When I work with clients to develop a digital marketing strategy, I view it as an opportunity for the client to look at all of their marketing with a digital “lens.” This is not because I believe digital is the best or only marketing channel, but because I believe that it is the best channel for marketers to understand what it takes to successfully connect with the modern consumer.

Consumer Empowerment

Whether we like it or not, as marketers we have come to accept that the consumer is in charge. The fact is, the consumer has always been in charge of purchase decisions, but the evolution of the Internet has provided so much information and so many tools that consumers have more control over the decision-making and purchasing process than ever before.

If you think about it, much of the pressure on community banks and credit unions has been created by the “freedom” digital channels have provided for consumers to identify and use solutions based on information solely gained via digital outlets. This freedom has created a challenge for credit union marketers who now need to compete with companies that may never have a physical presence in their market.

Digital Success Requires Trust

Starting with books and CDs in the 90’s, companies have worked hard to understand the decision-making process around a majority of goods and services to develop trust-building content and processes that have enable more and more consumers to find, evaluate and purchase almost anything online.

Financial services have always required a huge level of trust because at the center of a banking relationship is money and the powerful emotions associated with it. In the past, that trust was gained through personal interactions with the brand, either directly or through friends and family that did business with it. Where credit unions and community banks have struggled, however, is building trust with potential customers who want or need to make a decision online.

Understanding the Journey

I see the primary reason for credit unions and community banks not gaining in the digital marketplace like big national banks and digital-native competitors is the in-branch experience. That’s right, the biggest strength of a local financial institution is also its biggest weakness. Bank and credit union marketers have for decades used brand and direct marketing to create an awareness of the brand and direct in-market consumers to employees in branches who handled “everything else.”

That “everything else” refers to decades of banking operations that had created front-line employees with not just product knowledge, but the ability to determine the true need of the customer, calm fears, create trust, facilitate the purchase of the right product and provide the follow-up support that strengthened the customer relationship and generated brand loyalty. This is the experience that marketers, without that frontline experience, had to replicate in digital channels. A challenge further complicated by the fact that consumers have been evolving their decision-making processes thanks to that very channel.

Enter the Digital-First Marketing Strategy

A marketing strategy built to answer the challenge of connecting with the digital consumer strengthens all marketing channels because it requires marketers to understand their brand, solutions and purchase processes from the consumer perspective. That consumer perspective boils down to this: the digital consumer (who is most consumers these days) wants a solution to a problem as quickly and easily as possible, not to mention at the lowest cost.

The digital consumer journey jumps from Awareness (and research) of the problem and possible solutions, to Interest (and research) into possible solution providers. From there the consumer must make a Decision as to the best solution provider and Purchase the solution from that provider. This process can take as little as a few minutes to many weeks depending on the complexity of the problem and the level of comfort the consumer has with the decision to be made.

Marketing efforts that successfully addresses the consumer’s needs in each of the four phases of the journey can be applied to every marketing channel, not just digital. However, digital is the channel that provides marketers visibility into consumer behavior in every phase of the journey with the data for analysis and supports rapid iterations to prove concepts before rolling out in other channels.

Interested in how to build a digital-first marketing strategy? Contact us to discuss our strategic philosophy and your specific marketing challenges.