Every day, consumers visit your website, use your app, or walk through the front door of your financial institution in hopes that you’ll be able to provide them with personal loan funds to help them achieve a goal, meet a milestone, or even cross an item off their bucket list.
From auto loan prospects to first-time homebuyers, these customers continue to play a vital role in your FI’s long-term success — especially in today’s volatile marketplace. On the one hand, May 2020 Federal Reserve survey results revealed that half of the banks reported more robust demand for mortgages in every category — but two-thirds of banks reported falling demand for credit card loans (while nearly half said demand fell for car loans.)
Loan demand is still there — even if it seems to be drying up. You just need to know where to look for it and allot your marketing budget accordingly.
“Marketing dollars are not endless; using target marketing based on demand, needs, and anticipation to purchase can make your spending more effective,” said Raddon’s Becky Summers.
What does that mean for you? A little strategic thinking, planning, and preparation can go a long way.
- Tailor your online presence to help build brand awareness and drive high-intent traffic to your site to get qualified leads.
- Focus your efforts to get out in front of that increased demand.
With that in mind, let’s focus on a few key factors that will help you and your community bank or credit union reach more prospects and get more personal loan leads:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
On any given day, online and mobile internet users initiate more than three billion Google searches (yep, that’s with a B) on a wide variety of topics. That’s a lot of web traffic. Want to know the best way to make your community bank or credit union’s personal loan products stand out to the people that matter?
SEO is the answer. Online marketing guru Neil Patel defines search engine optimization as the process of optimizing your website’s content so that search engines like Google and Bing like to show it as a top result for searches of a particular keyword.
Let’s take a quick look at how SEO works.
- Open Google (or the browser of your choice) in a separate tab.
- Search for mortgage loans (or another term of your choice) in [your town].
Once you begin your search, your search engine quickly returns a list of paid search results (they’re usually marked “Ad” or “Sponsored,” followed by another list. These organic results occur naturally without a mortgage lender paying a premium to advertise on the results screen.
Where does your financial institution rank in the results you see? As the old saying goes, if you’re not first, you’re last.
In fact, studies show that the first five organic results account for 67.60% of all the clicks. Beyond that, the fallout is significant — #6-#10 account for just 3.73%.
So, you might think, “paid ads are the way to go, right?” Not always.
Additional research indicates that “71.33% of searches resulted in a page 1 Google organic click. So, focus on winning organic searches.
We wrote about this same topic as it pertains to commercial loans, but it bears repeating here: As a community bank or credit union, you don’t need to attract a worldwide audience to your site. Instead, you want to increase business lending leads on a local level.
From listing all your branch locations and hours to mentioning the names of nearby towns and cities in page copy, SEO will help you rank higher in organic search results for personal and mortgage lending options within the region you serve.
Here are a few more tips:
- Create individual pages for each of your personal loan products. Then, optimize the copy on each of those pages to fill it with keyword-rich content that will yield better rankings in the search results.
- Don’t forget FAQs. Not only are they easy searchable (and able to be filled with keywords), they can position your FI as a subject matter expert in the field. For additional strength, write your questions as a site visitor would ask them (how they might enter them into a search engine.)
- Improve your product pages’ user experience to allow prospects to get all the information they need to make a decision. Include a clear call-to-action that puts them on the pathway to the next step you want them to take (such as a link to an online application form or a contact page.)
SEO isn’t just about generating more traffic to your website. Greater visibility for each of these pages leads to more traffic on your site, which in turn yields higher conversions on these product pages.
Simply put, content marketing goes beyond your product pages and direct advertising collateral. Marketing experts agree that it’s the best way to turn your product, no matter how common, into something that stands out from the rest in ways that are identifiable by search engine algorithms and human beings alike.
There’s no shortcut here — you can’t just buy third-party content or churn out aimless content with no rhyme or reason. Neither will help attract traffic to your platform. To be successful, you must first identify your goals and develop the personas you want to reach. Only then can you create content that effectively guides your readers through various stages to the personal lending products you’re offering.
The key is to make your content yours. From general blog content to testimonials, expert Q&As, financial education programs, and even community-centric highlight pieces, the content you create will boost your digital standing as a credible, authoritative resource on topics that matter to potential customers in your region.
