Though YouTube videos are not as uncommon in bank marketing as they used to be, Ally Bank broke new ground with a recent pitch that relied on social media almost exclusively.
In addition to four videos posted on Ally's YouTube channel, the "Discovering Retirement" campaign incorporated the use of Google Plus Hangouts, Pinterest, and Twitter's TweetChat, along with some email. No traditional mass media was used.
The retirement theme makes the approach all the more unusual. But it turns out millennials aren't the only ones taking to Facebook and Twitter these days.
"People over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing group on social media," says Gayle Wellborn, Ally's brand and digital executive, citing data from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. "And they represent an important demographic for Ally Bank."
In creating the campaign, Ally sought out actual retirees with interesting stories to tell.
The YouTube videos feature Ed Blanco, who became a jazz critic and DJ in retirement. (As he says in one of the videos, "I turned the radio dial one day. I heard this music. I said, 'Wow! What is this?' From that point on, I was hooked. I love big band music.")
Other people, such as Alexandreena D., a retired New York prison warden who started a community dance and art program, were highlighted on a special "Discovering Retirement" section of the bank's website.
Each featured retiree offers personal advice, whether to start saving early, to live beneath one's means, or simply to pursue a passion, as Blanco has, not only with music but also by learning how to fly an airplane, which is the subject of another YouTube video in which he stars.
Retirement services tend to be high touch. But as an online-only bank, Ally targets more of a self-directed customer with its high-yield certificates of deposit and savings accounts. "We offer planning resources for savers, including a CD ladder tool, which shows customers how to take advantage of the best of short- and long-term CDs, and a step-by-step resource guide for setting up accounts for a trust," says Diane Morais, a deposits and line of business integration executive at Ally.
The bank launched the two-month campaign in March and chose the topic of retirement because, historically, January through April are peak months for IRA activity. Its website also prominently featured a promotion that began in January offering a $250 bonus with deposits of $50,000 or greater.
To try to prompt people to interact with the brand on social media, Ally shared quick-hitting, bite-sized pieces of information, such as infographics with retirement tips or snappy quotes, whether from thought leaders or people on Twitter.
The creative for Pinterest that Ally used as part of the campaign was designed in the style of a print ad. But the "ads" featured quotes, such as one with Dwight D. Eisenhower saying "Plans are nothing. Planning is everything." Another example highlighted a tweet from Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, who writes, "Saving definitely makes me happier!"
Ally gave away $150 Amazon.com gift cards to encourage interaction on Pinterest, where it has more than 800 followers. Users were entered to win if they re-pinned one of the bank's posts.
The use of hangouts and Twitter chats were all about creating a dialogue with consumers. Ally tapped Bankrate.com retirement experts to co-host chats through both venues, with the bank's social media team moderating and offering up thought-provoking questions. "We didn't want to tell people what we think is important; we wanted to encourage them to engage in conversations and share their opinions," Wellborn says.
To build awareness and interest, Ally would blast out teasers through various channels two weeks prior to a particular chat. One in late March focused on the topic of "Women and Finances" in honor of Women's History Month.
Engagement generally is high for Ally-hosted chats, perhaps because giveaways, such as $100 Amazon.com gift cards, go to randomly selected participants. "Each chat results in more than 100 contributors and an average of 1,000 tweets," Wellborn says.
Brian Rafferty, global director of research insights at the branding firm Siegel+Gale, says he has not seen another financial services company incorporate hangouts and Twitter chats into its marketing efforts the way Ally has. The approach of focusing on retirement as an opportunity to pursue one's passions, rather than zeroing in on financial concerns, also is a point of differentiation.
He says pairing retirement and social media is an interesting idea, given that young people tend to be the heaviest users of social media and are underserved when it comes to retirement products. "I do think that would be a huge opportunity to start a conversation with younger people around retirement," Rafferty says. But the creative only features people of retirement age, so he sees a "disconnect" in terms of the channels the bank is using and a younger target audience.
Ally's Wellborn says that the campaign is meant for all ages. "While retirees present thoughtful insight on what retirement is like, it is also an important topic for younger generations," she says.
Michael D'Esopo, senior partner and director of the brand strategy practice at the consulting firm Lippincott, says the topic was a good choice, particularly since customers might be unaware that Ally even offers retirement products. He also likes the way the campaign incorporated retirement products into Ally's overall branding umbrella. "It's certainly executed in the context of their brand look and voice, and I think it succeeds on that front," D'Esopo says.
Working in Ally's favor is that it pursues a more independent consumer that might be overlooked by other companies, whose retirement services focus on hand-holding, he adds. "They're probably the only ones doing this right now, whereas everyone else is doing the TV spot talking about an adviser, doing a lot on CNBC and things like that."
One advantage of social media is that even after a campaign winds down, the messages need not abruptly end, in the way a television, radio or print effort might. Says Wellborn, "We will keep the conversation going."
Matthew de Paula is a freelancer based in New York.