No longer digital laggards, financial services companies have made great strides in the last few years using online, social and mobile communications to get their messages out, raise awareness and reach new audiences. The bigger challenge moving ahead is how financial services organizations — both public and private — incorporate new digital content channels into their overall corporate marketing strategy, supported by an integrated approach.
Making the transition to a digital-first marketing strategy requires a focused, strategic effort. For some it means parting with to-date approaches, and making the transition typically comes with higher ROI expectations. But it also requires strong lines of defense against what’s expected to be an increase in brand exposure and reputational risk. Bottom line: In order to succeed in a post-digital age, financial services organizations must wed their online communications to strong content, data analytics with more sophistication, and enhanced customer targeting in an approach that transcends functional areas within the company.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Aug. '18 Financial PR/IR & Professional Services PR Magazine
While progress has been made, there are still miles to go. According to the “2018 Digital Trends in Financial Services” report, only 37 percent of financial and insurance companies describe targeting and personalization as a “top-three” priority for 2018. This indicates there are still a number of companies unsure about how to apply and leverage these tools.
The report also found that 28 percent of financial services and insurance organizations rank optimizing the customer experience (how to target, via what channel, with what type of content) as the “single most exciting opportunity” in 2018, compared to 18 percent of their peers across all other sectors.
However, content marketing — a supply of originally produced content regularly distributed via multiple channels — is essential for optimizing the experience along the customer journey and therein lies a disconnect: Financial and insurance companies are less inclined than other business sectors to cite the creation of compelling content for digital experiences as the top opportunity this year (seven percent vs. 15 percent).
This has to change if financial services and insurance companies want to align their overall communications efforts to the top and bottom lines, under a digital-first approach.
Moving the business — including its corporate culture — to a digital-first strategy with content marketing at its core presents significant challenges for C-suite executives and boards of directors. While there are many ways to steer a successful digital-first strategy, a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply. At the same time, certain steps are essential without which the transition to digital-first is prone to fail. Here are several ways to get started:
Adapt new technologies to support the digital-first strategy, cross-functional learning and, perhaps most important, busting the silos among sales, marketing/PR, IR, research, product development, IT, compliance/legal and risk management.
Leverage data analytics. Ideally, data analytics lies at the core of digital marketing communications, and at the intersection of aforementioned core competencies within the organization. This lets financial services companies invest in those content marketing channels that most effectively reach and speak to their customers, and help position their products, services and value proposition — with an opportunity to fine-tune and optimize the corporate strategy over time.
Conduct research and analysis to gauge how the demographics of the firm’s audiences have changed or are changing. This is a first and crucial step that, surprisingly, many companies tend to overlook or don’t emphasize enough. Likewise, it is crucial that financial services companies determine how their various customers like to receive information, and through which channels they prefer to communicate.
If they haven’t already, financial services organizations have to recruit or draw on nontraditional talent, including digital content strategists and senior data analysts, to spur and maintain real change. These new hires ought to have a seat at the table so they can act as “translators” between C-suite executives and managers on the front line shaping, executing and measuring corporate marketing strategy. Often times, companies seek to further augment in-house capabilities by partnering with agencies that bring a relevant track record and expertise.
While some companies may feel pressure to move quickly away from traditional media and marketing channels and toward digital, mobile and social platforms, a gradual (yet integrated) approach to implementing a digital-first marketing strategy will typically work best.
Managers will need to determine how a digital-first approach can enhance their business and bolster the company’s exposure with their stakeholders. Making the transition involves adequately hedging for potential reputational vulnerabilities, upgrading contingency plans, adding and training staff and establishing companywide best practices regarding the use of digital, social and mobile channels, particularly in relation to regulations.
Agency partners often play a significant role helping financial services firms navigate a rapidly changing media landscape. They bring an outside perspective to the table regarding the potential benefits and pitfalls of broader market exposure. They also provide invaluable experience and insight by showing what has worked (or not) for other financial services organizations aligning new content channels with their overall business.
Agencies can be tapped for sharing a 360-degree view of what kind of content — and which distribution channels — will be most effective for growing existing and new customer bases and distinguishing the financial services brand vis-à-vis competitors. Wrapped around these benefits is guidance for how to reconfigure budgets to support new content distribution strategies, in support of corporate business objectives.
With industry regulations and oversight still evolving in terms of social media and other new technologies, financial services firms face vulnerabilities and challenges.
New digital-first corporate marketing strategies need to be tested and, if needed, tweaked and fine-tuned. Financial services firms shouldn’t get too far ahead of the marketplace. While “early adopters” may think they’re ahead of the game, there are many examples of how industry regulations can lag behind the adaptation of new technologies, potentially to the detriment of the company and/or the customers it serves.
Engaging new digital content channels and technology requires a judicious approach to devising effective, integrated marketing communications strategies in support of corporate objectives. With changes in the digital landscape accelerating at a rapid clip, financial services companies have more work to do.
Katrin Lieberwirth is a Senior VP at Stanton.