Doubling Down on Digital Marketing Strategies for Regional Banks

February 13, 2024
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    As every financial professional knows well, today’s bank isn’t your parents’ bank

    In fact, most consumers — especially Millennials, Gen Z and younger — see banks more as a concept than as a big building down at the corner. Post-pandemic most consumers have become accustomed to dealing with banks remotely, just as they deal remotely with other e-commerce providers.

    Regional banks sit at the heart of the local economy and community and often have the most loyalty. But as access to digital banking heats up, and competition with “trillionaire” banks, superregionals and even fintech competitors becomes fiercer, smaller regional banks need to employ new customer engagement strategies.

    But the good news is customers now accustomed to remote communications can be more readily reached by digital marketing, and digital marketing can be addressable, sequenced, responsive and measured — in efficient ways suited to regional banks’ more limited marketing budgets.

    Connecting the Right Offers to the Right People

    Digital marketing is no longer just about efficiency. If used strategically, it can more effectively communicate to account holders and would-be customers how the neighborhood bank better understands the needs of the specific community.

    In an age when a consumer can switch banks in a few moments while sitting at home, banks must incentivize customer relationships with specific benefits, beyond any imaging campaign. Not many customers feel warm and fuzzy about a bank brand these days.

    Conveying specific offers — like rates, fees or financial products that address the needs of senior citizens, small farmers, startup tech companies or other vital groups in the community — requires a measured stream of targeted messages that provide clear routes for customer action.

    It’s all about the Data

    Getting specific and conveying the right digital products to the right set of consumers — both current account holders and prospects — means having the right customer and consumer data and ensuring it’s up-to-date, accurate and properly linked to be able to activate effective campaigns.

    As an example, if the housing market is hot in a given regional bank’s territory, good deals on mortgages can be emphasized. If the housing market cools, a digital campaign can be refocused relatively quickly, compared to traditional marketing. Or if a neighborhood includes many consumers in the upper income brackets, a regional bank can utilize its customer records or first-party data to upsell those customers into wealth management services.

    As third-party cookies crumble and marketers have less access to consumer’s online data footprints, first-party data has become the center ring of a brand’s customer knowledge, and the more successful brands will be those that can best leverage their first-party data.

    First-party data enables cross-selling to one’s current customers, and the greater the relevancy of banking services, the higher the level of customer retention. Regional banks can power digital marketing with first-party data to direct the most relevant services toward their current customers, whether that’s for wealth marketing, mortgages or credit cards.

    And first-party data can also be utilized to find potential new customers, by messaging consumers who meet profiles similar to current customers. Beyond first-party data, targeted search terms — such as those seeking better interest or mortgage rates — can become another layer of outreach digital marketing to build a customer base, when utilized in search engine ads.

    Message Sequencing

    A key part of an effective digital marketing strategy is balancing between being noticeable in a crowded media landscape and being annoying. To accomplish this tightrope act, experienced digital marketers utilize carefully calibrated sequences of messages, across multiple platforms and at different points in the marketing funnel that stretches from potential customers to current customers.

    Such sequencing is one of digital marketing’s great strengths, and it is now boosted by the rise of ad-supported streaming TV services, since viewers’ logins enable a degree of addressability. As of last July, according to the Nielsen audience measurement service, streaming TV now accounts for the largest share of TV viewing.

    Ads on streaming services can address the top of the marketing funnel or brand awareness, exposing a broad swath of potential customers to the bank’s messaging. Ads on banking and other web sites can address the middle of the funnel — consumers who are interested but have not yet signed up.

    And targeted emails can reinforce that messaging further down the funnel, reaching existing customers.

    Efficiency Plus Measurability

    With regional banks’ more limited budgets, relevant messaging and message sequencing need measurability as well as efficiency. Even without third-party cookies, digital marketing offers opportunities for such accountability.

    If a digital ad leads to a quick online purchase, such as signing up for a new checking account, that trail can be tracked. But even complex banking products like mortgages, or less trackable events like increased foot traffic to a branch office, can be measured by comparing incremental increases to similar bumps in digital campaigns.

    And environments built around first-party data — such as Connected TV or email — lend themselves readily to measuring success without violating customer privacy.

    Growth Tied to Digital

    In 2021, McKinsey found that “growth leaders in developed markets increased total sales 10 percent by generating 40 percent growth in the digital channel while holding branch sales declines to single digits.” The research firm added that “a multichannel approach is 3.2 times more effective at boosting sales than reliance on a single channel.”

    Digital marketing is an intrinsic part of how regional banks reach and keep customers these days. Enabling a finely-honed sequence of messages to find, develop and maintain the relationships and relevant services is key to these bankers’ longevity.

    The better that regional banks fit their services and products to the needs of their particular communities — and the better they convey that match through their marketing — the better they will perform in this new landscape.