Playing Up Community Bank Strengths

By Keith Brannan

In today’s highly competitive market, bank marketers have to be honest with themselves: All banks perform essentially the same basic functions at similar price points. To differentiate, it’s critical to provide a better banking experience for customers. And there are several key areas community banks can cultivate to stand out from the crowd.

  1. The needs of the customer

Community banks that can demonstrate that their primary focus is on what’s good for the consumer will naturally differentiate themselves. Branding plays a role—customers want to know their bank is socially responsible and financially secure—but consumers also want to be met on their own terms for products, service and most of all, convenience.

Most financial institutions survive on deposits, and one reliable way to increase those deposits is by focusing on the accounts that stay active. So creating accounts and products of interest to the customer is key. Increasingly, community banks can drive innovative products by partnering with fintech companies.

But it’s not enough to offer great products. It’s also important for community banks to showcase them on the website and make them easy to find. Nobody wants to search for the items they need. Customers go onto a bank’s website to serve themselves and accomplish a task. It is the bank’s job to make that a seamless experience.

  1. The branch network

Community banks must make the most of their branch network without completely depending on it for account opening. Branches are all about convenience and local presence. However, to really compete, banks need an easy way for customers to try the service.

According to a 2015 Consumer Banking Insights Study, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they would rather bank at a community financial institution. The gap between those who prefer this and those who actually bank there means that consumers are concerned they won’t receive the same experience from a community institution.

So how can community banks fix that?

First, community banks must make banking convenient. It has to be easy for new or prospective customers to try the institution. Second, community banks must ensure their institution has an easy way for customers to open an account digitally—both online and mobile. The easier the better. And finally, community banks must make it easy for customers to try out services on their terms.

  1. Responsive and proactive staff

It is also important to be timely, efficient and responsive. If an account opening request or loan lead comes in, frontline staff needs to know how—and how soon—to initiate their follow-up. Find out what your competitors’ response time is by going to their websites, putting in your info and seeing how they follow through.

Community banks must also be proactive about driving prospective customers into the branch. And once prospects become account holders, it’s important to continue engaging them. Toward that end, it’s necessary to use customer data to determine their needs—even before they know what they need.

Welcome programs and cross-selling opportunities are other ways to reach out to customers who may not otherwise be aware of the relevant products available.

It’s hard to compete in today’s market without constant communication geared toward existing and prospective customers. Give them reasons to engage with you. By being responsive and proactive, banks are indicating to them that they are interested in serving them, and they know how to do it.

  1. Consistent marketing in all areas

Having a solid brand is important, but don’t forget that brand is the outcome of many experiences and touchpoints. Creating great experiences will drive brand value to new heights as you focus on the combined ecosystem of products, service, digital channels and marketing.

To market effectively, community banks should consider these three simple rules.

  1. Market in the right way. Consumers are not likely to be shopping for a bank or loan provider; rather, they are looking for a checking account or a mortgage loan. Banks must use their data to identify the customers who already do or are most likely to engage with their products the most. This can also be referred to as segmentation, which allows the community bank to use marketing resources to focus on the consumers most likely to move their institution forward toward its goals.
  2. Market often. Evidence indicates that whoever engages the consumer the most wins. According to a study by HubSpot, 90 percent of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before beginning their search—but consumers who are retargeted via digital channels are 70 percent more likely to convert than those that aren’t. With that in mind, it is crucial for community banks to focus on engaging consumers multiple times throughout the year. They must create target segments as mentioned above and reach out at least 15 times a year.
  3. Market continuously. Many new customers may not be completely sold yet, even if they opened an account. Engaging them quickly is key. Welcome them. Tell them all about the product they are using and how they can get the most out of it. Here’s why: The primary indicators of attrition are low balances and longevity. Attrition is high in the first six months, so if you are not engaged with a new account holder immediately, you may have already lost them. Again, it is important to cross-sell. Even if it’s an existing customer that has been with that institution for ten years, it’s important for the bank to tell them about their other products and that if or when they have a need, the bank can serve it.

Gone are the days when banks could compete on product or price. Today, the best way to differentiate a brand is through embracing a customer-centered strategy and focusing on the needs of the current and prospective customers, leveraging your branch network, being responsive and proactive, and marketing with consistency.

Keith Brannan is Chief Marketing Officer of Kasasa, an award-winning financial technology and marketing technology provider. Based in Austin, Texas, Kasasa assists more than 800 community financial institutions in establishing long lasting relationships with consumers residing in their local markets through its branded retail products, world class marketing capabilities and expert consulting. For more information, please visit, or visit them on Twitter @Kasasa, @KasasaNews, Facebook, or LinkedIn.