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Over the past few months, I’ve watched construction progress on a new Umpqua Bank branch in my neighborhood in Portland.  The Alberta branch is set to open this week, and the efforts to generate awareness locally have been impressive.

In addition to promoting the branch opening on the Umpqua Bank website and  launching a branch-specific Facebook page, Umpqua Bank has also worked to generate awareness about the new branch in a few pretty innovative ways as well.  As an example, the bank’s Facebook page documents the branch team’s visits to local businesses, its random acts of kindness for businesses and people in the neighborhood, and volunteering at the local elementary school.   During the last week, flyers were distributed to local business owners letting them know about the branch’s opening – which will include food, drink and entertainment from a variety of local small businesses.

the plant delivered to my house announcing the new Umpqua Bank branch opening

As a neighborhood resident, I was surprised to find a small plant and note delivered by Umpqua Bank’s team to my doorstep yesterday.  The lead message on the note was: “It’s not every day that you get something nice from a bank.”  This was accompanied by an invitation to the branch “to say hello, pickup a free bag of Umpqua Blend coffee and bank like you live.”  On the chance that I didn’t know where the branch was located, the note also included a small map. The piece was well-branded, but also worked to promote another local small business; a stick in the dirt included the contact info of the business where the plant was purchased.

Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the $10,000 Build Your Block Challenge, described by the bank as, “an opportunity for Alberta neighbors to share their ideas for neighborhood enhancements.”  Submissions will be accepted through the bank’s Facebook page from July 22nd until August 20th.  Umpqua Bank’s team will select three of those submissions, and allow the community to vote for their favorite from August 30th until September 10th.  A winner will be announced on September 15th.

The Alberta Umpqua Bank branch is set to open tomorrow.  Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’d imagine that most will view the branch as a welcome addition to the neighborhood; I’m certainly looking forward to checking it out.

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Earlier this month, American Banker published an article by Larry Cohen titled, Viewpoint: Understanding the New ‘Normal’ for Consumers.  While were  “the new normal”  has become a commonly used phrase, both within and beyond financial services,  it seems to hold a different meaning for everyone using it.  In this case, Cohen refers to the new normal as it relates to shifts in consumer behaviors.  He offers the following insights in the article:

“The last two years ended a decade that changed the landscape of financial services. Huge uncertainties exist in the economy and, most importantly, among consumers. People tend to make changes slowly, but inexorably, by almost all measures and in most areas, they are changing. Examining the shifts in the interconnected trends of demographics, products, services, channel use, goals and financial attitudes over the past two decades can yield significant insights into how and why consumers are changing — and where they are headed.

We are all entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. Some claim that consumers have not changed, but our examination of comprehensive consumer data, integrating trends within components including demographics, financial attitudes, product incidences and use — along with life stages and triggers like life events — found significant evidence of consumer change. And based on our long-term experience analyzing these trends, the shifts pervade virtually every financial need.”

As Cohen suggests, an evaluation of shifts over the past two decades may yield significant insights.  But because consumer behaviors have been impacted so dramatically by recent shifts in the economy, an evaluation of changes and trends in consumer behaviors over the past two years is likely to yield more relevant and timely insights than one spanning decades.

Further, because we have experienced such dramatic change in the past couple years, it’s amazing to think that “some claim that consumers have not changed.”  These people are either not paying attention or are in denial; consumer attitudes and behaviors have changed.  Now, marketers are challenged with what to do next.  The new normal requires us to look at post-recession consumer behaviors (more on the post-recession consumer can be found here and here).

As Cohen suggests, demographics, products, services, channel use, goals and financial attitudes have changed.  It’s likely that they’ll continue to change.  But acknowledging these changes is only the first step.  More important than recognizing the change is the response with which that change is met.  How will you respond?

There has been a lot of talk this week about changes happening with Facebook.  Much of the talk is centered around Facebook’s decision to change a feature used by most credit unions and community banks with Facebook accounts.  No longer will people interested in showing support for an organization (like a financial institution)  ‘become a fan’ of that organization.  Rather, they’ll show support by clicking a ‘like’ button instead. 

All of this is part of Facebook’s efforts to place more emphasis on the like feature and introduce it to other websites, blogs, and publications.  If you’re not familiar with Facebook, this may not be relevant.  For those that do have Facebook accounts for their banks or credit unions, it’s time to tweak your messages to reflect these changes.

Truliant Credit Union is on the ball.  Truliant Credit Union has changed it’s message from asking visitors to ‘become a fan of Truliant’ to ‘Like Truliant on Facebook.’  It’s a simple change, but one that needs to be made to reflect the changes Facebook has made.

On the other hand, most other institutions have yet to change the become a fan message.  As an example, Day Air Credit Union has an advertisement on its Facebook page that relies heavily on the use of the word fan and the become a fan call to action.   Day Air Credit Union is not alone; a quick search online returned several institutions using the become a fan message on their Facebook pages and on their institutions’ websites.

