David Martin, Chairman, US

Is Branding Dead in FS?

If you’re a financial services marketer or a business leader keeping up with the rapid developments in technology, it’s hard to come away without thinking that branding as we once knew it is dead.

Engaging communications have been supplanted by fulfilling experiences as the prime marketing focus. Artificial intelligence, voice assistants, and chat bots seem to be creating valuable and meaningful experiences for consumers. But what about an industry that has been already been well-defined in the mind of its audience?

While new technology is accelerating the number of tools that can be used in developing a consumer experience, without creating a relatable connection with your audience, those investments are dollars wasted.

Engagement & Loyalty Decisions

There’s no question that with the enhanced utility delivered by search and social media, clients and consumers have changed the decision process they use to select financial services partners. We see this clearly through the customer journey mapping work we do.

While the process has changed, we’re not convinced that the factors contributing to their decisions have changed dramatically.

Today’s prospects still need to reach three key conclusions:

  1. “Is the firm right for me?”
  2. “Is it best for me relative to alternatives?”
  3. “Does it deliver on my expectations?”

Our challenge lies in assessing how these conclusions are drawn and determining what tools we can use to help our targets reach these conclusions in a way that benefits our objectives.

Experience or Branding?

“Does it deliver to my expectations?” is certainly answered through experience. The performance of the product, the helpfulness of the service, the comfort from the feedback received, both extrinsically and intrinsically all contribute to our targets’ ability to reach this conclusion. The more expectations are met and exceeded, the more people are willing to share their experiences with others and do it again when the need arises.

“Is it best for me, relative to alternatives?” is answered through a combination of experience and the influence of those trusted by our targets – friends and other clients. If we’ve done our work well, they’re also interested in what we have to say about our offer.

Testing, evaluating, studying the experience of others all tip the scale in our favor as the target is making the final selection. Again, experience is the prime catalyst for this decision. But, if we are trusted, our communications can be influential as well.

This brings us to the first very important decision – “Is the firm right for me?”  There’s no question that experience – both the prospect’s and their influencers – shape this gating conclusion. But, without relatability, there is no experience.

This is where branding and marketing can still play an important role.

Universal Drivers of Demand

Modern Financial Services Branding

Recent research and an analysis of drivers of demand across banking, investing and insurance reveals that relatability is built in progressive steps.

The foundation is competence – does the firm know how to do what I need to get done? Does it do it well?

The next layer is empathy – do they demonstrate an understanding of me and my needs? Do they get people like me?

Trust is fostered by establishing competence and empathy. Here our targets begin to give us “the benefit of the doubt” and they are open to what we have to say and do, subject to the test of experience.

The ultimate step is confidence – do I believe that together we can get to where I need to go?  Confidence is built upon the foundation of competence and empathy, and the validation of trust.

These four factors build relatability that influences the “right for me” decision and helps establish the foundation for the “better than alternatives” decision.

Bringing Relatability to life

Brand relatability is a brought to life through a combination of perceived Competence and Character.

Again, competence is simply, “can they do what I need them to do?” Branding can help establish competence through story telling that helps our targets understand what we do, how we do it and importantly why we do it.

Character builds on competence to define who we are and will be in the context of a budding relationship. Branding helps to shed light on character by expressing our personality and our style of interaction. It helps our targets take measure of our fitness for them – trustworthiness, sincerity, empathy and loyalty – and encourages them to suspend their natural skepticism.

Relatability is also enhanced though freshness. As is the case in any relationship, freshness attracts and refreshing reinvigorates interest. Branding is uniquely suited to establish and sustain a sense of freshness that keeps our targets willingly engaged.

Modern Branding Drives Attention & Action

Modern Financial Services Branding

Today, it is commonly understood that branding without experience leads to likely failure. We would hold that the opposite is true as well. Experience alone can’t carry the burden of establishing relatability. The two must work in concert to fulfill the process our targets move through in making their engagement, purchase and loyalty decisions.

Branding isn’t dead. It’s different … and still must be mastered to build relatability required to stimulate attention and drive the actions needed to grow and sustain today’s financial services businesses.