Digital marketing tools your bank should know about

Illustrations: Blind Salida

Digital marketing is evolving rapidly to meet customers where they are. We look at how remarketing, geofencing and other techniques can help your community bank get the word out.

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Shopping for financial products and services has changed drastically in the past five years. Worldwide, more than 4 billion people use the internet, and more than 2 billion people use smartphones.

Michael Carroll, senior vice president and marketing and communications officer for $310 million-asset Dean Bank in Franklin, Mass., says mobile devices have become the “weapon of choice” for the modern consumer—and community banks must adapt or risk falling by the wayside.

“Marketing in the digital space is vital to our growth in the marketplace.”
—Michael Carroll, Dean Bank

“Community banks must be present when a consumer conducts a product search, and digital marketing levels the playing field a bit,” Carroll explains. “Marketing in the digital space is vital to our growth in the marketplace. For a small community bank, our budget is limited compared with the bigger player, so it’s imperative to choose when and where to employ digital marketing strategies.”

SEO know-how

The first challenge is ensuring customers can find your community bank easily. In a search engine like Google, Carroll says, the combination of a few keywords determines which financial institution shows up first in search results. Using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques when building websites and writing copy is something everyone should be doing.

“Having your bank on the first page of the Google search results is so important. No one really clicks on page two.”
—Amanda Rowe, Pannos Marketing

“It’s not an option,” says Amanda Rowe, senior vice president of delivery at Pannos Marketing in Bedford, N.H. “When you think about how consumers purchase products nowadays, they typically take out their phones or laptops and Google information about the product. Having your bank on the first page of the Google search results is so important. No one really clicks on page two.”

Another way for a bank’s website to come higher in search results is by linking to other sites that mention the bank, a strategy called backlinking. According to Rowe, these backlinks could include bloggers and individuals who comment about the bank on social media sites. The more quality sites that mention a bank’s name, the more likely the institution will come higher in Google searches.

Building a knowledge base

Beyond SEO, banks can also employ remarketing strategies. Remarketing is a way to connect with customers who may have visited your site but did not take an action like making a purchase or filling out a form for more information. It works by placing a cookie—a small piece of data—on a person’s computer when they visit your website. This enables your ads to “follow” the person wherever they browse on the internet, including via apps like Instagram and Twitter, Rowe says.

“Some banks are hesitant to do this, because they are concerned that the privacy rules in Europe [the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR] will eventually be adopted in the U.S.,” Rowe says. “We often hear from community banks that remarketing ads could be perceived as capturing data on people, but a lot of marketing is using cookies, so they’re not getting personally identifiable information on people. The cookies are just identifying which websites they are visiting.”

The advent of digital marketing has also spawned an industry of directory sites that utilize data gleaned from third-party data aggregators to provide information to consumers about thousands of banks.

But sometimes, information such as bank phone numbers is incorrect, Rowe says. Companies including BrightLocal, Yext and Moz can help banks find these listings and determine when corrections they need to request.

Rowe’s number-one piece of advice for community banks hoping to advance their own digital marketing efforts? “Just get started.”

“Some banks wait to enhance their website or create a mobile banking app because they don’t have the capabilities to let people complete online loan applications, or they don’t know what to focus on,” she says. “But banks shouldn’t wait. They can get help from an agency to develop a new website or app with some functionalities.”

That way, community banks can have a digital presence, even if a customer still has to pick up the phone or walk into a branch to open an account, Rowe says.

“If you don’t have a digital presence, you’re really invisible,” she adds.

The data is in the details

Digital marketing can be particularly powerful for banks, because they have access to more customer information than almost any other industry, says Neal Reynolds, president of, an Atlanta-based provider of marketing tools for the web.

“Amazon might know that you recently purchased a baby blanket for your grandchild and can recommend a Pack ‘n Play, a high chair, a pacifier or baby shampoo,” Reynolds says. “But your bank knows if a customer is using their debit card or writing checks at Home Depot for granite countertops and brushed nickel faucets, and as such, they probably could use a home equity loan.”

