Jump-Start Your Financial Institution’s Digital Strategy

Everyone agrees, a digital strategy is essential for any bank or credit union in the current competitive mix. But it's a big leap from knowing that and having such a strategy. These eight steps will help accelerate your institution's digital transformation.

A hot topic among financial marketers is directing digital strategy on behalf of banks and credit unions. In this age of digital transformation, we’re all familiar with the term “digital strategy” — but what exactly does it mean?

From a marketing perspective, a digital strategy is defined as a management plan for maximizing data-driven and technology-focused tactics to answer business goals. That’s a mouthful to digest, so let’s break it down further.

Simply put, a digital strategy is a way to use advanced analytics and new media to increase your bottom line. Today, most banks and credit unions deliver some degree of digital strategy, but many institutions still struggle with putting clear parameters in place to ensure success. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of money being spent on marketing without clearly defined goals, no predetermined indicators of success, nor agreed-upon roadmap to get there.

With digital disruption being the order of the day, many financial marketers are guilty of “checking the box” on the latest boardroom buzzword or implementing a shotgun approach of marketing to the masses. Instead, we should be focused on putting together a contemporary, yet practical plan that’s right for the institution.

Let’s explore now how we can establish or enhance your bank or credit union’s digital strategy with a step-by-step approach.

1. Defining Business Goals In a Digital World

As the primary directive, every sound digital strategy should spring forth from an institution’s overall business strategy. For most institutions, the burning question is: How do we grow business in a cluttered and competitive financial marketplace?

Your digital strategy will help to answer this question, playing a large role in both the planning and the execution of your institution’s marketing mix. To set the tone for each new year, many institutions’ business goals are established in the fourth quarter, while department budgets are being set.

While most of these business goals do not deviate a whole lot from year to year, advances in technology, emerging markets, updated offerings, and new locations can impact your institution’s main priorities. Reassessing your institution’s high-level business goals helps to realign your overall marketing objectives and define your digital strategy. On the same token, your existing electronic solutions and big data should inform your institution’s goals. With the guiding principle of increasing revenue in mind, your digital strategy starts with identifying your institution’s specific business goals.

Aligned to your institution’s major selling points and biggest revenue streams, these business goals might include:

  • Build brand awareness of your financial institution
  • Acquire new customers or members
  • Increase account openings and loan applications
  • Generate leads for all banking products and services
  • Promote adoption of electronic banking services
  • Educate audiences with financial literacy
  • Encourage foot traffic to branches
  • Decrease customer service call volume

Tailoring to your institution’s specific offerings and profit centers, these business goals require internal approval by key stakeholders before becoming formalized within a marketing plan. The mindset is not to do marketing for marketing’s sake, so an effective digital strategy should always relate back to your main business goals and seek to achieve marketing objectives.

We must understand that a digital strategy is not the end all, be all. Rather, it should be considered a major piece of the puzzle that financial marketers are trying to solve. Therefore, every aspect of your digital strategy needs to purposefully work towards meeting your institution’s desired outcomes.

2. Which Metrics Drive Success?

Once your business goals have been identified, one of the most important pieces of your institution’s digital strategy is how to prove a positive return on investment. Institutions seek to answer the question: What will make this digital strategy a success?

To justify its online marketing budget, your institution must show a significant return on investment with both qualitative and quantitative results. With buy-in from C-level personnel and input from department heads, you need to establish aggressive, yet attainable markers that that line up with each of your business goals. This will allow you to assess ongoing activities, make the appropriate adjustments, and report on progress over time.

Typically, these numbers are determined based on past performance, increasing previous month-to-month and year-over-year results. Leveraging both internal and third-party reporting, these key performance indicators could include establishing target numbers for:

  • Brand exposure and loyalty
  • Customer/member satisfaction
  • New account openings
  • New loan applications
  • Page views and conversions from website traffic
  • Followers and engagements from social media marketing
  • Traffic from search engine optimization
  • Views and clicks from search engine marketing
  • Impressions and clicks from display advertising
  • Open rate and click-throughs from email marketing

Some benefits of a digital strategy are more difficult to quantify than others, such as customer/member satisfaction, brand exposure, marketing memorability, and loyalty to the institution. However, you can get a sense if your digital activities are hitting these marks by implementing custom analytics tracking, creating online surveys, utilizing ratings and reviews on your site, studying contact form submissions, and assessing feedback from your call center and customer service lines.

