By now many financial marketers are suffering from long-term cabin fever. Even with vaccinations widely available, they remain largely cut off from the give and take of marketing conferences. There they could not only be trading ideas, but sharpening their sense of what’s going on.
The Financial Brand reached out to bank and credit union marketers with a series of questions to help fill this marketing intel gap.
We found these marketers have done a lot of adapting during the extended pandemic period. Their roles have changed. How they go about their jobs has changed as well. Just as digital technology has been changing the face of the banking industry more quickly since Covid arrived, the digitization of marketing has accelerated.
- Marketing budgets so far have not taken major hits.
- Staffing is morphing in some cases and a fair number of the 13 banks and credit unions responding have increased their marketing staffs or supplemented them — with a freelance videographer, for example.
- Apropos of that, video is increasingly becoming the way to explain things to consumers.
- There’s a growing awareness that financial institutions need to pay more attention to issues of financial inclusion.
- Agility in marketing has become a must.
Many respondents indicated that through the early stages of the pandemic they found that their departments (as well as their institutions overall) demonstrated an agility that some pundits didn’t think existed.
“Turning on a dime, so to speak, pays dividends on all fronts — focus, creativity and results. During the pandemic we moved from year-long plans to 90-day campaigns. I predict that this will be a new way of business for us.”
— Emily Abbas, SVP/Chief Consumer Banking & Marketing Officer, Bankers Trust, Des Moines
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Taking a Hard Look at What Marketing Accomplishes
Some serious pondering of what the bank marketing job really means has been going on.
“The story that bank marketers have been telling for so long isn’t necessarily valid or relevant anymore,” says Isla Dickerson, SVP & Director of Marketing and Community Relations at Bangor Savings Bank, Maine. “Even now I see so much material out there that is falling flat, tone-deaf, and even completely disconnected. The pandemic should have connected us even more closely to our customers.”
“This feels like a moment to pause and reflect on the role that marketing, advertising and communications play going forward,” Dickerson adds. “I think it can be different and more meaningful.”
A shift for her institution has been towards increasing investment in campaigns that are more about the community than the bank. An example is the bank’s team up with Maine Public Television and Greenlight Maine, a local production company, to present a six-part TV series called “Elevating Voices.” The program is the bank’s effort to address DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — and focuses on the efforts of a set of racially diverse Maine business owners.
Financial institutions’ role in Americans’ lives continues to shift. “The idea of a preferred financial institution is changing,” says Rina Johnson, VP/Marketing at Patelco Credit Union, Dublin, Calif. “As more consumers are looking for financial services that they need, they are engaging with partners in different ways and are comfortable having multiple banking relationships. It’s all about being able to deliver what the consumer needs at that point in their financial journey — wherever they might be. It’s very personal and unique for each person.”
Carie Kelly, SVP/Virtual Banking, at BankProv, Amesbury, Mass., notes that at most financial institutions Marketing is considered a back office function — a cost center. “However, Marketing should be viewed as an investment, especially when you reduce wasteful spending. Increasing the use of smart data to accurately measure impact can quickly shift Marketing to a profit center.”
In many ways, “Marketing really defined its role over the past 18 months as a strategic partner for the bank,” says Katelin Cwieka, AVP & Marketing Communications Manager at Avidia Bank, Hudson, Mass. Development of critical messages, fresh collateral materials for PPP and more, all came out of Marketing.
In many institutions Marketing has become synonymous with customer education. For example, Courtney O’Regan, SVP & Director of Marketing at Middlesex Savings Bank, Natick, Mass., says her institution developed a video series called Quick Tips in which employees explained how to use services like mobile deposit that many customers hadn’t explored before. “The idea was to bring genuine human connection and friendly customer service to the online channel,” says O’Regan.
“Now when we have any new technology or updates we push out video content,” says Emily Mays, VP & Chief Administrative Officer/Marketing at Community Spirit Bank, Red Bay, Ala. She says these get a great response, especially when posted on social media.
Digital Marketing Gets a Permanent Boost
Across the group of respondents, it becomes clear that the gradual evolution from advertising venues like local newspapers to digital channels accelerated so that few institutions plan to use print for much, if at all, even though “normal” has returned.
“Digital channels” covers a lot of ground, from email to programmatic digital advertising on the web to advertising on “over the top” TV channels distributed via the internet as well as various streaming video and music services that accept advertising. Financial institutions report making much more use of these channels.
