When it comes to customer acquisition tactics, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s budget. Here, experts give their take on the trends that can freshen up your community bank’s marketing plan as you strive to engage with new and existing customers.
By Julie Kendrick
Marketing is one of those budget line items that deserves a full assessment every single year. Trends and tactics shift constantly, meaning that community bank marketers have plenty to keep on top of. And with only about six months until budget planning for 2023 begins, it’s a good time to get started. We talked to experts to find out which marketing and advertising trends they’re keeping a close eye on. Here’s a list of high-tech, low-tech and tried-and-true tactics you’ll want to plan—and budget—for.
1. Start with the customer
Every good plan begins with “Step One.” When you’re planning next year’s marketing and advertising, allow some time to consider—and perhaps research—how your customers are feeling about the content and pace of your communications with them. With half a year ahead of you, there’s plenty of time to follow the advice of Emily Sayer, national sales director at customer experience feedback and analysis specialist Avannis in Centennial, Colo. She advises community banks to “slow down, step back and strip away some of the pressure they feel to communicate with their customers ad nauseum.”
“Consider a bank-wide plan that keeps in mind customer burnout in the current climate,” she adds. “[Don’t] start without a plan in place and then pile up drip marketing email upon text upon survey invitation email. Stand up for your customers—be a leader—and your customer experience and loyalty scores will benefit.”
“[Community banks should] slow down, step back and strip away some of the pressure they feel to communicate with their customers ad nauseum.”
–Emily Sayer, Avannis
2. Dive deep into data
“Banks will need to use their data more than they ever have before,” predicts David Acevedo, senior vice president and national sales director for 360 View, a Nashville, Tenn.-based CRM [customer relationship management] and marketing automation platform provider for financial institutions.
Acevedo says banks should take advantage of their wealth of customer data to enhance marketing efforts—from personal data and demographics to customer transaction histories.
“As you’re planning, that’s the time to leverage this data to create smarter segmentations and targeted campaigns,” he says. “It’s required now to stay competitive by offering personalization and smart marketing that today’s customers demand. There are tools available, like CRM and marketing solutions, that make accessing this data easy and actionable while not requiring a Ph.D. in analytics to start creating campaigns that deliver results.”
3. Prepare for a cookieless future
By 2023, Chrome, Safari and Firefox browsers will all have phased out support of third-party cookies, which are files that websites create to identify your device and track your behavior. That’s a bummer for many marketers, since cookies have been helpful in enhancing the customer experience and collecting lots of juicy ad-targeting data. Now that we’ll no longer know what our customers are doing when they aren’t banking online with us, should we panic?
Probably not, at least according to Austin Bader, director of digital strategy at Spurrier Group, a research, strategy and media agency based in Richmond, Va. “I think the death of the cookie has been overdramatized,” she says. “Yes, it will be hard and require changes, but there are plenty of digital publishers and sellers whose bottom lines are very closely tied to their ability to behaviorally target. [This] means they’re all working overtime to come up with an alternative solution that protects consumer privacy while also allowing advertisers to target them.”
It’s still early days, of course, but Bader says the most common anticipated solutions are things like “unique IDs,” which will function in much the same way as their predecessor, the cookie, did. Even so, this might be a good time to take a fresh look at how you’ve conducted behavioral targeting in the past and consider how you want to do it in the future.
“There’s still plenty of time to pressure-test new solutions,” Bader notes.
4. Already doing video? Next year, do more
Video is the king, queen and all the royals at your customers’ court of opinion. If it moves and talks, they want to see it, giving their precious time and attention to videos across all demographics, platforms and marketing approaches. If you don’t have video in your plan already, it should be a top consideration for next year. And if you’ve made the leap and incorporated video into your marketing and advertising messaging, look for ways you can step up your efforts—in quality, quantity and reach.
“Video is a tremendous platform, and it can significantly lower your cost to acquire if you’re using it in places like YouTube pre-roll [the ads that run before a video],” says Ben Pankonin, CEO and cofounder of digital marketing technology company Social Assurance in Lincoln, Neb. “Done correctly—and by that, I mean in an authentic way—it can really showcase the personality of your bank.”
Incorporating video into the mix doesn’t necessarily require a massive budget. In fact, taking a more DIY approach can be very effective, especially when compared with other tactics. Melanie Coleman, senior manager of strategy at marketing agency Pannos in Manchester, N.H., says video doesn’t need to be overthought, especially if you’re putting it up on all-video platforms like TikTok, where, she says, “finance” is one of the most popular topics. “This is the time to get your most personable bank teller to help you or give the new intern an assignment they’ll love.”
Her top tip for creating video that works? “Just don’t try too hard,” she says. “The worst word Gen Z uses to describe something is ‘fake.’ They hate marketing and advertising that isn’t authentic. Focus on what you’re good at.”
5. Don’t forget the old favorites
It’s fun to hop on board the latest shiny technology train, but you should also be aware of developments within more traditional marketing and advertising methods, many of which are experiencing a successful resurgence. Example number one is email. “I’ve been around just long enough that I remember email being the hot new technology, before it got spammy,” Coleman says. “And now here it is again. At our agency, we’re seeing clickthrough rates on purchased email lists that are 10% to 20%, on average.”
