25 Things More Important Than Online Social Media

This article is intended to help financial institutions maximize their marketing capital. It is an opportunity to weigh strategic priorities. As you review this list, please realize that The Financial Brand is not saying, “Social media has no value.” But many of the items on this list have arguably more impact than what 98% of financial firms have been able to achieve with social media so far. Please don’t feel bad if you don’t have many of these initiatives underway. It would be quite surprising if any bank or credit union has all of the following under control.

1. Define your brand — If you’re honest, you’ll admit your organization hasn’t really identified its true brand. An effective brand strategy should be able to align every aspect of your organization around one concept. Without an overarching, fundamental strategy, it’s hard to make any social media project fit with your brand or business model.

2. Develop a real Gen Y strategy — Don’t confuse “social media strategy” with “Gen Y strategy,” and vice versa. Social media is NOT a requirement to reach this audience. To successfully increase your Gen Y market share, you need a balanced approach that includes branches, products, events, financial edutainment, mobile banking, etc.

3. Develop a Gen Z strategy — When are you going to start planning for the next generation of banking consumers …Gen Z (or whatever term generational experts give Gen Y’s kids). In many ways, it’s too late to worry about Gen Y, as most of them already have basic banking relationships in place. Heck, in five years, the oldest members of Gen Y will be grandparents. It’s time to start worrying about what comes after Y. Don’t let Z sneak up on you the way Gen Y seems to have caught the financial industry off guard.

4. Non-traditional/guerilla marketing — Is your marketing plan on auto pilot? Do you just do the same things — newsletters, annual reports, the occasional print ad? If you’re looking to shake up your routine, you can try something arguably more fun and effective than online social media marketing. When was the last time you tried anything fun and crazy like setting up a “Banking Confessional” on the street or hosting a Guitar Hero duel? Financial marketing doesn’t have to be dull.

5. PFM — Few things have made as big a difference to consumers over the last couple years — from a practical perspective — as the introduction of online Personal Financial Management tools. These tools aggregate information from multiple financial institutions into a single view enabling consumers to track spending and manage all of their money online. Companies offering online PFM services like Mint, Geezeo and Jwaala have taken the financial industry by storm.

6. Develop an attack plan for a failed competitor – It looks like 2010 is on pace to match the number of banks that failed last year. Are there any distressed competitors in your market(s)? Be prepared and have a plan. You’ll scoop up a lot more business than anyone else — far more than your fair share. Take a look at how one credit union turned a bank’s demise into a golden opportunity.

7. Matrix mail — This is more than sending out a few letters and postcards every month. This is a highly-targeted, strategically-segmented approach to communications with your customers or members. The entire audience should be classified based on tenure of relationship and the products they already hold. Each segment you define should receive a strategic sequence of communications — one for people who have online banking but not billpay, one for those who have billpay but not mobile banking, another for those with term deposits that will expire soon, etc. If you have less than 25 different targeted messages, you still have some work to do.

8. Redesign your website — Your website is increasingly the first experience consumers have with your brand. What does it say about you? If you haven’t fundamentally redesigned in your website in the last five years, you’re way overdue for an overhaul. If you have 50+ links on your homepage, it’s time. And you know whether your website looks up-to-date…or like dung.

9. Secure your trademarks — It doesn’t take a lot of time nor cost a lot of money to pursue federally registered trademarks through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. At least start with your name, logo, slogan(s) and branded products. It may not seem that important, but protecting your hard-earned brand equity can be worth millions of dollars in legal battles down the road.

10. Online chat — Why should consumers who prefer online channels have to sacrifice access to the information and answers they need? With live online chat, you immediately address the needs of people who are interested in your products and services. It’s simple online conversation (like AOL Instant Messenger) that helps you simulate the dialogue that would naturally occur in your branches.

11. Optimize your website — The web is the most important channel for financial institutions today. The public has been actively using the internet for more than a decade now. People have become savvy and more finicky. Just being “faster” doesn’t cut it anymore. They expect everything in an instant. And yet you still run across bank and credit union websites that run like mud. Robbie Wright recently optimized TheFinancialBrand.com and cut load times by 60-85%. That means a lot to impatient people who are now sensitive to time in milliseconds.

