeing more and more financial institutions using brand ambassadors or other personal messages to help build relationships with consumers. This goes for in-person and for digital efforts.

Your goal should be to put a human face on your business. This is not just for older consumers. Contrary to some stereotypes, Millennial and Gen Z consumers like a human connection. They aren’t looking for just high-tech capabilities in banking, they are also looking for superior service standards and helpful, responsive experiences with your staff members.

Regardless of the transition to online shopping, there are ways to leverage real people in the digital space. Consider live stream events, photos or videos, or other stories your staff or customers can share. Customer and staff-generated content like this is a powerful way to motivate new business and leverage word-of-mouth marketing more effectively on digital channels. You can also use a spokesperson or staff testimonials. If you use testimonials, make them real stories and share them widely.

Google also reports that consumers want not just new technology or online buying promises, but also want these promises to be kept. “Messaging alone won’t work unless new expectations are met,” Google states. This was shown in the earlier example regarding new auto buying behaviors. Financial brands will have to make sure their online retail experiences are ready to match other categories’ e-commerce standards, Google states.

Without that combination of high-tech capability and responsive personal and digital experiences banks and credit unions will continue to lose market share to larger organizations that have mastered these online channels, and know how to deliver a meaningful and positive customer journey in the digital banking space.

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