Should Financial Institutions Show Interest In Pinterest?

Pinterest is an online visual bulletin board and the current social media flavor of the month. Users “pin” photos of things they find that are cool and interesting. Photos commonly found on Pinterest include fashion items, recipes, motivational posters, inspirational quotes, pets and babies.

By Ron Shevlin, Senior Analyst with Aite

No doubt about it: Pinterest is the hot new social network. With 11 million unique visitors a month — and growing — marketers at financial institutions are being told that they should not just pay attention to the site, but begin to use it for marketing purposes:

  • Bank Innovation alerts financial institutions to the advertising potential of Pinterest in not one, but two separate blog posts: “If women are buying wedding shoes through Pinterest, I don’t see why people will not eventually buy banking services for those weddings through Pinterest.”
  • The That Credit Union Blog suggests that credit unions (or banks, conceivably) could create a Pinterest page that highlights money saving tips, co-op news, or community-related information.
  • CUES Skybox says credit unions could pin images of marketing materials at Pinterest. They explore using the service for a home equity promo, pinning images of great looking kitchens or a lovely pool. Or to promote an auto loan product, pin photos of cars at a local dealer where a credit union does indirect lending.
  • More generally speaking, Mashable advises marketers to use Pinterest to “promote a  lifestyle,” run contests, and create focus groups for marketing research purposes.

There is some sound rationale behind this advice. The composition of Pinterest users is heavily skewed to women, and there’s solid research behind the belief that women make the financial services decisions in a majority of the households in the United States.

But should your bank or credit union get involved with Pinterest?

“People go to Pinterest to look at cool, interesting and visual things. Banks are none of those.”
— The Financial Brand

I’m reminded of something my mother used to tell me when I told her my friends were all doing something: “If all your friends jumped off the Empire State Building, would you go jump off the Empire State Building?”

I’m not suggesting that exploring marketing opportunities on Pinterest, and failing to achieve meaningful results, would have the same dire consequences as jumping off a tall building. But I am suggesting that financial services marketers use a rigorous set of criteria for determining whether or not to “take the leap” on Pinterest.

When deciding to use Pinterest—or any other social network—financial services marketers should determine if it helps their organization achieve any of the following four marketing objectives.

1. Create Awareness

Does the social network help the bank or credit union generate awareness of the organization among a set of consumers?

Women are the target audience of many financial firms as well as the primary users of Pinterest. But with just 11 million users — yes, just 11 million — there is a strong case that other media channels can better be used to generate awareness. Most credit unions and banks (those below the $50 billion in assets) focus their advertising efforts in a very narrow geographical area, usually centered around their branch footprint. Creating awareness among the 1 million residents from the six counties in which your financial institution does business is best done with TV, radio, or print advertising — not Pinterest.

It’s analogous to Twitter. There are 500 million people on Twitter, only tiny fraction of that number see even a small percentage of each individual user’s tweet stream. Same thing with Pinterest. Just for argument’s sake, let’s say all 11 million Pinterest users fit your target prospect… So what? How can you be sure your ad would be seen any meaningful percentage?

2. Influence Preferences

Does the social network (Pinterest, in this case) help your bank or credit union sway consumers’ preferences, or their likelihood to do business with your organization instead of other financial institutions?

There is a lot of market research out there that purportedly identifies why consumers choose one bank or credit union over another — branch locations, rates and fees, customer service quality and reputation, referrals from family, friends, or other people, rewards, etc. But this list contains nothing that relates to Pinterest in any way.

3. Make a Sale

Does a social network like Pinterest help the bank or credit union open new accounts or generate revenue through other types of transactions?

Bank Innovation raises the point that Pinterest may take an active role in the transactions the site is facilitating, and that “payments must be an option it is considering, [which] has a bearing on banking, just as Facebook Credits have banking implications.”

True enough. But it’s very unlikely that any of those transactions will be the opening of checking or savings accounts, car loans, mortgages, or credit card accounts. Furthermore, while the potential for something like Pinterest Credits is a real possibility, any individual bank or credit union doesn’t have a lot it could do today to position itself for that future opportunity. The deal will likely go to one big bank and that’s it.

4. Engage Customers

Do social networks like Pinterest help the bank or credit union engage customers in meaningful ways that will increase the emotional connection the customer has to the organization?

Pinterest does do a good job of engaging its users. As Mashable writes, “Millions of people use Pinterest to keep track of objects they love, places they enjoy, foods they devour and things that inspire them.”

But from the perspective of an individual financial institution, engaging consumers on Pinterest is a lot easier said than done. Sure, a money savings tips page might engage consumers, but how will your customers and members find out about your Pinterest pages in the first place?

Through marketing efforts, of course. But marketing has limited resources, and competes for the  limited attention of consumers. While a campaign to make customers aware of a Pinterest page wouldn’t require a huge investment, why would a bank or credit union want to push its customers to a Pinterest page instead of the Facebook page it’s already created, or to the blog it’s created, or to the financial education pages it’s created on its own site?

Through the lens of these four key marketing objectives, we can now pose the question: Should banks and credit unions show interest in Pinterest?

The answer is clearly: No, not today.

Ron Shevlin is a senior analyst at Aite Group, a Boston-based research and advisory firm serving the financial services industry. You can pick up a copy of Ron’s latest book, Snarketing 2.0, at The book is a balance of keen, entertaining observations loaded with educational and practical advice that doesn’t pull any punches. Ron is a regular contributor here at The Financial Brand. You can read more from Ron on his blog, or follow Ron on Twitter.

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