How Bank Iowa built an award-winning brand

Using drones, Bank Iowa created 22 videos profiling each of the 22 communities it serves as part of its Bird’s Eye View campaign. Viewers who guessed the right town were entered into a drawing.

Bank Iowa generates out-of-the-box marketing campaigns, from capturing the 22 communities it serves in drone footage to distributing giveaways via Frisbees. The results, including several state and international awards, speak for themselves.

By Judith Sears

Name: Bank Iowa
Assets: $1.3 billion
Location: West Des Moines, Iowa

When Josh Fleming joined Bank Iowa in 2017 as its marketing director, he found a community bank that had generated a lot of customer loyalty, but not a lot of brand awareness in the 22 communities it serves.

“The good news was that those who knew us loved being clients of the bank, but not enough people knew who we were,” recalls Fleming, now vice president of marketing for the $1.3 billion-asset community bank in West Des Moines, Iowa.

With the support of senior leadership, Fleming and the marketing team set out to change that. They generated marketing initiatives that have since won awards, lifted Bank Iowa’s brand awareness by 13% among the general public and produced a noticeable increase in new consumer accounts in the past 18 months.

Fleming, whose background is in advertising, started with internal and external research. He hired a firm to survey a few hundred consumers. Meanwhile, Fleming and his team talked with Bank Iowa team members.

“We wanted to find out who we thought we were,” Fleming explains. “You can go out and sell a brand story, but if your people don’t believe it, it won’t stick.”

“You can go out and sell a brand story, but if your people don’t believe it, it won’t stick.”
—Josh Fleming, Bank Iowa

Fleming quickly discovered that the staff shared a deep desire to do whatever it takes to help customers achieve their goals. “Whether it’s a startup looking for a loan, a hospital that needs a new wing or funding for a new theater,” he says, “our attitude is, ‘How can we make it happen for those groups?’”

A common theme

Based on that mission, “Let’s Make it Happen” became the community bank’s overarching brand statement. With its messaging crystallized, Bank Iowa began to push out marketing campaigns.

One, called Bird’s Eye View, featured 22 drone-captured videos, one for each of the bank’s 22 communities.

Bank Iowa also produced teaser videos that challenged online viewers to guess which town the video featured. People who guessed correctly were entered into a drawing to receive $50 gift cards donated by local businesses. Bank Iowa purchased some Facebook advertising to spark interest online.

When Bank Iowa uploaded the videos to Facebook and YouTube, they were a big hit, far surpassing Fleming’s expectations and forging an immediate and strong connection between Bank Iowa and its communities.

“It really engaged people in a way we weren’t prepared for,” Fleming says, adding that viewers shared the videos and tagged friends on social media. “Some of these videos had 15,000 views for a town of 800 people.”

Good sports

Another award-winning campaign was the Catch the Bird sponsorship of the fifth-inning breaks for the Iowa Cubs, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. This campaign was specifically targeted to raise brand awareness in the Des Moines, Iowa, area where the community bank was less known.

During the fifth-inning break, Frisbees imprinted with Bank Iowa’s iconic bird logo were tossed into the stands. Fans who caught the Frisbees got either a $5 concession voucher or, in the case of one lucky fan, a $100 bill taped inside. An accompanying scoreboard video featured bank executives and team members talking about their commitment to giving back to the community.

A third award-winning campaign was created when Bank Iowa opened a new branch in Pella, Iowa, a 10,000-person town that celebrates its strong Dutch heritage. For this campaign, the marketing team took advantage of the geotargeting capabilities of the streaming platform Pandora, which meant that only residents in the Pella area heard the advertising. The internet radio spots used Dutch words, such as geweldig, or “awesome,” to tailor the message to the town’s heritage. “We were able to speak to that community in a language they could understand,” Fleming says.

Team support

Bank Iowa’s marketing team includes (left to right) Kennedy Van Rossum, Meghan Kearney, Megan Kiernan, Josh Fleming and Megan Hilger.

Looking ahead to future marketing campaigns, Fleming’s team will be careful to reinforce the bank’s message with team members. Using table tents, break room and internal meetings, the marketing efforts will remind team members of how they can support the campaigns.

In addition to accomplishing the goals of raising brand awareness, these campaigns won professional recognition from the Iowa Chapter of the American Marketing Association. The Bird’s Eye View campaign was awarded first place in Interactive Marketing; the Catch the Bird Campaign received second place in Marketing Communications; and the Pella Pandora campaign won third place in Advertising.

Quick stat


The increase in brand awareness of Bank Iowa among the general public following its marketing campaigns

Subsequently, Bank Iowa made videos of client stories illustrating the community bank’s “Let’s Make it Happen” branding and uploaded them to the bank’s Facebook and YouTube pages. The videos were recently honored with three bronze awards from the international Telly Awards, a 40-year-old awards program that receives more than 50,000 video and television entrants each year.

Fleming believes that Bank Iowa’s branding issues weren’t that different from many community banks’. “Community banks often tout community service and their people, and those are important to us, but they don’t necessarily distinguish us from anyone else,” he observes.

In this respect, Bank Iowa’s efforts to research and create a strong brand identity may have lessons that other community banks can draw on.

“I’m always surprised that banks don’t do more to differentiate themselves, as if banking doesn’t need to be interesting or engaging,” he concludes.

“A lot of banks are still running a lot of product and rate ads. I’m trying to steer toward brand awareness. There’s a lot of things you can do to separate yourselves, and we’re bearing some fruit by taking some calculated risks with our marketing.”

Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.