Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Well-capitalized, community banks often grow new customer relationships by acquiring other banks. However, as their geographic footprints expand, many find it challenging to also grow new customer relationships organically.

As their DMAs widen, their marketing budgets are spread thinner and thinner. The idea of spending money on television, radio and outdoor grows more untenable, and digital becomes more important than ever.

digital marketing strategy for community banks

Image Credit: Flickr User upside of inertia, via CC

If this is where you find yourself, your digital marketing strategy should take the following realities into consideration.

Focus on Fundamentals

1. Relationships are everything. The lifetime value of a customer whose financial needs evolve through many stages of life is worth far more to your bank than the interest earned on a one-time transaction. It’s interesting when you ask people “Who is your bank?” Invariably, their bank is where they keep their checking and savings accounts. The same is true with business customers. This is where long-term banking relationships begin.

2. You sell more loans to existing customers than anybody else. This is because the first place people go shopping for a loan is at their bank. When they do shop elsewhere, they soon discover that the promotional rate they’re being offered requires that they open a checking account. People often walk away from these deals, because they want to keep their checking account at their bank.

3. People don’t change banks very easily or very readily. When they’re ready, you want to be on the top of their minds. This is why the smart money is spent on building your brand, not on pushing loans.

4. Community bank customers are banking there for a reason. Community banks are invested in Main Street lives, businesses, causes and institutions. They’re woven into the economic fabric of every locale they operate in. Don’t let your brand lose sight of this. It’s why your customers love you, and aren’t banking with a corporate goliath. Use this to your advantage.

Digital marketing is how you’ll level the playing field with your larger, well-heeled competitors. Here’s what you’ll need to accomplish.

Outwit Competitors

1. Win zip code by zip code. Branch by branch. Your strategy should aim to win new customer relationships in every single place you’re located.

2. Have Google point people your way. Look at every city and town where you have a branch. Every person there who Googles “Banks” should find you at the top of page 1. When people Google “Home Equity Loan” they should find you at the top of page 1. The same goes for every other product you offer too.

3. Target those who fit you best. Give a lot of thought to who your loyal, and best customers are in the places you have branches. Who are your tribes? These are the kind of people you should have more of, and these are the sort of people who should see your bank when they’re perusing Facebook and LinkedIn.

4. Make sure your website sends the right signals. When people visit, they should feel welcome and at ease. Everything should be right where they expect it. And most importantly, new people should be able to see themselves banking with you. This means saying goodbye to those folks from the stock photo library that every other bank uses.

5. Keep the door open. Once people leave your website, make sure they continue to see you online for a while.

Delivering on your digital opportunity requires integrating the diverse talents of marketing communications strategists, website developers, user experience designers, data scientists, search, social and content marketers, writers, designers and artists who are all focused on helping you achieve your goals.

This is the sort of challenge that the team at Elliance is built for, and we welcome talking to you about what the marketing challenges your community bank is facing in 2018. Please contact us here.

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In a recent post titled “ADA Accessibility Compliance for College and University Websites,” the question of how to ensure WCAG 2.0 compliance was covered briefly. In this post, I will expand on a couple of the challenges of making an existing website compliant.

A trip to the theme park

Bringing an existing website into compliance can be extremely tedious depending on the technology it was initially created with, any subsequent patches to this technology, and any themes, plug-ins, or modules which extend the site’s functionality.

For example, let’s consider an existing website using WordPress, which by some accounts powers 26% of the Web, and commands almost 60% of the Content Management System (CMS) market share.

While WordPress is a great open-source CMS, and affords you lots of control over the content being generated, their ecosystem does not come without caveats.

On top of WordPress’s backend core of functional code and database, sits the visual design in the form of theme templates. While the WordPress Accessibility Coding Standards state that “All new or updated code released into WordPress core and bundled themes must conform with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines at level AA,” note that this policy covers only core code and themes that come bundled with WordPress. In our experience, most sites tend to use custom or third-party themes, and not the bundled designs. There are many marketplaces offering themes, and even the bundled themes can be copied and customized.

Given this, and the fact that the WordPress theming system was created back in 2005, one must be careful to fully research and vet any themes for WCAG 2.0 compliance before employing them on the web.

