Marketing directors at community banks are often pulled in conflicting directions — there are too many tasks, too few employees, and not enough money. They have to juggle a myriad of responsibilities amid a whirlwind of projects and priorities.

Occasionally, it’s a good idea to step back and ask, “Do I have the basics covered? Have I built a strong, efficient foundation addressing the bank’s core marketing needs?” It’s easy to get dazzled and distracted with new mobile banking features, sexy social media initiatives or the latest customer trend, but it’s important to make sure you’ve got the core strategic marketing fundamentals in place before being pursuing more adventurous tangents.

Here are seven programs that will help you align priorities, improve cost-efficiency and optimize performance.

1. Cross-Selling/Marketing

For most community banks, the customer base is a virtually an untapped goldmine of opportunity. Most marketers agree that growth is more easily generated from within, yet banks allow 40% of their customers to purchase products elsewhere. Research has shown that customers want banks to make product recommendations, but most institutions don’t. In fact, most customers say they only hear from their bank about once a year.

A marketer’s number one job (if they haven’t done it already) should be to set up a scheduled, multi-step cross-selling/marketing program that incorporates the full range of direct marketing media available — from email to print. Marketing messages need to be segmented for specific target audiences — e.g., Millennials, Credit Users, or Seniors. Whatever you do, don’t work on any other project until an aggressive cross-selling/marketing program has been implemented at your institution.

2. Onboarding

Customers are especially receptive to additional product offerings within the first year of their banking relationship. Listen closely to their financial needs, and have personal bankers follow up with suggested products. Strengthen relationships through a series of personal, email and snail mail interactions during the first 12 months. Send reminders to boost electronic banking usage. Create a timetable to guide all interactions and ensure a smooth transition into your cross-selling/marketing program. The first year will largely determine whether you’ll earn their loyalty and create a customer for life.

3. Offboarding

Almost as important as onboarding is off-boarding, a program that monitors why customers leave. You’ll want to know if customers are disappointed with your service, unhappy with interest rates, or prefer your competitors for some reason. If you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll remain in the dark and remain at risk for more defections that might otherwise be avoidable. Each defection means the loss of a potential long-term revenue stream; acquisition is too expensive to allow customers to just walk out the door without understanding the reason(s), or trying to win them back.

 

4. Referrals

Loyal customers are your best source for referrals. If you’ve done a good job of fulfilling their financial needs and resolving any service difficulties, they will be strong advocates for your bank. Integrate a twice-a-year referral solicitation into your marketing efforts. Another alternative is to implement a software solution that will automatically manage your friend-to-friend program.

5. Community Engagement

Not long ago, a “community marketing program” meant handing out donations to nonprofit groups and having a presence at local community events. Bank officers would sit on local boards and manage fundraising drives for charities like the Heart Association. That doesn’t cut it today. Now it’s all about community engagement. Because customers are eschewing branch lobbies for mobile banking and ATM networks, financial marketers must find new ways to bring in prospects. You’re still going to work with charities (of course), but you need to work with them in creative ways, like turning your branches into a pickup point where supporters of the charity can get/leave something tied to the cause. Branches can also be leveraged as sales venue for t-shirts, movie tickets and other fundraising items. These are all opportunities to create awareness and build relationships.

6. Social Media Marketing

Pound for pound, Facebook is the most powerful and cost-efficient social media channel out there today. Probably because it’s also the most popular. Virtually everyone is on Facebook, with adults 60+ being the fastest growing demographic group. Leverage it for publicizing events, holiday hours, new product and introducing new staff to the community. And as an advertising medium, it’s unbeatable. Facebook tools allow you to define your target audience to a remarkable degree — car enthusiasts, pregnant moms, graduates of Boston College, Millennials… you name it and Facebook can reach them. Or you can give Facebook an email list of your customers and they will post your message on the Facebook page of users with similar demographics — Facebook does the analytics, segmentation and targeting for you.

( Read More: Navy FCU Sells $200 Million in Banking Services on Facebook )

7. Content Marketing

It’s this simple: The content on your website determines where you rank in Google. Publish the right material and your brand will appear higher in search results. Conversely, the wrong content can make you nearly impossible to find. You need to incorporate useful, relevant content on your website that’s dense with keywords and search phrases.

There’s a clear ROI on content marketing. Consider, for example, that the cost to run digital advertising that lands you a mortgage application can run you around $400. But if your bank brand pops up top organically in a Google search, that same application will cost you a lot less. Think about it this way: Investing in web content is investing in the future.

But What About Account Acquisition?

An advertising-based customer acquisition program may be essential, but it’s also usually pretty expensive — especially if your institution is paying bounties for checking accounts. Community banks should consider supplementing the less expensive suggestions above with ongoing acquisition initiatives such as new resident mailings, targeted emails, digital ads and audience matching tactics. Test headlines and copy to improve appeal, and always use analytics and customized landing pages to monitor your success.

A Few Words About Implementation

Focus on your marketing priorities and avoid the crisis-a-day treadmill. Don’t strive for perfection — it slows execution; put every program in place then gradually improve each. Ignore big bank strategies, high-tech mobile features and fintech competitors that aren’t relevant in your universe. Keep your eye on the goal, and focus on these seven programs. Remember, the backbone of community banking is cultivating relationships, not selling products. Leave the high-tech, mass marketing approach to those big, impersonal institutions.

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