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How to Build a Digital-First Marketing Strategy for Your Financial Brand

Written by Banks Editorial Team

Updated December 12, 2022​

6 min. read​

digital-first marketing strategy financial brand

Digital-first isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, but it’s a novel way of looking at marketing for many financial institutions. Long considered a traditional industry, banks, credit unions, and other financial firms are now discovering more effective ways to build brand awareness and drive results.

Here is what your financial brand needs to know about the importance of building a digital-first marketing strategy and some tips to get you started.

Why Your Brand Needs a Strong Digital Marketing Strategy

Any financial marketing strategy that doesn’t include digital is leaving significant money on the table. There are now 2.14 billion internet users, and 80% of consumers research purchases and products online.

Financial products and services have been evolving at light speed. Neobanks, insurtech, digital payments, and D2C mortgages are shaking up the global financial services industry. While existing institutions struggle to keep up, new and innovative players are driving strategies with the goal of luring consumers away from traditional firms.

Statistics show that 77% of consumers use one or more mobile payment apps, and over 90% of millennials are heavy users of this technology. More than two-thirds of the typical customer journey is now digital.

Digital channels and social media have a massive impact on brand awareness and buyer behavior. Statista reports that 81% of the U.S. population is now on social media, and they interact with brands just as much as they do with friends, family, and cat meme groups.

Yet, many banks are still pouring money almost exclusively into traditional marketing channels. According to the American Banking Association, a majority of community banks spend less than 20% of their marketing budget on digital marketing.

Not only is it vital that financial institutions develop a strong digital presence, but also figure out how to make it a priority.

What is a Digital-First Marketing Strategy?

Digital-first isn’t about technology. It’s about putting consumers first, above the various advertising mediums. Brands have an overwhelming choice in channels to disseminate content.

According to the traditional approach, a business would try to figure out how to make the best radio spot or 30-second television ad possible within your budget. But, few banks even do this.

Historically, banks have spent little on marketing. For example, one study of over 250 U.S. banks revealed that most spent 0.077% of revenue on marketing compared to the median marketing spend of 13% for all businesses. But, digital sales could account for up to 40% of a new bank’s revenue, so it makes sense to invest in building brand awareness and generating leads.

According to McKinsey, marketing expenses account for up to 30% of operating costs. The good news is that a digital-first marketing strategy is incredibly affordable if you have the right approach and choose an experienced partner that can help you extend your brand awareness. 

Digital-First Marketing Doesn’t Mean “Digital Only”

There’s a common misconception that making digital marketing a priority means that you will abandon everything else. This isn’t necessary or recommended. If you have the resources, you can certainly do both, and there are benefits to creating brand awareness across all channels. 

Google did a “Digital-First” study in 2019 to challenge the idea that spending on traditional channels (mainly television) was the only way to reach an audience. It ran a “TV-first” channel mix campaign and then a “Digital-first” channel mix campaign for the launch of its new Pixel 3 phone. 

Google found that its Digital-first campaigns scored higher with its target demographic of audiences ages 18-to-49. But, the performance was slightly better for traditional methods with older audiences. 

The takeaway is that a digital-first marketing strategy is the best approach to connect with modern consumers and meet them at various stages on their buyer’s journey. Moreover, digital is cheaper and can be delivered at scale. 

Common Roadblocks to Making Digital Marketing a Priority

Banks and credit unions belong to one of the most traditional industries, which hasn’t done them any favors when it comes to reaching consumers in a digital age. 

It can be incredibly challenging for companies to change how they approach marketing, and a digital-first strategy might be considered drastic by some. You might face a few roadblocks in your goal to make your financial institution digital-first. Some of the most common ones are:

Conservative Culture

In the IT industry, there’s a common axiom: “No one’s ever been fired for buying IBM.” The idea is that, being a known entity, IBM is considered safe.

The same thinking applies to marketing, where certain things like direct mail and trade shows are considered familiar and safe. There is minimal risk, but what about the rewards?

By evolving and testing new digital strategies and technologies, digital marketers have the opportunity to capture additional market share and connect with their current customers. Failing to do this, they might lose business to the firms that are taking more risks.


Followers, fans, subscribers, leads, and customers choose where and when to interact with your brand online. They don’t differentiate between your different channels and departments. 

