Superhero marketing for financial services

To capitalise on increasing optimism and investment, financial services marketers must champion people, brand, strategy and digital. Here’s why…

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Gerry McCusker

Gerry McCusker
Managing Director

Date:
16 August 2015

Office:
Glasgow

In many ways, it has never been a better time for financial marketing.

After a shaky number of years, overall optimism is gathering at pace, with investment in marketing and IT on the rise, and reaching new customers being considered a primary objective (a survey record high, in fact) according to the latest CBI/ PwC Financial Services Survey. Add to that the raft of new technologies and tools available for communicating and gathering customer insight and the future looks very bright for marketing teams.

But is it all plain sailing? Well, it rarely is, is it? Financial services marketers are faced with a complex network of challenges mixed in with the exciting opportunities of growing their customer base.  They are tasked with engaging people that increasingly demand transparency, improved communication and greater access to the people and brand behind the product or service. In addition, marketers need to get to grips with the multiplicity of responsibilities, new technologies and channels at lightning speed. And all the while being under increased pressure to prove the commercial value of marketing initiatives. Traditional marketing routes are increasingly out of date. A transformation is afoot.

Last year, taking the idea of creative transformation - the evolving relationship between creativity, digital, marketing and business – Dog produced a whitepaper that sought to uncover challenges faced by those involved in driving innovative marketing strategies and searched for actionable recommendations for today’s marketers working within the financial services industry. Together with the notion that technology has transformed marketing enabling far more effective communications, challenges of language, boardroom engagement, silo mentality and lack of strong brand proposition identified in the whitepaper continue to resonate. The challenges outlined are those that must be overcome if opportunities afforded by increased investment and optimism are to be seized.

So how can marketers make the most of the reported opportunities to help their companies thrive? Well, we’ve come up with four key recommendations for financial services marketers.

Be people centric.

Be the customer hero. Focus on their experience, and explore their decision making processes prior to `becoming a customer. Marketers must be aware of and understand each and every interaction a customer has with the business across all channels, on and offline. Strive to make each stage of the decision making process easier, more intuitive, interactive, and even enjoyable for new customers, and focus on developing meaningful connections with customers at each relevant touch point. 

Everything is marketing, from printed materials, website content, mobile app, micro UX, film, advert, email, phone call or tweet. Marketers must review each interaction, analysing experience through the eyes of the customer, and the impact to the business.

A quick note on content. Content used in communicating with customers should be made for the customer. Rather than thinking about the message the organisation wants to push, think about what the customer wants or needs to hear. Do they need advice? Do they want to get to know the person actually dealing with their financial interests? Do they want to know how an organisation deals with changes in the market? Ask questions and work from the customer viewpoint. Our Head of Creative, Adrian, wrote a piece on creative content here, so please check it out. Suffice to say here, however, make sure the content marketing strategy is centred on the customer, not the organisation.

Marketers are the voice of the customer and the market in the boardroom. They must be the customer champion and remain the expert in both. As we identified in our own whitepaper, supported by Econsultancy’s The Value of Marketing report, there is an issue with language used within the boardroom. And a major challenge uncovered is that of the language used by marketers in communicating strategies effectively to those who mainly understand performance in terms of business and sales. To overcome this obstacle – and gain necessary buy in from those who hold the purse strings – marketers must: Consistently link marketing initiatives to the customer and market behaviour, demonstrating the need for innovation and activity in key areas; relentlessly communicate objectives in terms of outcomes, business impact, customer acquisition and retention; and illustrate the role marketing activation plays in the customer lifecycle and market differentiation. By putting customers at the centre of the marketing strategy and demonstrating a granular understanding of their experience and behaviour, the business and the market landscape, in addition to steering away from fluffy marketing terms, marketers will be in a stronger position to gain buy in for, and drive marketing strategies that help organisations thrive.

Develop rock solid strategies.

By ‘rock solid,’ we do not mean a concrete, unwavering set of activations with set-in-stone outputs. Of course, the strategy should be agile in terms of being adaptable to customer behaviour, responsive to market changes and flexible enough to explore appropriate technical innovation or media. However it needs to be ‘rock solid’ in terms of focus. Far from being a paper exercise, or languishing exclusively with the marketing department, the strategy is a necessary plan, aligned to business strategy and integrated with sales, that holds a clear vision and roadmap of activity that will deliver a number of defined outcomes. 

As marketers, define what you’re trying to achieve, and be outcome driven. Focus on the customer or user, and harness data and intelligence gathered from your own and other areas of the business to devise the strategy. By focusing the strategy on outcomes, rather than output – and making sure each channel is integrated into that strategy to maintain a coherent narrative and experience - marketers can better avoid the curse of bombardment. Something that is increasingly problematic in today’s noisy landscape filled with meaningless content and bland product-focused ‘shouty’ messaging. 

