Financial Marketers Need Nimble Game Plans for COVID-19 World

Wherever your institution is on the coronavirus crisis curve there will be communications decisions demanding tact, judgment and creativity. Everything must be run through a cautious filter to keep channels open so bank and credit union messages are heard.

One word comes up more these days than any other: “Unprecedented.” Even Google searches for the word have skyrocketed! Never in modern times has society ground to such a screeching halt as in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The implications for families and businesses are staggering, and financial institutions and those they serve are no exception.

Messaging Happens on Multiple Levels Now

If there is a single, overarching takeaway thus far for financial marketing communications professionals, it’s the democratization of messaging.

Under ordinary circumstances, the average bank or credit union has dozens or hundreds of audiences. Best practice, of course, is to segment by any number of attributes in order to finely tune and personalize communications that resonate with particular customers’ circumstances, habits and preferences. Financial marketers, especially in recent years, have invested heavily in tools and talent to improve marketing automation, insights and analysis in order to be able to build more data-driven and highly targeted messages.

“The novel coronavirus has drastically reduced the gulfs between traditionally disparate audiences.”

These investments are not for naught. Yet, as a result of the global pandemic, customers from all walks of life, net incomes, geographic regions and ethnicities have all plugged into a singular conversation in a way they’ve rarely been before.

Just like that, the novel coronavirus has drastically reduced the gulfs between traditionally disparate audiences. This democratization of messaging carries several important implications and some opportunities which marketers should pay close attention to.

Back to Marketing Basics: Directly Addressing the COVID-19 Moment

Often the best way to get someone’s attention is to acknowledge in no uncertain terms the challenges they are facing. This period is unique in that brands can have confidence in the major subject preoccupying most consumers’ minds. It would be a missed opportunity for banks and credit unions to not reach out to people to address the health issues and lifestyle changes occurring in the present moment.

Financial institutions already occupy a personal place in the lives of their customers and enjoy a degree of built-in trust. If there was ever a time for friendly check-ins, it’s now. In a conversational, human tone, express well wishes for people and their families, empathize with likely fears concerning their families’ physical and financial health, and remind them that the institution is open for business — even if only via drive-up and digital channels such as online and mobile banking and digital services like person-to-person transfer, bill pay and estatements.

“If there was ever a time for friendly check-ins, it’s now.”

Where branches haven’t been broadly closed or limited in service, reassure people who prefer banking that way that you are still there to serve them via phone and at some branches. Be sure to include clear details about any changes to your branch lobby hours, if it remains open.

Moreover, as the term of this challenge lengthens, senior leadership should consider if there are fee waivers, bonuses or promotions that the institution can offer to help reduce the economic toll on accountholders. An introductory rate, a short reprieve from fees, a delay on interest assessed or a loan payment deferral can represent an incredible boost for families or businesses in times of financial distress, not to mention helping to build goodwill with customers for years to come.

Lastly, is your institution doing anything to help the country, or your community, during this crisis? Consider adopting a cause during this distressing time when so many are in need. Is there a nonprofit your institution can team up with? Can it perhaps accept donations to support medical response capacity, address food insecurity, increase access to learning as a result of school closures, or provide support to vulnerable populations? The contributions you help collect will provide much-needed relief and give the marketing team something powerful to promote during these volatile times.

Financial Education Becomes More Important

As a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses are hemorrhaging cash and therefore their employees (and recently-made former employees) are suffering, too. Jobless claims have soared beyond all-time records, and the government stimulus being enacted may take weeks to kick in and will, in all likelihood, impact families and businesses in uneven and unpredictable ways.

“There’s never been a better moment to be the financial thought leader people seek.”

Individuals and companies will be looking to financial institutions as a source of trusted financial information during a time of hardship. There’s never been a better moment to be the financial thought leader people seek.

Share information about how to safeguard savings, maintain cashflow, reshuffle budgets, maximize interest and deposit insurance coverage on deposits, trigger fewer fees, trim interest on loans and protect investments. The topics are plentiful and the advice sorely needed. In times of anxiety, reliable and actionable information provides comfort. So, work on being the source of information that your customers need.

Marketing and Advertising Sensitivity is Set at ‘Max’

How many times have you been watching television in recent weeks and seen a scene that would have been totally normal a couple of months ago, but now seems absurdly out of touch? Maybe it’s a big backyard barbeque among a group of friends, a couple at a packed concert or a family frolicking at a busy amusement park, kids licking cotton candy off their fingers.

As a marketer, you probably find yourself thinking, “That ad is not appropriate for the here and now!” Your marketing team should take care not to make the same mistake.

This does not necessarily mean that you need to scuttle the entire campaign you’ve been planning. Still, ask yourself: Is the message of the proposed campaign realistic for a world of social distancing and self-isolation? Are the images and graphics in the campaign fitting for the somber reality of the current moment?

If not, evaluate whether the campaign may be retrofitted to accommodate current events. Also worth asking: Does your institution still have the same business and marketing objectives it had when the campaign was first envisioned? A hard pivot may be in order.

The best marketers to a one share a single important quality that enables their success year after year: nimbleness. No banks or credit union can afford a faux pas that results in a PR crisis in this climate.

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