For business goals like account openings and loan applications, those numbers will have to come from your institution’s deposits and loans information derived from its sales and accounting departments, as well as pulled from online banking figures.

As far as the marketing metrics, your digital agency or in-house team can compile those numbers from widely used tracking services, as well as the insights provided by each social media platform and its advertising component. Other third-party results supplied by your email provider, various media outlets, and online banking provider can be verified through advanced site statistics, such as Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel tracking.

Thankfully, there are online resources and digital agencies available to assist in bring all these disparate metrics into view for your financial institution. Importantly, agreeing on what constitutes success will give your digital strategy meaning and help justify your annual budget.

Read More: The Four Pillars of Digital Transformation in Banking

3. Understand Your Digital Demographics

With your institution’s business goals and success metrics firmly established, the next step is to identify each of your target markets. Now is the time to ask yourself: Who are we trying to reach with our digital strategy?

Even though your institution may offer services beyond your geographical footprint, your market research starts with understanding the demographics that work and live near your locations. Because your key audiences likely reside in the towns and cities where your branches and ATMs are located, you should tailor your financial offerings to meet the needs of these individuals.

Reviewing historical data and current trends, your market research should combine both in-person investigation and big-data analysis. Conducting surveys and interviews with customers/members, service representatives, loan officers and branch personnel can shed more light on whom your institution should be targeting. Inversely, your ongoing digital initiatives can inform your institution’s current target markets.

Website statistics and online marketing metrics can provide invaluable insights into new and emerging audiences. Data collected from your consumer-facing website, as well as behind-the-login of your online banking will help you to identify your primary users and underserved markets. Online reporting tools, such as Google Analytics, Google Ads, Alexa and Moz can assist with the market research necessary for refining your online targets.

Focusing on generating more business, most financial institutions’ target audiences include:

  • Prospective customer/members
  • Existing customers/members
  • Potential employees
  • Digital banking users
  • Business owners
  • Investors

These target markets can be further segmented based on specific criteria, such as age, gender, income, education and location. Then, you can assign financial solutions to these market segments, such as matching a special mortgage for first-time home buyers.

Because nearly everyone is online these days, your target market should map closely to the same audiences that you are trying to reach in your branches via traditional marketing, yet with an emphasis on the online community. Your digital strategy can focus more on the coveted younger demographic who utilize online and mobile banking more than other audiences.

Social media marketing platforms with paid advertising features allow for targeting audiences by age, location, interest and more. Including in your digital strategy, institutions can target specific audiences easier than ever with today’s online marketing capabilities.

4. Create Buyer Personas

Based on your market research, a buyer persona is a representative profile intended to serve as a guide to target specific user groups. Buyer personas begin to address the question of: How can we better personalize our user experience to promote conversion?

Using real data about your existing customers/members, personas are representative descriptions of your ideal target audiences. Buyer personas help you to solve the pain points of your consumers along their financial journey.

When creating personas, you must consider the demographics, behavior patterns, motivations and goals of your end users. Your market research and user profiling should result in about six personas, representing each of your ideal target audiences. Each persona should have a name, an overview of that user’s demographical data and life stage, as well as his or her financial goals.

Evaluating all aspects of the user’s daily life, institutions develop personas factoring in personal background, roles and responsibilities, goals and values, challenges and opportunities, associations and networks, as well as preferences and adoption of technology. Since they seek to provide solutions to everyday financial issues, buyer profiles are closely associated with contemporary life events.

Depending on your institution’s business goals and target markets, your personas may be built around the following buyer profiles:

  • College student saving or affording college expenses
  • Young professional paying off debt and building credit
  • Home owners buying a first home or refinancing a mortgage
  • Business owner starting or managing a small business
  • Flourishing families saving and insuring for dependents
  • Mass affluents investing and accumulating wealth
  • Retirees readying for and living in retirement

Marketing personas inform the creation and implementation of appropriate personalized messaging to target specific audiences on your site. Personas can be set up within a content management system (CMS) equipped with advanced marketing functionality.

