Does your bank have a strategic content marketing strategy?  In this episode, we sit down with Shondell Varcianna. She is the founder of Varci Media, a content writing company that helps financial institutions save time by writing blog posts that convert into customers. We discuss the importance of having a content strategy, how to know which social media platforms are right for your bank, and how to measure ROI on your content.

The Ultimate Guide for Getting New Customers with Content: https://varcimedia.com/guide/

The Ultimate Blog Content Checklist: https://varcimedia.com/checklist/

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Intro: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits, this is the community bank podcast. Now, here are your hosts, Eric Bagwell and Tom Fitzgerald.

Eric: Welcome to the community bank podcast coming to you from Atlanta, Georgia. I’m Eric Bagwell director of sales and marketing with the center state bank correspondent division. And joining me as always is Tom Fitzgerald, the director of strategy and research in our corresponding division. Tom, you doing good today?

Tom: Eric I am trying to stay safe and healthy and knocking on woods so far so good.

Eric: And trying to stay cool because it is hot, I was in the North Georgia mountains for two days last week and it was 94 degrees and that’s hot for being in the mountains. So, we are. It’s a hot one down in the south. So with that being said Tom always gives us a quick recap of what to expect in the markets and what’s going on. Tom wants to do that for us right now.

Tom: Sure thing Eric. I’ve been writing the last few weeks about sort of this I call it a tug of war between the market as far as, you know, part of the markets looking at with the virus trends are going to be, also looking at what the reopening how that affects the reopening of economies across the country. So really, the market is disregarding most economic numbers as a case we’re recording today the CPI for June came out, it sort of just came in with without too much of a splash and so it’s definitely more focused on, you know, what’s the virus trends and how that’s going to impact the openings, going, going forward, and of course, you’ve got school around the corner and what that’s going to look like as far as are they going to reopen are they not going to be able to reopen and then that obviously impinges on economic numbers as well. The other thing looking forward Eric kind of has my eyes the supplementary unemployment benefits that amounted to $600 a week for those that lost their jobs in the crisis.

That is expiring at the end of July and so there’s been some, if you think about $600, the normal supplement or normal benefit for unemployment insurance is about 300 to 400 a week so that extra 600 obviously was a real boon for those that did lose their jobs that is probably one reason why, when you look at consumer confidence levels. They didn’t drop nearly to the point that they did back in the Great Recession, so I think a lot of that extra spending money has gone a long way to keeping the confidence up as well as spending, and again like I said that expires at the end of July if Congress doesn’t do anything. The administration wants to come out with a trillion-dollar additional stimulus bill and I’m sure some of that would be allocated to kind of re-upping at some, some amount that supplementary benefit. So kind of keep an eye on that between now and the end of the month you’ll probably start to see more of that working its way through the Senate and through the house. As we get closer to the end of that expiration.

Eric: That sounds good, Tom. Let’s turn our topic, or let’s turn our attention to today’s show, and today we’re going to be talking about marketing, and specifically, we’re going to focus on content marketing if you’re like, a lot of bankers and even us, here at center state, and the corresponding division. In the past, you may not have had a clear strategy for marketing. We have shifted how we do marketing, and this would have been a great show to hear, you know, a year ago would have really reinforced some things we were thinking about, but we’re going to be joined by Shondell Varcianna. Shondell is the owner of RC media, the content writing company that helps institutions save time by writing blog posts that helped convert into customers. She’s got some great insights on how banks should be approaching writing marketing content, and how that does help lead to new business. It’s a great show and we were excited to have her come on, so we will bring her on right now. Shondell thanks for joining us today. We really appreciate you coming along with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and Varci Media and what you do.

Shondell: Sure, thank you so much for having me as well. So I started Varci Media here, 2014. And what we do is, we’re a content writing company and we write blog posts and newsletters for financial institutions, anywhere from credit unions to community banks to mortgage companies. We do assist them with their content in order to grow and increase their brand.

Eric: That sounds great. That’s something. Obviously, the world has changed, technology-wise in the last 10, 15, 20 years since I’ve been in the business and since Tom’s been in the business and, and even at the center state we have totally changed how we are trying to go about marketing that world started changing a few years ago we were a little bit late, but we think we’re catching up. Tell us why content marketing is so important now even for smaller banks with social media with websites obviously websites have been around but tell us why it’s so important now and critical to be up to speed and really honing in on your content marketing to focus on customers,

Shondell: Because that’s where your ideal customer is where your current customers are that’s where your ideal customers are. And really what you want to do is be a part of the conversation that your ideal customer is already having. And one of the best places to do that is on social media, because you know people are always looking for information online, I should say not even just social media but just online. People are always looking for information they’re always searching for things on Google, and you want to be a part of that conversation that they’re having because no one really gets up in the morning and says okay I’m going to buy a house today. They’ve done some online research they talk to family and friends they may have contacted you know a real estate agent, they’ve done some work they checked out different neighborhoods. So you want to be a part of that conversation because they’re going to need it. You know they’re going to need a mortgage most people aren’t buying houses with cash. You’re going to need a mortgage to buy that house, and they’re having a conversation before they decide to buy a house right, you want to be a part of that, and providing them with information when they’re asking those questions through social media posts through blog posts on your website is a great way to communicate with them and to give them the information that they’re looking for.