“We definitely changed our typical mix of print and digital,” says Steven Page, VP of Marketing, Digital and IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, Pleasanton, Calif. “We went completely digital, utilizing email and web and took advantage of TV and radio, which we hadn’t done previously. Our marketing messages were more about branding, and TV and radio worked well for us in that space. I think this will be a permanent change.”
Page says the tone of messaging changed as a result of the pandemic, especially as SafeAmerica shifted some spending to TV. “We moved away from doing ‘commercials’,” he explains. “We really got involved with the community and utilized TV as place to showcase that.”
Multiple marketers indicated that they shifted to direct marketing for some products because people working from home were more likely to look at pieces when the mail arrived. Likewise, they leaned more heavily on email, which could be targeted better than older channels and which permitted better tracking.
Email’s Obit Won’t Stick:
Respondents sometimes spoke of email as a workhorse that keeps proving its worth.
“While we’ve continued utilizing traditional media for brand awareness, we’ve improved our email and digital marketing, which has allowed us to personalize messages for our audiences based on their behaviors to better fit their needs,” says Connie Hernandez Vizitei of AllSouth Federal Credit Union, Columbia, S.C.
At O Bee Credit Union, Lacey, Wash., Lee Wojnar, VP of Marketing, says his institution has been making major use of OTT — Over the Top — television, booked through a broker, to “get more bang for the buck.”(OTT refers to on-demand programming delivered via the internet.)
While traditional media is a shotgun approach, Wojnar explains, OTT buys can be specified for the types of consumers you want to reach, eliminating wasted spending. Tracking by providers makes it possible to gauge how much of a message is actually being watched. OTT channels seem to hold viewers’ attention, because Wojnar says indications are that most of the credit union’s messages are being viewed in their entirety. A campaign for home equity line of credit accounts was a major success.
Apple Federal Credit Union has explored multiple digital channels appearing in places financial marketers may not always think of as opportunities.
One that has proven very successful is placing screen takeover ads on the login screen for Comcast cable service in the credit union’s area.
“The takeover is for an entire day and is geographically targeted for our market,” says Cynthia McAree, Chief Marketing Officer. “Daily impressions average 50,000.”
Another opportunity is ads placed on electric car charging stations that carry digital ads. Apple Federal has run ads on these kiosks that include QR codes that people can shoot with their phones to obtain further information.
While McAree hasn’t decided if Apple Federal will use the charging stations again, she is a fan of QR codes now that they are simpler to use.
“The pandemic revived the use of QR codes for restaurant menus,” she says, “and we have used QR codes for various applications — videos, digital advertising, even loan applications. We will continue to use them, such as for lending and for online appointment scheduling.”
Budgets Getting Smarter, Not Necessarily Bigger
A theme emerging from respondents in regard to media is the need not necessarily for more spending, but smarter spending.
Carie Kelly says shifting to digital at BankProv was about making spending count. Digital is more measurable than traditional channels. As the shift progressed, the bank began using calculations of the cost of marketing per thousand dollars in deposits. This led to increased digital marketing, as well as using affiliate marketing — programs run with financial comparison sites.
Multiple institutions have begun to stress personalization of messaging, or at least are looking into it, both to improve sales results and produce sales more efficiently. Overall, budgets in 2021 have been relatively static, in part because new techniques have in some cases reduced some marketing costs. (In addition, with live events still occurring less often, that frees up some money.)
For the most part marketers predict that 2022 budgets will hold the 2021 line, except where major hiring has occurred or a substantial ramp up in marketing overall has been directed. For instance, David Patti, Director of Marketing and Communications at Customers Bank, West Reading, Penn., says a major shift to digital banking and digital marketing is driving a departmental reorganization.
At Patelco Credit Union Rina Johnson says marketing expenses have been contained through the shift to digital and other steps, but she believes more control can be exercised as improvements are made in using data to pinpoint the best opportunities.
“And we’re going to be executing much more ‘test and learn’,” she says, in order to refine efforts before plunking down big bucks.
At Planters First Bank, Perry, Ga., a variation on budgeting has been made, according to Dan Duchnowski, EVP and Chief Deposit Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. Marketing dollars are now split between branches, which have a limited budget for local initiatives, while the Marketing Department has a budget for bankwide campaigns.
“Now that we’ve developed an even stronger and attributable marketing program using primarily digital, we’ll want to increase our brand awareness to acquire new customers and deepen our relationships with current customers,” says Avidia’s Cwieka. One of her own favorite spends is on ads placed on YouTube “how-to” videos, which consumers have been binge-watching at home since Covid arrived.