When a site visitor meets certain conditions, such as a designated GeoIP address or specific page views, he or she is automatically marked to a corresponding contact in the CMS and is subsequently shown personalized content on the website. This customized content guides users towards information that is most relevant to them. By allowing the user to quickly find desired financial education, resources, tools and products, your institution gains trust and increases its chance of an online conversion.

Form data submitted by users on your website can also be referenced to develop new personas and display personalized content based on the shared information. Personas are useful for website personalization, as well as refining target markets for paid advertising on social media and other sites that your end users frequently visit. An underrated element of any successful digital strategy, buyer personas become the basis for sophisticated content marketing, marketing automation, website personalization, remarketing tactics and email marketing.

5. Set Up The Right Digital Marketing Mix

With a deep understanding of what will drive revenue for your institution and whom you’re looking to reach, the next step of your digital strategy is to plan your marketing channels and tactics. Your marketing mix is the answer to: How do we effectively reach our institution’s target audiences?

As with each step along the way, analytics should drive your decision-making process. Look at the metrics surrounding your existing website and online promotions to discover what’s working and what’s not, as well as what might be missing from your digital strategy. It also doesn’t hurt to review how your competitors have found success, as well as investigating effective marketing tactics outside of the financial industry.

Once again, much of this research can be performed online and derived from your own sources of big data. You must choose the marketing channels that have worked the most for your institution in the past and seem worth investing in moving forward.

Traditional marketing, including as print advertising, direct mail, statement stuffers, in-branch signage, and billboards still have their place. However, the expense of printing, placing and updating these time-honored tactics can be cost prohibitive to your institution, while measuring their success can also prove to be difficult. That’s why institutions are increasingly devoting more time, money and effort towards online marketing platforms to reach target audiences. The emphasis on online marketing is why devising your digital strategy is critical to your financial institution’s profitability.

Backed by historical data and market research, your institution’s marketing channels may include:

  • Online marketing (banner ads, display ads, landing pages, etc.)
  • Search engine optimization (keyword research, meta tagging, content direction, etc.)
  • Social media marketing (engaging on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
  • Search engine marketing (pay-per-click via Google Ads, Bing Ads)
  • Content marketing (inbound marketing, press releases, blog articles, etc.)
  • Email marketing (promotional emails, e-newsletters, etc.)
  • Marketing automation (website personalization, remarketing, etc.)

Your marketing mix will likely rely heavily on any or all these digital marketing tactics, whereas each should drive to your institution’s website for sophisticated tracking and ultimate conversion. That’s why your website can be considered your ultimate marketing channel. Even your offline marketing will likely push audiences to your website either by including your web address or inspiring your targets to learn more by visiting the site on their preferred device.

As the online hub for all your marketing activities, it should be optimized for search, designed for desktop and mobile viewing, and comply with today’s conformance standards for web accessibility. That’s why it is recommended to redesign your consumer-facing site every few years, updating with the latest functionality and ensuring an enhanced user experience.

A website audit can identify strengths and weaknesses with your current site, which is beneficial when planning a redesign. With advances in marketing automation, third-party resources, and financial content, a site redesign can take your existing promotional plan to the next level. Fueled by online marketing tactics, your website should be the engine that drives your digital strategy.

6. Create a Powerful Content Strategy

By this step in devising your institution’s digital strategy, you should have identified what you’re seeking to accomplish, how you’ll measure success, who you are targeting, what your audience’s needs are, and what tactics you’re going to use to reach them. Now it’s time to focus on your content strategy, asking What content should we promote to generate leads for the institution?

Your content strategy is the management of your institution’s proprietary media, which includes all owned content in every conceivable format. By educating your end users, content marketing is a cost-effective method of using homespun information to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, create trust and generate new leads.

Experimenting with your distribution methods, you can publish your content organically or pay to promote it. The deliverables can be in print or online, text or image, tangible or digital. As long as it is authored by your bank or credit union, then it qualifies as your content. Popular content types for banks and credit unions include blog articles, case studies, contests, FAQs, how-to guides, infographics, podcasts, press releases, slide shares, social media posts, videos, webinars, whitepapers, and much more.

