Financial services is a relationship business. Well, that’s at least what most of the industry’s marketing says. Truth is, the nature of relationships has changed. There is a digital intermediary between people, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices that have dominated the way we connect with one another. (Ever texted someone in another room in your house? Or even in the same room?) In marketing, we say that relationships matter, but we run the risk of Marriage Encounter messaging in a Tinder world, even when it comes to financial services.
The biggest messaging and marketing challenge for financial companies is converting a customer base that believes mediocre self-service is better than superlative relationships. Consumers believe they can do things themselves, and actually expect that option in almost all of their interactions. Instead of B-to-C, financial relationships are now C-to-B. Consumers want power in the palm of their hands. They don’t want meetings or financial check ins. They don’t want to sit at a bank branch and fill out forms. And they don’t want to wait for a human to do something for them when they can click a box by themselves.
Yet, relationships do matter, and companies can–and do–differentiate themselves by how their humans treat the humans who are their customers. The balance is finding the right message that promotes financial relationships while understanding that consumer priorities have gone in a different direction.
Drop the Relationship Orthodoxy
Some of history’s best financial marketing campaigns have been built around the human touch. When EF Hutton brokers talked, people listened, and Anchor Bankers understood you, even if that banker was a woman. But consumers are more likely to choose a platform than a person, so you have to promote what you offer above whom you offer. Geico has done this successfully over the years. While Geico runs multiple ad campaigns, and is still known best for the talking gecko, the so-easy-a-caveman-can-do-it campaign was perfect because it not only dropped the value of relationship on the company’s part, but it helped customers get over any fear they might have had of going to a platform over a person. Once you let go of the idea that you have to promote relationships, you can find very creative ways to attract customers.
Find White Spaces Where Relationships Can Matter
The insurance industry, which was disrupted by technological innovations in the mid-1990s, is the master at knowing where people matter in transactions. The Jake from State Farm campaign is a great example. If you happen to want to call your insurance company in the middle of the night (something your wife would unquestionably doubt) there is someone, dressed in khakis, on the other end of the phone. The campaign succeeds largely because it tackles one of the criticisms of human customer service: people are only available for short periods during the day. That’s especially true of financial services. They’re called “bankers’ hours” for a reason.
Show You Understand Your Customers
If people aren’t attached to you, you don’t have to cry about it. You can celebrate it. In a world of casual encounters, you can separate your brand by focusing on the benefits of that disconnect. Ikea has done this effectively. It creates products that are designed to be disposable. You aren’t supposed to fall in love with any one year’s designs. So Ikea–which has never promoted a human element in its transactions–embraced the transient nature of its products. In a famous spot, it ridiculed its own customers who still had emotional connection to the products. Lamps, after all, “don’t have feelings.” Neither should you.
Financial companies are different, and they do hold a special responsibility for their customers. After all, regulations require that they know their customers. But, in return, customers really just want things like transparency and ease of use in their modern relationships. Marketing and messaging has to catch up if it wants to stay in the game.