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Advice for Financial Services Agencies: Channel Willie Sutton

Posted by Tom O'Regan on December 13th, 2012 at 10:26 pm

I don’t run a bank or a brokerage. But I do run a business that connects businesses to affluent customers, and I have seen this customer group evolve through good times, bad times and the economic limbo we’re currently plodding through. That experience leads me to some radical advice for the financial services category. That advice? Channel bank robbers.

In particular, channel Willie Sutton. He was the most skilled and notorious thief in history, the original “Slick Willie.” When he was asked, upon capture in 1952, why he robbed banks, he said: “Because that’s where the money is.” It mystifies me that despite controlling 13 percent of all digital marketing dollars (second only to retail’s 22 percent) financial services companies still haven’t figured out where the money is. The money is not all in the top one, five or even 10 percent of your customers. The money is in expanding your valuable customers, and in meeting those customers where they live. If you work for a financial services company, you’re missing your customers, particularly the more affluent ones. Now that the Occupy movement has pretty much moved on, and it looks like corporate earnings will dictate a flat stock market through the end of the year, it’s time for financial service marketing to reset, re-evaluate and get aggressive. It’s time to address some reputation problems. It’s time to meet your customers.

First, here’s what I see as the problem: Banks and brokerages are using digital media to send fairly vague messaging about value, fees and online services. Bad move. If you’re going to use digital media don’t be vague about the message or the audience. I see a lot of ads that advertise IRA services, great interest rates and exclusive discounts, but they don’t tell a story. They don’t address anything that a valuable customer would aspire to, and they’re not customized for any specific audience. The same ad runs on a general news site, financial specialty publication or high-end investment newsletter.

And, to be fair, the financial services industry is not the only one guilty of this – there are plenty of other high-end advertisers that could benefit from better storytelling skills. The goal is to create something tangible, something that consumers can relate or aspire to. Make the story good, and make it specific. Current technology can show you where the money is and help you discover different creative executions to unlock it.

This vague approach is compounded by a lack of context. Recent Martini Media research shows that eight in 10 marketers agree that it’s worth paying premium CPMs to ensure they reach luxury consumers. And passion-related sites are the right context. Nine in 10 marketers agree that they can build reach against luxury consumers on smaller sites related to consumers’ passion areas. Yet I see ads that are clearly served by exchanges and networks that may hit a general target, but don’t hit that intersection of passion and relevance. That intersection is a rich one, both from an income perspective and a result perspective.

Finally, so many advertisers, especially in financial services, aren’t meeting the customer, even the affluent ones, at the right digital points. Smartphone and tablet executions have come a long way. As an example, some of the new IAB Rising Stars ad formats are optimized for mobile devices, featuring built-in apps and interactive content for deeper engagement. Affluent customers are adopting tablets for all kinds of uses from content to entertainment and commerce. They are not limited to online banking and airline booking apps. Here again, they expect to see relevant and creative ads.

Social media is another huge opportunity to encourage well-heeled audiences. Yet, financial services companies haven’t shown up yet and many others are late to the game. More than 40 percent of affluent customers are active social media users.

I have seen many vertical categories and individual companies overachieve in the economic doldrums simply because they are meeting the customer with relevant messages in a passionate environment. Travel and automotive, in particular, have benefitted from this approach. They have gone to where the money is. It should be a natural strategy for all brands striving to reach affluent audiences – especially those in financial services.

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