The financial sector’s response to the economic impact felt by COVID-19 has been inspiring to say the least. In addition to various personal and commercial forbearances, banks, credit unions, fintechs and other financial companies have effectively directed The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds to small businesses across the country, helping them continue to pay their employees in a time of enormous strain. Community banks especially had a moment these past two months. While some of the largest banks were unable to be quick and agile enough to serve (or possibly didn’t wish to), many smaller community institutions stepped up. There is a reason we have the type of banking system we do in America and times like these prove, yet again, that bigger isn’t always better.
Since the launch of PPP on April 3rd, the SBA has processed millions of loans for more than half a trillion dollars of economic support. Additional financial support via the Main Street Lending Program could be on the way by month’s end. Unlike the PPP program, financial institutions will assume more risk and borrowers won’t have a forgiveness option, but the terms will still be favorable compared to traditional lending vehicles. Many community banks will have an opportunity to help businesses through their next 12-18 months of uncertainty (and could reap the benefit of this service for years to come). More relationships, deeper trust, better service to your communities.
As was the case with the rollout of PPP, support for businesses will continue to be swift, confusing at times, and evolving. Communication will be critical as small businesses continue to turn to their local banks for advice. But you’ll also need to think longer term. What will these new relationships need in the months and years to come? What industries will continue to struggle with the challenges that reopenings present? What products and services are most meaningful now verses six months from now. The rules of the “quarterly campaign calendar” need to be broken…for good.
As a communication professional in the financial world, look at your next year, despite its unpredictability, and plan for at least three phases of communication.
Immediate (the “summer of forgiveness”): First and foremost, you and your company should be working toward mitigating any burdens on your loan officers or call centers post-PPP and on the heels of the Main Street Lending Program. Use resource pages and microsites wisely and segment your pages for the different needs as much as you can. Remember, adding more FAQs and more information to your “catch-all page” may not help. You have to think about the different needs at this time and how variable those needs are across businesses, households, geographies and industries. For borrowers or individuals that do have unanswered questions, ensure call center training on latest SBA guidance and quickly collect feedback from them to place online as more questions will follow.
Also, consider this a great time for “maintenance marketing.” John Hanley (SVP of Marketing at Equity Bank) and I discussed this on a recent FinX podcast and the next few months may be a great time to clean up some of the lower priority marketing minutiae that you often don’t pursue in “normal” times. This could be on-site SEO of your website, rebuilding your content calendar, fixing broken website links, reviewing old or low-traffic content, improving social media channel designs, adjusting your intranet page, or building some reporting dashboards. While some of your planned initiatives were pushed to Q3 or later, you may find you have opportunities this summer to tackle these important, but often neglected items.
Near-term (Q3/Q4 2020): Situational preparedness. No one. I repeat no one knows what this fall or winter health climate will be. Another spike, a mutated virus, or just a steady state of uncertainty. But you can plan for uncertainty. As a marketing professional, this means creating “safety assets.” These assets could come in a variety of forms, from a digital resource center template to a fall-back advertising template. Your media plans may need to be shorter in duration with flexible outs or you may need to shift more funds to digital channels like search and mobile. Whatever the case, audit your content and creative assets and plan for backup.
For businesses exiting the PPP process, be sure you evaluate the communication to them about servicing needs and continued support. Too often we neglect customers and members after “their need is filled.” Many of these businesses will need new types of support in the months that follow PPP, so put helpful content in their hands and on their phones. Assess relationship throughput (loans, deposits) for the PPP businesses, and begin or improve the development of your digital onboarding, cash management and “business stabilization” communication plans.
And start preparing for a very different style of communication in 2021.
Your New Communication Model (early 2021): You should look at 2021 as your opportunity to start differently. 2020 already broke your well-manicured plans. Implement a new style of communication. One that doesn’t look like quarterly campaigns where everyone can “Spring into a HELOC” or “Fall into a student checking account.” One that doesn’t waste media dollars on ineffective, analytically-challenged advertising. And one that begins to look at how your customers behave and what they tell you they need, not what you think is “seasonally correct.” Additionally, start planning or planning to improve these activities this year in preparation for 2021:
Digital Business Services Onboarding: Small businesses, often still reliant on spreadsheets for core financial management, will see the benefit of digital business services during this time. Not only do businesses need to record their transactions with you to help alleviate some of the manual nature of PPP assessment, this underlying financial management pain can lead to a better client experience long-term. Developing onboarding programs and communicating the benefits of these services in the coming months could dramatically increase adoption of these solutions in 2020 and into 2021. Evaluate your digital business banking onboarding and think of the changes you can make.
Marketing Automation: In times of crisis, marketing automation, when built correctly, can give you a rapid response mechanism to adjust your advertising, content and conversion opportunities. As more customers and members move online, setting up automated communication in response to their various actions will help you generate more leads, deepen relationships, and reduce calls or trips into the branch.
Stabilization Support: As small businesses struggle with the uncertainty surrounding reopening and whether customer behaviors will return to anything close to the previous norm, it is critical that financial institutions provide creative financial solutions. PPP loans were a helpful Band-aid for many of your business clients, but they will need additional services to help re-establish a stronger base of cash in the coming year. Prepare your product marketing accordingly through 2021.
Cashflow Content: Cash has dried up in a record time for many small businesses these last two months. Writing content on how to effectively restore and manage cash will help you connect to business owners’ pain for the foreseeable future. Your cash management specialists should already be thinking about how they can provide additional insights, reporting and stabilizing support for customers at this time.
These are just a few of many longer term planning items to consider this year. The next six months will be a delicate balance for financial marketers. Your tone, advertising, and outreach need to evolve while maintaining some flexibility as uncertainty isn’t going to wane for some time. But don’t let this crisis stop you from evolving. Make sure 2021 looks a lot different than 2019 did. Don’t pause. Start planning now.