Another golden oldie, direct mail, may also be making a comeback. Coleman’s advice if you plan to try it: “You need to partner with a vendor that keeps a great list that’s clean and ready to go. And be mindful of how your customer will feel when they’re receiving this in their mailbox. It needs to make sense for their life and provide value in some way.”
Finally, Coleman says that in-person events are primed to be more important than they might have been, even in pre-pandemic years. “People are hungry to reconnect,” she says. Still, she offers the warning to prepare your boss, and even your board, for the “long-tail” nature of face-to-face interactions. “It should be done with the clear understanding that it’s a pure brand awareness play, not necessarily about getting a prospect to apply for a loan today. Of course, you should ask a lot of questions upfront and go into it understanding basics like how many people are expected to attend an event, or what is the likely number of impressions you’ll be receiving from ad placements, but you should let everyone know that the point is to make sure people know who you are.”
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pay off sometimes—at least eventually. “I’ve had clients who interacted with a prospect at an event in 2017 and they finally converted in 2020,” Coleman says.
6. Freshen up your website
“You should update your website every three years at a minimum and every five years at the most,” Coleman says. “We’ve had clients come to us with websites that are seven to 10 years old, and in tech years—which are longer than dog years—that’s like having an 80-year-old—or older!—site.”
“Things change rapidly in the tech world, and your customers are the first ones to notice.”
–Melanie Coleman, Pannos
She notes that Google is paying attention to what is working or not working. “They’ve indicated that website design does matter when it comes to search rankings,” she says. Don’t forget that what you do behind the glass matters as much as all the fancy new designs and updated images in front of the glass, Coleman adds. “The speed of page load time is already in the Google search algorithm.”
If you’re still having trouble selling a website revamp as part of next year’s marketing and advertising plan, Coleman has two thoughts for you. “First, because it’s a technical expense, you can capitalize it over three years. And second, it’s something that really has to be done if you want to be found and stay relevant,” she says. “Things change rapidly in the tech world, and your customers are the first ones to notice.”
Primer: the newer organic social options
If you’re looking for a smart way to supplement your plans for paid social media, you’ll want to have a strong game plan for using organic social. Just a reminder that, in this context, “organic” means “free,” and it refers to any content you put up on social media platforms. It can include photos, videos, text-only posts, memes, stories and more.
There are many reasons to maintain an on-brand and consistent presence in organic social. Done well, it can be one of the best ways to establish a personality and voice for your brand, strengthen relationships with existing customers and inspire or attract new prospects. It can also be an instant way to reach out to customers who are having service issues or who have pressing questions that aren’t being answered, for whatever reason, through your traditional customer service channels.
There are exciting new social concepts all the time, even on platforms that haven’t traditionally been hangouts for financial institutions but that now offer features that make them much more bank-friendly.
• Idea Pins on Pinterest. While Pinterest started as a place for things like wedding planning, vision boards and recipes, it’s now a powerhouse platform with an online community of 475 million Pinners. The multipage video format of Idea Pins allows you to publish high-quality, long-lasting, saveable content directly to Pinterest. For example, you could create a series of short videos looking at questions to ask during the home appraisal process.
• Instagram Guides. These were launched with the intention of offering a better way to share helpful recommendations in an easy-to-consume format. The Guides are set up so that readers can follow a curated flow of posts with commentary, and they’re especially good for step-by-step guides, tips and recommendations. One idea would be a guide to successfully applying for a small business loan.
With any social post, remember that your goal isn’t a hard sell of products or services. It’s to create engaging, quickfire, easy-to-understand content that tells the story of why your community bank is the best community bank for the user’s needs.
Lakeland Bank’s killer blog strategy
Posting fresh blog content regularly is key to moving up search rankings, but it takes more than posting any old article once a week to find success. Consistency, value of content, promotion/reuse on social and the right tone for your audience are all critical elements.
Lakeland’s investment in its blog pays off
page view increase
Increase in average
time on page
Increase in clicks
Increase in total impressions
Lakeland Bank in Oak Ridge, N.J., made a concerted effort in 2021 to strengthen its blog content and presence.
“Especially during the pandemic, we saw a greater need than ever to stay connected with customers, prospects and the community,” says Victoria Duffin, senior vice president, director of marketing for the $10 billion-asset community bank. “Our goal has been to regularly deliver content on topics that people care about, such as financial literacy and cybersecurity. It’s all being done with the objective to help them achieve financial stability and success.”
The results have been impressive. Lakeland Bank has seen a year-to-date page view increase of 55.86%, a 58.92% increase in average time on page, a 90.4% increase in clicks and a whopping 179.5% increase in total impressions. “As we’re planning and looking ahead to next year, we want to expand our efforts, increase the volume of content and find ways to increase our range of relevant topics,” says Duffin.
Her advice for other community banks looking to get into blogging in a more consistent and effective way? “Start small,” she says, “but don’t be afraid to start.”
Julie Kendrick is a writer in Minnesota.