Conference season is just getting started. And no matter what conference you attend, you're guaranteed to hear some digital marketing tips, tricks, and tactics that promise to help you get ahead and beat your competition.

For example:

  • “A website welcome mat can 10x your subscribers and leads!”
  • “Double your content shares by adding social media buttons before AND after your blog articles.”
  • “Are you embedding tweets for social proof? These can skyrocket consumer trust!”

But there’s a problem with these tricks. They don’t offer any real substance. At best, they simply scratch the surface of growth opportunity and potential that lies deep below. And at worst, they provide no real value for neither the prospective customer nor the organization.

This is also why many financial executives don’t trust marketing. When focusing on superficial activities, you’ll only get superficial results.

Let’s Go Deeper with Digital Growth

It’s time to go beyond reporting vanity metrics. Financial executives don’t care about views, clicks, and likes. They want to know bottom line numbers like conversion rate, total leads, cost-per-lead, total applications, and cost-per-application.

Having a mixup of try-and-fail digital marketing tactics and technology isn’t going to help you at all. In fact, it’s probably doing you more harm than good. And this leaves you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

So what can you do?

It begins with the end in mind. And that starts with developing a unified strategy that serves as the “why” of what an organization is doing and how it relates to a bigger purpose. In other words, a strategy first provides a bank or credit union with a system of checks and balances that provide an opportunity to review individual tactics to ensure the align with the larger vision.

If these tactics do align, they can proceed with the initiative.

If not, there is no reason to go past this initial stage of exploration.

We have a simple flowchart here at the office on one of our walls that help us to quickly identify opportunities and cast distractions aside.

At the top of this flow chart is our vision statement. Below that, we ask “Will this activity provide value to our organization in relation to our purpose?” From there, the flow chart branches into a binary sequence: there’s a bucket for “Yes” and one bucket for “No.”

If the potential tactic that we’re working through this flow chart falls into the “Yes” bucket, the sequence continues, and the activity must work itself through supplemental questions before becoming an approved initiative. However, if this pursuit doesn’t align with our purpose or provide value for our organization, the activity dies a quick and efficient death.

Seriously, why drag this vetting process out longer than necessary? This flowchart has helped us countless times in identify potential opportunities or eliminate half-baked distractions that can interfere with our overall strategy.

But there’s a problem within the financial services industry.

We know that over 80% of financial institutions lack a strategy for digital growth. Digital marketing tactics and technology are not inherently wrong or evil in and of themselves. But they cause great frustration for bank and credit union marketers when there is no strategy to guide them as tactics and technology must be rooted in, and inspired by, a greater purpose that provides clarity and confidence for future growth.

Your Strategy is Your North Star

I get it.

It’s so easy to go to a conference and hear a speaker hype of the latest digital marketing tactics and technology. This is why when I speak at a conference or workshop, I always ask the audience to take what I am saying with a grain of salt as the insights I share fit into a much larger picture.

So instead of chasing the latest digital marketing tactics and technology, consider first creating a strategy for digital growth. And to get you started down this path, ask and answer these questions:

  • What’s the purpose and objective of your digital growth?
  • Who do you want to help?
  • And how will actually help them?

We consider your digital growth strategy to be the guiding light, or your North Star, that provides you with a vision for every action you take to help guide consumers towards a brighter financial future.

A tactic is simply a single action you take. And these come and go based on constantly changing trends, like consumer behavior, marketing, sales, and technology.

Alternatively, a strategy tends to stay the same for an extended period.

Strategy Keeps You Focused

Digital growth strategy is the documentation of how you are going to use digital channels to become, and remain, unique in your marketplace. This starts with defining “why” you do what you do. Tactics, inspired by your “why” are “what” you will do and “how” you will create more value than your competition for a specific market segment of consumers. Strategy and tactics complement one another, but initiatives quickly fall apart when you’re primarily concerned with single, one-off tactics as the strategy becomes secondary.

Now let’s take these academic principles and make them a bit more tangible. Here’s an example of a digital growth strategy for a financial institution with complementary tactics:

We will become the most helpful financial resource for young families in our community to help them save more money while they live healthier and happier lives. And we will do this by producing and distributing helpful content and campaigns that provide value to prospects in exchange for their email address.


    • Place digital ads targeted to moms promoting a chance to win $10,000 for their family for lead generation.
    • Ads drive moms to a specific landing page with a simple lead form.
    • Build a targeted email list of moms.
    • Ask one question on thank you page to segment families by financial goals.
    • Send a thank you email with a link to mom focused financial blog.
    • Use a welcome mat for first-time visitors only with a great offer to download “20 Free Family Outing Ideas for Your City.”
    • Build helpful content library that’s easily shared with social media and on local community-focused websites.
    • Follow up mom leads with email nurture sequence based upon their family’s financial goals.
    • Provide full funnel reporting to show bottom line impact of initiative 

See the difference?

A strategy is a vision for how you will become, and remain, unique in your marketplace while the tactics are the specific steps to get you there. Without a strategy, these tactics look OK on the surface, but there’s no overarching theme guiding them along the way. And when that happens, it’s easy to get distracted and make no real progress along your digital growth journey.

Strategy is what keeps you focused on the greater vision.

Work Backwards to Go Forwards

One of the easiest ways to define a digital growth strategy is to start with the end in mind and work backward.

Here are some examples:

  • I want to generate more mortgage loans.
  • To sell more mortgages, I need to nurture leads over a 30-60 day period. 
  • To nurture leads over a 30-60 day period, I need a five-step email nurture sequence. 
  • To get leads into a five-step nurture sequence, I need a downloadable consumer buying guide.
  • To tell prospects about my guide, I need a bigger email list of specific people who might need a mortgage. 
  • To build a bigger email list, I need to drive more targeted traffic to my website.
  • To drive more targeted traffic to my website I need to show up in places where prospects are currently spending their time. 
  • To show up in those places, I need to start with research.

While this is a simple exercise, it can be expanded upon further as you start with end goals and objectives and work yourself backward through each step. Each step has a specific tactic associated with it. And if that tactic doesn’t work, which does happen sometimes, it’s important to remember the strategy doesn’t change, only the tactic does.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

I hear it from prospects and clients all the time. “Digital growth feels so overwhelming. I just don’t know where to begin. And each time I try something new I get frustrated because it does not provide the return I was hoping for.”

This is where having a digital growth strategy can provide your organization with focus as the tactics are laid out in an incremental and logical progression. You can’t perform full funnel reporting if you haven’t closed the loop with your online applications. And you cannot close this loop until you work with your third-party providers to create the infrastructure for conversion tracking.

A strategy informs you what you will do as much as it tells you what you will not do. It also prevents shiny object syndrome. And as someone with ADD, I understand how easy it is to get distracted and feel overwhelmed when you trying to do everything at the same time.

A good strategy implies simplicity.

And simplicity requires focus.

Focus on the task at hand that makes the most sense for where you are in your strategic process.

In addition to focus, it’s hard to measure specifics when you’re trying everything all at once. What tactics are working? Which ones are not? If you’re not able to figure this out, how will you know where to focus your time, effort, and energy in the future?

Thankfully, when you implement tactics systematically derived from an overarching strategy, you create processes and systems that can be reused over and over again in the future for other products and services. These processes and systems then become an asset that can continuously be optimized over time.

So before you start trying (or keep trying) random digital marketing tactics you read on blogs or hear about at conferences, think twice about why you’re doing them. Are they part of an overall strategic plan? If you’re not sure, start thinking about your digital growth strategy first.

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