While this change may frustrate some, it’s a great example of how companies using social media platforms need to monitor and adapt to unexpected changes.  For institutions like Truliant, the quick change demonstrates responsiveness and keeps the institution’s messages relevant.  For some others, unfortunately, we’ll likely see slow change or no change at all.  And those who don’t respond quickly risk negative effects of disconnected and outdated marketing messages.

If your institution uses the become a fan message in its marketing messages, take some time this week and make the necessary changes. 

On a side note – once the dust settles, it will be interesting to see how organizations refer to the group formerly referred to as fans.  As a friend asked me yesterday, will these people become ‘likers’?

A couple weeks ago, I came across the article Foursquare Promotion Nets this Bank Positive Results written by Jason Sherrill from Inetsolution.  The brief article highlighted North Shore Bank’s (Brookfield, WI) use of Foursquare, and directed readers to a previous article he wrote called An idea for banks and credit unions to use Foursquare.

More recently, Luke Owen from Truebridge Financial Marketing published the article Can Foursquare be the saving grace for a banks fading branch traffic?  Again, the article centered on North Shore Bank’s use of Foursquare. 

These articles prompted me to reach out to Tim Gluth and Kate Knox from North Shore Bank to learn more about the bank’s use of Foursquare, but more broadly, about the bank’s social media efforts in general.  While our conversation initially focused in Twitter and Foursquare (for some good background information about the bank’s use of Foursquare, please check out the articles written by Jason and Luke), I was most impressed with something Kate mentioned during our call:

“We see our involvement with social media as an opportunity to listen”

In financial services, where many social media efforts are dominated by one-way conversations, it was refreshing to hear this.  Unfortunately, many institutions have it backwards.  Rather than viewing social media as an extension of the conversations they’re already having, they view social media as another venue to promote their marketing messages – most of which are nothing more than one-way communications.  There’s nothing social about these efforts.

In my conversations with Tim and Kate, we talked about an initial step they took that was different from how I’ve seen most marketers start their social media efforts.  Both Tim and Kate became personally involved with social media before launching an effort on behalf of the bank.  And, they used this time as an opportunity to observe how other companies – both within and outside of financial services – used social media to enhance their marketing efforts.   In my mind, this separates North Shore Bank’s efforts from the rest – it gave them an understanding of how to effectively use social media, and they’ve been rightly recognized for these efforts.

I’d like to see more financial services executives and marketers become involved initially in social media as active observers – taking time to really listen.   This requires patience and restraint, but it pays off in the end.

Last week I attended the American Bankers Association‘s National Conference for Community Bankers.  I had missed the opening reception due to fight delays, but thought I would check to see what I was missing via Twitter.  While I was stuck in the airport in Atlanta, I searched for mentions of ABA and NCCB on Twitter in hopes of finding the conference hashtag, but my searches returned nothing.  In doing some additional searching, I came to the conclusion that there was no Twitter hashtag for the conference and I decided to start using #abanccb to start some conversation.

After attending the ABA Marketing Conference in September, where the tag #abamc was established (and a live Twitter feed for the tag was placed on the conference’s webpage), I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a tag for the National Conference for Community Bankers.  Several people used the tag during the Marketing Conference, which promoted a good deal of conversation before, during, and after the conference among both attendees and people following along from home.   The absence of a tag for the NCCB was a missed opportunity for these online conversations.

In looking online, I found a good article on Mashable.com called  How to get the most out of Twitter hashtags.  In discussion about conferences and events, Ben Parr, the author tells us that “It’s become standard to track the conversation regarding speakers and afterparties via a hashtag.”  I agree, and think that the conversation using hashtags enhances the conference experience.  Parr offers three simple, but practical points of advice for organizing hashtags for an event or conference:

  • Choose a single hashtag early
  • Remind attendees of the hashtag constantly
  • Provide a website widget

While not everyone in attendance at a banking conference will use Twitter (or have an account), here are five reasons banking conference organizers should use Twitter hashtags:

1.  Generate Awareness about an Event

Establishing and using an appropriate hashtag in advance of a conference can help generate awareness about an event.  This might help an organizer distribute news, session topics, and important dates about the event.  It could help them reach a different audience than they may reach through other outreach; and it allows others to easily promote the event through online conversations using the same hashtag.

2.  Networking

Networking is one of the primary reasons people attend conferences.  And while conferences are a great place to participate in traditional social networking, encouraging online social networking can greatly enhance the networking experience.  This allows attendees to engage with one another, and with the conference organizers differently than they have in the past (which for many, has been limited to face to face conversations).  As a result, people are able to make meaningful connections with more people during the event – whether through online, offline, or a combination of both interactions.