Plugged into the tedium

A main feature of the WordPress environment is a modular “plugin” system, where the more technically solid central software core, has its functionality extended by the use of user-contributed plugins. As of this writing, there are 53,755 plugins available for download. While some plugins are done very well, quite a few of them are of dubious quality. Even those that are executed well occasionally need to be configured (or even modified) to be fully compliant.

While the template code for a recent project was compliant, one particularly popular social media plugin was generating non-compliant code. Specifically, the plugin was causing 42 unnecessary WCAG 2.0 errors by inserting Instagram and Twitter posts into the page which had incorrect markup. A check of the plugin’s settings revealed that there were no options for compliance. In a situation like this one has two options: find another plugin; or modify the plugin to generate compliant output. The former case adds a time component, as new plugins must be selected and vetted, and may require design changes. In the latter case, one must remember that any modifications to the plugin will have to be reapplied any time the plugin is updated—at least until the plugin’s authors add compliant features.

Before employing any plugin on your website, we recommend that you verify the output being generated is WCAG 2.0 compliant.


There are many other “gotchas” to consider when working to bring an existing website into compliance. In some cases—such as older websites still using Adobe Flash or other aging/deprecated technologies, or proprietary CMS systems—the consideration of more modern ways of authoring and serving content may signal the need for a comprehensive architectural review and bottom-up website redesign.

Light at the end of the tunnel

As mentioned by the author of the original post, the best way to ensure a compliant website is to build it correctly in the first place. If you are fortunate enough to be able to start anew (or with a fresh redesign), why not move ahead confidently, aided by an experienced partner with knowledge and best practices gleaned from multiple higher ed projects.

So, rather than wait while your internal staff struggles to patch a brittle system, engage a partner with deep experience to more quickly bring your web properties into compliance.

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In order for a web page to be successful, a user must visit the page. Getting a user to visit the URL is a great struggle, but after they make that decision there are dozens upon dozens of reasons why they will leave, and sometimes leave before you can get a chance to make an impression.

Page loading speed, an intriguing design, and engaging content will help keep your viewers on the page, but for user with accessibility needs (be it visual, auditory, or physical), reasons for leaving your site may be overlooked.

Part of ensuring accessibility to all users means following web standards which value proper use of HTML elements, using CSS responsibly, and designing for all types of users on all types of devices.

Most development teams have milestones in the software life cycle where they check for accessibility issuesthis usually falls near the end of the project. We use several software tools at our disposal that can look at a web page and identify accessibility errors and warnings. These tools are very helpful when dealing with ADA compliance for higher education websites since they tend to be rather large in scale and scope.

Catching potential error earlier, in the design phase, is even better. There are several plugins and tools for your design software of choice to minimize specific contrast errors.  One of the easiest ways to test this is to make a quick HTML/CSS style guide and run that through the online or software based accessibility tool you are evaluating.

With these extra checks early in the design process you can confidently move forward knowing that late life cycle design changes are minimized.

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In redesigning websites for 25 years, we have come to realize that a website is a machine for liberating prosperity and realizing institutional destiny. However making a business case for to ROI-minded, quant-driven business leaders (such as chief operating officers and chief financial officers) is trickier than it sounds, and is vastly different than making a case to marketing leaders who intuitively understand the value of a website.

For ROI-minded business leaders, we begin making the case by showing them the following diagram:

Return On Investment ROI for Website Redesign

Next we unpack each point with quantifiable measures as follows:

1. Expected Increase in Right-fit Demand: stemming from improvement in historic website conversion rates, higher rankings on search engines, and reduction in website bounce rates.

2. Expected Increase in Brand Value: realized when the brand is modernized and strengthened as an integral part of the website redesign initiative. Stronger brands not only create brand distinction but also deepen brand equity.

For higher education brands, this can be demonstrated by change in their US News & World Report and other reputation rankings. For b2b brands, this can be measured by change in their net promoter score and brand equity. In fact, Interbrand, a firm that evaluates financial value of b2b brands, confirms that the stronger the brand, the higher the financial valuation of the brand.

3. Expected Increase in Thought Leadership: based on increase in readership of opinions from your thought leaders, expanded exposure through social sharing, and increase in calls for expert opinion from media.

When clients gave us the opportunity to measure and compare the before-and-after metrics for their website redesign projects, it was clear that they positively generated significant ROI for them. In all these cases, the clients also confirmed that we changed their organizational trajectories.