Eric: That’s a great point. And explain this to my wife’s a big Instagram person and she follows quite a few folks and she says the key and the reason it keeps her engaged and following these, these people are they consistently put material out, you know, a couple of times a day, even, you know, depending on what the topic is how does that factor in for a financial institution that that’s maybe just getting into this or, or has dabbled in it a little bit. Is that true for a bank as well.

Shondell: Yeah. You should have brought your wife into the conversation. She’s 100% accurate because what that does is the consistency of the content that you’re putting out. What that does is it builds in a like and trust factor. Because a lot of people are online more, they see you, the more they feel like they know me, the more they see you, the more they feel like they trust you, and then of course if they see you, they could just determine whether or not they like you or not, right when they see the information that you’re putting out there they can just say yeah this isn’t for me or it is for me. Which is what you want because naturally, you don’t want it. We don’t want to do business with people that don’t want to do business with us, and that’s okay, you know, everybody is not for everybody, but the more you, the more information you put out there, the more value you’re adding to your ideal customer, and it builds that I like to say, I feel like I know them because they’re constantly putting out useful information that I need. And then the trust eventually comes because they’re seeing you all the time.

And the other reason why consistency is so important is because you know that saying out of sight, out of mind. If you’re posting sporadically. It makes it a little bit difficult for people to trust you, simply because there’s so much information being put out there. So if you’re nowhere to be found. If you’re out of sight, out of mind if you’re not in front of your ideal customers, you are not part of that conversation, they’ll forget about you. And, and go with somebody else.

Eric: That’s a good point, talk to, I looked on your website, you’ve got some really cool you had a great website, and you’ve got some really free stuff out there and at the end of the podcast we will tell bankers how to go to that website but talk about you make a point on there about just putting general content out and now that’s probably not the best thing to do because I assume the point is you know you can get that general content anywhere you talk about having more specific focused engaging content knowing, like the persona of your customer and specifically trying not just to reach everybody which I guess that’s really not what you want to do, but you want to reach folks that are actually going to do business with you talk about that just for a second.

Shondell: Yeah. The reason why I say that is because content that speaks to everyone is content that speaks to no one. Because you can’t say, for example, I currently own my house. So you wouldn’t want to be talking to me about first time home buyer because I’ve already done that. But for somebody else who may be currently renting, and they’ve never bought a house then we want to talk to them about what they need to do to get into the market, maybe they need a credit score, maybe they need to save up some money. I would already know that, so you wouldn’t be able to write one piece of content for me and the other person who has never purchased a house. But when I say, General content usually doesn’t work, it doesn’t work simply because people have different needs people have different wants. So that’s why it’s important to have an ideal audience. And because it’s a community bank naturally you have people who are going to be interested in investments, going to be interested in buying a house. I’m so sorry my 5-year-old just walked in.

Eric: No problem. We love that. It brings the real world into the podcast.

Tom: That’s right.

Eric: Get a dog barking too, that would be good.

Shondell: No we don’t have a dog, but I have a 1-year-old. Because you’re a community bank naturally you’d have different products and services to meet different client’s needs.
But what I would suggest doing is creating content that speaks to one person at a time, speaks to one audience at a time, rather than, because what I see sometimes people will put out like one piece of content but it’s trying to speak to different people. And that can be confusing to the reader. So if you’re going to focus on repeat buyers and, you know, first-time homebuyers just put up two different pieces of content, but one piece of content should only be focused on one group of people. And that’s how you can segment your audience into different areas and create content that is customized for each audience. If that makes sense.

Eric: And Shondell we were just talking before the show about just how dynamic this industry is right now, we were talking that tech talking at least domestically just came out of almost nowhere in the last year to get didn’t, almost recognize the name. This time last year now seems like every teenager has got an account on it, can you kind of speak to what platforms, do you think banks should focus on in their efforts, and is there like an emerging platform that you see that could be. Show some promise in the near future.

Shondell: That’s a really good point that you bring up because I’ve had this question several times actually, we should be focusing on Tic Toc. My answer is always used to be focusing on where your customer is, that is the best answer I can give you one particular social media platform is not necessarily better than the only better than the other if that’s where your ideal customers, but you want to find out who you’re targeting and where are they, are they, all of a sudden create a, you know, a strategy around Tic Toc and your audience are not even on Tic Toc.