Your content helps to position your institution as an expert within the industry, showcasing authors from your team as thought leaders in the financial sector. Delivering valuable information that can help users solve their daily problems and achieve their financial dreams, quality content attracts prospects and supports relationships with members/customers.

Similar to developing your overarching digital strategy, your institution’s content strategy is manifested by the following steps:

  • Determine your content marketing team
  • State your content marketing objectives
  • Adhere to your buyer personas
  • Perform an audit of existing materials
  • Generate ideas for new content
  • Manage content in a capable CMS
  • Plan your different content types
  • Create your content in house or with an agency
  • Publish and promote your content
  • Report on content engagement

Enabling a content strategy requires dedicated people, a workable plan, a feature-laden CMS, distribution channels, and of course, plenty of quality content. A content calendar is highly recommended to assist in coordinating all these moving parts, by sharing your planned content to be distributed on a monthly basis. Useful in providing direction, documenting content, scheduling publication and obtaining approvals, the content calendar should be accessible by everyone on the content marketing team, from your institution’s writing team to its compliance department.

The content calendar become your living document for plotting out content throughout the year, planning around key promotions and events, and identifying lulls or opportunities in advance. While your content calendar should be as buttoned up as possible, you can still post spontaneously for important updates and timely news.

The idea is to have enough content scheduled out to stay in front of your consumers, while leaving enough flexibility as opportunities arise. Whether working with a digital agency or your own internal team, it’s a best practice to use a content calendar rather than flying by the seat of your pants. After all, quality content takes time to produce. The content calendar serves as a timeline, repository of content and action plan for your content marketing. With a well-planned content calendar, your content marketing becomes that much easier to manage, plugging in seamlessly to activate your digital strategy.

7. Determine Your Paid Advertising Budget

With most of the upfront planning and preparation nearly wrapped up, it’s time to figure out the proposed advertising budget for your digital strategy. As a significant chunk of your overall marketing budget, your paid advertising budget estimates, How much are we going to need to spend on digital advertising this year?

Given the current economy, the relative health of financial institutions, and recent increases in marketing budgets for banks and credit unions, your allotted media budget will need to increase this year to maintain or increase your paid promotions. Your advertising budget is essential to sustain your institution’s online marketing initiatives, including display advertising on third-party sites, paid amplification on social media channels, as well as pay per click (PPC) campaigns in Google and Bing.

Now more than ever, it’s a “pay to play” environment on the Internet, where widely used online channels require advertising dollars in exchange for a better chance of your brand being seen. An organic post on Facebook or an organic search result on Google might not be seen by everyone in your target audience, but sponsored content at least has a chance. That’s why it’s crucial to have an adequate amount of funding earmarked for paid advertising within your digital strategy.

To help arrive at a realistic annual paid advertising budget, consider the following:

  • Determine if what you spent last year was enough
  • Factor in any new online marketing activities
  • Subtract spend on tactics that didn’t work
  • Adjust for increases in tactics that were successful
  • Compare your budget against other comparative institutions
  • Shift dollars from traditional marketing spend to online
  • Research the suggested ad spend on each planned online marketing channel

As with every other step in developing your digital strategy, your institution’s business goals should drive your budgetary allotments. You will need to perform calculated estimations factoring in past and projected performance with internal costs of account applications and closing loans – all in relation to your annual marketing objectives.

To illustrate, your institution’s end-of-year goal might be to originate $5,000,000 million in new home mortgages. By doing some forecasting, you estimate that new mortgages can be acquired at $250 each through paid online marketing. If your average home mortgage is $250,000 with applications closing at a rate of 10%, then acquiring each funded loan would cost about $2,500 each. So, it would take 20 loans of $250,000 each to reach your $5,000,000 yearly goal. Based on 20 new loans at a cost of $2,500 each, you can estimate that your online marketing budget for auto loans should be about $50,000.

This example is just for estimating your digital spend for home mortgages. You’ll need to perform the same estimations for all the products that you’re looking to promote online throughout the year in order to present an itemized and rolled-up annual budget for internal approval. Establishing your annual ad spend rounds out the preparation of your digital strategy.

