Posted on 1/27/2021 in Digital Marketing

By Sean Greene


With 2020 in the rearview and a new year underway, it feels safe to say we’re equal parts exhausted while cautiously optimistic about the promises that a new year brings. Sure, the mere flip of a calendar doesn’t fast-track a radical change in our current state though when taken in whole, it feels fair to acknowledge that the “worst of it” is behind us, no? And while none of us holds a crystal ball to predict the months ahead, we’re certainly better positioned NOW than we were in March of 2020. Thankfully with a year of learnings under our belt. 

In April of 2020, Wakefly was fortunate enough to sit down with one of our credit union clients and take the pulse on how one bank marketing executive was responding to the onset of the pandemic. This month, we sat down with Morgan Rhone, Marketing Manager with (the newly branded) Community State Bank in Pennsylvania.  We asked her for an overview on her learnings from the year that was 2020 as well as an outlook in getting ‘21 off the ground.

Years from now when you’re reflecting on 2020, what do you think you’ll remember most as it pertains to your marketing

MR: It was a year full of changes and I’m sure everyone would say the same. For us, the changes were solely attributed to marketing especially where CSB is celebrating our 70th birthday this year. For the longest time, the bank’s mantra was built around this idea of doing things “the CSB way”. 2020 saw us moving on from this idea and adapting “our way” to make it better. Our thought process is very much that if we’re going to survive, we need to change

Like most, a good chunk of our year was spent dealing with stimulus checks, loans, and regulations from the government that ensured that our messaging was clear & precise while also complying with new legal standards. So communication was a big focus for sure - clearly communicating with our valued customers and responding to their questions as quickly and confidently as we could. 

Specific to online marketing, you’re one of the few companies that embraced a website redesign project early on in 2020 - and STUCK WITH IT in favor of putting it on ice. What fueled the decision to forge ahead right as the pandemic landed on us? And where your site launched towards the end of 2020, have you been able to promote yet? 

MR: With CSB undergoing a much-needed rebrand, a new website was a key consideration.  Given the moment, we absolutely discussed holding on to the project. However, in considering the new website less as a simple online brochure in favor of an actual digital branch, we agreed that responding to the moment with a new website was in our best interest.

From a functional point of view, the old website was difficult to update and not very user-friendly. So these things were considerations as well...especially when you’re navigating through a year like last and messaging is critical. 

In terms of promotion, the site has only been live a short time though we’ve been promoting through local newspapers, emails to subscribers as well as social media channels (Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn).  With that, it feels reasonable to say that campaigning in 2020 was difficult overall...really more about keeping your head above water than anything else. 

Talk a little bit about your 2020 approach to Paid Advertising, Social Media, Content, or any other practices in Digital Marketing?

MR: We put a pin in paid ads. Apart from the pandemic, election years tend to inflate pricing so we opted to hold off on this and we’re still at bay in starting ‘21.

Alternatively, we focused heavily on social, more organically than paid. Our efforts were in recognizing the moment and keeping our customers “relaxed”.  With this approach, we saw a marked increase in engagement so...yes, heavier traffic for sure, possibly attributed to customers not having as many outlets of communication. Facebook saw the most traffic followed by Instagram while LinkedIn is a channel we’re continuing to build. 

As far as content marketing, 2020 saw us focused on content for the new site, rebranding of forms, and the creation of new signage. Our message was essentially “we’re here, we’re strong, we’re not selling out to big banks though we can offer comparable services through our online digital banking.” Consistency was really our overarching theme here, streamlining our communication on things like SBA relief, PPP loans, “look out for your Stimulus Check”. This also tied over into our offline content as well and considering how to better align our communications between the website, brochures, offline advertising, and so on. 

Also, email marketing was a big focus where we have a great base of subscribers. In a typical year, customers like to see what activities the bank is involved in and well, it’s zero for 2020.  With that, we did have a new branch opening and plenty of advertising behind that, newspapers & billboards are a focus where we’re pretty rural. The opening actually went very well over the summer when it felt like we were all taking a giant breath on the year...for a moment anyway. 

What types of online marketing adjustments have you made in kicking off ‘21 - be it a proper return to form or continuing to keep conservative?

MR: Where we’re still dealing with Covid and staying conservative for now, we’re focused on building our digital branch (website) more than anything. Our aim is to make this as full an offering as possible in ‘21.  

Lastly, how has 2020 shaped you as a bank marketing professional?

MR: 2020 has made a huge impact on me personally as well as professionally in the Marketing world of banking. A lot of the year we were dealing with uncertainties, forcing me to do more critical thinking in favor of relying on past experience or something to go off of. When most of our 2020 campaigns were built around putting our customers at ease because of the world’s current condition, you really had to consider what people were feeling and distill it down to the Market area. It really made me consider how I approach running campaigns going forward. If I’m constantly relying on past campaigns to refuel the new ones, are we really being innovative? Are we truly getting through to clients as best as we could? Going into 2021 and game planning my marketing campaigns, I will now consider my current audience as the priority. It was always a piece to the process but I see now that we had too heavy of a focus on it where we were stunting our growth.  

In summary, it feels a fair assessment that 2020 was an incredible challenge to all bank marketers. Necessity breeds ingenuity as they say, and perhaps a silver lining to a year like our last one has helped some of you in framing your approach to online marketing as a whole moving forward. Our thanks to Morgan Rhone for her time & candor in sharing her experience.


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