As the world has gone more digital, so have the ways financial services companies market to existing and potential customers.

While direct mail credit card offers still arrive in mailboxes on a seemingly daily basis, Wells Fargo, PNC Financial Services Group and other big financial institutions are using electronic channels more than ever to get their message out — even the wonky web seminar.

“Webinars offer our customers a real-time opportunity to gain insights and information,” said Margaret Sheridan, a marketing manager with Wells’ treasury management group. “Since they are based on digital platforms, webinars enable us to reach our geographically dispersed customer base in a way that makes it easy and convenient for them to participate.”

Sheridan said that her team does not use webinars to sell products or services directly, but rather to address core business issues, opportunities and trends, and “facilitate a discussion with customers.”

Webinars will not replace other digital marketing channels, but they complement email, search social media and more “traditional” marketing methods, Sheridan said.

“We use a balanced mix of channels because we recognize that customers want to receive and consume information in a variety of ways," she said. Webinars allow customers "to interact and engage with Wells Fargo subject-matter experts and customer co-presenters. It’s an opportunity for them to hear a story, get information and ask questions on a live basis.”

PNC uses webinars to provide education to small-business clients. Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners, has used webinars to deliver market commentary. TD Ameritrade also produces a regular webinar, called Morning Huddle, to deliver investment insights to clients.

“As an online investing firm, video and webcasts are one of the best ways to connect with our clients to keep them informed about what’s happening in the markets,” said LeeMcAdoo, head of investor education with TD Ameritrade. “We have webcasts roughly 12 hours a day, throughout the day and evening, so that clients can log in at their convenience, whether that’s to view live sessions or access archived sessions on demand.”

McAdoo echoed the idea that webinars are part of a larger mix of ways to reach customers anytime, including Twitter and YouTube.

“We know that people learn in different ways; some like self-paced online learning, some regularly attend our live events, and some like the convenience of webcast which allows them to hear straight from experts about what’s happening in the markets that day and what issues and opportunities they may have at hand,” he said.

The use of webinars is part of the broader industry move from building relationships in person to doing so in the digital realm, said Joe Hyland, chief marketing officer of ON24, a webinar platform with financial institution clients.

“From wealth management to retail banking, the financial services industry has traditionally been built on human engagement,” he said. “Digital banking has completely disrupted the in-person relationship, and now we’re seeing financial institutions develop new ways to foster the same personal connections online."

The use of webinars are part of a broader trend of banks turning to nonsales content in general to effectively reach and market to customers, said Sam Kilmer, senior director at the consulting group Cornerstone Advisors.

This content can include blogs, dedicated websites, foundations and partnering with “community economic influencers” like financial press, universities and chambers of commerce, he said.

“The reason this is important isn't just because it helps the lives of people while indirectly marketing banking services — that [strategy] has been around for decades,” Kilmer said. “The broader driver of this is that the increasingly digital culture — and social media in particular — requires providing genuine, helpful content; because the consumer can smell, and reject, a direct billboard-type sales pitch almost on instinct. They want something new and interesting: ‘Tell me something I don't know.’ And they want something that they can engage with."

Content that educates and helps the customer is generally the most effective, Sheridan said. Wells' Treasury Insights website focuses on four topics treasury managers at companies: fraud and security; payments and liquidity; emerging commerce and regulation and risk.

"We look at what topics are trending with customers and use this information to develop webinar topics that resonate with a broad range of customers," Sheridan said. "Additionally, we work with real customers to present with us during our webinars. Providing this peer-to-peer exchange is viewed as very valuable.”

Kilmer said delivering helpful and educational information is part of the evolution of “marketing beyond a marketing department.”

“As marketing converges with sales and service processes that banks deliver — and those three disciplines are increasingly indistinguishable to the buyer in digital — content like that is effective engagement,” he said.

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan is a senior writer with American Banker, with a focus on financial technology.