Marketing Smarter on a Community Bank Budget

Community financial institution marketers often lack the budgets and decision making role that CMOs in larger institutions enjoy. But there are ways to partner with other functions in the institution that can help produce better results for everyone.

Marketing at a community banking institution is often misunderstood and commonly undervalued. Yet success in this industry can be achieved by thinking outside the box and being creative with your resources.

Your Time and Your Budget are Linked

Marketing managers must avoid letting their workday fall victim to the various mundane tasks that go with the job, such as ordering promotional items, taking pictures at local events and writing press releases. If you’re not careful these tasks can quickly consume your day.

Now don’t get me wrong, these are necessary marketing tasks. But the important functions of marketing are delivering qualified leads, assisting with the customer experience, maintaining the brand and working to keep the financial institution top of mind.

Let’s not forget that this all needs to be accomplished on a limited budget. Based on my experience the needle movers when it comes to Marketing at a community financial institution are simplification, differentiation, targeted marketing, a consistent approach and, in some cases, making the institution appear larger than the balance sheet indicates. Let’s examined these ideas one by one.

Simplification Can Be a Complicated Task

The former CEO of ING Direct famously had a sign over his door that said, “Simplify.” He truly believed that success hinged on keeping things simple — a simple product lineup, a simple brand strategy and a simple messaging. This approach allowed ING Direct to become an expert in their products, services and processes, making them the industry leader in online-only banks during their time.

I believe that community financial institutions can learn from this approach, as we have a tendency to provide a wide range of products and services. The more we simplify the better.

Assist Those in Control:

I realize that Marketing doesn’t always control products, services, and processes. However, it’s been my experience that Marketing can be a good partner to those areas of the institution that do have this control.

For example, the marketing department can survey its customers and work with department managers to ensure products and services meet their needs in a simplified manner.

Areas that Marketing can typically control when it comes to simplification are the website, messaging, branding and promotions.

Differentiation Demands Actually Being Different

The common response from community banking marketers when asked what makes their institutions different is their people.

I don’t disagree with this response, especially when comparing community banks with national or regional players. However, this differentiator doesn’t help much when you’re surrounded by other community banks.

So what do you do? At Planters First Bank we partnered with POPio Mobile Video Cloud to offer Video Banking. Planters First Bank was the first bank in Georgia to offer this particular service. Additionally, we partnered with StrategyCorps to offer the BaZing product. BaZing is a service that offers such benefits as a nationwide discount network, roadside assistance, gas rewards and cell phone protection.

Other differentiators that I’ve seen include brand ambassadors and sponsored events (limited during the Covid period, of course). When I worked at S&T Bank they hired Jerome Bettis (AKA “The Bus”) of the Pittsburgh Steelers, to be the brand ambassador. He was featured in commercials, hosted events, and provided signed swag for VIP customers.

When I worked at NetBank they hosted a rock concert featuring the Wallflowers to attract a younger demographic of customers in a target market.

Target Marketing Helps Fulfills Personalization Expectations

In today’s world people expect to receive offers that are specific to their needs. For example, they expect you to remember that they have three products with your institution, have been doing business with you for 15 years, and recently contacted them to request an address change.

Based on this information you should always use the data that’s available and not take the easy way out with generic communications. I recommend targeted emails, outbound calls, targeted marketing in online/mobile banking, and account reviews.

Another important part of targeted marketing when it comes to prospecting is using the right channels. In my younger years I attended a conference in which Gary Vaynerchuk was the guest speaker. Vaynerchuk shamed us bankers for still advertising in newspapers and for not using social media.

At that time most of the conference attendees were using Facebook during their free time but the vast majority was still using traditional marketing channels to (try to) sell their products. Staying relevant and using your available customer data is a critical component to successful targeted marketing.

Consistency is a Key Element of Messaging

Consistency is essential. As a marketer you need to ensure that the brand remains consistent, the content on all channels is consistent and easy to understand, reviews are positive, and that it doesn’t take someone with a banking degree to understand your messages, products, services, and presentations.

Ditch Banking Jargon:

Bankers have a habit of using terms such as ACH, RDC, On Us, Reg CC, etc. These terms need to be limited to internal banker discussions. Consumers don’t understand them.

Using solutions such as Digital POS from inLighten, email services such as Constant Contact, and CRM solutions such as can assist with staying consistent.

How to be Bigger than Your Balance Sheet

When I worked at State Bank & Trust (now Cadence) the bank was trying to break into the Atlanta market. They had a strong presence in middle Georgia but weren’t well known in the city. To set the bank apart the chief deposit officer worked tirelessly to make the bank appear much larger than it really was. So how did State Bank do this on a community bank marketing budget?

  • Hiring a nontraditional web developer to build a unique website.
  • Negotiating a deal with a high-rise in Buckhead (an Atlanta suburb) to put the bank’s name on the building.
  • Sponsoring events at large venues and ultimately obtaining naming rights for a local amphitheater.
  • Working to improve products and services to better compete with the larger institutions.
  • Hiring top-tier talent to provide exceptional service.

These strategies allowed the bank to grow significantly in a very competitive market and in part led to its merger with Cadence.

At Planters First Bank we’re using our local broadcaster to run co-branded ads with our customers. This has allowed us to increase brand recognition in our growth markets and feature our valuable business customers.

You may be asking why we chose a traditional advertising channel such as TV. All markets are different. In middle Georgia the market is dominated by one channel. Additionally, this partner offered us access to streaming content and website advertising.

Sharing Marketing Funds Can be a Multiplier

By now you may be asking how one person, or a small team of marketers can focus on being the needle movers and not getting bogged down in the necessary but sometimes fruitless tasks.

Push Marketing Funds to Local Level:

Give each of your institution’s different markets a marketing budget that they oversee. This budget would be meant for such purposes as community sponsorships and local advertisements.

Taking this step gives the local experts the ability to focus on areas of importance in their market. Additionally, this allows the central marketing staff more time to focus on companywide initiatives.

Use technology, when available and cost efficient. If you’re lucky enough to have a full-service Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool such as Salesforce, use the automation available to send customer surveys, welcome emails and targeted communications.

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