Posted on 4/14/2020 in Digital Marketing

By Sean Greene


We are coming up on the one month mark since the WHO officially declared the Coronavirus a “pandemic”, the world has undoubtedly been shaken to its core. A shock wave has rippled through nearly every facet of our lives in sending non-essential workforces and students home for an undetermined period, left to navigate the moment with few references.

The banking industry, like many others, has been hit particularly hard and has required marketers to author a new playbook on the fly, deftly managing a delicate balancing act of recognition, assurance, direction and empathy.  Alletta Emeno, Chief Marketing Officer for Ardent Credit Union, sat down with Wakefly to share her perspective on the unique challenges of the last month, as well as how Ardent is looking forward to the month(s) ahead. Here is our conversation:

Sean: Take us through what the last 4 weeks have looked like for you.

Alletta: Well...you know...best laid plans…

We work off a marketing calendar for the year, always knowing that we have to make adjustments but this year obviously has been much different. Many things that we’d been planning for the Spring, a normally very busy time with a focus on home and auto, have been scrapped. We’ve put a lot of stuff on hold as it just didn’t feel right to continue with planned messaging.

Sean: How are you handling messaging to your members?

Alletta: We’re doing a lot of emailing, about one a week. In the beginning, we focused on how Ardent was handling the situation, then switching to information about which branches are open and how members can interact with us. We also needed to share that we closed all lobbies but one.  Most recently, we’ve explained to members how we’re helping with things like deferment requests and waiving fees like no penalties for early withdrawal on CDs. If members need to get to their funds, we’re not charging penalty fees. So a lot of communication like this recently while at the same time, doing a lot of education. There are folks out there that still don’t do eBanking or that do eBanking but have never done remote deposit. We want to remind them that these services are available to them. For some of our members, these services may not matter but for others with smartphones, we’re trying to bring some around.

We did an email about eBanking divided into two groups:

  • Members that have a Checking Account with us but don’t have eBanking
  • Members that have eBanking but haven’t logged in in recent months

The intent was to convince the first group and remind the second. On the day these went out, we had 25 signups for eBanking which is not normal for us on any given day.  

We’ve had fantastic open rates with recent emails (approximately 37%) and unsubscribe rates have been very low.  In reading industry articles of late, unsubscribe rates in general, seem to be particularly high for some industries though that doesn’t seem to be happening with our members. 

Sean: Sounds like in a small way, maybe there’s a bit of silver lining in this moment?

Alletta: Well...I’m a big “make lemonade out of lemons” person so I think these are the only kinds of things you can hope for out of something like this. Maybe we bring some people around that have been somewhat hesitant in the past. Someone on my own team just did a remote deposit for the first time this week. And it’s not that they’ve been resistant but there’s a branch downstairs so why would they do remote deposit, right? So, I suppose we’re trying to harness some of this. 

Another example would be members that have existing HELOCs with us that are still in the draw period and have a large available balance. We’re letting them know that rates just came down and credit is available to them if they need it. That particular email had a 65% open rate, which is insane! General automated emails that regularly go out pre-approving members for up to 8 loan products have been rewritten to feel more attuned to the moment.

One thing we have the most hope for is trying to get people into Apple/Google/Samsung Pay.  It’s really the only form of contactless payment that we have. Using this service at the grocery store or pharmacy, it’s awesome. We’ve known this for some time though it’s reassuring to hear a cashier tell me recently that “we really need to teach more people how to use that.”

For us, it’s about positioning everything at the moment and really trying not to be tone-deaf and to present what we’re doing in context.

Sean: What is the perspective on new business at a time like this?

Alletta: While there aren't a lot of new accounts being opened right now (i.e. Auto Loans), there’s a big positive for our online account team. They now have an opportunity to spend much more time on their calls and potentially offer an even higher level of attention and service than normal. We’re always looking to build relationships and finding that about 95% of members taking our calls are appreciative of the outreach. Calls that used to be 5 minutes are now 20-30 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour. 

So even if a member might simply be excited to talk to someone other than their family or pets, the feeling of that conversation will last much longer than this pandemic will. 

Sean: Talk to us about the role that your website is playing right now?

Alletta: It’s definitely been great as we’re emailing but we’ve also created a page on the pandemic, updating as frequently as we can. Specific to our branches, we’ve been encouraging members to check out our updates before coming in as hours of operation can vary from day-to-day. 

We are trying to put up the right messaging on eBanking & Contactless banking which is still evolving next to other, more immediate messages. We’re using the site to reinforce the messages that are going out via email channels initially.

Sean: How about paid advertising? Where are you amplifying efforts vs. pulling back?

Alletta: We did pull back for a little bit as we weren’t sure where things were going.  It’s interesting. Right now we have a lot of people who are home. They are working but during their free time well, they have a lot more of it and potentially online more than usual.  So here we have this big opportunity right now with everyone slowed down a little, maybe we try and get some engaging messaging out there while also wrestling with ideas like - Do they want to apply for a mortgage right now? Maybe not. We’re just trying to be very selective with what we put out there. 

As such, we’ve shifted to some mortgage pre-approval type messages figuring that people can use this time to get themselves into a good position for when they’re able to re-enter the housing market.

With our auto buying concierge service, people might not be in dealerships though they can work with our team to get a game plan together for when this all starts to shift. 

And it’s the smart buyers that are realizing - Hey, there’s probably going to be some deals to be had and now’s the time to prepare. And maybe they're even in a position to buy now if they’re employed or capable of doing so.  

Sean: Lastly, how about social media? Any unique approaches you’ve taken beyond what you’ve discussed for email, website and paid?

Alletta: We aren’t as focused on paid social right now in favor of simply engaging with our members, pushing ourselves to come up with creative & engaging content and maybe even have some fun as best we can. 

For example, we’ve recently been running free in-branch workshops for anyone in the community. These workshops feature experts who will present for about an hour and then usually participate in a happy hour thereafter. We tap into our expertise (Ardent's Auto Concierge leads a Car Buying Presentation featuring ex-Car Dealers sharing tricks of the trade and secrets on how dealers sell to you) as well as those within our community (a Wine Sommelier, Beer Tastings, etc.) We’ve obviously had to pull back on these as branch traffic is suspended though we’re going to try to hold some virtual workshops later this month, using social media to promote.  This is an effort to get our brand out there in a way that’s not sales-focused and should ideally promote some good graces within the community. 

In summary, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to messaging in our new normal. The team at Ardent Credit Union is clearly mindful of all the variables at play, even making a little lemonade when we could all use a glass right about now. 

For a no-cost assessment of how you can improve your digital marketing and website performance during this challenging moment, please schedule some time with one of our consultants HERE. Or if you would like more information on creating an effective digital marketing strategy for your bank, check out one of our latest blogs on the topic.


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