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August 23, 2021

Seeking long-term relationship – with influencers

By Mohamed Dabo

Long gone are the days of traditional media and print ads. Now banks are using the social media firepower of influencers to build their brand. And rather than paying for one-off posts, many are seeking to build long-term relationships with their social media stars. Jane Cooper reports

It is an unveiling that Steve Jobs would be proud of. The sleek packaging, the slinky box, the long-awaited product inside. It is not the latest iPhone, however, that is being revealed for the camera, but rather a humble payment card.This ‘unboxing’ trend has extended to the world of retail banking, and financial institutions are using initiatives like this to leverage the power of social media influencers to boost their brand.FNBO [First National Bank of Omaha] is one such bank that has done this. Regina DeMars, the bank’s director of content marketing and social media strategy, explains that the bank decided a few years ago to use the unboxing concept. And most recently, influencers have been featured on social media posing with FNBO’s Evergreen credit card.

Such influencer marketing is big business, and overall – for the whole industry – it is predicted to become a $15bn industry by 2022, according to the Influencer Marketing Trends 2021 report by the Influencer Marketing Hub.

The report also notes that traditional marketing has been declining, especially in a Covid world where the usual methods haven’t worked on people stuck at home.

Influencer marketing is on the rise

Meanwhile, influencer marketing has been rising in popularity and financial brands are taking notice.“Simply put, influencer partnerships are an efficient and effective way for banks and credit card companies to reach new and niche audiences,” says Cristy Garcia, VP Marketing at Impact, a company that automates and scales partnerships, including those with influencers, for its clients.Garcia gives some examples of how financial brands have successfully used influencers. For example, on Instagram, make-up artist and influencer Michaela Podolsky posts a photo of herself with a Visa contactless card walking through the turnstile on the New York subway: “For some reason I am always the girl holding up the turnstile line because I either A – can’t find my MetroCard or B – have insufficient fare.

“I was so excited when @visa_us told me that they were coming out with contactless cards that you can now use in replacement of your MetroCard. Best. Idea. Ever. Now I’m just the girl holding up the line to take a photo in front of it. Go check it out.”

Amex taps influencers to promote its Rose Gold card

Meanwhile American Express, Garcia points out, has also used influencers for its Rose Gold card. Foodie influencer Christine Yi, for example, who has nearly 260,000 followers on Instagram, posted about the benefits that come with the card. Similarly, Capital One partnered with food influencers to promote the Savor card and its cashback on dining or grocery shopping.Garcia comments that it is a trend for banks to seek longer-term partnerships with influencers, with them choosing brand ambassadors over paying for a post here and there. “Banking is personal and should be authentic, so connecting with creators for a long-term relationship allows creators to be always-on partners who use their credit cards and can post about their experiences over time.”

Current taps YouTube to fine tune targeted marketing

US-based mobile bank Current, which aims for banking to be accessible and affordable for everyone, has been using influencers as part of its strategy and has recently formed a high-profile partnership with a prominent YouTuber.The average age of the bank’s customers is 27 and so it is targeting a millennial and Gen-Z audience.It recently engaged Jimmy Donaldson, also known as MrBeast, in a long-term exclusive partnership. MrBeast is also a businessman and philanthropist and is best known for his stunts on YouTube and also his generous giveaways.

His YouTube channel, at the time of writing, has 64.2 million subscribers and featured videos include ‘I Spent 50 Hours Buried Alive’ or ‘I Spent 50 Hours in Prison’. He has also been generous. For example, his stunts include giving away 40 cars to his 40 millionth subscriber and giving five people randomly $10,000 each on Twitter.

Current hopes to ride on this creative wave to build its brand. The partnership with MrBeast, which was announced in April 2021, means that he will have a new platform to engage followers with, and also the means to distribute his generosity. He announced he was giving away $100,000 to 100,000 fans on Current in his latest video ‘I got Hunted by a Bounty Hunter’. Using Current’s financial platform, the fans will receive the funds directly from his Current tag, and they can also redeem free points on Current for MrBeast merchandise in the app.

MrBeast: the perfect brand fit

Adam Hadi, VP of Marketing at Current, said at the time of the announcement, “For years we’ve witnessed Jimmy’s incredible creativity and generosity. His unique ability to consistently produce engaging, original content and give back to his fans in increasingly innovative ways has raised the bar for all creators,” he said. “MrBeast is a perfect brand fit and with this long-term commitment, we are collaborating to build the best platform for him to engage his fans in new ways and give this generation more opportunities to create better futures for themselves,” he added.Ally Financial has also entered into a long-term partnership as part of its influencer strategy. The bank established a partnership with the rapper Big Sean, who was involved in the financial institution’s Moguls in the Making – a competition where participants pitch their business ideas. In October 2020 the bank hosted the second such annual competition, which offers Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students an opportunity to learn. Through the competition, ten teams of five students developed and presented business plans, with the prize being scholarships and internships at Ally.Bridget Sponsky, Executive Director, Brand and Sponsorships, at Ally comments, “Ally and Sean share a commitment to provide opportunity and education to our youth and together we provide resources and create real opportunities for students who otherwise may not be exposed to them.” She continues, “Not only did our alignment with Big Sean help us gain awareness around our brand purpose through this initiative but having entrepreneurial influencers align as mentors for the college students really made an impact.”

