While national banks may be cutting back their physical branches, community financial institutions are actually witnessing branch growth.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean business as usual.

Local and regional financial institutions are becoming increasingly creative in the way they craft and deepen their community presence. And interestingly, it takes both in-person and online strategies to truly master this practice.

Once you’ve begun to implement some of these ideas, you can not only increase your financial institution’s name recognition but also take advantage of stronger customer relationships and better leads.

Ready to jump in?

Here are nine ideas you can use today to become the most recognized financial institution in your community.

#1: Localize Your Brand

Positioning yourself as part of the community is a critical part of becoming the go-to financial institution for your specific area. Have your marketing team think carefully about what makes your community unique — and even get input from other staff and customers. Then integrate their ideas into your logo and messaging so that your community presence is recognizable right at first glance.

Here’s a great example from PrinsBank located in Prinsburg, Minnesota.


The logo features the same windmill that is actually located by the town’s welcome sign. Here’s the real life inspiration:


So if you live in Prinsburg, Minnesota and see a financial institution that captures part of the town name and its identity, you’re very likely to be drawn in as a customer. The financial institution successfully aligns its own identity with the town’s identity.

Incorporating a similar idea for your own financial institution can increase your name awareness. It’s a key differentiator, particularly if there are several options available for a community financial institution. Stake a claim on your area’s identity, whether through the culture or a local landmark, and make it part of your day to day branding.

#2: Define Your Community Values

Corporate social responsibility is all the rage for companies of all size. Community financial institutions are no different, and many establish a strong local presence by supporting non-profits, schools, and other local organizations.

Before you jump in, though, create a clear plan of how and why your financial institution selects the organizations it supports. Your messaging needs to be clear and so do your responses when you receive requests that need to be declined.

South Dakota-based First National Bank actually publicly outlines the types of organizations it supports.


When you click on each plus sign, you can read a detailed description of the organizational qualities this financial institution looks for. Not only does this give a clear path through the decision making process, it also contributes to establishing a strong identity for this financial institution.

Customers appreciate a clear mission statement because it helps them determine whether or not your financial institution’s values align with theirs. They’re going to discover this eventually anyway, so put your best foot forward and directly state what your financial institution believes in and why. It’ll go a long way in raising your local stature with current and potential customers.

#3: Give Financial Support

Once you’ve outlined your values and the type of organizations your financial institution supports, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. There are a number of ways to do this and they can directly align with your marketing campaigns for specific products and services.

For a more general idea, take another look at First National Bank. They award financial prizes to community organizations, giving the winners a front page spot on this organization's website.


This year, the Yankton Sack Pack Program won $10,000 and Junior Achievement of Lincoln won $2,500. It’s a great way to showcase charitable giving to anyone who visits FNB’s website.

You can also use incentive-based giving. S&T Bank in Pittsburgh, for example, ran a spring campaign that donated $100 to local food banks for every checking account that was opened in May or June. This type of campaign helps motivate new account holders in two ways. First, they receive the satisfaction of knowing their account led directly to a charitable contribution. Second, it puts a time-sensitive deadline for potential customers to perform the necessary action.

#4: Make Branches Hyper-Local

Not every branch needs to be identical; in fact, you should customize each one as much as possible to fit the needs and wants of each location’s specific customer demographics. This can be especially helpful for financial institutions in highly urban areas, where community identity is based more on neighborhood than the city itself.

You can also cater the look and feel of your branches to the type of customer you’re most likely to reach. First Tech Federal Credit Union is headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. Not surprisingly, they cater to a lot of tech-savvy customers, many of whom probably work in various startup fields.

Take a look at their branch makeover to better appeal to their customers:


It’s open, modern, and incredibly tech-driven. In short, it’s perfectly tailored to FTFCU’s average customer.

For a more traditional community, try incorporating elements of the town’s past. You could put stories of the region’s history on the wall, or decorate with local photos from another era. Customers will enjoy seeing how the town has changed over the decades while they wait. The key is to differentiate the branch experience from any other financial institution.

#5: Win at Social Media

Social media may exist online, but the goal for financial institutions is to create personal connections with local leads. There are countless ways you can use social media to build your community presence.

