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What Do Google’s Advertising Updates Mean to Bank Marketing?

Social Media

By Rob Birgfeld


As a bank marketer, you’ve had a lot to contend with this year. So if you missed Google’s announced updates to its advertising policies, which go into effect later this month, there’s no need to panic.

So, what is changing and why? Starting Oct. 19, bank marketers will no longer be able to target by gender, age, parental status, marital status and ZIP codes for any marketing related to housing, employment, and credit sectors. Product categorization may vary by offer, creative and messaging—but will likely affect active digital marketing for mortgages, credit cards, loans, checking and savings accounts.

Citing its existing ad policies prohibiting targets or exclusions based on sensitive categories, Google says the new restrictions, developed with feedback from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, support its efforts to protect consumers from potential bias.

But while these changes may seem daunting or prohibitive, especially the ZIP code restriction, there are steps you can take to continue to derive value from Google’s vast advertising ecosystem. To help navigate this sea change, here are some tips to help you assess your options and develop a plan of action.   

  1. Take action: If you manage your digital advertising relationship with Google directly, you should receive notifications from Google ads, and when prompted, acknowledge the changes. If no action is taken, no new ads will be served—regardless of your targeting capabilities. If an agency manages your digital advertising, make sure to touch base with them to determine appropriate next steps.
  2. Evaluate alternatives: What Google will or won’t allow remains relatively opaque, but using other available targeting categories to find the right customers is certainly an option worth exploring. If ZIP codes are no longer available, advertisers can target by radius using any combination of city, county and state to expand as necessary.
  3. Evolve: Many digital marketing experts believe demographic data points can lead to false assumptions in selecting optimal audiences for your message. Ask yourself: Are you making the most of retargeting to identify and reach users who have visited your website, interacted with your ad, or indicated an interest in your product or service? Are you maximizing your “best” customer lists to create lookalike models to target? While it may take some time to get there, big data allows banks to target individual consumers rather than segments, creating greater personalization and a better user experience.
  4. Diversify: Digital advertising provides the opportunity to create awareness of your products at scale. But all too often, marketers leave money on the table by not applying appropriate resources to address questions posed by existing and prospective customers that are in their wheelhouse. To that end, a closer look at content development through the lens of search engine optimization (SEO) is key. Ensuring your content is fully optimized to appear in a mobile or voice search, and at competitive speed, will help Google deliver you the ranking (and organic traffic) you deserve.

While these advertising policies and personalization restrictions may force you to rethink your outreach to existing and prospective customers, a methodical deployment and testing approach will undoubtedly elevate your marketing capabilities. After all, if these challenging times have taught us anything, it is that the search for silver linings is not only essential—it can help us discover new paths to success.

Rob Birgfeld is ICBA’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.