Storytelling Through Testimonials ​

“We're a third-generation family business, so banking at GRSB—a fourth-generation family business—has always felt right. It’s comforting to bank at a place where people understand what it takes to make your company succeed.”

- Julie Sandstrom, executive vice president, Sandstrom's

We rely on testimonials every day. Your friend says his dentist has a “gentle touch,” so you make an appointment. Your co-worker talks up a seminar, so you sign up. It’s all part of our quest for the best outcome and helps us sort through the litany of available options.

With the advent of social media, standing out from the crowd is even more imperative for community banks, as is establishing connections and building trust with potential customers before they ever step foot into your branch.

For Julie Wilcox, senior vice president of marketing, brand management and communications for Grand Rapids State Bank in Grand Rapids, Minn., the most direct route was through customer referrals and the medium of choice—social media.

Traditional media, including billboard, print and media ads, also factor into the bank’s “My Community, My Bank” campaign, she says. But social media offers greater efficiencies (updates can quickly be implemented across channels and bank brands) and offers metrics to help track engagement and effectiveness.

The three-pronged campaign featuring staff, retail and commercial customer testimonials rolled out in September, and the response has been “phenomenal,” Wilcox says. Loan portfolios are “as high as they’ve ever been,” and the bank’s customer service ratings (measured by monthly customer surveys) have “never been as high as they are now,” she notes. Customers comment on how “relatable it is. The stories really speak for themselves.”

The Messengers

Every aspect of the campaign has been carefully planned down to the product lineup featured and customer demographic targeted.

“We wanted to target busy families, young couples” and to showcase the bank’s mortgage services, says Kristi Poling, marketing and creative services manager at Grand Rapids.

When it came to selecting the customers to profile, Wilcox reached out to the bank’s commercial and retail lenders for their recommendations. Staff were also encouraged to participate as ambassadors for the bank. By the time Wilcox and Poling were ready to roll out phase two of the campaign, customers were asking to be involved. “It’s a huge help for us and has something in it for them as well,” notes Poling, who says the bank’s commercial customers recognized the opportunity to showcase their business on a community billboard and in various print, broadcast and social media ads.

“One of the best parts of my jobs is working directly with customers, listening to their goals and challenges. And then it’s my job to structure a loan so they can accomplish those goals and turn those dreams into a reality.”-

-Cory Colter, vice president, personal banker, Grand Rapids State Bank

Looking Ahead

For its fall campaign rollout, the bank is focusing on millennials and why Grand Rapids State Bank is a great place to work or bank. It’s also a good opportunity to showcase the importance of face-to-face interactions, says Wilcox. “They’re starting families, looking to buy houses, and Grand Rapids State Bank wants to be the bank that those customers turn to. They are our future.”

The millennial campaign is scheduled to run about four months, but the bank’s focus on telling its story and those of its customers will continue as will the bank’s use of social media as a central hub. “Those that don’t utilize it to the maximum are missing out on a great marketing engine,” says Wilcox.

Her advice to others trying to establish personal relationships in today’s increasingly high-tech world: "Focus on what you do best and let your story do the rest.”

“There is power in numbers,” Heidi added. “I want to encourage others to remember why they chose a community bank to work [for] and to dig into that choice, fan the flames of their beliefs and then start a fire with it!”

ICBA thanks all community bankers who attended this year’s Capital Summit—first timers and seasoned veterans—for stoking the fires and helping to keep the community banking agenda at the forefront of important policy discussions.