In addition, a rock solid strategy makes room for greater creativity. We’ve long been advocates of the notion that creative marketing occurs in its most brilliant form when defined outcomes and restrictions or regulations are at work. The perception of the terms ‘creativity’ and ‘creative marketing’ among marketers and wider organisations has always been a challenge. There is a fear associated with those terms, typically being perceived as something fluffy or an indulgence, completely disconnected from the business strategies and processes. Yet we would argue that if something is considered creative, yet fails to impact the bottom line in some way, then it is far from being creative, it is irrelevant. Creative marketing initiatives, underpinned by rock solid strategies, rather than being regarded frivolous and without commercial value, will be understood in terms of being the most powerful way to communicate a message to a target audience.

Armed with a clear vision, purpose and roadmap, break down silos and importantly, communicate the strategy to the board and across the business with clarity and purpose, to gain buy in and participation. This fosters a culture of trust and collaboration, making it much easier to work in an agile way, to maximise opportunities, and ultimately to deliver more impactful marketing. 

 

Drive a strong brand, one with purpose.

With new entrants launching and competing with established financial services organisations at breakneck speed, the importance of brand has never been more acute. There are several ways in which the brand impacts financial services organisations. 

The brand is the thing that differentiates one organisation from another. Building brand equity is essential in today’s market. By shifting communications away from product messaging and answering the ‘why’ questions, customers are given the opportunity to understand and get behind a particular brand, trusting the business with their finances. And this resonates for both heavily intermediated B2B and B2C focused organisations. Customers increasingly want to form connections with the people looking after their financial interests, and search for organisations with core values that fit with their own, in addition to the quality of services of products, of course. A strong brand enables organisations to stand out from the myriad of competitors for the right reasons. And what’s more, if performance dips, a strong brand will garner more loyalty among customers than a weak one.

Importantly, brand and performance are intrinsically linked. Underpinned by an outcome focused strategy, the powerful combination of brand and strategic vision ensures that marketing remains fully aligned with business objectives. If an organisation’s people buy into and work according to the brand, the impact is huge. Each and every interaction with the customer – on and offline – will be authentic; the overall brand experience will be consistent; service provision will adhere to quality standards; and the value proposition will be communicated externally and understood internally. The brand is a strong factor in attracting and anchoring talent. Believing in the vision and purpose of the organisation for which they work, employees will strive to perform well. 

The brand forms the foundation of the culture of the organisation, capturing its core values and purpose. Its strength and validity is something which cannot be underestimated in terms of supporting sustainable performance and engaging new customers. Marketers must identify and define the brand, and ensure it is adopted and followed across each function of the business.

 

Embrace digital, fully.

The digital transformation is well under way in the majority of organisations, but fully connecting the digitisation to marketing is, for some, a long way off. However, marketers must get to grips with, and take an integrated approach to digital, looking comprehensively at a number of elements that will help to achieve defined outcomes. The relationship between financial services and digital transformation is highly complex. However if we focus here on how marketers can harness digital to achieve the outcome of reaching new customers, a good starting point is to look at connections, technology, and measurement. 

Before any rich media content, tweet, advert or email campaigns, must come data analysis. The intelligent use of data from digital channels helps to inform robust strategies around driving new and enhanced connections. First of all, marketers need to identify each touchpoint in the lifecycle and analyse every interaction and customer journey, on every device. Review the pain points and recognise the successful interactions that engage the target audience. Identify the opportunities for improved interactions. Extract every bit of relevant data available to gain a granular understanding of the customer experience. And then cross reference this insight with intelligence gained from talking to the client facing teams in your business. They have expert knowledge that will support and help to contextualise the vast amounts of data. 

The impact of technology on marketing to gain new customers is fundamental. From website CMSs offering exceptional lead generation, digital marketing and personalisation capabilities, to remarketing services and adtech products extending reach and engagement. Not to mention the proliferation of devices, emerging creative technologies and social media algorithms impacting content creation and marketing and distribution in exciting ways, technology is the enabler in a marketer’s strategy. 

The data produced during each interaction has transformed marketing management, effectiveness and performance measurement. While the management of data is a gargantuan task, we now have access to information that provides a deep understanding of the customer journey and the effectiveness of communications. By analysing, testing and optimising all the time, relentlessly we would hope, marketers are able to make their customers’ journeys and experiences seamless, purposeful and even enjoyable. Effective data management and smart application of data is key to finding that marketing sweetspot: communicating with those we want to connect with, across the channels most relevant to them, with messages that resonate. And ultimately, encouraging them to carry out a desired action. 

Digital enables marketers to better reach the people they want to, to provide more relevant experiences to individuals and to grow deeper connections with customers. According to the CBI/PwC report, IT investment is expected to increase by 75% in the coming year. While we can’t predict how much of that will be directly for marketing purposes, we recommend marketers adapt to and harness the opportunities that technologies bring to insight, efficiency and performance. With one eye on the horizon, learn everything you can, communicate with business and IT teams, and understand how digital can be used to both enhance existing customer experience and create connections with new customers. 

Financial services marketing is a complex beast, but by focusing on the people, the brand and developing an integrated strategy underpinned by digital, marketers will be well placed to grasp the opportunities afforded by increased optimism and any investment they manage to secure for their efforts.

Check out our whitepaper Creative with investment: Addressing the need for creative transformation in financial services marketing. The study is based on an independent survey of marketing and communications professionals working within financial services, in addition to insights gathered from a roundtable discussion with leading financial services marketers.