Marketing budgets are getting cut left and right in 2021, thanks to financial constraints associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret that the COVID pandemic has impacted everybody’s budgets. But the businesses that are really feeling that pinch are the smaller community financial brands. 

Now more than ever, banks and credit unions must make every marketing dollar work overtime to connect with consumers in a digital landscape — especially when trying to keep pace with larger financial institutions.

The Potential in Smaller Marketing Budgets

When banks and credit unions find themselves working with smaller budgets, they may be asking how to continue to capture audiences and convert leads into new customers.

How can banks continue to get their financial brand messaging out in an even more crowded and even more commoditized marketplace in this post-COVID digital world? Moving forward, the biggest challenge most banks will face revolves around slimmer budgets. More than ever before, credit unions and banks have to make every marketing dollar work.

One way that banks can reach consumers?

Personalization.

Because of all the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, future customers now understand the potential of personalized digital communication and solutions — and likely? They’re expecting it.

Before COVID-19, the general population didn’t truly grasp the predictability power of Netflix, Amazon, or the digital integration of Instacart or certain financial apps. Today, however, the reality is that the consumer now understands what is possible. And what's even more exciting is that to make this happen, they're willing to share data — but only if they get value back.

One thing that Jim Marous, co-publisher of The Financial Brand, and owner and publisher of the Digital Banking Report, has found in his research is that organizations definitely understand the importance of data analysis and personalization. However, more than 75% said they feel inept at applying data and artificial intelligence (AI) toward creating a better customer experience using personalization.

Essentially, organizations aren't using all the tools available to them.

The Value of Specific Content Marketing

One of the most valued — and underutilized tools — for banks looking to spread their marketing dollars is content marketing.

At the Digital Growth Institute, content marketing refers to well-defined systems and processes that positions a bank or credit union as experts within the community that they serve, working towards three specific goals:

  • To attract the right people
  • To capture and nurture those relationships
  • To create value for the financial brand by converting those leads into loans and deposits

This is not done by promoting the same commoditized products and services other financial brands are offering. It’s done by positioning the brand as the standalone expert.

For most banks, two main barriers get in the way of a successful content marketing strategy:

  1. They don’t have a well-defined content marketing strategy implemented as part of a larger digital growth strategy.
  2. They are telling the exact same marketing strategy with their content as every other financial brand.

For quite some time, these identical content strategies revolved around great rates and amazing services. In a post-COVID-19 world, the new shared content strategy is the ever-popular, “We're here for you” content strategy. The problem is that's the same exact content that another financial brand has — there is nothing to set one bank apart from another.

James Robert shared that he believed this shared concept to be rooted in something he refers to as “narcissistic marketing,” which positions the financial brand as the hero in the stories that they tell.

But take a look back at literature going as far back as cave paintings. In every literary example, there can only be one hero in a story — and for a consumer, that hero is themselves. When financial organizations position themselves as the hero in their content marketing, they actually end up positioning themselves as the anti-hero. They are failing to make the consumer the hero!

Jim Marous agreed. “What we really want is the ability to talk to the consumer in their language and what they need, especially now with COVID.”

Now is the time for banks to put the consumer at the center of their content marketing, instead of just claiming to put them at the center.

In this digital world, banks and credit unions have an opportunity to prove themselves through content. Each piece of content is like a tiny deposit in each consumer’s “Trust Bank.” It can take weeks, months, or even years to make enough “deposits” to build that consumer's courage to commit to apply with your financial brand. The flipside? It can take seconds to deplete all of that by getting the wrong message to that consumer at the wrong time.

Personalization: Crafting the Hero’s Journey

When the consumer becomes the hero, it’s much simpler to create content centered around their journey, around the hero’s journey. The key to making this happen is to personalize it. But all too many organizations are not mapping the consumer journey at all.

85% of financial brands have not mapped out their digital journeys. And this creates a gap.

So, how do financial brands create content that feels like it has been written specifically for each consumer? Is it better to just create more content so the consumer can select what's important to them?

It might be a combination of the two.

Banks and credit unions should examine the digital buying journey as a whole. What are the different stages? There should be content for every stage of the buying journey:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Purchase
  4. Onboarding
  5. Advocacy

This can feel like a very daunting and overwhelming task. The best way to approach this kind of marketing strategy is to break things up and prioritize content production as well as content promotion.

A financial brand can produce more content, but if they don't have the systems and processes to connect that content with the people they are trying to reach, then it won’t create any value whatsoever.

One easy content trap to fall into? The quest for perfection. But consumers aren’t looking for perfection — they want somebody to talk to them. And they're not perfect either.

Being as specific with your marketing as possible is also an effective way to connect with the right people and makes it feel personalized.

Whenever you go too broad, you lose that sense of focus, and then you begin to stumble and fall. When you rein in and become very tight around a specific subset of the market focusing on their questions, their needs, their concerns, it's much easier to get some momentum behind you taking this to a smaller community level.

Simplify Content Creation Processes

Content creation doesn’t just begin and end with blog posts.

Some financial brands begin to stumble and fall because they attempt to produce content on a much larger scale to create value. They start with the end product like an article or a social media post — but there's a better way to simplify these production efforts.

Financial brands should instead begin by thinking about evergreen content, which is a vast departure from the traditional marketing campaign. Traditional marketing campaigns typically have a short shelf life.

But with evergreen content, the goal is to create content assets that offer exponential value for the future, which the longer that they're in the marketplace, the more value they will create.

Typically, these evergreen content pieces are aligned around a specific buying journey or a specific niche need within the marketplace.

Start with a pillar piece of content and building from there.

What does this mean?

Typically it begins with some type of video content or podcast content, which can then be atomized and broken up into smaller pieces of content.

For example?

A brand can pull the audio from a podcast and create several articles around that podcast.

Or, with this pillar content, a bank can take sound clips and turn them into audiograms for social media with key quotes or insights or pair captivating images with quotes for social media.

There’s even an opportunity to turn a great podcast into an eBook, which becomes a central lead generation piece.

What needs to happen next?

Hand over new content to SMAGS, or social media advocacy groups, which includes people throughout the organization — people in the call center or on the sales team — to reach out to their own personal social networks, empower them with content, and let them become content promoters to create value for their own social networks as well as the financial institution.

Consistency and Reliability

Strong content can really start to gain momentum, and when it does, offering consistent content can help the audience buy into the messaging. Jim shared that he releases his podcasts every Tuesday at 6:00 a.m.so that his listeners always know when and where to find it. As he explained, “If people start to buy into your content, don't leave them hanging.”

But what if you have a few things ready to publish or share? Should you go ahead and share them all at once or stick with your schedule? Jim went on, “And just because you may have three pieces of content that you have available immediately you could present, think about whether or not you should space those out and keep it on your sequencing.”

“You know what people look for is a cadence and a reliability of what that sequence is going to be.” An audience will come to rely on a content cycle. It’s crucial to stick to it.

The Key to Transformation: A Cultural Shift

The other key to a successful content marketing strategy that allows smaller banks and credit unions to compete with big banks? Company-wide buy-in and top-level commitment around a content strategy.

People fear what they don't know; people fear what they don't understand.

That's human nature.

And if this requires a culture shift or a chance, it has to span the entire brand.

All transformation starts with the self, then the team and organization, and then and only then can you transform the community.

Through this transformation, even the smallest of banks and credit unions can continue to transform the lives of the people and the communities that they serve by guiding them beyond their financial stress and leading them towards an even bigger, better, and brighter future as they continue on their digital growth journey.