A Digital Strategy From Within

By Jim Gibbons

Depending on who you ask, digital media is either the future of marketing communication or the flavor of the month. Honestly, it’s already playing an important role in many categories. And it’s going to be crucial for community bank marketing, beginning in about … well, starting now. So it just makes sense to nail down your digital strategy (before someone from the C-suite starts demanding it).

For busy community bank marketing directors, many of whom are overwhelmed with product design, community involvement, internal marketing, media relations, and about a thousand other responsibilities, tackling digital strategy can seem a little like learning a whole new language.

This article focuses on some of the common elements that apply to the part of your digital strategy that affects elements inside your walls: website, dynamic content, inbound strategy, and automated marketing. If you believe marketing is the art and science of creating more profitable relationships and transactions, then it makes sense to focus first on the business end of the digital equation.

What we’re talking about here is building what amounts to a digital lobby. Done right, this will serve to position you, create expectations for customers, identify qualified prospects, provide good purchasing information in the right order and to the right customer, grow relationships, and allow you to use your selling resources (including the time and energy of banking professionals) in the most efficient manner.

The other half of digital strategy—the tactics that bring prospects to your website—we will leave for another day. Those “top-of-the-funnel” tactics are just as important in the long run. But first, it’s important to build the elements that most directly make the cash register ring.

A responsive website

A while back, the Google search algorithm began to reward mobile-friendly websites. In other words, under the new, top-secret Google rules, sites that worked well for smart phones and tablets automatically got better search rankings than sites that only catered to desktop and laptop computers. This was inevitable, since there are a lot more smart phones than laptops. And the trend is only increasing.

This would have been a big deal, back when sites were coded for single-formats (back in the day, you actually had to design and build a separate site for smart phone, and still another site for tablet). Now, most sites are built on content management systems (CMS), which make it very easy for the user (you or someone on your staff) to add pages, write new copy, or edit existing copy.

Most CMS are inherently responsive, which means visuals, charts, headlines, subheads, body copy…are all poured into the system in a way that makes them appear appropriately for the device. So, if someone is viewing on an iPhone 6, the content and visuals will be stacked vertically, so that you literally scroll through the entire site or section. If someone else is viewing on a Dell laptop, the user experience will be tailored to a larger, more-horizontal screen. Both will receive the same content (or content pre-edited for specific formats). And both will be fed from a single CMS. So, you put the content in…and it goes from there.

Dynamic content—the world is becoming bloggier

Both consumers and search engines like websites that change. Sites do well that add new content regularly, remove obsolete content, and tend to treat all content as ephemeral. This is why blog platforms, such as WordPress, have become so popular for building websites.

These flexible platforms were originally developed for web journalism (weblogs—or “blogs”). So, they provide a framework for adding, subtracting, and editing content continuously.

Of course, this can be very uncomfortable for community bank cultures, accustomed to selling approaches based on static information (lobby brochures) and fluid personal relationships. But in selling to Generation X, and particularly Millennials, you may never have the opportunity to meet your customer—let alone discuss their needs in an intimate setting. So, things will change among community banks that succeed. And one of the things that will change is the need for flexible content publication, within fluid frameworks.

When you master this, you will almost certainly find yourself climbing the search results for terms that matter to you. It is no coincidence that blog content performs very well with search engines.

Inbound strategy—content and data collection

From the beginning of mass marketing, strategists have been trying to use the available tools to:

  • get qualified consumers to self-identify
  • build lists of customers based on behaviors such as product preference, purchase frequency, and affinity with other consumers
  • position your product or brand as the “expert” within your particular area of strength (in the case of community banking, this may be something like construction lending, small business banking, or wealth management)

For the first time ever, inbound marketing tools make these tactical objectives not only possible, but practical for community bank-sized marketing organizations. Inbound marketing is based on three basic pieces: premium content, gating technology, and data collection/behavioral mapping.

Premium content can be something like time-sensitive information (that is extremely valuable for a period of time, during which there is urgency), specialized information (things bankers know that other people don’t), or expert opinion (forecasts, analysis, editorial). It can take the form of a “members only” section of your site, or downloadable white papers or reports.

By its very nature, premium content is always something a qualified prospect will be willing to pay a premium for (usually an exchange of data—name, email address, other contact and demographic information, depending on the perceived value of the content). And ideally, it is information that will help position your community bank as a thought leader, within your community, and among your competitors. So, it can be a differentiator.

Gating technology allows you to put a “gate” between the landing page (where to searcher goes to find the premium content) and the content itself. To go through the gate and access the premium goods, the prospect needs to “pay a toll” in the form of filling out a form.

By asking prospects to pay a toll in order to access certain content, you cause them to acknowledge (to themselves) that the content has value. You force them to self-qualify (if you aren’t qualified, you probably won’t be willing to give away your valuable personal data). And you capture valuable information about the searcher—both for future contact and for behavioral mapping.

Data collection/behavioral mapping are the tools you use to turn a search into a conversation, a browser into a prospect, and a prospect into a customer. The obvious advantage to getting someone to complete an online form is that you’ve captured his or her contact information for future outbound communication. But even better than that, it connects a person (name, email address, etc.) to a specific IP address. From that point on, you’ll be able to build a behavioral profile based on everything that particular computer does on your website.

This capability is possible, because of inbound software tools. You may want to ask your agency or website developer about this sort of capability. Implementing an inbound program can be a bit of an investment in time and resources. But it can be very valuable as you automate the digital conversation.

Automated email

The digital conversation with your self-qualified prospects can be as personal as your ingenuity will permit. The obvious first step is a simple “thank you” email in response to the initial completion of a form. However, as you track the prospect’s behavior, you can build workflows that provide for specific responses to specific behaviors.

For example, you can set up a trigger that automatically starts an email drip campaign when a prospect you know is a homeowner looks more than once at information regarding home equity lines of credit. This drip campaign might have hot links imbedded that lead to some suggested selling pages (some of which may only be accessible via these emails)—college, wedding, vacation…vehicle.

Because automated marketing tools allow you to score your leads (and assign them to individuals), you have live triggers that signal a relationship manager to email or call at a certain point, when the behavior model indicates that the prospect has risen to a certain score (likelihood to purchase). Using this hybrid of automated and live-relationship marketing lets you use your personal selling resources on those prospects that are primed for a transaction—making hay where the sun shines.

James Gibbons is president of Gibbons-Peck Marketing Communication, a full-service agency headquartered in Greenville, S.C. The company focuses on branding, digital strategy, and advertising for community banks. Email: [email protected]

Online training in digital, mobile and social media from ABA.