Using People Power

Article excerpt

Community banks adopt marketing campaigns with the human touch

The power of human connections, coupled with "makethe-customer-feel-good" messages, can work advertising wonders.

Two community banks in rural Kansas and Colorado know firsthand that's the case. Olathe State Bank in Olathe, Colo., and First National Bank and Trust Co. of Phillipsburg, Kan., revamped their advertising messages to emphasize a more personal touch. By featuring hometown events and faces in their ads, both banks came away winners by attracting new business. And they even reduced expenses in the process.

Olathe State Bank, a bank with $20 million in assets, turned away from productheavy or service-heavy advertising to radio ads conveying a more "emotion-laden" theme, explains President and CEO Les Mergelman. The new approach produced "a much better image for us and is bringing in accounts that we would not have received without it," he says.

Last year, First National Bank and Trust, a $121 million-asset bank, adopted a new "We care. We share your dreams" slogan. The bank's ads feature the familiar hometown faces of employees, customers and local residents. "Our advertising was too heavy on selling services, and we learned a lot about how we need to identify with our customers' dreams and aspirations," explains Chairman and CEO Charles I. (Cy) Moyer.

First National Bank and Trust's advertising approach was shaped by a Colorado ad agency, Chandler Marketing Co. of Glenwood Springs, which also assisted Olathe State Bank's marketing efforts.

Michael Chandler, the agency's owner, tells community banks to drop the "we're first, we're biggest" slogan and develop an approach that "emotionally bonds" customers to them.

Chandler maintains that community banks, to survive big bank or super-regional competition, must put more emphasis on market "positioning" with a more personal, human touch.

"For community banks to stand out from our competition, they must focus and draw on their customers' strongest human trait-their emotions," Chandler advises.

A year ago, to launch a new radio advertising campaign, Olathe State Bank trimmed back many of its mounting civic donations. The bank had been spending $30,000 a year in civic donations, discovering that that much largesse was eating too far into the bottom line. Instead, the bank devoted its marketing budget to the new advertising campaign, which promotes a wide array of hometown events and includes a strong message about the bank's longstanding support of community service.

Like Olathe State Bank, First National Bank and Trust invested in advertising that puts a strong emphasis on the customers. "We used to talk in our advertising about how wonderful we are, but now we've turned it around," notes Kelly Vanderplas, First National Bank's marketing representative. "We tell our customers how important they are."

First National Bank and Trust's ads highlight lots of special community events, from the annual "Riverless Festival," to a spotlight on Health Care Month and Hospice Week to a plug for an arts and crafts fair Labor Day celebration. …