Before you redesign your website with an outside firm, be sure their approach aligns with your strategic objectives. If you are looking for a website that will create a new inflection point for your organization, please contact us. We promise we won’t disappoint you.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990/2008 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require colleges and universities to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to programs, services and activities. This extends well beyond making sidewalks, entryways and classrooms accessible. It includes websites too.

Why has this topic become important lately?

Growth of non-traditional student population, people spending as much time in virtual environments as built ones, legislation catching up, and ready availability of assistive technologies are all fueling interest and greater scrutiny in this area.

A recent New York Times article covered the story of individuals and law firms from around the country who have begun to make a lucrative business out of demanding compliance from public institutions, and taking legal action against those who don’t.

Education Week featured a story about a disability advocate in Michigan who filed 500 complaints with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which is mandated to demand compliance when it receives a complaint. If your college draws attention, the OCR will demand that your website(s) become and remain ADA compliant. Non-compliance may result in losing federal funding or lawsuits.

What does “WCAG 2.0 Compliant” mean?

W3C, the web standards agency, has formulated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are currently in revision 2.0. For years, they operated in parallel with two governmental standards — Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990/2008, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Then in January 2017 they all converged with WCAG 2.0 now being the officially accepted standard.

WCAG offers three levels of compliance: A, AA and AAA. WCAG 2.0 demands compliance with A and AA criteria. A summary of WCAG 2.0 is provided below (click on the image below to zoom):

WCAG 2.0 ADA Compliance For College University Websites

This chart is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not practical to include a ton of nuances in a simplified representation, but it takes craftsmanship to attain true compliance.

Is my college accessibility compliant or not? How do I know?

Dozens of software packages and plug-ins exist to test the level of website accessibility compliance. For our clients, we’ve used two free ones, WAVE and A-Checker, and one commercial product called SiteImprove. Each has its own pros and cons, but WAVE seems to be the most stringent and is relatively easy to use.

The ultimate test of compliance is to run your college website through Assistive Technologies such as JAWS, ZoomText, Window-Eyes, VoiceOver or NVDA screen readers. Or invite guests from your nearest school for the blind and school for the deaf to test it for you.

In making college websites compliant what challenges are we seeing?

Two big ones.

The first is that the color palette of most schools was created prior to enactment of ADA laws, and is usually not ADA compliant because of contrast issues. It may have to be both expanded and modernized. This is a huge brand identity issue that colleges and universities have to approach with great care.

The second is that many schools have created videos and podcasts without closed captioning. In some cases, this amount to thousands of pieces of content. Last year, UC Berkeley made a pragmatic decision to place over 20,000 of its videos behind a password protected area, which makes them less publicly accessible. Then they made provisions to provide their internal community accessibility on a case-by-case basis. Read their story.

How does a college go about making its website WCAG 2.0 accessibility compliant?

Bringing an existing website into compliance is not always an easy task. Sometimes it reveals poor coding, which leads to a lot of tedious work. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best that you first give this can of worms to those who created it in the first place.

The best way to make a website compliant is to build it correctly in the first place. Accessibility is a critical issue that has to be baked-in from the very beginning of the development process. For the past 25 years, this is exactly what we’ve done with the higher education clients we’ve served.

If you’re considering building a new website, hire a firm that’s experienced in meeting ADA accessibility web standards with beautiful design, and put a little extra money in your budget to allow for testing that ensures compliance.

I know just the place where you can get the help you need, and welcome your call or email.

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In working with over 100 colleges in the last 25 years, we have learned that website projects are a catalyst for transforming a college — power structures are realigned, the organization is energized, a new inflection point is created, and destiny becomes more attainable.

To realize the true promise of redesigning your website, five essentials are necessary:

College Website Redesign

Wise Strategy

Revenue Strategy, Communication Strategy and Search Engine Ranking Strategy are the three building blocks of a Website Strategy.

In redesigning your website, these three components must be orchestrated, prioritized and baked into every aspect of development and design.

Ultimately, you become the story you choose to tell, and that story begins with wise strategy.

Beautiful Design

Strategy is invisible. Good design makes it visible.

Milton Glaser once said “There are only three reactions to a piece of design: no, yes or WOW! Wow is one to aim for.” We agree. Responsive, mobile first, and beautiful design deepens meaning, delights people and influences the Google bot to rank your website higher.

