Digital Marketing Strategies for Community Financial Institutions

The 2020s are underway. Does your marketing still rely on channels that haven't been effective since the late 1990s? Here's how a small financial institution bit the bullet and built a plan that brought its marketing approaches not only up to date but into a stance for continuing adaptation.

Digital platforms like Google, email and social media make it possible for the smallest bank and credit marketing teams to generate results worthy of larger organizations, if they get onboard with new ways of reaching present and potential consumers of their services.

I’m going to recount how our small marketing team enhanced traditional marketing efforts to become a digital marketing powerhouse.

Step 1: Make Time for Learning How to Use Digital Marketing Tools

Three years ago, the road to digital marketing for our four-person team was paved with unfamiliar concepts, technical jargon and conflicting messages. Our team at times felt overwhelmed. We knew we needed to find room in our schedules to learn how to implement digital marketing. But how?

For six months, we evaluated our projects and activities to determine if we could identify ways to improve. Because of those observations, we discontinued some tasks and found more efficient ways to complete others. For instance, we took a hard look at management reports, which were taking eight days to complete each month. Collaborating with our executive team, we identified obsolete reports and made adjustments to reduce those efforts to three days. And we outsourced branch signage distribution, saving two hours every month.

Change is challenging and results aren’t always immediately seen, but as our team adjusted to the new way of doing things, we began to see our schedules open up.

Step 2: Develop Your Team’s Digital Marketing Skillsets

Once we had made more room in our schedules, we embarked on a period of team development. Our marketing team began to learn how to implement unfamiliar digital strategies like search engine optimization, digital advertising and dynamic content. Time for formal training was limited, however, so we were often learning as we implemented these technologies. Mistakes were made, but we learned from our mistakes and gained helpful insights for the future.

As the team gained experience with these new tools, we stopped talking about print as much, and began to have conversations about email headers, Facebook ads and reputation management. It was a learning experience for all of us, and as our understanding of digital marketing grew, we all grew in knowledge and expertise.

Step 3: Find Partners and Invest Time Into Understanding Them

We quickly realized our existing digital marketing tools would not meet our evolving organizational needs, and we needed to update our toolkit. In addition, some of the digital marketing we had been doing was being contracted out to third-party vendors. Our team needed to bring that work back home to gain a better understanding of how the pieces fit together.

We made one change at a time. We were selecting a new platform or software package and it was like looking at a wall of wrenches at the hardware store. It was hard to know what to buy when we had no experience with that kind of tool. Reaching out for help and collaborating with others was essential.

We reached out to colleagues at other institutions to see what they were using and called on industry experts to see what they recommended. Armed with a basic understanding, we began inviting vendors to make short sales presentations. One important prerequisite was the vendor’s ability and willingness to field questions from our team as they worked to understand and use the new tool.

Ultimately, we collaborated with a Google strategist to help teach us the ins and outs of digital marketing, and the entire team went through training to better understand how to use our marketing database.

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Step 4: Build and Execute a Plan for Modernizing Marketing

We started small, maintaining a roster of ideas, deliverables and deadlines, and who owned each. We kept our expectations small to encourage success. Instead of creating an elaborate email plan with multiple dynamic zones, we created one email with one zone. Our goal was to rethink how we market our products and services.

For example, when promoting a new service under our old approach, we would normally have produced a new brochure and a branch sign. We might have also sent out a postcard. With new perspectives and a better understanding of digital strategies, we built a landing page on our website, optimized it for search engines, and sent out “triggered” emails to consumers who visited the webpage. We made more people aware of the new products by enhancing performance by adding digital tools to the mix.

Step 5: Start “Marketing” the Marketing Internally

Any time you introduce new tools, techniques and ways of thinking into an organization, it’s wise to collaborate, educate and inform colleagues to gain their support. The team realized we could not explain what we were doing using unfamiliar terms and ideas. It was important that we communicate in terms that were familiar to our internal audience and that addressed their concerns.

So the marketing team stopped using words like “page conversion” and instead talked about how many people clicked on a link and applied for a loan. Instead of talking about reputation management, we talked about efforts to ensure Yelp, Google and other online sources had our name, address, phone number and times of operation correct. We resisted requests to add or revise elements of our web pages, and insisted on good web page hygiene.

Changes like this take time. In meetings with leadership we showcased the results of our efforts. We introduced new terms so colleagues had time to absorb the information, new concepts and new ways of thinking. As a result, our marketing team was empowered to propose fresh, new ideas for consideration, many of which were adopted.

Our entire organization began embracing digital marketing and the impact it can have on creating positive member experiences.

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Step 6: Measure the Results, Tweak the Techniques

Results and data began to pour in. Consumers were opening our email. We gained traction on social media. Our digital ads began receiving millions of impressions. We measured the results and experimented with ways to make things better.

Often little changes made the difference. We played with the wording of email subject lines. We simplified digital ads to deliver one clear message. We increased our social media budget and tried different kinds of messages. We measured the results, took note of what was working and made adjustments. Over time, as we gained proficiency with digital marketing tools, our campaigns became more sophisticated and our results improved.

Step 7: Stop, Pause and Celebrate. Then Get Moving Again

Three years in, our journey into digital marketing is an ongoing one. Shifts in the market and changes imposed by Facebook, Google and other big players are opening new opportunities and shutting off others. It takes the entire marketing team working together to bring our digital efforts to life.

It’s important to make time to celebrate your team wins, both big and small. We continue to learn and find ways to improve. Bottom line: If our small but determined marketing team can master the digital space, so can yours.

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