FINANCIAL AGENCY PERSPECTIVES
Gramercy Institute works closely with an alliance of leading agencies. Each agency specializes in financial services marketing. This “Financial Agency Short List” represents some of the brightest thinking and smartest strategy evangelists in our industry.
We have asked this “Short List” to respond to an important question on all of our minds today: How will the financial services marketing industry emerge from this pandemic crisis—and how will it change our industry in the future.
Below, you will find perspectives from some of the “Short List” member agencies.
QUESTION: As we plan to emerge from the Covid-19 quarantine, in what ways has our industry changed? Will we eventually revert back to business as usual, or has the way we will conduct the business of financial marketing
be different moving forward?
Andy Seibert, Managing Partner, Imprint
THE COMING “REIMAGINATION”
While this pandemic is unique, I cannot help but reflect on other historic moments, like 9/11 and the 2008 stock market crash. After those events, as marketers we changed how we approached language, speaking with more sensitivity and relevance to those in need. I don’t particularly like the phrase “new normal” — as an optimist, it sounds defeated and dreary to me. I believe difficult periods like these eventually take us to a better place — which is why I talk about the coming “reimagination.” We can react and change positively after times like this, both personally and professionally.
For now, we’re focused on helping clients take an audience-first approach. The tone of content is incredibly important as their customers move along their journeys out of this trauma. The most important thing we can do is help clients think two steps ahead, so when their customers are ready for the next stage of their journey, we have the content that answers both their rational and emotional questions. Of course, this requires clients to be strategic — which means taking time out from dealing with the “here and now” crisis communications.
For marketers, so much will yet change — including such fundamentals as how we work and even where we work. Our clients’ customers face these same unknowns, and it’s our job to help them endure and ultimately reimagine their own lives in positives ways.
Peter Ferrigno, CEO, The Solutions Group Inc.
THE INTERREGNUM PHASE IS NEARING
The impact of Covid-19 on financial marketing will, I believe, move through three distinct phases—Radical Adaptation, Interregnum, and Modified Normal.
Today, we find ourselves in the Radical Adaptation phase, a phase marked by maintaining the business, ensuring our employees’ health, and more interestingly, radical innovation and a responsive recalibration of our value proposition.
The Interregnum phase is nearing. Marketing becomes permission-based, leaving interaction choices to the client or prospect, e.g., mask or no mask, lunch in or out, etc. In-person meetings are replaced by video conferencing. Business leaders will develop office-cleaning protocols and communicate them to resume client visits. Seminar marketing is dead.
The return of employees to offices will be slow. We will be reminded of the value of gathering in a single physical place—that productive collaboration and inspired thinking is the harvest of personal interactions, often of the spontaneous kind. Employers cannot afford the opportunity cost of lost ideas.
The Modified Normal phase will start once a vaccine emerges. Business leaders will recalculate the balance of working from home versus at the office and connecting with clients in-person or via technology. Modified Normal will retain the enduring elements of marketing—building trust, staying connected—but in a new framework that incorporates the best of what we’ve learned about ourselves, our peers, and our clients.
Kevin Steen, Principal, Strategy, Sullivan
THERE'S NO GOING BACK
There’s no going back. I was struck by a simple and blunt statement by NY Times columnist Bret Stephens on Bill Maher’s show this weekend: “If we all emerge from this situation with the same convictions we had before, it means we’re just not thinking.” While he was speaking about how the pandemic will upend politics and economic policy, the certainty of dramatic change of course also applies to financial marketing. Our industry was already in flux before this erupted; it will only hasten in the year or two ahead.
Trust again front and center: Last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer showed trust in financial services institutions at an all-time high, rising from 49% in 2012 to 67% in 2019. As the economy collapses, this crisis puts the industry and individual brands at a crossroads. We’re all seeing the ads claiming “we’re with you…we’ll get through this together.” But what about in 3 months, 6 months, or a year from now? It is imperative that brands take a long-term view and deliver on these promises across the customer experience throughout the recovery.