Rational Process

These five issues must be managed to reduce project risk:

1. Stakeholder Alignment: Deft diplomacy and discipline are required to ensure that consensus is built across all project stakeholders. All key departmental/university business, brand and technology stakeholders must be involved in discovery, strategy, creative presentations, and final launch for the project to be successful. It’s vital that the design be flexible enough to enable Deans and content creators to shape the user experience in accordance with their needs. It should never be a one-size-fits-all proposition.

2. Content Plan: Creating a detailed content inventory is an important first step in a website project. It forms the basis for deciding on what content will be migrated, adapted, archived or needs to be created. A redesign is an opportunity to modernize your brand story and your unique selling proposition.

3. Critical Site Launch Details: A detailed plan must be established to ensure the current inbound links, SEO rankings, and social share counts are carried forward to the new website.

4. Thorough Testing: User testing, ADA compliance testing, style compliance testing all ensure brand trust. Using mutually agreed-upon tools and processes helps eliminate surprises.

5. Consistent Project Management: Project milestones and weekly status calls are a key staple of successful web projects. Folding side-conversations into these calls prevents downstream challenges.

Smart Technology

These four issues must be managed to insure your success:

1. The Right Systems Architecture: to support centralized services (news), strategic objectives (faculty experts, media relations), audience separation (prospects vs. current students/faculty), etc.

2. The Right Customization: to ensure various audiences, schools, departments and centers of excellence all receive the attention they deserve.

3. The Right Domain Architecture: to enable rational content management, maximize SEO rankings, and strengthen marketing campaigns.

4. The Right CMS: which aligns with university’s prior investments in technology and talent, and plays well with tools such as social media, Analytics, lead attribution, marketing automation, CRM, and ERP.

Talented People

It takes a village of craft-minded people to build a website. Destiny-changing websites are created when inch-wide, mile-deep talent collaborates and are quarter-backed by a strategist and project manager who ensure the team’s focus is unwavering.

Like any process, the process of redesigning a website will only be as good as the people participating in it. Elliance people mind the details at every step, and work carefully to minimize client risk while liberating greatness.

Looking for a college website redesign agency? Learn more about our website design services and higher education marketing services, or contact us.

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After serving 100 colleges over 25 years, we have learned that the college and university brands that have become schools of consequence embody these best practices:

1. Set a far horizon. It’s about a quiet, steady and ongoing care and feeding of the brand. It’s about cultivating new and better habits. It’s about embodying the mindset of a marathon runner, not a sprinter.

2. Infuse brand essence into every aspect of the institution. Enhancing enrollment operations, student services, career placement, advancement, alumni relations, and community outreach.

3. Bring the campus community along, ensuring a buy-in at every step. Not taking any short cuts.

4. Invest in first impressions. Paying attention to detail at every touch point – tours, website, viewbooks, social media, classrooms, housing, help desk and more.

5. Tell a better story. Telling smart, authentic, real, honest, surprising, and delightful stories — with students, faculty and alumni as heroes.

6. Go long on proofs, short on claims. Putting your energy and effort into creating indisputable truths instead of empty sloganeering.

7. Track the essential metrics. Reviewing year-over-year student quality measures, melt rates, graduation rates, placement rates, giving rates, and reputation metrics.

The most successful college brands not only live these best practices, but they have turned them into living habits.

Learn more about our college branding services and higher education marketing services or contact us.

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As a leading enrollment marketing services agency in the country, clients have often asked us to share our best practices. Here they are:

1. Start with Strategy: We prioritize and always lead with strengths. We don’t try to be democratic. We bet on champion and star programs. We let the star programs create prosperity to sustain others.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency - Strategy

2. Surround and Engage Prospects: Depending on client’s target audiences and budget, we smartly allocate budget between traditional and digital channels so prospects see our clients at every turn.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Integrated Marketing Approach

3. Game Plan for Every Stage of Admissions Funnel: We know what prospects need at every stage of the admissions funnel, and cater to their needs.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Game Plan

4. Create a SEO Keyword Guide: We rely on the SEO Keyword Guide to inform all our content creation. The Keyword Guide consists of keyword clusters in various buckets.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - SEO Keyword Guide

5. Fix Your Website: We know that a website is a conversion machine or your #1 lead and application generation tool. Sooner or later, all prospect journeys lead to it. When we build your website, we bake in your SEO Keyword Guide so your website pages can begin their journey towards Google page one.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Website

