Financial Marketing Demands Incredible Agility in a Post-COVID World

Few could have predicted how financial institutions and consumers are struggling through the beginning of an apparent coronavirus recession. And even fewer could have projected how financial services will have to change to beat the pandemic-spawned slump. Decisive actions must replace dithering and imitative behavior.

Predictions about the post-COVID-19 landscape are legion. But they are just that — predictions.

No amount of thinking, gathering of data nor analysis can accurately forecast what the coming months, and even years, will look like. The only certainty now, and for the foreseeable future, is uncertainty. While this may sound daunting, fear not.

You can still help your financial institution’s brand stay relevant, and even grow, during these unpredictable times.

The post-COVID-19 financial marketing world will be defined by those banks and credit unions that look ahead and execute on their marketing plans before they are needed, not merely in reaction to an event. Becoming such a brand means you will need to have multiple plans ready to go, and you must be willing to move on what looks like the right one or ones.

That means investing time, effort and money into building post COVID-19 marketing and advertising campaigns now. Those that do so will be all the more ready to serve their markets in months ahead.

1. Get Used to Thinking Smaller and Shorter

When I talk about post-COVID-19 marketing campaigns, I am not talking about the long-term, or even mid-term, planning you are probably used to. Planning multi-media campaigns for six or even 12 months into the future takes time, an element you do not have in this rapidly evolving climate.

Relying on detailed long-range planning as you have known it may actually hurt your institution. You don’t want to find your brand smack in the middle of executing on a plan that is so obsolete your institution looks completely out of touch with current reality.

Instead, I urge you to use multiple smaller, flexible and easy-to-implement campaigns.

2. Your Banking Brand Must Stay Proactive, Avoid Being Reactive and Be Relevant

Too many banking brands fear taking a misstep right now that they have ground to a standstill, uncommitted to any path. Remember that taking the chance of being right through action always outdoes inaction, which guarantees failure.

Then, there are those brands that finally decided to start moving again, only to walk down the familiar path of reactivity, not proactivity.

Think about it: How many video ads, emails and other outreach have you seen lately that amount to nothing more than a boilerplate, generic reaction to the current crisis? Too many.

3. Build a Financial Marketing Campaign Arsenal

To tackle the coming months, you are going to need campaigns that can launch in days, not weeks. Sure, you can always come up with “something” in a few days, but not the well-thought-out and effective ideas you will need.

Spend time now building some campaign narratives, initial creative, copy, baseline graphics, etc. You do not need to cover all media and channels at this stage. What you do need is all the deep thinking work done, so that when the time comes, deploying these campaigns will take muscle memory, not mental horsepower.

4. Hold All Media Commitments to Monthly Schedules

In a fluid landscape, your pre-pandemic media plan will be a weakness, not a strength. You’ll have certainty in your media plan but that will be a massive misuse of your limited budget. You will likely fail to reach your audience. For example, you do not want to be stuck having committed precious advertising dollars to months of outdoor ads when your market gets another lockdown order if and when there is a resurgence of coronavirus.

Here’s a more or less open secret: The media budget for most banks and credit unions is not large enough for longer-term commitments to yield much savings anyway.

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5. Don’t Rely on Existing Behavioral Targeting Anymore

Behavioral and socioeconomic targeting relies on past data. How accurate will income, asset and intention-based targeting be when all the factors used to support them have been fundamentally altered?

If you were getting away with using just a few data points to target consumers before, you will no longer be able to rely on those assumptions alone. Right now, we are seeing the need to layer ten-plus data points to build reliable and effective targeting models that replicate even the simplest older targeting methods.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Aggressive

There will be banks and credit unions that fail their customers. Those without the digital services worthy of 2020 will find consumers looking elsewhere. These institutions will not be able to operate as well as you in a depressed rate environment. Herein lies your opportunity to acquire those account-holders who have been poorly served by their financial institutions.

Take a close look around; identify those competitors from whom you believe you can take market share. Catch their consumers by building geo-fences around competitor’s branches. (People are still using drive up, remember that.) Target incoming payments from and outgoing payments to your competitors. Add those competitors’ brand keywords to yours. When disgruntled customers head over to their current credit union or bank, your institution will appear at the top of their search.

Coronavirus didn’t end competition — the slump will accentuate it.

7. Face the Reality that You Really Need to be Different

Financial institutions love to copycat. They love to hitch onto popular trends. A good current example is the flood of Instagram and other social posts that all say the same basic thing: “We are all in this together.”

That’s OK for early days, but I believe consumers eyes will begin to glaze over with this message.

In fact, I’d argue that they already have.

In a crisis, especially in the beginning, words really matter. Financial institutions are still struggling to find the right words right now, which is why so many are saying the same thing.

However, eventually — sooner rather than later — you will need to transition away from the status quo and start talking about why your bank or credit union is the one consumers want to have on their side. Explaining why your specific financial institution is the right partner to head into the unknown with will be key.

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8. Focus on Your Institution’s Core Competencies

There will be many opportunities over the next 12-18 months. That does not mean that every opportunity will be the right one for you.

For example, if you don’t have robust connections in the indirect auto market, don’t go after it. Instead, focus on your direct-to-consumer auto loans and attack the weak points of indirect when it comes to consumer preference.

Lines in the sand can and should be drawn. They will only help you.

9. Be Attuned in Order to Detect Changing Values

Three months ago, we had a widely known set of values that marketers could leverage. Now, some of those are gone and many have changed.

Consider that in February no one would have believed that come Spring, people experiencing heart attack symptoms would be afraid to go to the ER. Today, instead of instinct driving people to act, it is up to hospital groups to implore folks experiencing medical emergencies that it’s safe to go to the ER.

If people have those kinds of apprehensions about seeking care for physical health, what shift has taken place in regard to their financial health? Will those cautious consumers engage with retail bankers in branches in the immediate and near future?

It will be up to you to stay attuned to those fears and concerns and to act accordingly, not necessarily in a reactive way, but in a proactive one.

( Read More: Why COVID-19 Is Rebooting How Gen Z Feels About Money and Banking )

10. No One Knows Exactly What to Do Next

Face the reality that in today’s circumstances, none of us knows for certain what to do. No one.

In my experience, the key to getting out of crisis response mode and into doing mode involves: picking a position, thinking on it, and moving forward with it. I firmly believe that when this is all behind us, those who choose action will have the best chance of success.

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