If you feel like you have suddenly become a cast member in a bad futuristic movie, you are in good company. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken every aspect our personal lives — and on top if it all, for most financial marketers, it’s also had a profound impact on our jobs and our plans.
As a financial services marketer, your job is to support your institution’s business and marketing goals, protect and extend your brand and ultimately improve the lives of your customers and members. While this worldwide crisis is a major challenge for us all, there are three important things you can and should be doing immediately to keep your institution strong, which will make it stronger for when life returns to a new normal.
1. Supporting Operations With Clear and Useful Communication
Most financial marketers have already transitioned to emergency communication mode. From branches closing or moving to drive-through only, to transitioning staff to a work from home or furlough situation, you’ve rolled up your sleeves to get the job done. For those of you still knee deep in this process, below is a checklist of items that need to be addressed:
Branch closings or changes: Your website and mobile app are the best places to communicate this information, with email and social media posts in supporting roles. Also be sure to update your Google My Business and Bing Places listings with this temporary information as well, since many of these location status inquiries come directly from organic searches.
Working from home: When your staff is working from home, it can be unsettling on all fronts. If employees are taking care of family, setting up a working-hours and deliverables plan that makes sense for all is essential. For those who are managers, it’s important to be sensitive to people’s individual situation, while establishing ground rules for what is expected.
When working from home, keeping lines of communications open is vital — whether it be by email, phone, instant message or video conferencing. Remember that keeping coworkers and employees happy during times of stress can go a long way towards longer-term employee satisfaction and retention.
Help promote technology: Embrace the fact that technology has connected us all. More than ever, employees and customers are reliant on mobile devices and are using an array of digital channels to get their information — from your website, mobile apps, email marketing, SMS/text, social media and more. It’s Marketing’s job to make sure these channels provide information that is helpful, clear and transparent during this unprecedented time.
2. Change Your Marketing Plans Immediately
Let’s face it — your spring (and likely summer) marketing plans will need to change. Whether the products you were going to promote are no longer a high priority for consumers in light of their job or homebound situation, or the ways you were planning to market are no longer effective, it’s essential that you quickly re-evaluate everything so that you can protect your brand, your ROI and continue to support your target audiences.
“Look at everything through a human lens and ask yourself if you’d react positively, neutrally or negatively to the promotion now.”
— Michelle Brown, ZAG Interactive
Planned promotions: Every product and service you were planning to promote should be re-evaluated to see if it’s relevant or appropriate given the current world situation. Look at everything through a human lens and ask yourself if you’d react positively, neutrally or negatively to the promotion now.
Tactics: If non-digital events were part of your plan, these will all have to be cancelled. And, with most non-essential workers’ commute consisting of walking from their bedroom to their home office or kitchen table, billboard advertising may not exactly deliver the visibility you were looking for either. On the other hand, with more people turning to digital than ever, it’s a great time to push consumers to use your online and mobile banking services, online applications, and any other digital tools you offer. To make this change quickly, it’s essential to evaluate how your marketing mix is distributed — pulling funds from some areas that might not work as well and moving them to channels that will.
Helping those in need: Everyone is impacted by this pandemic in some way — from a personal health battle, to losing income, to the wholesale disruption of life as we know it. The federal government has stepped in to provide some economic stress reduction such as a temporary suspension on foreclosures and evictions for single-family dwellings. But financial institutions have a tremendous opportunity to help members and customers more. Some banks and credit unions have already announced what they are doing to help, but all institutions need to participate in order to provide maximum impact:
- Payment deferral (aka “Skip a payment”) programs will be useful to those whose economic situation is dire.
- Consider waiving minimum balances, excessive transaction fees and monthly service fees and/or penalties on select accounts.
- Personal loans may see increased demand as time goes on, so look at what your offerings are and consider retooling products to accommodate this new world as needed.
- More than ever, people may want to have a discussion about their particular situation with a human banker. Assure your customers that you are there for them and will come up with something that works for all parties, whether that’s by phone, text, live chat or in person.
3. Support Your Communities
If you ask any financial institution what makes them different, they nearly all point to their community support. Financial institutions are vital to their communities they serve, and banks and credit unions need to rise up through this pandemic and truly embrace their missions.
Small business support: Countless small businesses were forced to temporarily close in order to support social distancing. This is devastating to these businesses, the families and companies that own them, and the communities they are in. Financial institutions have an opportunity to provide support in the form of digital products, relaxation of some policies, funding, advice and more.
Supporting schools: Almost overnight, schools across the world transitioned to online learning. Financial institutions should reach out to local schools to find out how they can help — whether it’s donating much-needed technology or offering online courses about financial literacy.
Donations, donations, donations: Nearly everyone needs help in one form of another. Whether it’s supporting healthcare workers or donating to a local food bank whose demand will skyrocket as people lose their jobs, your bank or credit union should step up as much as possible to help. While being physically present isn’t an option in many places now, we are all connected virtually and can and should find a way to support each other, financially and otherwise.
In some ways, the banking industry is poised to regain the trust of consumers if they can navigate this situation carefully and respectfully. Financial marketers have the responsibility to understand what their brand represents and help their communities come back from this alternate reality stronger than ever before.