3.  Promote Discussion About Session Topics

Conference organizers work hard to pack as much good content into their conference sessions as possible.  In many cases, this means that attendees need to pick between certain concurrent sessions.  And often times, speakers are working with limited timeframes allowing little time for questions and discussion after the session content is covered.  Opening the conversation to Twitter allows attendees to share real-time information from various sessions, ask questions, and continue the conversation long after the session has ended.

4.  Engage Non-Attendees

While Twitter hashtags work to engage conference attendees, they also create an avenue for non-attendees to join the conversation.  Tags allow information about the conference happenings and sessions to be broadcast to a much larger audience.  As a result, non-attendees can follow along and contribute to the conversation, and in some cases be made aware of an event they may have otherwise not known about.

5.  Extend the Life of an Event

Most conferences last a few days.  With all the work that goes into planning the event, using online social media like Twitter or blogs can work to extend the life of an event well-beyond the few organized formal conference days.  Using a Twitter hashtag before a conference can help get people engaged early; using the hashtag afterwards can allow the conversations to continue for weeks after the conference concludes.  These continued conversations could help remind attendees of key conference takeaways.  For the event organizers, it keeps the event top of mind for a longer period of time.

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As a conference attendee, I’m starting to expect that conference organizers establish a hashtag for their events.  For the reasons I’ve discussed above, I’m hoping to see more organizers using tags for future events.  And as we’ve seen attendance at many conferences decline in recent months, this is one important way associations can keep people engaged and bring value to members who may not be able to travel for an event. 

While the Twitter conversation may have been limited at this year’s ABA National Conference for Community Bankers, it was encouraging to see that people did participate in the conversation once it was started.  And, it was great to be at the ABA conference in Hollywood, FL and follow the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference happening at the same time in Washington, DC via that conference’s Twitter tag.  I’m looking forward to Twitter gaining traction among banking conference attendees, as it opens doors to conversations and introductions that may otherwise never happen.

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.

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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.

Remember all the buzz about MySpace? 

Since sometime in 2007, when MySpace was on the minds of so many marketers, the popularity of MySpace among financial institutions has obviously gone downhill.  Some marketers have migrated to Facebook and/or Twitter, and some seem to have abandoned social media all together.  While the conversation about social media continues to be a hot topic, I haven’t heard about any financial institutions that have recently launched, or are planning to launch a MySpace page.  The conversations about MySpace aren’t happening anymore (if they are, let me know).

It raises the question:  What happened to financial institutions using MySpace?

Searching MySpace for ‘bank’ or ‘community bank’ doesn’t return many/any relevant results.  In searching for ‘credit union’, however, MySpace returns 151 results – many of which appear to be actual credit union or credit union related MySpace pages. 

One of MySpace’s most interesting features is the ability to see when a person/company last logged-in to their account.  While the search for credit unions returned quite a few existing credit union pages, many are no longer active – it seems that many have simply been abandoned.  A few examples:  

While there are some credit unions that appear to be actively using (or at least checking) their MySpace pages (like Lancaster Red Rose CU, Meadville Area FCU, and Cal State LA FCU), most institutions appear to have gained little traction with their pages.  This is reflected in the few posts and friends, and time since last logging in.  And instead of deleting their accounts, many have opted to simply walk away – leaving behind evidence that suggests a failed effort.

If you have an inactive MySpace page, it’s time to take it down.  It reflects poorly on your brand to have an outdated and inactive MySpace page.  Social media is meant to be a two-way conversation; if you’re not contributing the the conversation through the site, there’s really no point in keeping the page alive.  Until you take it down, it will continue to show up in search results, people will continue to visit the site, and it will continue to shape peoples’ perceptions about your institution. 

I’m sure there are a number of reasons why the pages were abandoned.  Among these, I would expect:

  • There were no goals established before launching the page. You can only walk aimlessly for so long.
  • People simply hopped on the MySpace bandwagon.  When the excitement died, so did the effort.
  • Social media efforts take more time and resources than expected.  They aren’t ‘free’, and at some point (likely around that last log-in date) someone probably wanted to see evidence of a return on the invested resources.
  • The person responsible for the site no longer works for the institution, and didn’t bother to remind their colleagues about the site.
  • Facebook and Twitter are ‘cooler’ than MySpace.  Some of these institutions have probably reallocated their social media resources to these two platforms – which brings us to an important question:

How many financial institutions will abandon their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in 2010?

For the same reasons outlined above with MySpace, I’d expect that we’ll see quite a few financial institutions abandon their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in 2010.  While many institutions are using these two platforms in clever and effective ways, others are not – they’re not gaining the kind of traction necessary to generate results.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some institutions’ social media efforts were canned at the end of 2009 after not showing any return on investment. 

It will be interesting to look back on the year and see if there’s any evidence of this.  I wonder if any industry trend analysts are tracking the number of shuttered Facebook and Twitter accounts alongside those that are launched.

To those institutions still thinking about entering the social media arena, learn why you don’t need to be on Facebook, and you don’t need a Twitter account.