So you want to first find out where is your audience, they may be on Twitter and maybe on LinkedIn and maybe on Facebook, they may be on a combination of a few. But you only really want to focus on where your ideal customer is. And that’s where you should create a strategy around where they are because where they are, allows you to be a part of that conversation. And I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your ideal customer is on Facebook. Right, and you’re trying to figure out, Okay, what do they want to know, what do they want to hear. You can now start joining three Facebook groups, let’s say for example your target audience is first time home buyers.

There are a ton of free Facebook groups that are tailored to first-time homebuyers, you could join one of those first-time homebuyers, see what people are asking, what are they talking about, and then you could start figuring out okay this is what they want to know these are people who are all in the market to buy. This is what they’re asking. This is what they want to know. Now you can start creating content based on what your ideal customer wants because you’ve done some research ahead of time to find out the questions, they’re asking for credit scores, are asking for much. What is the minimum down payment? They’re asking what kind of mortgage can I get? What interest rates are right now? So, you can start creating content around that because you’ve gone in front of your ideal customer and you know what they want. So always start with where your ideal customer is. And then, and then create a strategy to engage them.

Eric: And it sounds to in that regard is almost like you know when you’re giving a speech you want to read the room as I say. So you’re saying the same thing here.

Shondell: Yeah, that’s exactly what you’re doing knowing your audience. So that you can provide, because when you know your audience then you can now say, Okay. I’m a community bank, these are the products that we have. How can I bridge that gap between what my ideal customer wants? And the products that we have to offer. That’s what that’s really what you’re wanting to do it’s all about the customer, it all about serving them, it’s all about figuring out what problems they have, what questions they have, what issues they have, and how can you as a community bank help them to solve that problem, answer their questions, help them with their issues, it’s always putting yourself in that service mentality where, how can I be of service to my ideal customer, based on my skills, based on the products that we offer, based on the community bank that I work for. What do we have, what do I have that I can offer them to bridge that gap between what they want and what we have. And that’s a win-win.

Eric: That’s a great point, leading into what our next question was, as we’re huge fans of Donald Miller and his story brand marketing, you know that puts the focus on being a guide for your customer kind of just like you just said, you know, your customer needs to be a hero and, and you need to solve and help them. What are some things you’re seeing so many banks I think we are we’re guilty of this as well? I know in the past with what marketing we did was put the focus on us. Here’s what we’ve done, we’ve done, you know, we’ve got X amount of customers around the country and we’re so great to look at us. But it really needs to be focused on the customers. What are you seeing some banks and financial institutions out there doing, where they are actually focusing on customers what are some good ideas that you’re seeing.

Shondell: I’m seeing them really, the ones that do a really good job are the ones that are in tuned with their target audiences. So, I can see them, answering questions that around the time when you know the pandemic happens and a lot of people, people are still losing their jobs, but it was the beginning where people were starting to lose their jobs that people weren’t sure how they were going to make their mortgage payments. Right away I saw them talking about forbearance options and different payment options and exactly what they have to offer. But more important than what they have to offer, how is that going to help this person, how is that going to help the person that just lost their job and may not be able to make their mortgage payment. So always talking about if you’re one of them. If you’re one of the people that lost your job. This is what we will, this is what you can do.

The purpose is not on okay yeah, we have this product. The focus is on them. You lost your job, this is what you can do, you don’t have to worry about your mortgage payments in the next month or two because your mortgage payment could be put towards the end. So it’s always focused on how they will benefit, and that’s, those are the ones that are doing a great job by always focusing on how the customer can benefit and putting themselves in their shoes and just talking about that. Versus talking about all of the benefits of the product, you understand what I mean? Like the focus is not on the product the focuses is on you lost your job, this is what we can do to help you. Call us right now. Or do this and this and this is going to help you in the situation that you are in.

Eric: Yeah, and that’s great, that’s a great point because I recommend to anybody to read Donald Miller’s story brand book, I don’t care if you’re in banking, or what you do.
It’s an eye-opening book on how to sell anything, and you’re exactly right, you have to focus on the customer and what that customer needs.

Tom: And Shondell, and the last question for you. This is a banking podcast so we kind of at some point you’re going to circle back to what the numbers look like. So, for the CFOs out there and the number of driven CEOs, that they’ve decided okay I’m going to allocate some capital to this to this venture. How can they measure the impact of that sort of like an ROI How can they get feel for, is this, am I getting the bang for the buck from these efforts?

Shondell: Well, there a few ways you can measure. Anytime we’re writing content for our customers. We always add a call to action, whether it is, you know, contact us or fill out this contact form, send a message on social media. Whatever it is, that there’s always some form of a call to action to give the customer an opportunity to reach out to the bank. That is trapped. So, you can track where customers are coming from. So if they fill out a contact form you can track where this person came from. You know, Facebook, did they come from a blog post and then went to our contact page. Did they come from another page on our website and then went to our contact page. Now if they came from another page on our website. This is the content that we wrote, we shared it on Facebook. They came from Facebook to the blog post, to the contact page. All of this can be tracked.