Email marketing continues to evolve through automation, and community banks can capitalize on those technological advances. Reynolds gives the example of a community bank sending a targeted follow-up email when a customer clicks a link about a certain product in an initial, broader-based email from the bank.

“Better yet, have one of the bank’s salespeople pick up the phone and contact that person,” Reynolds says. “I’d wait an hour or two after they click, or they might get a little freaked out.”
Community banks can also use Facebook to target prospective customers using many factors, including their email address or phone number, Reynolds adds, and banks only pay when the prospects click on their ads.

For example, a bank could target customers who purchase remodeling materials on Home Depot’s website, and then, using cookies, place home equity ads on Facebook that those customers would see when visiting that site.

Be where they are

Geotargeting and geofencing are emerging digital technologies that can be very powerful, Reynolds says. Geotargeting uses GPS to present local ads to someone based on their geographic location. Geofencing uses GPS or radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to make a boundary line. When the GPS on someone’s phone recognizes that they have entered or left the determined boundary, it will trigger an action. That action could be almost anything, from a coupon text to a targeted ad on social media, to automatically turning on the lights when a person arrives home.

Community banks can also use geotargeting or geofencing to target new employees of companies that are entering or expanding into a community, Reynolds adds. For example, Atlanta is on Amazon’s list of prospective cities in which to build a second $5 billion headquarters complex, which would add 50,000 jobs. If chosen, many people will likely move from out of town to work at Amazon.

“A smart bank can use geotargeting to reach those employees at that one location, promoting multiple bank products and services, including checking accounts and home loans,” Reynolds says.

Add some ads

One of the most effective methods of connecting with prospects is buying online advertising based on demographics, geographics and customer internet activity. The ad should present users with an immediate opportunity to “take action” with a simple click or tap, says Jeffrey V. Bibb, managing partner at BLF Marketing in Clarksville, Tenn. With the help of an agency, community banks can create dedicated webpages for selected product promotions, complete with engaging graphics, video, animation and “take action” links.

“This strategy gets your message, brand and ‘call to action’ in front of potential customers who are in the mood to buy,” Bibb says. “You will also have valuable online activity reports, so you will be even better with your next online campaign.”

4 billion+

internet users worldwide

2 billion+

smartphone users worldwide

Short videos can be effective methods of communication, but community banks should think through the many ways they can use segments of the video in 10- to 20-second increments, so they can deliver a relevant visual message to their intended audience and provide the option for them to take immediate action via click or tap, Bibb advises. Some deployment examples include online advertising, targeted emails with embedded video, social media posts and click-to-play links on relevant pages of the bank’s website.

“Give your digital advertising and/or videos enough time to be seen, remembered and soaked-in. A six-week run is exponentially more effective than a two-week run,” Bibb says. “Also, don’t forget to send video play links to bank personnel to keep them in the loop.”
If your community bank is in a multiethnic, multilingual area, consider videos that work well without sound or even use subtitles to reach the widest possible audience. This approach is also effective more broadly, as many people keep their phone’s sound off while browsing.

What about privacy?

To mitigate privacy concerns, Bibb recommends that community banks seek input from their compliance and operations teams on a prospective campaign, including an outline that clearly states the campaign’s objectives and desired results. Compliance and operations staff should sign off on the campaign’s target audiences, as well as any special pricing, offers or incentives the marketing team wants to include.

The beauty of digital marketing is that it empowers marketers to increase the relevance of messages in a more automated and efficient way, says Rob Heiser, cofounder and CEO of Segmint Inc., a financial technology company based in Akron, Ohio.

“If set up properly, campaigns are left at an ‘always-on’ state and triggered based on each individual’s data, rather than the seasonality of the offer, such as mortgage ads in the spring.”
—Rob Heiser, Segmint Inc.

