The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly changed us all forever, including how today’s consumers gather information, socialize and connect with friends, family and communities.
Bank marketers need to acknowledge this shift and consider what it means for future marketing plans, bank operations, customer service channels and communication best practices. After all, you can’t develop a strategic marketing plan without talking about the market itself. It has always been critical for marketers to have a solid understanding of consumer behavior and available mediums to evaluate the opportunities and determine the best channels to reach the target audience at the right moment.
With the evolution that’s happened in the marketplace, digital and social channels have been at the forefront of most marketing plans. Rightfully so. That’s where consumers are spending their time more than ever. Banks specifically seem to be using digital and social media for five main categories — communication, connecting with the community, content distribution, crisis management and an extension of their customer service. Let’s take a deeper look into each one.
From branch closures and PPP information to employee highlights and financial literacy, banks have been using digital and social media to communicate with customers, COIs and other community members during the pandemic. But the use of these types of channels to help communicate timely events and occurrences has been popular among banks long before COVID-19. The difference between then and now is that now customers expect communication to appear on social media. In fact, they seek it out when something comes into question.
Having a communication strategy that incorporates all of the bank’s “owned” digital channels (e.g., website, online banking portal, social media, etc.) is not only convenient but also mandatory in today’s fast-paced world. Some of the best communication strategies during the pandemic were ones that anticipated and addressed customer inquiries, hurdles, questions and frustrations. Several banks not only communicated “ways to bank” on social media but also made handy-dandy reference sheets that customers came to rely on to get their banking done.
As you develop and optimize your bank’s communication strategy, anticipate the needs, problems and/or questions that your audience might have and develop your communication strategy and channel selection with resolution in mind. How can you help solve their need in the clearest, concise and efficient manner possible? That’s what you’re after.
Connecting with the Community
Human beings want to belong. In fact, we don’t just want it — we need it. The need to belong is an emotional need centered around being affiliated with and accepted by members of a group. Whether in person or virtually, we seek out communities of like-minded people — from professional sports teams and book clubs to fintech fanatics and single parent groups. We find “our people” because it gives us that sense of belonging.
The need to feel connected with like-minded people is in fact so strong that the social giant Facebook has restructured its entire platform to be centered around developing Groups and have more intimate, 1:1 type of conversations. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified this even more.
At a time when we were quarantining and following social distancing rules for our health and safety, we felt the void of not being able to see and connect with one another. There are multiple studies that take a deeper look at the impact of the lack of connection on our psyche. For most of us, it wasn’t good. For our youth … it especially wasn’t good. We need our people. We need our communities. We need to belong.
From a bank marketer’s perspective, what do you do with that? We’ve heard it time and time again: community banks are the cornerstones of their communities. They are the ones investing in and supporting small businesses, nonprofits, schools, churches, local sports organizations, local arts and the people who live and work there. Because of that, there is no other type of company better positioned to highlight and connect with the community than the bank.
Bank marketers need to find a way to advance the bank’s brand and to tell a story in a way that connects with community members at an emotional level. Bank marketers need to find ways to authentically highlight their bank’s purpose, find ways to provide value to community members and find the stories within the bank that matter to the people outside the bank. Digital channels — social media specifically — can help get these stories, tidbits and information out to people in a faster and more natural setting. In turn, this helps to humanize the bank and gives people something to believe in. As Patrick Hanlon said in his book Primal Branding, “when you believe you belong and when you belong you become an ambassador.” Ultimately, we want customers to feel like they belong and to be ambassadors for the bank’s brand.
When it comes to marketing best practices, content has been “king” for as long as I can remember. Every industry has some sort of content strategy in hopes of making an initial or deeper connection with their audience — even more so now as personalization, relevancy and “what’s in it for me” becomes the normal consumer’s response to marketing messages. What digital and social media has done to help with developing a successful content strategy is to simplify the distribution of the content and to create more opportunities to have a conversation around that content. The banks who are developing the best content not only know what their audience cares about, they know where their audience is and how to reach them.
Banks are used to developing comprehensive crisis management and risk mitigation plans for compliance, legal, reputation and operational risk. Because of that, bank marketers are typically well-equipped to deal with communication in difficult situations. Though it’s tempting to do so, don’t disappear during these moments. Show up with a well-thought-out communication strategy.
Consumer sentiment is constantly changing due to the pandemic and social issues, which means that marketers are often forced to pivot and adapt quickly. There are two types of communication strategies to consider: crisis communication and communication during a crisis. Crisis communication is a form of brand communication meant to mitigate damage to a brand’s reputation during a negative action or event caused by that brand (e.g., disgruntled employee, bad press, etc.). Communication during a crisis refers to communications from a brand during a widespread crisis that is bigger than the brand itself (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Texas power grid outage, etc.).
Regardless of which strategy is needed, communication must be well thought out, informative, empathetic and timely. One of the best things a bank marketer can do to properly address the situation is to ask a lot of questions. What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who is involved? How did it happen? How many people does this affect? How many people are aware? What has the bank done and/or has planned in response? Once you know those answers, you can start developing the proper strategy of knowing what to say and not to say.
It’s important that what you share feels relevant to what’s happening and authentic to your brand. Anticipate your audience’s emotions. Jot down what you think their questions, considerations and concerns might be. Be concise, clear and appropriate in your communication. Plan for how you will proactively communicate and reactively respond to information about it. Then make sure you know who is saying what and where it is being said.
Even before the pandemic, banks have been using digital channels and social media to enhance their customer service and customer care solutions. The pandemic emphasized how important timely and proactive communication is to an organization. It also highlighted the need for banks to respond quickly when customers had a question or need. The pandemic forced most consumers to adopt a more frequent use of digital means to communicate and transact with the companies they do business with — banks included. Therefore, banks need to evaluate their customer care channels and how best to show up when and where the customer is looking for help.
Evolution has certainly occurred. The role social media and digital marketing played for banks during the pandemic was of utmost importance. It gave banks an opportunity to show up in a timely and relevant way. It also gave banks the ability to be accessible when accessibility was rapidly changing and decreasing for businesses. It provided a more efficient means to resolve customer, business and community needs. And it allowed banks to “feel” and empathize with their audience, which made banks more likable and real. Overall, these were things banks have been working toward for years. The pandemic simply amplified the need and sped up the adoption of these practices. Now it’s time to laser in on what we’ve adopted, acknowledge that the changes we adopted are here to stay and find ways to optimize and improve even more. This is an exciting time to be a banker. Let’s continue to show up in a big way.