Digital vs. Physical: Lessons Learned from COVID-19 and Banking

3 Minutes Read



Through the nature of necessity, the COVID-19 pandemic forced financial institutions to find ways to do nearly everything digitally and remotely. In making this transition, many institutions found improved, automated tools that will stick around long after social distancing recommendations are gone.

For example, banks and credit unions that were falling behind in their online banking capabilities were forced to invest in more advanced web and application development, which will benefit them well beyond the global pandemic. Many newly-innovated processes are more efficient or cost less money in the long-run. This applies to marketing as well; here at PRIME, we’ve helped financial institutions achieve lasting gains in membership, loans, and shares by incorporating a digital approach to reaching customers.

However, as an agency that promotes the power of digital, even we can admit: not everything digital is better. We know that digital interactions are still not preferred for some customers. They can lack personal, human connection for those who value face-to-face customer service. And as we’ve all experienced in some form of a spotty Zoom meeting, technology can fail us. 

As some banks and credit unions begin to reopen for in-person or drive-thru services, it’s important to evaluate what types of marketing can still be done better outside of the digital realm. What makes the most sense to offer onsite versus online? The answer to this question will be different for every institution based on their offerings, existing customer base, and prospective customers they hope to attract. The important thing is to give your approach intentional thought so that it can inform your strategy moving forward. In our work with financial institutions during this time of transition and uncertainty, here are some lessons we’ve learned along the way. 




Data Can Help Inform Decisions

Both qualitative and quantitative assessments should be used to develop your strategy. Still, data can be incredibly helpful in assessing the value of your physical and digital services to your current members. What percentage of your members were still regularly visiting their local branch before the COVID-19 outbreak? What types of services were most common among those visits? Then, compare that data to the percentage of customers using your online banking platform and the digital services they use. 

The same goes for marketing. How many new leads or upsells come in response to a print ad, a mailer, or an in-office visit? How many come from digital ads, social media, or awareness created by another digital service you offer?

Your current members’ activity will likely be the biggest deciding factor in how you offer your services. However, you should also consider your future and potential customers, which we’ll cover below.





In-Person Interactions Are Essential for Building Trust

While simple services like depositing a check can be done easily with little human interaction, many still require a level of trust that is best gained through face-to-face connection. Offerings such as business service, meetings with lenders, or discussions about taking out a home loan or mortgage can be conducted more efficiently in person or over the phone. Speaking with someone who is friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful can go a long way in establishing rapport, especially when it comes to trusting an institution with your hard-earned money.

Building trust with customers can often provide opportunities to market additional products and services. When customers see your staff as trusted advisors for their personal or business finances, they’ll be more open to helpful suggestions. This is a scenario in which traditional marketing materials such as business cards, brochures, and flyers can help explain options and provide contact information.

So, even though many services may be better accessed online, these are a few that can still be very successful in the physical realm.



Leverage Your New Strengths

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s taught us to prepare for the future before it happens. While you may have had success marketing to your customers in your local branch before the pandemic, consider that the future may look different. Emerging from this pandemic, institutions should consider what may or may not go back to “normal” and plan for varying scenarios. 

Also, consider the new customer demographics you want to attract and how you can build your marketing efforts (digital or physical) to meet them where they’re at. In our work, we’ve found that digital platforms such as websites and mobile applications can provide opportunities to market new products and services with very little effort. A great website can help potential customers find the service they need while being exposed to special promotions, social media contests or contact forms that enable you to gather their contact information.

Digital services provide easy ways to gather information from prospective customers to understand their interests and retarget them. For example, your institution may develop a content offer containing financial advice about a particular topic and host it on your website or mobile app. In exchange for a customer’s email address, they can gain access to that advice or expertise, and you can use their email to send them related content or promotions. 

Here at PRIME, we want to share our knowledge and experience with you to make great things happen for your financial institution. Contact us -- we’d love to learn how we can help you with your marketing strategy. 



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Jason Johnson

President and Creative Director

Jason is a leader, a motivator, and a creative director. He serves as the head creative visionary for PRIME, a marketing and design agency in Bozeman, Montana. With over 20 years of experience, working in agency environments as well as in larger-scale places like Nike and the Montana Department of Military Affairs; Jason has facilitated success in a variety of digital and print campaigns through brand direction, design strategy, and outbound messaging.