Create blog content that aligns with your goals, and covers topics prospects will be searching about. If you don’t want someone landing on your site, don’t create the “answer” to the question they’re searching for.
- Are you looking to drive more construction loan leads? Create content that covers the benefits (customization options, potential cost and time savings, etc.) of building your next home.
- How about HELOC inquiries? Create content related to how homeowners can utilize the equity they already have in their homes and why they may want to do so.
As we talked about earlier, don’t forget your calls to action. The next step is probably the single most crucial element in the prospect journey, so make sure you make their next step the one you want site visitors to take, easy to find, and simple to follow.
Targeted PPC Campaigns
The world of digital paid advertising can be intimidating to jump into. On the surface, it seems that large enterprises and banks with a nationwide presence (and hefty marketing budgets to match) could simply just bully smaller-spending competitors that tried to enter the ring.
The secret to success lies in developing a pay-per-click (PPC) strategy in which you focus your efforts on your specific target audience rather than just upping the ante.
To make the best use of your budget, build a keyword list that focuses on demand and need-based search inquiries.
- Avoid wasting money on more generic search queries (such as “banks” on its own) with a high cost-per-click price.
- Although you might not get as much action, longtail keywords, such as “where can I get a car loan in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” tend to be more successful, as they indicate more intent to convert. Plus, they’re usually less competitive — which means cost-per-click bidding will be lower.
If pay-per-click advertising is a hot topic in your monthly marketing meetings, read Google Ads on a Budget: How Your Bank Can Compete — where we take a deeper dive into ways to use your budget wisely in PPC channels such as Google Ads.
Your digital footprint is a key component of your brand and, these days, the front door that a large number of prospects head to first. There’s no need for them to take the time to drive across town and visit their nearest branch when a few minutes online helps them learn who you are, find out if you can do what they want you to do for them, and — here’s a big one — read what other people say about you.
If this is news to you, Google your FI right now — people are talking about you. Take a look at these numbers from BrightLocal’s 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey:
- 87% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020
- 72% of US consumers have written a review for a local business
While the same survey indicates that less than half of consumers would use a business with less than four stars, the important thing to remember is you can control the narrative.
Here are some simple ways you can stay on top of your online reputation:
- Claim ownership of your business listings online. Set up an account with a few big review sites, namely Google, Facebook, and Yelp.
- Respond to reviews. When writing a review, 20% of consumers expect to receive a response within one day. So — good or bad — a reply will go a long way, either in showing how you are planning to help make a bad situation better or simply as an opportunity to continue building your brand as a response to a positive review.
- Ask for reviews. You’ll never have to ask for a negative review, but it’s essential to be selective about who you approach for a review. Since you’re asking someone to endorse your financial institution in a public space, the last thing you want is a mediocre response. Train your team to recognize when they have dealings with customers or members who are excited about their relationship with you, a specific product, or problem you’ve helped them overcome — that’s who to focus on. You can approach your customers in different ways: phone, email, text, or in-person.
If you’re looking for a great, free way to increase online engagement and drive traffic to your website, social media is the answer. You can tailor posts to fit the season (Holiday savings accounts, anyone?), current events, and what products are high in demand, such as mortgages in the Spring.
Research shows social media has become one of consumers’ primary methods of gathering information. Among the users of each social media site, here are the percentages of those who sign on each day:
- Facebook 74%
- Instagram 63%
- Snapchat 61%
- YouTube 51%
- Twitter 42%
This means you can get in front of loan prospects early and often. Just make sure you know what goals you want to accomplish. Too many financial institutions simply “post to post,” which does little to increase audience engagement on different mediums.
Here’s the best news: what works for the megabanks can also work for you. Take a look at these four key strategies you should use in developing an effective social media campaign:
- Create engaging content. Again, use what’s going on in the world, how people really feel about products (a post about the biggest issues with old cars could launch generate interest in new car loans), and topic du jour to capitalize on what people are already talking about.
- Be timely. With millions of conversations happening in social media channels every day, the key to drawing consumers’ attention to your FI’s brand rests on the ability to deliver a timely message. For example, did you know that May 1 is New Home Owners Day? It’s the perfect opportunity to promote mortgage programs that set your community bank or credit union apart from its local and national competition.
