ING Direct Banks on Social Media Programs
Last year, like many other kinds of businesses, most banks and financial institutions saw their numbers spiral downward. But at least one bank, ING Direct, a unit within the Dutch financial institution ING Group, has taken a proactive approach to the economic malaise.
The Wilmington, Del.-based branchless direct bank, which also has operations in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom, launched a multifaceted marketing campaign last year called "We, The Savers." The campaign was designed to be a helpful counterpoint to the spending overkill that mires so many Americans in credit card debt.
"We, The Savers," which maximizes several social networking features, is designed to remind consumers of some common actions they can take to remain in control of their money regardless of whether they save with ING Direct or not, points out Jurie Pieterse, head of brand communications at ING Direct.
Social media fits into ING Direct's philosophy, Pieterse says, "since the bank researches and pilots efforts in technology where it can assist Main Street consumers to connect and be empowered to save their money."
But, he says, "being a bank in a heavily regulated industry curtails our ability to make use of all the social media tools available." For instance, many conversational tools, such as blogs, forums and Twitter, pose challenges to banks because using them to offer advice or answer questions about rates doesn't allow for the legal reviews and often lengthy disclosures required, Pieterse says. Many consumers often are not comfortable using these tools in the financial context, he says, because they could accidentally reveal private information in a public forum that could be targeted for fraud or identity theft.
The first phase of "We, The Savers" started as a print campaign on Oct. 1, 2008, running in major newspapers in large metropolitan areas. Shortly thereafter, ING Direct created WeTheSavers.com, which allows participants to sign an online "Declaration of Financial Independence." This contains a 10-point plan designed to put consumers in control of their financial lives by being careful about how they spend their money. The declaration includes these mottos:
- We will spend less than we earn.
- We will use our home as a savings account.
- We will take care of our money.
- We will defend our credit worthiness.
- We will ignore unsolicited credit card marketing.
The Web site allows participants to interact with one another through the Savers' Forum, where they can contribute tips, advice and questions. They can participate in weekly savers' polls, view a video of ING Direct CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann and see how their states are doing in terms of saving versus the rest of the country. Savers also can receive a free "I Save" bumper sticker after they sign the declaration.
While customers open and fund ING Direct savings products, such as Orange Savings accounts and stocks — offered through ShareBuilder — online, the products are not actively promoted on WeTheSavers.com.
"We feel this may distract from the earnest effort of promoting financial advocacy by the brand," Pieterse says. "Visitors can reach the products via a link on the ING Direct logo on the site, but the focus is on engaging them on taking steps to financial independence, and then hopefully forming an affinity with the ING Direct brand so they will seek out products from the brand that can help them out on their journey," he adds.
The second phase of the campaign, launched in November 2008, includes outdoor advertising, online banner ads and a forward to a friend feature on the site. This feature adds a viral marketing element to the campaign, which is designed to increase brand awareness.
"There's functionality on the Web site where customers can refer it to other people," Pieterse says. "Consumers can also send a lighthearted and fun e-card to a friend who may have a problem with spending on his credit card. It basically says ‘Hey, maybe you should take a look at this and think about it.'"
So far, ING Direct is pleased with the campaign's progress and especially with the role the Internet has had with it. Pieterse says ING Direct has seen considerable activity on the forward to a friend feature, most notably with parents and grandparents sending messages to their children and grandchildren.
"As people are forwarding to a friend, we can see the commentary that they write, and we're seeing a lot of activity where kids and grandkids are saying thank you to their parents and grandparents and even to ING Direct for telling them about the program," Pieterse says. "The positive message is resonating with customers and noncustomers alike, which helps both with retaining existing customers who appreciate the ING Direct brand's point of view and attracts new customers seeking a bank that shares their values."
Leveraging social media marketing
"We, The Savers" isn't the only campaign for which ING Direct has used social media. Last year, for example, it launched MoveOutMoveUp.com, a Web site targeted at potential first-time homeowners. The site engages them through entertainment to think about the possibility of buying a home.
ING Direct decided to post the video on YouTube because "it makes it easier for consumers to share the video in a viral fashion and also provides a third-party forum where the video and content can be commented on," Pieterse says.
ING Direct keeps both positive and negative posts up — on YouTube and WeTheSavers.com — since authenticity and direct, honest engagement are keys to successful social media marketing programs, Pieterse says.
"We refrain from removing or editing any negative comments, unless severely off-topic, from any public forum," he says. "We always receive an overwhelming positive response but feel that leaving in the small number of negative comments provides greater authenticity that the conversation is open and honest."
What's more, people see comments on YouTube in a much more believable and transparent way than on ING Direct's Web site, Pieterse says. YouTube makes the video universally accessible without complicating matters by forcing users to select a type of video player and Internet connection they may find on corporate Web sites, he says.
While it's difficult to quantify ROI from social media activity for the bank, Pieterse says the real value of social media marketing ultimately lies in building social currency for the brand. "We know it reflects positively upon the ING Direct brand," Pieterse says, "because it shows us as being innovative and more willing to connect with consumers through technology."
Social Media Financial Marketing: Best Practices
eM+C asked Jurie Pieterse, head of brand communications at ING Direct, to offer some social media marketing best practices for financial service marketers.
- Work with people who live in the social media space. If you were to visit Japan on an important business visit, hopefully you’d get some cultural advice and absorb the social ways of the Japanese beforehand, Pieterse says. Treat the social media space like any other culture — with its own nuances. “Stepping in blindly could result in an embarrassing blunder,” he says. “Traditional marketing and business ideas don’t always bend to the social context in an acceptable and receptive manner. Seek input from people who live daily with the tools you plan to use.”
- Start with an idea and objective, not a tool. If you start out with a plan “to try something on Facebook,” you’re likely to fail, Pieterse says. Search your marketing objectives and take a deep look at your target market or customer base, he says. Then, “determine if social media is well-suited to bringing a new angle to increase your success rate.”