Into Overdrive


Rev up your marketing and communications to be heard

By Chris Lorence

With the digital revolution in full swing, marketing to gain and retain customers has become one of the top concerns for businesses, including community banks. The days of being the only financial provider in town are long gone, because “local” banking now has the longer reach of the World Wide Web. Although consumers and small businesses still prefer to do business with community banks, they are often mesmerized by shiny offers that appear in their inbox from not-so-local providers. Companies that aren’t even banks now profess over satellite radio to offer “lifetime partnerships” and commitments to “make your dreams come true.”

Wait, isn’t a financial partnership and dream fulfilment what community banks have been doing for decades?

Fortunately for community banks, reputation and a local presence still play a major part in the financial relationship decision-making process for consumers and small businesses. Community banks, however, must turn up the volume on their own marketing and communications to be heard. The “we don’t need to market, everyone knows where we are” culture has to shift to be more proactive and deliberate in providing the marketplace, your marketplace, with why banking locally is more than just a checking or savings account.

Stop what you’re doing right now and look at your marketing budget. Now ask yourself, is it enough? Not compared to last year or compared to what you think someone across town is spending, but for your community bank to be seen as a serious option in its marketplace.

Consider target marketing to the customers whom you deem ideally suited to be your best customers. What are their attributes? Where are they located? What do you think they need or want to move their business to your bank? No, it won’t be easy because, yes, all the good ones are already taken, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be marketing. Your message will resonate if you spend the time to target and repeat. You obviously don’t want to be irritating, but a good bit of repetition is necessary to land the message at the right time.

It’s important that you bring more people into the marketing process than just the staff person labeled as “marketing.” Form a small, diverse group from within your bank, and ask the group members to bring in marketing materials they receive at home or find most appealing as they are watching TV or listening to the radio. Although you’re in the banking business, there is a lot to gain by monitoring other industries. Don’t initially focus on budget or message; think about your ideal audience and what you want to happen.

Keep two factors in mind as you go about changing your bank’s marketing culture from neutral to overdrive:

1. Message

  • Be succinct and to the point. You don’t need to explain everything in detail.
  • Be disciplined. Build a campaign and repeat messages over a period of time.
  • Be deliberate. Send messages to the most appropriate audience.

2. Embrace the new normal

  • People expect speed, accuracy and, most importantly, accessibility.
  • People want transparency and information formed into usable, mobile/social, media-friendly sound bites and infographics. Think pictures, not paragraphs.

Chris Lorence ( is ICBA’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.