Fatal Errors in Millennial Marketing

By Chukwukere Ekeh

Has marketing to the millennial generation been causing headaches for your bank? You’re not alone. For what it’s worth, your bank marketing efforts have likely been causing headaches for millennials.

Face it. The way they do business is entirely different from the generations before them. They want to be courted differently. Stop assuming that if you wait long enough, they will eventually grow into baby boomers. And don’t think that you can make a few updates to your products and message, then sit back and relax. Engaging millennials is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. It’s about more than changing your offerings. It’s about changing your process so that your marketing can adapt quickly to the constantly shifting landscape.

Picture it in terms of the marketing funnel you learned about in business school. As potential customers of a new business pass through this funnel, you have an opportunity at every new stage to win—or lose—millennial customers.

1. Attract the right audience.

Before you send out another promotional e-mail, design a new billboard, or create another piece of video content, you must clearly and concisely define who it’s targeted at. Taking it a step further, I suggest building out and attaching a name to your hypothetical customer.

Long gone are the days of “just keeping your name out there” and trying to market to everyone. Marketing to everyone is marketing to no one. Knowing your target leads you to understand and uncover their needs, desires, and attract their dollars. According to research by Goldman Sachs, important characteristics of millennials are that they are digitally driven, social media savvy, and always seeking out the greatest convenience—sometimes at a premium. Utilize that knowledge to build products and customer service abilities to cater to them. Examples could include nationwide access to ATMs with no- or minimal fees, a helpdesk via Twitter to get answers in real time, and a powerful mobile app. Once you have something attractive, then you use all your promotion tools to reach them at the correct touch points.

Here’s what you should not under any circumstances be doing:

  • Adding confusing stipulations to checking account offerings
  • Trying to cross-sell unnecessary products
  • Not communicating to millennials in their desired way 

2. Engage them with compelling content.

Remember that blog you posted on budgeting that nobody read? Or the one on saving for vacation in three easy steps that no one engaged with or shared? Oh, and you can’t forget about the cool mailer you sent out with the stock photo that had nothing to do with the product that no one responded to.

Bank marketing is way too generic these days. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, it’s easier to be compliant this way.” But if compliance stifles all creativity and usefulness, you’re better off doing nothing.

Millennials are constantly engaged. And with the Internet and smartphones at their disposal, at any given moment—what I like to call “I wonder” moments—they will initiate a Google search, look on Facebook, or even drop into a real-life, non-virtual branch. Will the blog post they find be absorbing—or even useful? Is your social media vibrant with its own unique tone or does it look like someone just copy-and-pasted links? Will your brochures/signage have unique and proper calls to action? So think about it from your customer’s standpoint: What do they need to know? How can you alleviate an issue?

Create content that actually connects—like budgeting on an inconsistent income, or credit scores for dummies. Use your specific communities and regions to tie in unique photos and language that people will react too. Sports teams are great as well (Arkansas Razorbacks anyone?). Don’t lose that potential customer in this step because of a lack of insight and not taking the time to create value in every aspect of your marketing. Look at great content creators such as Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk. Study them to learn tools you can leverage to win.

3. Convert them to customers.

Most millennial customers are lost at the conversion stage—and due to one critical error. Marketers are trying to persuade millennials to take actions that they find uncomfortable or inefficient. A majority of millennials are comfortable with technology and prefer it as their primary means of communication and doing business. That could include banking online, utilizing the bank app to transfer and send money, e-mail correspondence, or text message updates.

Are you trying to convert them to actions that are the opposite of their preferred way of doing business? Are you forcing them to walk into a branch? Telling them to call an 800-number for more information? Requiring them to print out paper applications to drop-off, fax, or mail? Good luck with those conversions.

4. Renew relationships with your customers, fans, clients, or prospects.

Continue with the methods listed above, and not only will you lose out on millennial conversions, you’ll also watch as customers close accounts. And the quality of your new and existing relationships will drop, drop…. And drop.

So now here’s the solution.

Don’t just offer the ability to communicate via text message, social media, and e-mail. Or merely offer banking online or in a mobile app. The key is to not only offer these mediums but make the experience seamless, efficient, and dare I say… enjoyable.

I suggest checking out how other businesses are winning at this—for example, Venmo. It’s a free mobile app that people use to send money to each other. But the twist is that they’ve added a social element to it, making it fun and even funny to pay off a friendly wager, send money for bills that month, or split lunch costs. It’s simple to use as soon you sign up, it works well, and it alleviates an issue. If you can re-create that type of experience you’ll watch customer satisfaction levels soar, see less dropout at every stage of the marketing funnel, and most of all a higher conversion rate of younger clientele, from interested prospects to advocate consumers.

Millennials are like those who have come before them in one important way: They are creatures of habit. So make the experience great and watch the repeat business and referrals roll in.

If you’re a community bank marketer, this information should have you cheering and forming cross-functional teams to ready up your game. That’s because doing this right makes you more competitive on a greater scale. Technology in this day and age makes those who are competent able to make products that are more attractive and user friendly.

I’ll leave you with this idea. American engineer and entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell said, “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” Start marketing in a way that matters!

Chukwukere Ekeh is a marketing officer at Citizens Bank & Trust. Email: chukwukereekeh@cbankandtrust.com