How Marketing Helped Turn PPP into One of the Greatest B2B Acquisition and Growth Events Ever

By Mark Gibson

The pandemic rocked banks and their business clients. The Payment Protection Program saved many small businesses and became a herculean exercise for many bankers. CPG spoke to more than a dozen bank marketers to understand how the PPP impacted them, and what their teams did to benefit their organizations. Four key lessons emerged.

Proactive communication to existing clients

Many commercial bankers and bank marketers viewed the pandemic and PPP as a timely opportunity to reach out to existing clients to check in on their business, provide consultation, reassurance and counsel during a stressful time. Justin Dunn, CMO of WSFS Bank, based in Delaware and greater Philadelphia, reported that his team created a content center for COVID and PPP-related news on its website, which was not only a great help for clients, but even became a ‘go-to’ for local media who wanted up-to-date news and information.

A side benefit of businesses applying for the PPP loan was that the SBA application required an e-mail address, which allowed bank marketers to expand their e-mail lists. This enabled bankers and marketers to keep clients informed about the status of their loans as well as forgiveness parameters in a rapid and low-cost manner.

Proactive acquisition of new business clients

Most banks were quick to provide PPP assistance to their existing customers. But many saw a unique opportunity to extend PPP assistance to non-customers and establish new relationships in the process.

One bank on the West Coast identified four industry verticals it wanted to expand into, and proactively reached out to prospects offering PPP information and assistance. Another bank in the Southeast went one step further, using UCC filings to identify the specific commercial clients it wanted to contact.

However, our creativity award must go to Avidia Bank in Central Massachusetts. In addition to running TV spots and radio testimonials featuring PPP clients, CMO Janel Maysonet collaborated with Rita Janeiro, Avidia Bank’s senior vice president for community banking, to develop a proactive campaign for prospect businesses, targeting CRA areas with a special focus on women and minority owned businesses.

Helping onboard and cross-sell new PPP customers

One of the challenges bankers faced during the rounds of PPP was that the limited timeframe for submissions created an avalanche of client interaction, applications and underwriting. As a result, proactive contact to onboard these clients often fell to the marketing department.

A critical component to establishing a relationship was requiring a checking account to obtain the loan. But banks still needed to convince new clients to make this their primary banking relationship. This was done by a campaign of follow-up emails highlighting the benefits of the account that ‘came with’ their loan. Some marketing teams also created lead lists of inactive checking clients for bankers to contact. As a result, one bank in the Mid-Atlantic not only attracted 4000 new business clients but converted 60_percent active checking relationships with them.

Another bank went beyond the operating account, using data like industry type and number of employees to identify cross-sell opportunities for cash management, lending and wealth management services. Marketing worked closely with the sales team to define goals, develop email templates, provide lead lists and assist with opportunity tracking and reporting.

Enhancing the brand by highlighting PPP performance

The banking industry’s leading role in assisting America’s small businesses during the pandemic has in large part contributed to the public’s more favorable view, in terms of reputation.

A number of banks who rapidly responded to their business clients like BNB Bank on Long Island, New York received positive local press. South Shore Bank in Eastern Massachusetts earned positive recognition when it announced that it was donating the fees it collected from PPP loans to a charitable community fund. Some bank marketers went as far as creating advertising campaigns highlighting their responsiveness to the PPP demand, often with actual client testimonials.

An excerpt from the Pentucket Bank video, showing processing of PPP loan applications after midnight (pre-mask mandate).

Pentucket Bank in Haverhill, MA was a market leader in creative brand enhancement from the start. This supreme effort began with a team of bankers, accompanied by Jonathan Dowst, the bank’s president, processing applications starting at midnight the first moment the SBA began accepting them. A video was made of the occasion and posted on social media. It quickly spread, in part after it was shared and commented on by a Senator in the region.

By the end of the first round, this bank with $918 million in assets had made $65 million in loans to customers and non-customers in the region.

Lessons learned

The PPP program was enacted in record speed, leaving banks scrambling to catch up. But out of adversity often comes opportunity, and there are ample examples of bank marketers first rallying to develop communications, then actually helping recruit new business clients and grow their brand reputations. Three lessons stand out:

  • Move quickly—There was no time for research and debate. The train was moving quickly and you either jumped on or it left the station without you.
  • Partner with the business lines—The most successful marketers were those who were joined at the hip with their Commercial and Business Banking teammates, supporting and highlighting their efforts.
  • Don’t be afraid to brag—We are trained to be modest about our accomplishments, but there are times when we need to shout from the rooftops. Our institutions pay us to know the difference between the two circumstances.

While we will hopefully never have to live through another pandemic, what we have learned through the past year will certainly come in handy as we face other unforeseen situations.

Mark Gibson is senior consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic and project management services to the financial services industry. He can also be reached via LinkedIn.