Last month, I read an article about a bank marketer taking big steps to demonstrate a commitment to the bank’s community. Rather than simply talking about the bank’s commitment to the local small businesses and the community in advertisements and traditional marketing efforts, Michelle McGovern, Marketing Director at Fremont, OH based Croghan Colonial Bank, put a message about community support into action.
In an effort to help local businesses market themselves more effectively, Michelle made a choice to reallocate marketing dollars from advertising to a fund that would send a group of small business owners to a marketing bootcamp. After reading about Crogahan Colonial Bank’s efforts, I reached out to Michelle to learn more about why this is important, how she got involved, and what the bank hopes to see from this investment as a result. Read my questions and her responses below:
Background about the campaign
It really was a EUREEKA moment where a lot of little things came together at once.
For two years, the Downtown Fremont Executive Director, Angie Morelock, tried to get a grant to send small business owners to Jon Schallert’s Community Reinvention Program. The program shows small business owners how to apply some serious marketing savvy so they can stand out in their marketplace. It allows at least 6 geographically linked business owners to travel to Colorado for an intense 20-hour training workshop, ongoing consulting support, an onsite visit and a follow-up community workshop.
I initially got involved because our headquarters is located in downtown Fremont. We can see firsthand how the economy is affecting the businesses just by being aware of what’s going on around us. Several of my coworkers are on the Downtown Fremont promotions committee and I worked with Angie on the most recent grant request to get the funds for the program. I’ve even done small workshops myself to help the business owners market themselves more effectively and was always in support of Angie’s efforts to send the businesses to Jon Schallert’s program. Since the community was insulated a bit from the economic downturn, its effects weren’t really apparent until early 2009. That’s when the sense of urgency for the program kicked in for everyone involved.
When I learned that Angie’s most recent grant request was turned down in favor of more socially relevant causes, I knew the bank had to step in. I was in the middle of business planning, trying to figure out how to re-engage a public who had really grown weary of the financial industry over the past 18 months. The marketplace was full of competitor “We’re Strong and Stable” bank ads accompanying unnaturally high CD rate promotions to drive in some much needed liquidity. In the aftermath of the financial crisis and in light of the competitive environment, we hadn’t used our 2009 advertising budget much in favor of more grassroots efforts. In short, we knew the small business effort was the right thing to do and we jumped on it. With some quick reallocation, we were able to create the “Croghan Colonial Bank Small Business Reinvention Scholarship” to provide the funds Angie was hoping for with the grant request.
What kind of investment was required?
It costs $11,563 to run one ad in all our market papers telling people how much we build our local communities. It costs $10,500 to send 6 businesses through Jon’s Community Reinvention Program. [NOTE: Initially, we were going to send 6 business owners and the Downtown Fremont Executive Director. When we received 7 applications from business owners, we decided to send all 7. So, our total investment was $12,000.] From my perspective, there is no better way to grow our business than to help others grow theirs.
The justification here was simple: do we run an ad saying that we build a community or do we actually build one? Realistically, we could say anything we want about who we are in our advertising…and it may mean a little. But our taking action in this case speaks volumes about who we are without having to run a single ad or say a single word. It’s experiential and infinitely more credible. Ultimately, the choice was clear.
What do you hope to see as results of this effort?
- More profitable downtown businesses with increased cash flows.
- Sustained growth in the downtown retail district (of which we are a part).
- Increased media exposure that we didn’t have to pay for.
- Stronger public and shareholder perception.
- Sustained increased deposit base within the downtown business district (already increased by 17%)
- Viable campaign we can use to impact other communities we serve.
Did you experience resistance internally to the idea?
At this point, no. However, I started building grassroots programs with the bank over 6 years ago. We started small; hosting a chicken barbeque for a local charity so they could raise their own money instead of us giving them a $50 donation, for example. Or arranging to give the local food pantry a sack of groceries for every sack the football team got at home games. We gradually developed the grassroots marketing efforts to the point that senior management unflinchingly supported this outreach.
Why do you favor non-traditional efforts like this over traditional marketing like advertising?
With traditional advertising, it’s you alone trying to convince a free marketplace to do business with you. You have to battle natural skepticism, the competitive climate, timing, relevance, and the personal mindset of your target market. Most recently, my company has also had to battle with the negative perception of the entire financial industry. It’s daunting at best; expensive and ineffective at worst.
Non-traditional or grassroots marketing allows you to invite consumers and influencers in your key markets to care so much about what you’re doing that they become your most vocal supporters. Suddenly, you have a credible, voluntary sales force that is carrying your message forward with more velocity than a single marketing department could manage. By being a valuable resource and helping tie our business objectives to the community’s needs, we create a win for everyone. Ultimately, this leads to loyal consumers, enhanced reputation, strengthened awareness and increased sales.
In today’s competitive environment, where we see the same messages promoted by so many financial institutions (many of which aren’t supported), it’s refreshing and encouraging to see the steps that Michelle and her team at Croghan Colonial Bank are taking to demonstrate a commitment to the Fremont community. In my mind, the biggest takeaway here for financial services marketers is the question Michelle posed to justify the spend on the initiative:
“The justification here was simple: do we run an ad saying that we build a community or do we actually build one?”
This is a great example of moving beyond simply telling people about an institution through advertising – instead, they’re demonstrating the bank’s unique value added and difference from other institutions. It’s just like the saying: “actions speak louder than words.” As a result, Croghan Colonial Bank is likely to achieve its goals – which would prove difficult, if not impossible if the bank had chosen to run an advertisement instead.
Thanks Michelle and Croghan Colonial Bank, we’ll look forward to following the progress of this effort.
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