You can spotlight top employees and share pictures from branch events. To engage your customers, you can run contests and promotions to get people buzzing about your brand.

Busey Bank in Illinois is great at this. Here’s a campaign they ran this fall, calling for parents to nominate their football-playing kids to be a “Busey’s Kid Captain.”


The winner received front-row seats to a local college football game and was later featured on their Facebook feed.

Busey uses all aspects of their community presence as social media content. Remember the philosophical question, if a tree falls but there’s no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound? The same holds true for your community outreach. If you’re not using it as part of your marketing, is it helping you as much as it could?

The answer is no. Market your community presence just as you would any other service you offer. Post pictures from a networking event, show your employees volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and involve followers in your fundraising initiatives. You have to get your message out there, otherwise you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to share your financial institution's values.

#6: Create Local Content

Another way to differentiate your financial institution as a community leader is to show off your specialized knowledge as a local expert. After all, a huge bank like Wells Fargo can’t pretend it knows your area better than you do.

This can primarily be achieved through inbound marketing techniques like blogging. You can capture leads who are looking for specific local information as well as provide content to push out to existing customers.

Here’s an idea from North Carolina-based First Local Bank:


This financial institution regularly features content with local flavor, and this essay contest on customers’ hometowns gave them content and a way to engage with customers. It’s really a win-win.

Another idea is to create a micropage to capture specific segments. You might make a website or education center on business resources for local small business owners. To increase your mortgage leads, create a relocation guide for people looking to move to the area — chances are, they’ll need a new financial institution to go along with that new house.

Commit to localized content and you can be sure that both customers and leads will respond. You can’t go wrong as long as you’re providing value-based content that people really want to read.

#7: Be Present in the Community

In order to have a strong community presence, you need to actually step foot outside of your branch. Offer your staff paid volunteer hours or create your own volunteer days with organizations you already support. By doing this, you not only get to promote your outreach efforts to your own audience, but you can ask the non-profit organization to showcase photos to their audiences as well.

Here’s an example from Velocity Credit Union in Austin, Texas. They not only posted photos of staff members helping out with a charity run, but also tagged the benefitting non-profits to show up in their feeds as well.


#8: Be a Leader in the Community

Being present in the community through volunteering and other activities is a great start. But in order to be the leading financial institution in your area, you’ve got to actually be a leader in the community. A great way to do this is by becoming a physical resource for customers and your leads.

For instance, you can partner with other professional organizations to host or sponsor events that add value to locals. Virginia Community Bank recently partnered with the local Chamber of Commerce to host a weekday morning business networking event. Imagine bringing some of your team members to that event to meet with business owners about their financing needs.


Alternatively, you could host in-person informational sessions and classes. Maybe your mortgage broker could partner with a local real estate agent to provide a free training for first-time home buyers. You can then simultaneously cross-sell your services while also tapping into each other’s pipeline of leads.

Even if people don’t attend these events, simply knowing about them shows that your staff members are subject matter experts and your financial institution is willing to share that knowledge. Remember, it’s all about building trust while developing relationships.

#9: Listen to Your Customers

In order to have a truly meaningful community presence, you need to develop relationships with the people who live and work in your financial institution's actual community. And just as in any relationship, you always need to be willing to listen.

What exactly does that mean for a financial institution?

Ask for feedback from your customers, either by holding focus groups or by distributing online survey. Do this for both personal clients and business clients to figure out how you can differentiate your services to suit their needs. Find out if any processes need to be streamlined or how you can communicate more effectively. Then you can implement those ideas to show that your financial institution truly cares.

Now let’s take this idea one step further. Listening to ideas alone isn’t enough — you also have to pay attention to how your customers act. Achieve Marketing can help you with this by analyzing how your customers use your website. We’ll see trends emerge to discover what’s working and what’s not.

Even if your financial institution is already utilizing website analytics, you may be using the information incorrectly. A simple digital audit is a great way to show you how to make the best decisions by what’s actually happening on your website.

When you listen to both customers’ words and actions, you can become the financial institution that truly represents the community you serve.

Give me a shout over email to learn more about how Achieve can help you implement one or more of these ideas to make your financial institution the local banking leader.