- Know your channels. Each of the leading social media platforms comes with its own set of user expectations regarding the type of content delivered upon it. Whereas videos abound on Facebook, Instagram is all about visual artistry (images). Meanwhile, hashtags (like #mortgage) feature strongly on both Instagram and Twitter.“Understanding what experiences consumers are expecting in [each] channel is extremely important,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. Vice President of Communications Ashlei Bobo told attendees at the 2018 American Financial Services Association’s Vehicle Finance Conference. “You don’t want to put something in that they’re not expecting because they’re going to reject it because it’s not a part of their regular, native experience.”
- Be authentic. Social media allows you to directly connect to those who follow you online and enables you to meet people where they are and speak to them about particular topics of conversation. Be sure you insert your brand authentically into whatever the day’s hot topic might be, paying close attention to how your input might be welcomed and perceived.
Think about it this way: if it looks like you’re trying too hard or trying to be something you’re not, you probably are.
Digital communication has never been — nor will it ever be — your only way to reach prospects regarding personal lending products and opportunities. Despite people’s supposed aversion to “junk mail,” direct mail’s response rates continue to rise.
Here are a few reasons why direct mail should be part of your marketing strategy:
- Up to 90% of direct mail gets opened, compared to only 20-30% of emails.
- 73% of American consumers say they prefer being contacted by brands via direct mail because they can read it whenever they want.
- 59% of US respondents say they enjoy getting mail from brands about new products.
All you have to do is break through the clutter. That means making sure your direct mail pieces stand out:
- Catch their attention. Use a unique design, colors, headline, or image that stands out in their mailbox.
- Be relevant. How are you going to solve your customer’s problems? Yes, you’re going to help them get a personal loan, but how will it make their lives better?
- Have a clear CTA. Tell the recipient what you want them to do—more than once, and make sure they know what they’re getting if they respond.
This works — especially as part of your overall marketing strategy. 68% of marketing respondents said combining digital and direct mail increased website visits. So, whether you set out on your own or want a partner who’s adept at meeting the communications needs of financial institutions nationwide, now’s your chance to combine direct mail and digital communications and reach personal loan prospects at a higher frequency.
Once you start receiving more leads (such as a completed contact form or a direct request for more info), you’re halfway home. Getting prospects across the finish line can require some nurturing if they immediately didn’t fill out a loan application.
This is where email communication can go a long way. Best of all, you can automate your email marketing based on specific interactions or prospect behaviors — which means less work for you while maintaining the personal connection that impacts prospects on a greater level.
Here are a few best practices for email marketing that you should keep in mind:
- Engage your recipient. This starts with a strong subject line of around 65 characters (according to research published in The Financial Brand) and solid, attention-getting preview and preheader text that stays true to your message.
- Be helpful. What today’s financial industry customers need are empathy and genuinely useful advice. Don’t go straight to the sale. Offer value and let that guide your conversations, with carefully tailored drip campaigns aligned to different products and personas. This will allow you to send non-salesy links to blog posts and other content that may help prospects within a particular scenario (like being a first-time homebuyer).
- Write to your reader. Use the pronoun ‘you’ and try to craft as many sentences as possible with your customer’s perspective in the lead. For example, “You need money to buy a new car; we can help with convenient auto loans” is better than “We offer affordable auto loans to help you get back on the road.”
- Keep it short. These days your email is more likely to be read on a mobile device than a desktop computer. Make sure it’s easily readable and skimmable on a small screen. You can also add social media tie-ins to your emails.
- Choose your CTA wisely. When developing an email automation program, remember how far prospects are at each touchpoint and act accordingly. For example, “learn more” is a smaller ask than “apply now.” When your CTA and audience are well-matched, you’ll see more success with your campaigns.
We’re Here to Help
As you can see, driving more personal loans online is possible when you have a solid strategy in place. Reaching prospects where they are (like in search results for high-intent queries or on social media platforms where they spend hours every day) is a great way to capitalize on high demand during peak seasons. Of course, we know you probably have the talent and experience to tackle this on your own, but why not let us help? After all, you probably have more than enough on your plate already.
BankBound specializes in partnering with community banks and credit unions to supplement your existing marketing strategies and provide access to cutting-edge techniques and equipment. SEO is an ever-changing game, but our digital marketing strategists stay up-to-date on current trends and rules. If reading this article makes you feel inspired and overwhelmed, contact us today to learn how we can help you market your personal lending products to the right audience.