A Veteran Financial Marketer Devises a COVID-19 Strategy

The coronavirus pandemic presents community financial institutions with an opportunity to put the best of their abilities forward. Kevin Tynan sets an eight-point marketing approach to carry your bank or credit union through the crisis and beyond.

Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Mayor and Obama White House Chief of Staff, famously stated “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” But that’s what many financial institutions are doing.

Emanuel’s point was that crises represent an opportunity to do things you could not accomplish before. I’d extend that to making changes that should have been made earlier.

The biggest health and economic threat to the nation in perhaps a century is invading the U.S. Families have lost loved ones under the most tragic circumstances and every day healthcare workers are putting their lives on the line. The situation, aggravated by the failure by state and federal leaders to make a strong coordinated response, has raised the anxiety level throughout the country.

And for many of us, the best we can do to fight the virus is to stay inside and watch streaming videos. But community banks and credit unions can apply marketing tools to do much more.

Financial institutions may not have the personality of an Apple or the pizzazz of a Netflix, but they do have one valuable characteristic: They are trusted. And it’s that trust that financial institutions should be leveraging now.

At a time when customers are shifting to online convenience, choosing mega institutions over local banks and allowing algorithms to manage their accounts, it’s time for community banks and credit unions to show their mettle, step up to the plate, strengthen their connections to consumers, and demonstrate their inherent value.

Community Financial Institutions Should Play to Their Strength: Trust

Local banks and credit unions serve a disproportionate share of the older population. Savings institutions tend to have an even higher proportion. Likewise, the base of many credit unions is graying. Take older, medically at-risk customers, add the stress of a compromised financial future, and you are left with a very anxious and vulnerable customer base — one susceptible to scams, misinformation, panic and media manipulation.

Even beyond our seniors, consumers, as well as large and small businesses, are searching for credible sources of information to find out what they should do, where they should go or even what they should think about current financial affairs.

Thus is born a golden opportunity for financial institutions to not only step in as an authoritative voice on financial matters but also assume their position as a critical voice in the economic community.

When people are facing a deluge of news, opinion and contradiction, a local institution has an opportunity to prove its raison d’être — its reason for existing — as a respected neighborhood institution.

And that’s a role that no national superbanks can fill.

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Eight Ways to Market Proactively Without Crossing a Line

Our children and grandchildren will be talking about the coronavirus 50 years from now. This is a life-changing event where people will remember who lent a helping hand, who came through when they had trouble, and who was there with a smile or supportive gesture.

Now is the time to demonstrate your institution’s role as an unselfish advocate for the well-being of your community, a time to excel. This may be your last chance to shine or be gulped by the Pac Man banks later on.

1. Provide reassurance.

Remind customers the crisis will end. That the country — and the banking system — has gone through adversity many times. That FDIC insurance means their funds are absolutely safe. Perhaps relating the bank’s history as a stable, dependable community institution through ups and downs can help.

2. Expand message distribution beyond emails and electronic billboards.

For example, try sending old-fashioned postcards. Many older people don’t rely, as the rest of us do, on text messages and email. And, postcards can’t be erased with a delete button. Older people listen to radio more than younger folks and they tend to see radio personalities as dependable voices of the community, much more than television celebrities who broadcast to a larger area and are less accessible. Buy and create ads that resemble public service announcements.

This isn’t the time to sell nor to make boastful statements.

3. Definitely, be visible.

Form a prominent partnership with local charities to support health care workers and first responders. Donate generously, but just as important as money, deliver what the community needs now. Bring food to the less fortunate, make or obtain masks for the local hospital, solicit media interviews to promote your messaging and local charity partnerships. Get your staff involved.

4. Don’t just buy ads — and certainly don’t use jingles during this period. Put your face out there. Literally.

Use your employees, even your CEO, for messaging. A friendly, local, real face is reassuring and contrasts sharply with the impersonal mass messages put out by the Big Five mega-institutions. Facebook, Instagram, FaceTime and Zoom are excellent venues to display an empathetic human being.

5. Get your message out through social media — there’s never been a better time.

Media usage has soared in the last few weeks as people have been confined. Facebook should be your primary medium; Instagram reaches younger folk. Reach customers regularly with health reminders, financial info and words of assurance. Answer commonly asked questions and invite face-to-face dialog through FaceTime.

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6. Conduct a series of Zoom seminars on areas of specific interest to business and consumers.

Federal agency telephone lines are jammed with inquiries. Provide an alternate channel and answer small business owners’ questions about federal loans and grants. Bring accountants and government officials to your community for FaceTime live events. If you wish to keep it simple, you can set up large audience conference calls to address these issues.

Your institution has lots of “ears.” Check with front-line personnel to determine what questions are popping up in consumer conversations. Share new bank policies on credit cards, bill consolidation or mortgage delinquencies that have broad appeal.

7. Wrap your outreach program into a neat package.

Identify the segments you’re targeting with media channels. Next build a schedule and an implementation plan. Then create a tagline that’s graphically appealing, underscores your messaging, and appears on every media placement. Perhaps it’s “Let’s work together! We can do this!” or other similar sentiment. This will bring disparate messages together to create a strong, powerful voice for your COVID-19 efforts.

8. Plan now for when the lockdown ends.

Things look grim now, but dawn always arrives. Position your brand to avoid getting lost in the avalanche of mail and ads that will undoubtedly hit consumers and businesses when the crisis is over.

Competitors will be shouting over each other to get people’s attention. Communicating any message will be difficult — and expensive. Now is the time to bolster your niche in the community’s mind, position to your strengths, and set yourself up for future business.

You’ll re-establish yourself as a key community partner, a financial institution they could rely on, can rely, and will rely on going forward.

Kevin Tynan is the retired SVP of Marketing at Liberty Bank for Savings, in the Chicago area. He spent almost 40 years in marketing positions, much of  his work related to banking.

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