Mobile banking is pushing customers out the door. With little need to visit branches for check deposits or account balances, banks are seeing a continuous decline in lobby traffic. But banks can regain at least some foot traffic and generate new accounts by redesigning their community marketing efforts.

Typical community marketing programs include donating to local charities and nonprofit organizations and supporting community events. Bank officers often serve on the boards of chambers of commerce, schools and similar high-profile organizations. By making connections and increasing their visibility in the community, bankers hope that business will accrue to the bank.

In many ways, this passive approach has been successful. The current competitive environment, however, demands that we focus on more than brand awareness. Community banks must truly engage their customers.

Engagement capitalizes upon the visibility and relationships established by traditional community marketing initiatives. Bankers might arrange with charities and nonprofit organizations to make the branch a pick-up point or sales venue for merchandise connected to an event. Nonprofits conducting fundraising events, for example, frequently look for convenient locations where bikers, runners and other participants can pick up T-shirts or race credentials. Banks might also consider becoming an off-campus enrollment site for colleges or adult education classes, or a sales booth for theaters, schools and music venues. Ideally, these events will underscore the corporate brand.

Three community engagement programs conducted by Liberty Bank may spark further inspiration for other small banks:

1.  As a 113-year-old institution with its main office located in a hipster community, Liberty seeks out opportunities to emphasize its local history and differentiate itself from big, impersonal national banks. Inspired by a professional baseball team that played in the Logan Square area in the 1920s, we designed retro-style T-shirts and offered to sell them as a fundraising campaign for the local preservation society. Our preliminary research suggests that the retro shirt will be a popular item with younger area residents. The partnership with the preservation society will also extend the bank’s reach via social media and local news sites.

2.  A popular community news portal recently organized an evening taco crawl, with tastings at a string of local restaurants for a modest price. Liberty signed onto the event as a lead sponsor. The hundred or so participants are required to pick up their T-shirts at Liberty Bank.

3.  This December, the bank is renting the restored Logan Theater for a morning screening of “Polar Express,” a popular holiday movie. The Logan is an iconic landmark that also reinforces the bank’s long history. Young families will be invited to pick up a free pair of tickets in the lobby.

Engagement shouldn’t end with T-shirts and ticket distribution. Staff must be gracious and friendly in greeting visitors, well versed in the event and able to answer financial questions. Each handout should be accompanied by a brochure, card or incentive that might encourage participants to open an account. This is a bank’s opportunity to convey its brand not just through personal interaction but by creating a warm, welcoming, contemporary environment.

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