8. Measure, Monitor And Adjust

With your digital strategy approved and its online marketing tactics underway, you need to continually manage your ongoing activities throughout the year. This is when you ask yourself, How do we make sure our digital strategy is actually working?

Every day, your marketing team should be keeping an eye on how your online marketing initiatives are performing and making the requisite adjustments for optimizations. You’ll want to stay on top of your social media and search marketing metrics, adjusting the ad spends and creatives for optimal performance. This also means obtaining reports from your media outlets and third-party applications to see if your interactive tools and display ads are performing.

It’s also a good idea to proactively plan SEO tactics for key products and services throughout the year. If keeping track of all these different elements seems like too much of a daunting task, a digital agency with data analysts can assist. Additionally, the digital platforms that you’re using combined with other statistical services specializing in online reporting can help bring everything into focus for your institution.

The following is a list of the types of essential platforms and valuable tools that can be useful in managing your digital strategy:

  • Content management systems, such as Kentico CMS
  • Customer relationship management systems, such as SalesForce
  • Full-service dashboards, such as Megalytics
  • Marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot
  • Mobile device metrics, such as Mixpanel
  • Project management tools, such as BaseCamp
  • Search engine marketing reports, such as Google Ads
  • Social media marketing reports, such as Facebook Insights
  • Social media management tools, such as HootSuite
  • Website statistics, such as Google Analytics

Most importantly, you will need to scrutinize your website statistics. Google Analytics is the most widely used website reporting platform, because it is free, tied to the Google suite of services, and offers robust metrics. You can create custom dashboards in Google Data Studio to make reviewing your website’s performance easier to follow and share with vested parties at your institution.

These reports can be automatically generated and sent to your inbox for added convenience. In addition, Google Tag Manager (GTM) allows you to centrally manage event tracking on the site, integrating with Google Analytics and Data Studio to report on how users are finding their way to the site and what they are clicking on once they arrive on pages.

With many online banking platforms allowing your institution’s Google’s tracking code to be placed, GTM is an invaluable tool for studying the customer journey along your online sales funnel. Similarly, the Facebook Pixel helps to understand how users are interacting with your site after being driven there from Facebook, so you can tweak your social media marketing campaigns to increase conversions.

Furthermore, your CMS will offer valuable insights into how your content marketing initiatives are performing, permitting you to adjust your content, promotions and landing pages. Reviewing how your digital strategy is performing throughout the year is how you’ll be able to continually improve your online marketing initiatives, increase your return on investment, and plan for the forthcoming year.

Bringing it Full Circle For Optimal Results

While reviewing these steps for developing a successful digital strategy for your financial institution, you may have noticed a few reoccurring themes. First and foremost, every aspect of your digital strategy must align to your institution’s overall business goals. The more specific you can be with your annual numbers, the better. The audiences you target, the buyer personas you create, the online tactics you choose, the ad spends you estimate — everything you do digitally should adhere to the numbers you’re trying to achieve. Ensuring that each component of your digital strategy adheres to achieving a quantifiable target will help to keep your team and tactics on track throughout the year.

Secondly, analytics should also inform your digital strategy every step of the way. The more in tune with how your online marketing tactics, consumer-facing website, and online banking platform are performing, the better your digital strategy will be. Your reporting will allow you to better enhance current initiatives, plan future budgets, and report on ROI. A deep understanding of your historical data will help you to improve what you’re doing digitally now and in the future.

Thirdly, there are people and resources available to help you with your institution’s digital strategy. With so many moving parts, you’ll need to put together an internal team of professionals from inside the institution. For the day-to-day, this will likely be the responsibility of the marketing team with support from staff designers and writers. However, your information technology team, compliance department and C-suite will all like play a role with development, reviews, and approvals.

Again, a digital agency can help you to devise your digital strategy, manage its associated channels, and implement its online marketing tactics. Furthermore, take advantage of the third-party platforms and interactive tools available to automate and simplify your digital marketing and reporting efforts.

Just keep in mind that an effective digital strategy should be distinctively yours. Keeping your institution’s business goals and daily analytics in the forefront, your digital strategy can successfully increase the bottom line for your institution.

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