Ally teams up with Katie Couric Media

In another initiative, Ally has a content platform with Katie Couric Media that includes Daring to Disrupt, a campaign that showcases stories of women who are changing industries by disrupting them. Of this campaign, Sponsky comments on how they view success. “We measure brand awareness and brand love to help us understand the contribution of these platforms to our higher order mission for the brand in addition to some more traditional metrics centered around engagement to understand how compelling the message is for consumers.” She continues, “We find that with compelling influencer content, traditional engagement measures also increase over the baseline.” For instance, the average video views for the Daring to Disrupt campaign were +326% above the publisher’s benchmark.And while many brands are now forming long-term partnerships with famous influencers, there is another kind of influencer that hasn’t been used to its full potential: employees. DeMars at FNBO comments on using employees as brand ambassadors: “We also tap into our employees as they are some of our strongest influencers, who do a great job authentically driving awareness of a company’s culture,” she says.The idea started, she explains, when she was welcomed to the bank as a new joiner with some ice cream from a local small business with fun names like ‘Money in the Bank’ and ‘Currency and Cream’. Her instinct was to go on social media and post about this fun way to be welcomed as a new employee. This led to a discussion internally about how employees should be encouraged to post about their experience of working in the bank, and so the #InsideFNBO hashtag was born.
Ally teams up with Katie Couric Media
In another initiative, Ally has a content platform with Katie Couric Media that includes Daring to Disrupt, a campaign that showcases stories of women who are changing industries by disrupting them. Of this campaign, Sponsky comments on how they view success. “We measure brand awareness and brand love to help us understand the contribution of these platforms to our higher order mission for the brand in addition to some more traditional metrics centered around engagement to understand how compelling the message is for consumers.” She continues, “We find that with compelling influencer content, traditional engagement measures also increase over the baseline.” For instance, the average video views for the Daring to Disrupt campaign were +326% above the publisher’s benchmark.And while many brands are now forming long-term partnerships with famous influencers, there is another kind of influencer that hasn’t been used to its full potential: employees. DeMars at FNBO comments on using employees as brand ambassadors: “We also tap into our employees as they are some of our strongest influencers, who do a great job authentically driving awareness of a company’s culture,” she says.The idea started, she explains, when she was welcomed to the bank as a new joiner with some ice cream from a local small business with fun names like ‘Money in the Bank’ and ‘Currency and Cream’. Her instinct was to go on social media and post about this fun way to be welcomed as a new employee. This led to a discussion internally about how employees should be encouraged to post about their experience of working in the bank, and so the #InsideFNBO hashtag was born.

Humanising the brand and building trust

DeMars adds that a few years ago she started an employee brand ambassador team, which now has nearly 50 employees, who are asked to share one post on at least one social media channel a week. DeMars says “Our brand ambassadors create such unique, great content that we often use their content on our social channels as well.” She also says: “We focus on humanising our brand, building trust and being authentic rather than on specific engagement rates with our employee posts. We do know that their posts drive a high level of engagement and are extending our brand reach and awareness since they reach additional followers outside our branded channels,” she says.This drive for authenticity is also noted as a key trend in the Influencer Marketing Trends 2021 report and influencers will have to make sure that the brands they take on resonate with their audiences, and vice versa. The report notes, “Even the most engaging influencers aren’t going to be able to whip their followers into a frenzy over a product that they just don’t care about. It won’t benefit the brand trying to make it work and the influencer will likely lose credibility in the eyes of their audience.”When asked how they stay authentic, Sponsky at Ally comments, “We build everything together based on shared values. We don’t view influencers strictly as celebrity voices to deliver a message, but as people who have a strong belief in our brand and what we stand for. We are a people first company with an entrepreneurial spirit that believes in deeds and not just words, and that the diversity of thought is critical to success. Anyone we align embodies those same values.”

Garcia at Impact notes that being authentic is always a challenge, but, she notes, “Identifying influencers who already are members of X bank or use X card is important. Statistically, we know there are influencers using certain business perks or using certain banks – let them tell you why they love it and you can be confident in their authenticity,” she says.

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