12. Selling inside the online banking firewall — You have captive, engaged users inside a a trusted platform you control. If you aren’t using your online banking platform to promote your products, services, special deals and other marketing initiatives, you’re leaving easy money on the table. The publishers of Netbanker.com have an entire report dedicated to this subject. If your online banking provider limits you, it’s time to think about dumping them.

13. SEO/Adwords — What’s the point of having a beautiful, streamlined website with online chat if no one can find it? The ROI on Search Engine Optimization is measurable, and you can refine an AdWords strategy with precision down to the penny.

14. Remote deposit — There are so many different ways you can provide remote deposit options, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing it already. The more people you have making mobile- or online deposits, the fewer costly transactions you’ll have to process in your branches, and the more people you’ll have on your online banking platform.

15. Mobile banking — Does Gen Y really want to “engage” with your financial institution on the latest social media platform? Or would they prefer you give them maximum freedom and flexibility to manage their accounts wherever they go and with whatever device they prefer (or have handy)? Which leads us to…

16. iPhone app — Here’s a simple question. Which do you think your boss would be more impressed by: (A) 750 people following you on Twitter, (B) 750 fans/likers on Facebook, or (C) 750 people using your iPhone mobile application?

17. Online advertising — If you aren’t buying online ads yet, it’s time to get with it. Big or small, no matter what size your financial institution is, there is an online media plan that will work for you. You could probably take your entire print ad budget and shift it online.

18. More creative savings accounts — Savings is the new craze. But why does saving have to be so boring? For instance, consider goal-based savings and automatic savings plans like BofA’s Keep The Change, Wachovia’s Way 2 Save and Citizens Bank’s GoalTrack Savings. And how about prize-linked savings?

19. High-interest, online checking accounts — This is a classic quid-pro-quo. You pay people an interest rate they really love, and have them adopt the habits you’d like them to have in exchange. By requiring people to actively use online banking and their debit cards, you can afford to pay above-average rates.

20. Brand training for staff — You can tell staff that your brand is the most important thing in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t rewarding them accordingly. When was the last time you had a training session deliberately connecting to your brand strategy? Does HR use your brand to guide its policies and decisions? Remember that your brand is built by what you do/deliver, not by what you say/promise. It’s vital that staff be on board all the way.

21. Intranet — Even if you already have an employee intranet, it probably isn’t being utilized to its maximum potential. Or perhaps you have one that isn’t capable doing what you need. And if you don’t have one, you should get one. Employees complain endlessly about how little communication they get. Tackling the problems with your intranet may seem easy to dismiss as a lesser priority, but this is one area that can help get everyone on the same page (literally).

22. New core data processing system — If you thought the idea of wrangling with your intranet sounded unsavory, then you will have even less of an appetite for this initiative. The truth is that most financial institutions are handicapped by legacy systems. These systems are often kept alive with a crude form of life-support and band-aids. How many times has your team been excited about a new product or innovation only to be shot down by your core system’s limitations? Changing a financial institution’s data processing system is never pleasant, but if it’s holding you back you need to bite the bullet.

23. Online newsroom — Create a page on your website consolidating news, events, press releases, major promotions, etc. Allow comments and provide an RSS stream. Some people might call this a blog, but it isn’t really one. You’d keep it real professional. You could call it an online newsroom.

24. Strategic branch makeover — A substantial chunk of Gen Y uses branches every month, so you should use merchandising in your branches specifically to target this audience. Are you using branch merchandising to promote products and services designed just for Gen Y? Also deploy Gen Y-specific sales training and in-branch promotions.

25. Open new branches — Branches may be getting smaller, but they are no less relevant. Opening more branches has continued to be one of the most reliable ways for financial institutions to grow new banking relationships. Now is the right time to reevaluate your branch network. Where should you open new branches? Are there any unprofitable locations that should be closed.

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