So we can say, Okay, based on this blog post that we put out and we shared it on this social media site. This is how many customers we got as a result of that, because now we, it’s all about testing because now we can say, okay if they liked the piece of content that we put out, let’s put more of this content out because that’s what resonates with them. That’s what they like. Now we can focus on that. So all of it tracked If we put a call to action to call a particular number. You can put call tracking devices on it. So you know if customers are calling this particular number. They are calling this number because they came from this particular content that we put out. They have to be tracked in order for you to measure the return on investment. And for you to know if what you’re doing is working, without tracking you won’t even know if it’s working.

Eric: Yeah, sounds like a very robust system, like you said you can kind of target, you’ve got three or four campaigns. You can obviously see which one is doing the best, kind of getting feedback or getting a reaction from your marketplace.

Shondell: Absolutely and you have to do that or else really you won’t know how to measure what you’re doing and if it’s working. Because at the end of the day, the whole purpose of, you know, we want to serve the customer, but at the same time that the best way to serve the customer is of course if they’re reacting to how, the information that you’re putting out there if they’re not in any way. that means it’s not resonating with them, something needs to change. Maybe we don’t know the customers as well as we thought we did, maybe we need to pull back and figure out okay what do they want to know, how can we get in front of them, let’s test this content. So you got to test it as well. Pay attention to what you’re testing, so that you can determine what’s working, and what’s not working.

Eric: Shondell we greatly appreciate you coming on with us today we feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface on content marketing but there’s a lot of great stuff on your website tell those folks who are listening, how they can get in touch with you and learn more about what you do.

Shondell: Yeah, definitely. You can go to Varcimedia.com. I’m on LinkedIn all the time as well, I post a lot of information on LinkedIn that you can find useful as well. And my handle is pretty much Shondell Varcianna on LinkedIn. I don’t post much on Facebook, simply because my audience is on LinkedIn so that’s where I focus. But on my website Varcimedia.com. We do have a free blog content checklist that you can get, it’s a checklist so you can make sure you included everything that is needed in a blog post. And then I’ve got a guide on there that I wrote, pretty much detailing exactly what we do to help financial institutions increase their brand online. I just finished my book as well so that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks, it does go into more detail on how to increase your brand with content. That’s all free, actually, I think the book right just be 99 cents. But there’s a lot of other free stuff you can get on our website. And like I said you can follow me on LinkedIn, I post like at least 4 or 5 times a day on LinkedIn. A lot of useful information and videos as well. Definitely need to take advantage of that.

Eric: As you’re very busy along with raising two kids.

Shondell: Yeah, there’s a 5-year-old who refuses to come out of my office now.

Eric: Well listen, we appreciate you being on today. And thank you so much again.

Tom: Yeah, thank you Shondell.

Shondell: You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me, it was fun, thank you.

Eric: Well I hope you enjoy listening to Shondell, she just, she has some great wisdom on marketing. It’s the stuff that I think every bank can benefit from and go to her website if you haven’t, I browsed through it a couple of days ago it’s got a lot of great information out there, a lot of free stuff that can really help you, if you’re just trying to beef up marketing or if you’ve come to the realization that hey, we really need to step up and really take social media and our website and some other forms of marketing more serious. Tom won’t you tell us what’s coming down the pipe for some shows here in the future.

Tom: Well Eric, it looks like we’re going to take a stab at trying to come up with some ideas as to how do you sell and marketing in the age of code COVID. We’re going to bring together some of our business development reps, and just try to take a look at you know obviously being kind of homebound for most of us, it’s tough to get out there and do any kind of soliciting of new customers, and just kind of keeping front of existing customers so we’re going to get some roundtable together on that and talk about some good ideas and thoughts on how to make that happen. also taking a look, probably in another episode of millennials on banking, obviously, as the existing banking force gets older it’s a case of replenishing that talent. What’s the best way to do that to get millennials who are, you know, sometimes banking averse how to get them into the banking industry. In this day and age, and also what we’re going to bring in our very own Chris Nichols and he’s a wealth of information on all kinds of things and talking about technology and banking again talking about some of the digital efforts that banks should be doing. So I think we’ll have a good slot of that and then eventually I think we’ll get into August, we’re going to have Joe Keating back to talk about the economy and kind of what the Fed meeting was at the end of July. So a full slate of I think interesting items and topics that we’ll have in the upcoming episodes.

Eric: Yeah, we’re excited to have those episodes to be doing those coming up. Thanks again folks for listening. We were getting great feedback and would really appreciate it and again do subscribe if you can. And we hope that you would look to this and make it a regular show that you want to tune into each month. But thanks again for tuning in and we’ll talk to you next time. Thanks.

 

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