Why marketing needs to be 24/7

These days, everyone’s online. A flexible, yearlong marketing calendar that leans heavily on digital platforms is key to keeping your community bank front and center.

By Ed Avis

Jim Oosterman once believed that spring is the only time to promote mortgage products, because that’s when people are looking to buy houses. Oosterman, vice president of $300 million-asset Melrose Bank in Melrose, Mass., didn’t bother promoting mortgages during the rest of the year. “As bankers, we thought we knew when we should do this kind of advertising,” he says. “But then we determined that being always on—that is, always promoting our mortgage services—is better than being frequently off. People are looking for mortgage information all the time.”

With his mortgage business, Oosterman has learned that consistent, regular marketing is an important element of a successful marketing campaign. Consistency helps a bank establish its brand in the community, and reminds customers and other stakeholders that the bank is still there, even as much larger competitors flood the world with their marketing.

“I think branding is critical, probably more so than it ever has been,” says Sarah Bacehowski, president of Mills Marketing, which focuses on financial institutions. “What I worry about for community banks is this whole evolution into the digital world, with all sorts of nonbank organizations getting into the banking space. Making sure you have a recognizable, consistent brand is important. And I think consistency is the key thing with branding.”

“We’ve always tried to keep our name front and center, but now it’s just so much easier with digital, because everybody is online.”
—Brad Tidwell,
Citizens National Bank

The online revolution
Consistent marketing can be deployed in many forms, but digital options make frequent marketing more affordable. “We’ve always tried to keep our name front and center, but now it’s just so much easier with digital, because everybody is online,” says Brad Tidwell, president and CEO of $2.25 billion-asset Citizens National Bank in Henderson, Texas. “Even my 82-year-old mother uses online banking. To me, that says that it’s very much multigenerational.”

Online marketing includes much more than a nice Facebook page, though. Key elements in a digital campaign include targeted web advertising, search engine optimization and text-based web promotions.

For example, Melrose Bank has invested in web advertising and Google AdWords to help draw people seeking mortgages to its website all year long. “Even though we’re a small bank, now we come up in second or third position whenever people search for ‘mortgage Melrose’ or ‘bank Melrose,’” Oosterman says.

Melrose Bank’s marketing efforts are facilitated by Pannos Marketing, a firm that specializes in marketing for financial institutions. Jim Pannos, the firm’s president and founder, is bullish on the power of digital marketing, especially how it allows marketers to pinpoint potential customers. “If someone goes on Google and types in ‘checking account in Bedford New Hampshire,’ that customer is specifically searching for a checking account and is ready to buy,” Pannos says. “You can lean on search engine optimization [SEO] to help your website show up higher in the list of results, and you can also pay for words to start showing up higher. That’s digital marketing.”

Pannos also helps its clients with remarketing, where a bank’s ads follow a potential client around the web. When a person visits a bank’s website, a cookie is placed on that person’s IP address, and for a couple of weeks thereafter, the bank’s web ads show up whenever the person is online, even if he or she is not at the bank’s own website.

Citizens National Bank, which is a client of Mills Marketing, takes advantage of Google’s vast trove of user data to target its advertising to its best potential customers. “If you pull up a Wall Street Journal article online, we target those IP addresses in certain ZIP codes, so a Citizens National Bank ad will show up in your newsfeed as you read that,” Tidwell says.

Targeted digital advertising like that helps Citizens National Bank achieve the consistency a good marketing campaign requires. “We believe we’re able to get our name, brand and identity out there to a much larger audience for much less money,” Tidwell says. “And we believe it has a [long-term] cumulative effect. If you see Citizens National Bank one time, you say ‘OK.’ If over two or three months you see it 10 times, the next time you need a bank, you may think of Citizens National Bank.”

Traditional marketing
The online revolution has diminished the potency of newspaper and broadcast advertising, but two traditional forms of marketing are still thriving among many banks: billboard advertising and sponsorships.

“I am a huge fan of billboards,” Bacehowski says. “For branding purposes, they are wonderful. Success with billboards is all about location. They know how many cars are passing by that billboard on a given day, so you can get a pretty good sense of the bang for your buck.”

