To avoid losing a down-home feel when small banks go high-tech, they should pack their Web sites with local news, a marketing expert advises.
Cathy E. Allin, co-owner and creative director at Lynqs Newmedia in Kansas City, Mo., told a group of community bankers here not to try competing directly with big companies' Web sites, which offer extensive information on personal finance and the stock market.
Instead, community banks should highlight school events, volunteer efforts, or weekend festivals-as well as information about the bank's CD rates, lobby hours, and locations. The aim, Ms. Allin said, is to show customers that the bank is involved in the community.
"The only way to get customers to come to you is if they have to come to get certain information," she said, speaking at the NCR National Conference and Technology Expo. "The site becomes a place for you to promote the community."
Artisans' Bank, a $350 million-asset thrift in Wilmington, Del., posts a calendar on its Web site that gives information on events in its market area, such as a sand castle-building contest, Oktoberfest celebration, and several arts festivals.
Kevin McCormick, an Artisans' vice president, said the calendar, which is updated every other month, keeps the site interesting.
"After a while, they don't want to read about free checking anymore," he said. "The calendar gives them a reason to visit."
First Federal Bank of Eastern Ohio in Zanesville, which launched its Web site last week, is promoting its hometown through a passage that describes Zanesville's history, commerce, and transportation.
The $225 million-asset bank also uses the site to answer questions about the distinctive "kugal" sculpture in its lobby. The kugal, which means "ball" in German, is a 641-pound granite ball that floats on a water-filled pedestal. The Web page invites customers to stop in and give the kugal a spin.
Larry Snode, senior vice president at First Federal, said he spent hours surfing the Internet for ideas to use at his bank's site, which features links to sites with stock quotes, tax forms, and ATM-locator services.
The final product is important because "it's the image you're conveying of your bank," he said.
Ms. Allin, whose company designed sites for both Artisans' and First Federal, said it is important for banks to update their sites regularly. Assigning a bank employee to change interest rate information and other time-sensitive material works best for most companies, she said.
And banks can use data collected by the Web page administrator to show which parts of the site are popular with customers. The data keep track of the pages visitors view most frequently. If some pages do not attract much attention, they could be redesigned or replaced by another feature, Ms. Allin said.
"You need to keep the site fresh," she said.