Financial-services marketers have been in an all-out sprint since March of 2020. They have helped confused consumers navigate shape-shifting operations, worked around the clock to support anxious businesses and charities applying for PPP loans and radically shifted media plans and acquisition campaigns on the fly to reflect a new world order. What a long 17 months it’s been!
Business has been improving, but there’s not much time for weary marketers to catch their collective breath — strategic planning season is upon us.
As teams turn to 2022, there are four specific areas that need resources and attention:
THE UPPER FUNNEL
Our most recent Shopper research showed that, with the exception of a few neobanks, awareness levels dropped off across the board during the pandemic. This makes sense since most banks pulled back their marketing efforts dramatically at the start of the pandemic and only returned to media in fits and starts as the months wore on. For example, sponsorship events were cancelled or hosted virtually with less impact.
Furthermore, people just weren’t out and about. That meant consumers were getting fewer billboard impressions from branches. The cumulative impact on awareness across the industry was significant for banks across the spectrum. Reclaiming that lost ground in a lower-consideration category like banking will be critical.
What to do: Reinstate investment dollars that were pulled during the pandemic. Getting the money into your budget is one thing, determining the most efficient use for it is another. Awareness suffered mightily during the pandemic as people restricted their movements, so this is the time to build it back up. But the drop in branch billboard value is likely to continue due to structural declines in the utility of a branch, so some of those investment dollars should be spent elsewhere. Calculate the brand equity of the network and pump up advertising, especially in digital channels.
In the wake of such a disruptive period, people are trying to figure out what they need, where they want to go, where they want to live and what they want to buy. Banks need to be on top of these behaviors, gathering consumer insights to monitor and understand how they are changing. This means quickly wrapping arms around the changes and responding to them — from buying journeys to media consumption patterns and preferred modes of interacting. Discern which are likely to stick, which are still in flux and which may revert to business as usual. This will require access to a steady flow of customer interaction data and insights as well as the organizational agility to continuously adapt brand building and demand generation efforts to meet customers when, where and how they prefer.
What to do: Listen to customers and track their behaviors. Stay attuned to changing needs. Be adaptive in the marketing approach — lots of test-and-learn — to track how behaviors are changing.
One thing is clear: that the transition to digital is real and it is now. The problem is that many banks still don’t stand out from the crowd, resulting in a new commodification of banking services.
To stand apart from the rest, the real opportunity lies in humanizing company-to-customer marketing interactions so that customers feel valued and in turn contribute more value to the company. Unfortunately, this is an area where banks have historically done a poor job of showing that they understand their relationship with customers. Sites and communications often are unchanging — one-size-fits-all — and those that are “personalized” tend to be some combination of pre-programmed, rules-based journeys and highly transactional predictive models that optimize for the next best add or offer to put in front of someone. The latter is certainly better than one-size-fits-all, but in the broader digital context of Google, Apple, Netflix, etc., it’s still far from good enough.
What to do: Personalize and humanize customer interactions. Making this leap to more human interactions is possible without ripping out legacy martech or investing in multiple-point solutions, provided you make the right investments. Machine learning-driven experimentation components enable rapid, cross-channel experimentation at scale.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Born in the mid-1990s to about 2010, Gen Z is poised to soon become the largest generational group in the financial services arena (roughly 90 million strong). Many banks are marketing to this cohort as if they’re Millennials, (born between 1980 and around 1994), given their youth and tech-savvy orientation. But our Shopper research indicates that is a mistake. This generation has a unique profile when it comes to financial anxieties and bank preferences.
As a segment, Gen Z is the most anxious about its current finances and the least optimistic about
its forward-looking financial prospects. (See Figure 1.) Unlike other generations, they have much lower confidence in their ability to manage money well and worry about how to plan for big goals ahead. Their apprehension could be driven by age (they lack experience and know-how) or could possibly be related to living through not one, but two, great economic disruptions during their formative years.
Figure 1: Gen Z Consumers Are Anxious About The State Of Their Finances
What to do: Revisit the product set and positioning of the products to attract this next generation of customers as we come out of the pandemic. A basic checking account isn’t enough to reel in this group. Demonstrate your ability to alleviate this generation’s financial anxiety by providing them with budget optimizers and bundled checking and savings offerings. While top-notch apps and tech are a must, this generation is surprisingly more branch-centric than Millennials and its members want their banks to provide financial advice.