“If set up properly, campaigns are left at an ‘always-on’ state and triggered based on each individual’s data, rather than the seasonality of the offer, such as mortgage ads in the spring,” Heiser says. “This means that as the customer visits the bank’s website, online banking site or mobile banking app, the most relevant message based on the individual’s data is displayed.”

Through retargeting and real-time bidding, in which ad inventory is bought and sold on a per-impression basis via instant auction, banks can send millions of targeted messages to existing and potential customers online. Consumers nowadays appreciate ads that are personally relevant to them, says Heiser. “Oftentimes, customers are seeing promotions for products they already have with the bank or a competitor,” he says. “Not only is this wasting thousands, maybe even millions, of customer interactions and opportunities to cross-sell the right products or provide valuable financial advice, but it is also frustrating to the customer.”

When developing targeted marketing messages, banks may already have the information they need, because they can leverage data from all of their data assets: core data, online bill pay, ACH transactions, debit and credit card transactions and web interactions, Heiser says.

“Your customer transaction data will tell you a lot more about your customers’ lifestyles, interests and upcoming life events than broad segments based solely on demographic, geographic and browsing activity,” he says.

An easy first step? Analyze ACH data to best understand which competitive products customers have already purchased.

“This will define what the market opportunity is within your existing customer base and how to better position your products in the market, evolve that product and research that product,” Heiser says. “Ultimately, this intelligence empowers your marketing and overall business strategy.”

Expert tip:
Profile your most profitable customers first

Targeted digital marketing can be “marketing gold,” but it can only be effective if banks zero in on who they want to attract.

“Banks need to create profiles of customers who are the most profitable,” says Sarah Bacehowski, president of Mills Financial Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa. “Say a bank has been able to attract three or four dental practices that are doing everything with the bank and are really happy. The bank can replicate that by creating a profile of the characteristics of those businesses.”

Establishing profiles can help banks better locate prospective customers with those characteristics when they surf the internet, Bacehowski says. Banks can use remarketing and other advanced digital marketing tools to place ads on sites these individuals visit.

“It’s a pretty simple concept, but sometimes banks forget to do the first part: create profiles,” she says. “Instead, they guess particular websites that might be good places to advertise to their target audience, but they don’t really know if these sites are actually being visited by people whom the bank is trying to reach.”

Creating profiles can be easier said than done, particularly for smaller community banks, but there are companies that can help them, Bacehowski says.

“Banks have an insane amount of data, but it tends to be housed in different systems that don’t speak to one another, and so it can be difficult to pull data into a comprehensive list to create profiles,” she says.

Build a toolbox

That hurdle can be overcome by using tools from data integrator companies that can pull and integrate information from all of a bank’s data silos. This superstore of data can then be stored in one area where the bank can pull information and create profiles on profitable customers, Bacehowski says. Banks can either hire data analysts or outsource to a local agency to help them determine which type of customer data would be the most effective to include within each profile.

The endeavor is worth investing in, she says, because digital marketing provides banks the ability to track and measure the success of campaigns in ways that simply did not exist before.

“You can follow user paths, track clicks and also determine how many people abandon shopping completely,” Bacehowski says. “You know how many ads were put out into the digital world and how many were actually read, compared with the traditional way, when you place an ad and you have no idea how many people are seeing it.

“Creating profiles gives you a better place to start and should give you more confidence that you have the information backing up the capability to target customers that you choose.”

Expert tip:
Invest in mortgage mobile, remarketing and retargeting

To keep up with its mobile customers, Farmers National Bank in Canfield, Ohio, has become laser-focused on digital strategies that include mortgage mobile, remarketing and retargeting, says Marla Pieton, vice president, marketing manager at the $2.2 billion-asset community bank.

Through a partnership with Segmint Inc., Pieton says Farmers is retargeting by running “always-on campaigns,” which use customers’ product data, product utilization, transactions and website visitor information to produce personalized experiences.

“We then remarket to our customers based on personalized data, their interactions and behavior on our website,” she says. “The data enables us to then build email communications based on products and/or services the customer has shown interest in.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a writer in California.