By Aleis Stokes
Testimonials have long been a crux of an effective communications effort in helping to articulate and demonstrate a community bank’s value proposition to customers and its community. And now, more than ever they are particularly effective in today’s reviews-centric, always online environment.
This is an area that our team has focused on for the past year as we’ve told the positive story of community banks and their role in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lending to local small businesses throughout the pandemic.
And it’s for good reason. Seventy-two percent of consumers say positive testimonials and reviews increase their trust in a business, and 9 out of 10 people say they trust what a customer says about a business more than what that business says about itself. Studies have shown that using customer testimonials regularly can generate approximately 62 percent more revenue.
But in today’s attention-strapped society, how do you maximize the impact of these first-hand accounts to ensure they have their intended effect? Here a are a few tips to help community bankers make the most out of this important and effective tool for sharing their positive story.
- Focus on the larger impact. Community banks differentiate themselves by showing their commitment to the customers and communities they serve. Shouldn’t testimonials emphasize that truth? By making the focus about the impact the bank has on its community you can showcase a level of corporate social responsibility as a steward of your community.
Molly Day, senior vice president, chief deposit and chief marketing officer at $441 million-asset FNBC Bank in Ash Flat, Ark., built an entire campaign around this connection. Called “Better Together,” these testimonials tell stories of customer relationships.
“We really are relationship bankers, so sharing more about our long-term relationships, and some of our strongest ones, has been helpful,” Day told the Independent Banker as one of this year’s featured “40 Under 40: 2021’s Emerging Community Bank Leaders.”
- Make it about the customer rather than the bank. Testimonials can elicit an emotional connection, so we want them to speak to the customer experience. Focus less on your bank’s positioning, products, and services, and more on the relationship with the customer. Think of it as a conversation. One of the most important interpersonal skills you can have is the ability to listen rather than jumping to, “what am I going to say next.” That will come as a natural progression of conversation, and so will recognition of your bank benefits when the customer can articulate them on your behalf.
Jillian Malecha, director of sales and marketing at $400 million-asset Roundbank in Waseca, Minn., and another “40 Under 40” honoree, created a co-branded promotional video with one of the bank’s small business clients, leveraging their experience to emphasize the bank’s support for the community during COVID-19.
“[With the video], we are promoting our small businesses and telling our story of partnership,” Malecha shared.
- Remember the three R’s: rankings, ratings, and reviews. According to one recent study, 87 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses. It’s important to keep track of this source of feedback, showcasing positive comments as an organic form of testimonial. Responding to negative reviews can be beneficial as well and demonstrate that you’re paying attention and addressing customer concerns in a timely and service-oriented way. A Harvard Business School report found that increasing a business’ Yelp rating by one star can increase revenue 5-9 percent.
Even reviews that aren’t derived directly from customers can be fruitful. That’s why Day was thrilled when Arkansas Business recognized FNBC as one of the best places to work in Arkansas for two years in a row. While not a testimonial directly, the endorsement reinforced FNBC’s perception as a bank that fosters a culture of community.
- Engage and empower your staff. Given their deep customer relationships and banking expertise, employees can be a treasure trove of testimonial potential. Simply asking them to share when they have a great customer interaction can lead to more customer feedback that can be leveraged in various communications channels. Empowering your team with social media training and tools, or an automated feedback process can also help aid this effort.
"Focus on what you do best and let your story do the rest,” advised Julie Wilcox, senior vice president of marketing, brand management and communications at $227 million-asset Grand Rapids State Bank in Grand Rapids, Minn. The bank's “My Community. My Bank" campaign featured testimonials from commercial and retail customers as well as bank staff. “Those that don’t utilize [social media] to the maximum are missing out on a great marketing engine,” Wilcox said.
Above all, testimonials need to be authentic. Take the time to capture your customer’s true voice, whether consumer or business, to help them resonate with peers. We certainly have at ICBA and we aren’t planning to stop any time soon thanks to all the incredible customer stories that are a direct result of the incredible work and dedication of our nation’s nearly 5,000 community banks.
So, as you continue to plan ahead and tell your bank’s story, I encourage you to extend your impact by leveraging these testimonials in other content pieces—from press releases to social media campaigns and beyond. ICBA is here to help with resources like ICBA’s “Tell Your Story” Marketing Communications Toolkit, which provides turnkey support to help you share the good work you do—and your customers’ reaction to it.
Aleis Stokes is ICBA senior vice president of communications.