How Financial Marketers Can Move Forward in Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reconsideration of how banks and credit unions connect with consumers and the public. Here's how two institutions have been adjusting their marketing thinking and practices before the crisis and how experience through it is changing their approaches.

Marketers have been presented with a complex but exciting moment to create a new narrative about their role within their financial institutions. Although many marketing teams have been steadily making progress towards increasing strategic importance, this pandemic has ushered marketing into a cultural reset. Marketers have become even more essential to developing sensitive, effective messaging and identifying shifted consumer priorities caused by the pandemic.

While these changes have been difficult, they have also created a positive opportunity for teams to demonstrate how important modern marketing truly is to the success of an organization.

Many marketing teams are now asking: How can we leverage our sudden short-term strategic importance into a long-term impact on our involvement in strategic decision making and goal setting?

For many, developing this long-term impact lies in the digital aspects of the customer experience, from assisting with digital adoption of banking tools to educating customers about the benefits and features of online banking to building connections with customers through digital channels.

In this article, marketing leaders from diverse, community-oriented financial institutions share how two essential elements of digital marketing — an audience-oriented strategy and flexible channels — are vital to creating peace-of-mind in banking, in both calm and turbulent times.

People First, Channels Second

A huge takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the importance of understanding what your audience really needs and wants from your organization.

Many financial institutions choose a channel-first approach without fully establishing whether or not that channel will actually be useful or relevant to their target audience, only to find later on they are not getting the results they expected. By contrast, an audience-first strategy requires more up-front investment of time and resources. However, in the long run, the latter will have a superior return on investment by making sure marketing efforts are concentrated on things that actually matter to consumers.

In one of Temenos’ recent webinars from the series The Power of Marketing in Uncertain Times, Jody Guetter, CFMP, VP/Director of Marketing and Sales at Minnwest Bank discussed the success of their Women in Agriculture series. According to Guetter, Minnwest serves a large agricultural community that has traditionally been hard to engage through digital communication and tools.

In an effort to learn more about the community they serve and celebrate their unique challenges and accomplishments, Guetter and her team began interviewing women in agriculture about their experiences in a historically male-dominated industry. The series launched on International Women’s Day in 2019. The posts were conversational, inspiring and have deepened engagement across their target demographics.

“As a community bank, we are not going to be successful if we do not uplift and celebrate our communities and take time to understand what they want and need,” said Guetter. “Our ag customers are probably not going to click on an ad or fill out a form to talk to a Minnwest representative they do not know, so we’ve spent a lot of time thinking of unique ways, like this series, to reach out and engage with them.”

Like the success of the Women in Agriculture series shows, choosing the right message and the right delivery is more effective than pumping as many channels as possible with a large quantity of mediocre content. To support an audience-first approach, organizations must understand how to use marketing channels to facilitate human connection and provide great experiences.

At ORNL Federal Credit Union, Social Media Specialist Courtney Oldendorf has seen this play out between credit union employees and their members.

“At ORNL, we have grown our social media following by 500% over the last three years, and our employees as well as our members are very active in interacting with our social media channels,” said Oldendorf.

Oldendorf chalks this up to the fact that their social channels are more focused on member service, providing education, and connecting on a human level.

“In fact, just recently one of our members was experiencing difficulty with our service and posted about it,” said Oldendorf. “An ORNL employee saw the post and jumped in to resolve the issue through that social media connection, and we were able to completely turn that experience around.”

ORNL has been creative in their use of social media, expanding outside the usual Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter combination. For example, ORNL has posted on forum-based sites like Reddit and has used YouTube to create short bite-sized videos that educate members about digital tools or provide insight into the ORNL community.

As even more members seek guidance for online banking while physical locations are closed, ORNL’s people-first approach to social media has helped them create an even deeper connection to their members during the pandemic.

Flexibility is the Future

The pandemic has interrupted many short-term activities and provided a chance to step back and re-evaluate what kind of action can be taken now that will still support long-term goals and strategy. Marketers are a key strategic component to facilitating digital adoption and supporting customers who may be trying to make sense of digital banking for the first time.

For example, Minnwest Bank created a “Bank at Home” kit to help their customers rapidly adjust to using online and digital services to complete banking activities while physical branches were closed.

“It was a really simple and clear step-by-step guide that helped many of our customers, who are mainly older and have not really adopted a lot of our digital tools, feel confident about banking at home,” said Guetter. “Not only that, it was a really good training guide for employees who were less familiar with the digital tools and needed to be able to help customers who called in or asked questions in the drive-through.”

Digital marketing also affords marketers the ability to pivot messaging and content quickly to be sensitive to member needs and provide information that is essential to financial health during a crisis.

“On our ORNL social media, we have almost completely removed any mention of products or making posts that encourage any kind of deposit-making behavior,” said Oldendorf. “We have increased posts about our relief products and payment deferments, and added inspirational community posts to keep our members engaged and provide reassurance in a chaotic time.”

Oldendorf also said they were shouted out on social media recently as a credit union that was doing things right compared to a bank that was seen promoting a high-interest credit card on social media.

“It feels good to know that these efforts are recognized and that it really is making an impact with our members,” said Oldendorf. ORNL was able to pivot quickly because this kind of content was already part of their long-term strategy that will continue to support their ever-increasing levels of member engagement and satisfaction.

Marketers Have the Power to Create Change

In this time of uncertainty, marketers have the power to create positive change. People need trust and stability to move forward, just as we have seen in every other period of economic and social disruption, and marketers have a proven ability to facilitate this new path. Our current climate has afforded banks and credit unions the opportunity to get back to the basics of human connection and empathy and empowered marketers to find flexible, creative ways to use digital tools and channels to amplify these messages, whether through content, social media, digital onboarding, and more.

Whether marketers already have a strong strategic presence in their organizations or are working with a smaller set of resources, there are endless creative ways they can contribute to an excellent customer experience during this pandemic and give their organizations deeper insight into the communities they serve.

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