6. Orchestrate Inbound marketing, Google PPC, Paid Social and Retargeting: We know that inbound creates an enduring foundation, paid social enables micro-segmentation and 1-to-1 marketing, and Google PPC lets you catch prospects at the cusp of a purchase. We use retargeting to remind prospects to act. We use good judgement in orchestrating these tactics.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Inbound Paid Marketing

7. Invest in Process & Marketing Technology: To help clients with timely lead nurturing and sensible yield improvement, we guide our clients to make the right investment in process and marketing technology.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Tools and Technologies

8. Measure, Test, Adapt: We measure what matters. We know what works, tease out stories, change boldly, invest more in what’s working, and pause tactics that aren’t working.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - ROI and Performance

9. Calculate ROI: We keep an eye on the prize. We are fearless in partnering with clients to know the extent to which we moved the needle.
Enrollment Marketing Services Agency Best Practices - Measure ROI

Learn more about Elliance enrollment marketing services and higher education marketing services or contact us.

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Snapchat Doomed or Booming?

Snapchat had a rough year.

With Instagram and Facebook stories moving in on Snapchat’s territory, Snapchat saw a drop in active user growth from 17.2% to just 5% this fall.

Snapchat introduced stories in 2013. And they owned the market for daily image and video stories until August of 2016, when Instagram introduced their own story feature.

There was a lot of initial backlash from users when Instagram stories launched last fall. It felt like Instagram had stolen something that was unique to Snapchat and users weren’t eager to switch platforms.

But, as with most products and innovations the Facebook parent company has released over the years, users grew to love Instagram stories. This fall Instagram boasted a whooping 300 million daily users, trumping Snapchat’s 173 million.

How will Snapchat rise above the tide in 2018?

On Wednesday Snap, Inc. announced a major redesign to the app, an effort to differentiate themselves from other social media apps.

One major change, borrowed from Facebook’s playbook is algorithm personalization. Snapchat will now anticipate what you might like to see based on your past viewing habits.

The app update will separate user content into two feeds. The first will rank friends based on how often the user interacts with them. The second suggests community and publisher content based on user interests and what the app has learned from your past actions.

Snapchat Redesign 2017

Images: Snapchat

Snap has made it clear that they aren’t trying to replicate Facebook’s approach to social media, but rather improve upon it. Snapchat shared a 60-second video Wednesday where CEO Evan Spiegel shared that the goal of the redesign is to separate “social” and “media”.

What’s happening to the user interface to accommodate these changes?

Not much. The biggest change you’ll notice is a consolidation of your Friends list and the stories feature. The Friends feed will list most recent chats, followed by the friends Snap’s algorithm deems your favorites. The Friends feed representing the “social” in social media.

Similar algorithms are being applied to the discover feature, which will rank content based on frequency of consumption and user interests. The Discover feed will house the “media” content in social media.

Why introduce algorithms at all? Snapchat simply must if they want to compete with Facebook and Instagram who currently control the market. Users have adapted to unsolicited customization, and they’ve grown to expect it from their social content.

The Snapchat solution is to reply on algorithms based on your interests — not the interests of ‘friends’ — and to make sure media companies also profit off the content they produce for our Discover platform.”

— Spiegel

You can read more about the updates here. To learn about what Elliance and social media can do for your business or institution, contact us today. (Just tell them Krystal sent you.😉)

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Trusted higher education marketing agencies, like Elliance, embody the following eight best practices and habits:

1. One-Stop-Shop of Expertise: Under one roof, they offer the complete set of services.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Expertise

2. Talented Team: Under one roof, they house inch-wide, mile-deep talent.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Team

3. Rational Process: Your project is not their first rodeo. They have been there, done it – many times over.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Process

4. Proven Strategies: They have seen and lived enough end-games to deliver a unique one for you.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Strategies

5. Game Plan For Every Stage: Having lived enough lives, they know what they need to do when.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Game Plan

6. Inbound Marketing and Paid Advertising: Having implemented numerous integrated campaigns, they know how to orchestrate paid, owned, earned and shared media.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Integrated Marketing

7. Marketing Technology: They are comfortable using different tools and technologies at each stage of the admissions funnel.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices Tools and Technologies

8. Performance and ROI: They relentlessly measure the impact of their work on the bottom line.
Higher Education Marketing Agencies Best Practices ROI and Performance

Learn more about Elliance higher education marketing services.

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