Citizens National Bank consistently uses 20 to 25 billboards in its local area, Tidwell says. Most of the billboards are designed to show the community what the bank’s capabilities are, rather than to promote any particular product. For example, a recent billboard touted its online banking capabilities. “A billboard sitting in a good intersection is there 24 hours a day,” Tidwell says. “If 10,000 people drive past it, a lot of eyeballs see it.”

Similarly, sponsorships help keep a bank in local residents’ minds. For example, Melrose Bank supports Little League teams, the local high school robotics team, the Melrose Symphony Orchestra and other worthy organizations. “That gives us a lot of good visibility in the community,”

Oosterman says. “I think people say, ‘Look at the great things this bank is doing,’ and they want to support this. And I think people are tuned into, ‘If I want Melrose Bank to support my event, I need to bank there.’”

Citizens National Bank also uses sponsorships to build community awareness. “We feel that’s what differentiates us from the really large institutions,” Tidwell says. “Our headquarters is in Henderson, Texas, and we’ve got to help this community right here. We believe if we are a really good corporate citizen, then the citizenry will be good to us, because they appreciate what we’re doing.”

Built-in flexibility
Having a consistent marketing campaign requires planning, but the plan needs to be flexible enough to meet unexpected challenges and opportunities.

“Marketing has to be nimble and fluid, because the economy is in transition,” Pannos says. “In January 2017, if I had done a marketing plan, I can almost tell you for sure that none of my clients would have told me they wanted a strong CD campaign. But things changed, and in early 2017, we were doing four or five CD campaigns.”

Bacehowski says she creates a yearlong marketing calendar for her clients but keeps the details at medium level. “Having a fairly detailed road map, and staying disciplined, is important,” Bacehowski says. “That being said, weird things happen throughout the year—what if the Fed raises rates, or you buy somebody or get acquired?—so the plan needs to have some flexibility.”

“We determined that being always on … is better than being frequently off.”
—Jim Oosterman, Melrose Bank

Regardless of how detailed the plan, the key is consistently keeping your bank in front of customers, as Oosterman learned with his “always-on” mortgage campaign: “We’re writing significantly more mortgages now than we were before.”

How to make the press sit up and take notice: the editors’ view

When something positive happens at your community bank, don’t be afraid to shout about it. “Sharing good news is not boasting,” says Andrea Lahouze, Independent Banker’s deputy editor. “It’s celebrating success, and sharing how you achieved it can give others a practical roadmap to do the same.

“When I interview banks, they often seem shy about telling me about their achievements. But I remind them that sharing success with fellow ICBA members is like celebrating a team win.”

So you have a story to shout about—what’s next?

Make sure your press release is targeted and compelling. Choose the angle or facts you think will be most interesting or useful to the readers of the website or publication you’re targeting. Ensure your story idea is a good fit by looking at the kind of articles the publication typically runs.

Context matters. Editors might skim press releases for interesting achievements or facts, but the stories behind those facts are more likely to make us sit up and take notice. “Did your bank make an impressive number of loans in the past year? Share the ‘how’ that led to the end result,” says Lahouze.

Tailor your note for the magazine, newspaper or website you’re sending it to.
Make sure to put the name of the editor and/or the publication in the subject line or body of your email. Editors can tell when they’re just a number on a mailing list and will likely hit “delete.” A note that’s written with a particular publication or website in mind will stand a better chance of survival—and could even be the start of a lasting relationship.
Molly Bennett is executive editor of Independent Banker

Reaching the Latino market through newspapers and radio

Banks seeking to increase their market share in Spanish-speaking communities have learned that investing in weekly Spanish-language media plays a key role. “A number of years ago, we made a decision to put a lot of focus on the Hispanic community, and that demographic does still [use] some of the local Spanish newspapers and Spanish-language radio stations,” says Brad Tidwell of Citizens National Bank. “So, we do some degree of marketing in those papers and radio stations.”

Sarah Bacehowski, president of Mills Marketing, also recommends the use of Spanish-language media to clients when it’s appropriate. “We have many clients trying to reach the Hispanic market, and advertising in Hispanic newspapers makes sense because there is a specific group of people who read those newspapers,” she says.

According to the National Association of Hispanic Publications, there are nearly 2,000 Spanish or bilingual print publications in the United States.

Ed Avis is a writer in Illinois.