Anyone who has cruised along miles of interstate or inched through a crowded metropolitan traffic jam has likely felt acutely aware of the larger-than-life presence of billboards. But every time I see one, I feel like I’m looking at a vestige of a bygone era.

With today’s proliferation of highly measurable digital advertising channels, it is strange that billboards still dominate land- and cityscapes across the country. If your financial institution is still advertising with billboards or otherwise stuck in the adverting dark ages, it is time to reevaluate your marketing strategy.

Ask yourself the following questions to find out whether your current advertising initiatives are really working — and whether there’s another option that could be generating greater return on investment.

1. What’s the goal?

I’m not advocating that billboards be eliminated altogether. I just think they play a very specific and limited role in the current marketing ecosystem — for instance, advertising an immediate opportunity for customers. Consider a billboard that says, “Exit now for the best motel rates.” In this case, the goal is to get people to take action right then and there. Billboards can serve as amplified point-of-sale tactics.

It’s fair to assume that hungry travelers will pull over to eat if they see a nearby restaurant advertised on a billboard, but the impression that billboards leave is fleeting. If there’s no immediate call to action, travelers will likely forget the message within minutes. It is much harder to imagine an individual seeing a billboard on the highway for a banking product and still feeling excited about that billboard hours later.

You will struggle to raise brand awareness and build trust with your customers when they are driving at 80 mph. If your goal is anything other than advertising immediate opportunities, you’re likely to see better results by humanizing your brand and putting employees front and center on social media. Two-way communication is key here, not a huge message written along the interstate.

2. Are you just playing it safe?

Too often, companies in trust-based industries, such as banks or other financial institutions, stick with traditional advertising strategies simply because it’s what they’ve always done. They’ve relied on direct mail, billboards, and TV to build relationships, rather than branching out to build the personal customer relationships required to convert opportunities. In fact, 34% of financial institutions still allocate at least half of their budgets to traditional media.

Another factor is the perceived “safety” of one-way communication. Finance is a heavily regulated industry. Many financial institutions prefer to remain conservative in their marketing strategies because of this regulatory scrutiny.

Traditional tactics, which don’t invite dialogue, appear to be the safer option — at first glance. But failure to market to customers in the ways they’re most receptive to will ultimately be more detrimental to your organization. Navigating regulations is tricky, but failure to adapt to consumers’ preferences means loss of engagement and even business. Consumers today expect customized sales pitches and dialogue that clearly demonstrates value. No billboard will provide that.

3. How does your ROI measure up?

Billboards can cost anywhere from $250 per month in rural areas to $14,000 per month (or more) in larger markets. Think of what those dollars could accomplish in a digital marketing strategy that actually connects your brand with prospects and helps you accomplish your goals.

Put yourself in customers’ shoes for a moment. Would you rather catch a glimpse of a blurred billboard as you zoom by on the highway or have a human reach out to you with a free whitepaper on a topic that’s personally relevant to you?

Today’s consumers expect brands to have a conversation with them, not just talk at them. This is particularly true of people in younger generations, who came of age with smartphones in hand. According to one 2018 survey, 45% of Millennials expect brands to deliver engaging experiences. Those that fail to recognize this and act accordingly will be left behind.

4. Does your advertising strategy need to be flexible?

Market conditions are always evolving. What if you need to adjust your pricing or other advertised information, but it’s plastered 14 feet above the ground? It takes time — and money — for someone to climb up there and install a whole new ad.

On top of the monthly fees for billboard advertising, printing a new ad can add up. Do you want to incur that cost every time you change your message? And even if the cost doesn’t bother you, will you be able to change your message quickly enough?

On social media, you can change your messaging with the click of a button. On top of that, audiences on social will also see something new from your brand on a regular basis. When it comes to a physical billboard, the ad remains stagnant until someone climbs up the ladder to install a new ad or it fades over time. If you want to be able to respond efficiently to changing market conditions and stay top of mind for your audience, billboards are not the way to go.

5. Are you unsure where to start?

If your brand has a long history with traditional advertising, entering the new digital realm can feel intimidating. Social media is a great place to start.

Simply posting on your brand’s Facebook page, however, will not be a successful strategy. Instead, you must empower your individual employees to also build relationships and trust with followers. This may take up time and require some tough conversations with your compliance department, but the engagement you experience in return will be well worth those efforts.

Consider that in a 2018 retail study by Motista, consumers who reported feeling an emotional connection to a brand had a lifetime value 306% higher than those who felt no connection (staying with a brand for 5.1 years versus 3.4 years). Building relationships helps get and keep customers on board with your brand.

Content and community events are other great ways to connect with customers one on one. Think about how you can develop and recycle content for different audiences. Maybe one of your loan officers wrote a post for your company’s blog. That’s great! Can someone on your team convert that post into an engaging speech the loan officer can give at a community event? If attendees ask questions after the presentation, the loan officer becomes even more of a trusted, go-to source when he has the answers.

Consider also turning that blog post into a whitepaper that your marketing team can automatically send to prospects when they enter their information into a form on your website. Or you can break it down into bite-size social media posts to drive engagement and foster online dialogue.

When it comes to making the shift from traditional to digital advertising, the most important thing to do is start. Maybe it’s a conversation between your marketing and new business development teams about how they can collaborate more efficiently. Maybe it’s talking with your chief compliance officer to see what it would take to get your loan officers on social media. Or maybe it’s asking your public relations team to find local speaking opportunities for your financial advisors.

Whatever it is, taking that first step toward building trust is important. And I guarantee you, it’s far more effective than a passing billboard.

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