Acceleration of shifts already in motion: The digital divide between generations is narrowing, and marketing priorities will need to adapt. Will face-to-face go away? Of course not…just look at people across the country itching to get out of their homes and away from their computers. As marketers and employers, we will need to find the right balance.
Speed and authenticity over perfection: As celebrities do their own makeup and national news reporters broadcast from home with AirPods, we’re all seeing communicators get scrappier, and that’s ok. In fact, it often helps build a stronger emotional connection. Financial brands will need to let their hair down a bit, or risk appearing out of touch.
Without a doubt, we’re all in for an interesting ride.
Anthony Nygren, EMI Strategic Marketing
HOW YA GONNA KEEP ‘EM DOWN ON THE FARM?
There was a popular song at the end of World War I, "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm," about how soldiers returning to rural America might be restless after having seen the wonders of Paris. We believe financial marketers should be feeling a similar anxiety about their customers today. While none of us want to continue living the way we have since March, customers' experience of a new way of conducting business will almost certainly change their expectations and needs with respect to financial services companies. Financial advisors and brokers may not welcome as many wholesalers into their offices after finding that virtual conversations work just fine. Small business may set a higher bar for their banks to provide digital support and services after going through the pain of PPP. Middle market companies may not invite 1:1 conversations with prospective commercial lenders.
In our recent conversations with industry marketers--both ad hoc and through research we are currently conducting into marketing support of socially-distanced sales teams--we've found that they think many of the adaptations forced by social isolation may drive greater alignment between marketing and sales. The challenge and opportunity now is for financial marketers to apply some rigor to transforming these adaptations into positive changes for content marketing, digital engagement and sales enablement.
Bill Gordy, Chief Strategy Officer, The Solutions Group
MORE DEEPLY EMERGED IN THE DIGITAL WORLD
As we emerge from the Covid-19 quarantine, we find ourselves more deeply immersed in the digital world. One area undergoing rapid change is retirement planning and the accelerated adoption of digital channels and experiences.
Financial wellness programs are now a top priority to help consumers through economic impacts from the pandemic. As investors evaluate and reassess their preparation for retirement readiness, virtual tools and experiences have become the prime delivery channel for them.
Plan sponsors have hastened to build out digital capabilities enabling employee access to personalized communications and gamification for educational purposes. AI-driven automation is connecting consumers with relevant, personalized content, at all stages of the participant retirement journey. Capturing and analyzing well-being and benefits data is enabling deeper personalized experiences throughout the education – engagement – adoption journeys and driving higher (virtual) sessions with advisors. Plan sponsors are looking to create well-being dashboard visualizations for employees who can easily see how their actions relate to better outcomes, including retirement readiness and lower health care costs, in the post-pandemic landscape.
The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating adoption of virtual experiences in the retirement space. Plan sponsors and their employees are more deeply immersed in a digital ecosystem that is redefining the rules for financial engagement and should yield significant improvement in the state of retirement readiness.
Adam Klareich, Associate Media Director--Americas, Ptarmigan Media
COVID-19 has upended the way our industry has traditionally done business. 2 months ago, people were traveling to conferences, doing in-person meetings and commuting to and from the office. That all changed in mid-March and our industry has likely changed for the long term. While financial marketing will shift back to the “new” normal and messaging will shift back to product eventually, there is no doubt that our industry has also seen the efficiencies that can be provided by working at home and having virtual presentations. We are a face to face industry, but with the tech available to make meeting and working from home easy and productive, we do foresee cost savings in the form of less travel and reduction in need for commercial office space, especially as financial marketers come out of the crisis with less money to spend. While we have the capabilities and tools to work efficiently and effectively remotely, we have found that decision making from the client’s perspective is delayed, which have lengthened our timelines. This is expected to be a short term issue and won’t reverberate throughout the industry for the long term, while we forecast the opposite for business as usual.