If you consider the various customer touchpoints – online chats, social media, website subscription boxes, downloadables, webinar attendees – each has different needs and goals. 

A recent Forbes Insights Study demonstrated a disconnect between bank management and marketers, with management placing emphasis on revenue growth and marketers on increasing product and brand awareness. 

An effective digital marketing strategy that boosts brand and product awareness will naturally help the organization achieve better bottom-line results. To get there, it must break down internal silos to find better ways to facilitate collaboration between IT, operations, customer service, and HR to deliver a truly remarkable and seamless customer experience. 

Lack of Knowledge and Talent

If a marketing talent gap has impacted your business’s ability to adopt new strategies, there is a simple solution: ask for help. 

Financial services organizations may wish to focus on what they do best while partnering with an experienced financial services consumer platform to help them kickstart their digital-first marketing approach.

The Most Effective Digital Marketing Strategies for Banks

If you are a marketer or manager for a financial institution, you’ve likely been given some financial benchmarks to meet. How can you differentiate yourself from your competitors, particularly if you are offering similar services to the same target audience? 

It might seem cliche at this point, but when your firm focuses on the customer experience, everything else falls into place. Customers generally want the same things from their bank or credit union  – value, convenience, customer service, and security. 

Here are some of the most effective ways of delivering your marketing message digitally.

1. Target Local Demographics

If you’re not targeting the right audience, no matter what type of marketing methods you use, much of your efforts will be wasted. Regional and local banks often make the mistake of being too general with their message. 

Instead of just targeting millennials or baby boomers, think about what’s going on in your local area. Can you personalize loans or accounts for recent high school grads or first-time homebuyers in a particular town? These campaigns will also help boost your local SEO efforts. 

2. Focus on the Mobile Experience

As you focus on growth, it’s vital that potential customers can see your commitment to a simple mobile experience. Your customers must be able to complete simple tasks, such as balance inquiries, transfers, and deposits, using their mobile devices. Beyond fulfilling these basic requirements, you should also be reaching out to customers through mobile marketing efforts. 

Many consumers now surf social media and research products and services on mobile devices, so your brand needs to front and center to make a positive impression. 

3. Personalize Your Content Strategy

For your bank or credit union to survive and grow, it needs new customers and retain the ones it already has. An excellent way to accomplish these goals is by creating personalized content on your website. 

Consumers have different wants and needs, so showing them all the same content is a bit pointless. But, there are marketing automation tools that can allow you to personalize the user experience. 

For example, a visitor that comes to your website to look up mortgage rates might be shown a sign-up form for an ebook entitled “Mortgages 101: How to Qualify for the Best Home Loan.” Someone looking at your accounts page might see links to blog posts about savings or checking accounts. Site cookies can also detect repeat visitors and pull up additional suitable content. 

4. Refine Your Social Media Messaging

Much of your current and desired audience is already on social media, so you should be there, too. But, it’s not enough to just create a profile and call it a day. 

Social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, requires that you both listen and respond to consumers. Your financial brand should set up protocols for social listening to monitor channels for mentions of its brand so that it can respond quickly and appropriately. You’ll also want to create some effective social media marketing campaigns to reach a broader audience. 

5. Use Local SEO to Get Found

Assuming you’re a regional or local bank, you’ll want to focus on local SEO to boost your online visibility in the search engines. You can start by creating or claiming your Google My Business listing for every branch location. Make sure the information is accurate and consistent with what is listed on your website.

Begin building up your online reviews to increase your visibility and credibility for customers who are doing online research. Finally, create some branch-specific content that includes local information. 

6. Diversify Your Efforts

Most consumers will interact with a bank across multiple channels, including your website and social media, before they walk through the door of a branch, if ever. Some will also download and check out your mobile banking app before deciding to give you their business. 

As you create your digital-first marketing plan, consider how you will meet those customers at every touchpoint and every stage of their journey. Even after they become clients, you will still want to tailor your message to meet their needs and expectations. 

Create Brand Awareness with 

If your financial brand’s marketing has not gone digital yet, it’s time to take the first step. Fortunately, you don’t have to take this step on your own. 

By partnering with, you can boost brand awareness, grow traffic, capture demand, and educate your audience with a trusted partner. Contact us today to learn more. 

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