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Building the bank brand digitally


There is no doubt that a growing number of bank customers are using digital channels, either via their PCs or mobile phones, as their primary means to communicate with the bank. And they are doing more than just checking account balances and paying bills; they are using digital channels to find out about bank products and get financial advice.

So far, so good. The issue facing bank marketers, however, is how to reinforce this digital engagement by customers to build the bank’s brand. How can they use digital interactions, which by definition are faceless and non-personal, to improve and deepen customer relationships? And perhaps more pointedly, how can they provide quantitative evidence to top management that their digital outreach is actually paying off?

The first step in deepening relationships with digital interactions is making sure those interactions complement other channels and communication touchpoints. The customer experience should be similar across platforms and banks should understand
a customer’s digital behavior as part of the overall customer journey to determine when and how digital experiences are leading to specific actions that translate into revenue.

The digital channel presents a great opportunity to not only sell but to educate. Banks can create value and brand engagement by using the platform as a resource for education on financial issues that customers care about. Adopting solid content marketing strategies, in alignment with offer-based advertising campaigns, can help banks differentiate themselves from those who simply push products.

To provide further commentary on this topic, we recently interviewed three top marketing executives: Brent Currie, senior vice president of brand management and marketing for Scotiabank in Toronto, Canada, Jeff Fulp, director of retail banking for South State Bank in Columbia, SC, and Andy Hernandez, executive vice president and head of eBusiness for Birmingham, AL-based Regions Bank.

Q: How do you use digital channels to build your bank’s brand?

We utilize an integrated approach to digital marketing that includes our owned properties, paid placements and earned mentions. This includes our website; online and mobile paid advertising; and earned media, such as social media likes, comments and shares, as well as outreach to digital publications and bloggers.

Currie: When a customer uses digital channels for product research and solutions, we offer information that is relevant and consistent with branding and messaging in all other channels. There are more customer interactions in digital than other bank channels, providing a tremendous opportunity to build the brand, increase customer engagement and deepen relationships.

Over time, we are seeing a shift in the bank’s marketing dollars so that a bigger percentage of the bank’s overall marketing dollars is being shifted to digital offerings. In the drive to create bank awareness, consideration and product purchases, the digital channel is becoming more relevant.

Q: What are the major challenges you’ve encountered in using your digital channels to promote the bank brand?

Hernandez: There are always competing priorities. Business cases for digital projects are difficult to quantify because there is rarely direct revenue associated with them. So, it’s difficult to calculate the payback on digital services. Many of the services we develop don’t have a fee; these are enhancements that drive customer retention and it is hard to put a number on the financial benefit of retention.

For example, our customers are asking for Touch ID for mobile banking. We’re now investing capital and resources to build this feature but we won’t be able to charge for it. Would we lose customers if we don’t build it? We can’t prove that.

Currie: One challenge is that customer expectations are also influenced by other industry sectors, which may be ahead of financial service providers in terms of providing convenient, customized and consistent experiences across their channels. We continue to invest in developing a consistent omnichannel experience for our customers.

Fulp: Challenges include access to data and integrating data sources, as well as making decisions about where and how to best prioritize and invest in digital marketing. 

Q: What are the best strategies you’ve found for engaging customers through digital channels and encouraging them to purchase more products or deepen relationships?

Fulp: Overall, we find that listening is the most important strategy. More specifically, we’ve found paid search, social media and email marketing have been useful channels, for different reasons. Paid search has had the highest click-through rate for online advertising. Facebook has had the highest engagement from our social advertising efforts. Through email marketing, we are able to share additional relevant products and services with our existing customers, who are already familiar with us.

Hernandez: Our branches have knowledgeable associates who know how to ask questions to help our customers find the right products. We have to replicate that process online.

We are launching a tool now that does just that. The first product we will use this on is checking accounts. Customers will be asked questions online about what they are looking for – such as what features are most important to you, how do you use your account and what type of balances do you typically keep in your checking account? The system will make recommendations as to the best account type.

We also are in the process of simplifying our online applications. Nobody wants to invest 30 minutes or more on a computer or mobile device to apply for a product. They want to do it in minutes.

We also spend a lot of time on search engine optimization. As many as 80% to 90% of bank customers start their searches for a bank product online, whether it be credit cards, loans, deposits or investment products. There are dozens of terms they use in their searches and we want to make sure Regions Bank shows up high on the list of search results. 

Currie: We apply best practices in terms of layout and design with our website or apps, ensuring that they are easy to navigate with a clean layout and content that is organized in a way that is easy to digest. 

Another key practice is to ensure the language stays on brand. The web is a casual medium where a conversational style is often the norm. Scotiabank’s brand is approachable, straightforward and helpful, so our online copy reflects that tone.

We have also removed barriers between channels by providing customers with the ability to interact with us in real-time via Click 2 Chat or Click 2 Call, when they need assistance or advice. The customer journey has improved as a result and the purchase experience is streamlined.

Q: How well do you really know your customer when you engage with them digitally, as opposed to face to face in a branch?

Currie: Digital engagement can help us better understand how effective we are at recognizing customer needs and it tells us whether we are providing customers with the tools and advice they are asking for. 

However, it is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, the biggest volume of digital data in the world will not tell you if a customer is having a bad day, is worried about their job, or if their child is struggling to make decisions about post-secondary education options. That’s why our in-branch and contact center advisors will also be a critical part.

Working together, digital and traditional off-line channels can provide the information and advice that customers need to help them manage the present while planning for the future.

Fulp: Nothing will ever replace the one-on-one relationships our bankers have with customers. However, through the use of existing customer data as well as data used to identify demographic and psychographic behavior, we have an opportunity to learn a lot about our customers based on their online behaviors. The key is to use both online and offline conversations.

Hernandez: We know our customers want relevant recommendations when they come to our site. Once they log in, we can service them better; give them better financial advice. We know if they don’t have a savings account or a mortgage with us or that their CD is about to mature. We are able to offer relevant product recommendations based on what we know about each customer.

As the above interviews demonstrate, bank marketing groups face a three-front challenge in building their brands digitally. First, financial institutions must provide enhanced digital services and marketing outreach to those customers who desire them. Second, they need to
maintain an omnichannel customer experience where the same message is communicated in all channels across the bank. And third, they must make sure their own employees are well-informed to deliver on this value proposition. The successful digital marketers will
be those who can accomplish all three goals.

Ms. Hughes is chief marketing officer at BAI. She can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @hollyjhughes.