Financial Media in A Pandemic World:
What Media Channels Work Best (Right Now) to Connect Financial Firms with Target Audiences?
An In-Depth Expert Conversation
This interview is the third of five in a series of interviews designed to bring clarity to the financial marketing industry at an uncertain time. Gramercy Institute fielded a study at the beginning of the pandemic crisis, called “Crisis Response 2020: Understanding Financial Marketing in Uncertain Times.” The results of the study are eye-opening to say the least.
The team at InvestingChannel raised its hand to help Gramercy Institute put some of these findings into context and there is no better way to put research into relevant context than to talk about it with industry insiders who have intimate understanding of some of these findings. This is the third interview in a series of five that InvestingChannel is bringing to the industry with Gramercy Institute.
Gramercy Institute invited the following leaders together to discuss an essential question that is on the mind of every financial marketer, agency, media company and service provider—right now: What are the most effective media channels for financial marketers to use today (right now) when connecting with audiences?
Michael Bosco, Director Cross-Channel Media, TD Ameritrade
Andrew Goldman, Sr. Director, Content & Engagement Marketing, TIAA
Bob Verrico, Founder & Executive Chairman, InvestingChannel
WREAKS: Panel, thank you all for joining me to discuss this important topic on what media channels are most effective for financial marketers today. It is a pleasure to have such a bright group with us today. I will also point out how fortunate we are to have all points of views represented here. Mike comes, primarily, from the B-to-C side of financial. Andrew, from the B-to-B side. Bob, handles many financial services clients on both the B-to-C and the B-to-B sides of our business. Let’s get to work.
Before I ask my first question, please consider these facts: In a study titled “Crisis Response 2020: Financial Marketing in Uncertain Times,” completed last month by the Gramercy Institute. From this study, it is apparent that financial marketers have clear views on the most effective media channels to use when engaging target audiences.
In a study survey of 135 senior marketers from major financial firms, completed last month (post lockdown) by the Gramercy Institute, it is apparent that senior financial marketers believe that “social media” and “content marketing” are highly effective methods of marketing during today’s uncertain times. Here’s what we asked:
What types of media/marketing do you feel are most effective in reaching business-to-business financial audiences today? Here were the five top selections:
Content Marketing 65.71%
Social Media 56.19%
Public Relations 36.19%
Original Content Creation 33.33%
What types of media/marketing do you feel are most effective in reaching business-to-consumer financial audiences today? Here were the five top selections:
Social Media 63.8%
Content Marketing 43.8%
Search Marketing 39.05%
WREAKS: First, Mike, do these numbers surprise you? Or no? Are you surprised that such a high percentage of financial marketers agree so consistently that “Content Marketing” and “Social Media” are the most effective types of media/marketing in today’s uncertain times?
BOSCO: Thank you, Bill. No, no. Not at all. It doesn’t surprise me that Content and Social are bubbling to the top right now.
WREAKS: Is your lack of surprise based on your own experiences? Or more a feeling that Content and Social just seem to make sense today?
BOSCO: We’re seeing this first hand. We’re seeing this dynamic come to life on our Content channels like TD Ameritrade Network and an increased use of Social to stay connected with the world is opening up more opportunity for brands to engage their audiences.
WREAKS: Mike, thank you. Andrew, your perspective is more from the B-to-B side of our business. What’s your take? Are you surprised by these numbers?
GOLDMAN: No. I’m not surprised, either. Even before the COVID pandemic began to reshape personal and professional lives, Social and Content Marketing had become a staple for B-to-B audience engagement and experience design. Now more than ever, people are looking for effective ways to stay connected and informed. Human-to-human contact is at an all-time low due to the pandemic, and digital social engagement is taking on increased relevance during these stay-at-home and work-from-home periods—not necessarily a good thing, by the way, for B-to-B marketers.
WREAKS: Andrew, what do you mean it’s not necessarily good for B-to-B marketers?
GOLDMAN: With mass adoption comes a greater risk of saturation, and an ultra-high bar for standing out with valuable content. Fatigue with social platforms is to be expected – they are becoming more of an “always-on” lifeline to reality. This can “deaden” an audience’s reaction to content that might not be highly unique and useful.
WREAKS: Bob, how about you? You work with dozens and dozens of financial firms, both B-to-B and B-to-C. Does this Social and Content reliance surprise you?
VERRICO: Thanks, Bill. No, I’m not surprised at all and—so it’s said—I love Andrew’s point about saturation and having to be unique and valuable. This has always been the case, but now with the volume of online communications, it is more important than ever to be relevant, valuable, unique and sensitive.
WREAKS: Thanks, Bob. Let me bring this back to you, Michael. As a follow-up to my first question, why do financial services marketers (B-to-B as well as B-to-C) agree that these two types of marketing (Content and Social) are so valuable right now (especially during this Pandemic crisis period)?
BOSCO: Good question. Content and Social are valuable channels/tactics to put your consumer or client at the center of your strategy. I think all of us as humans are trying to understand and navigate a situation that none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. As marketers these are the natural channels we can serve that need and hopefully provide some value and peace of mind for our consumers and clients.
WREAKS: Andrew, do you agree with Mike?
GOLDMAN: I do. I would further add that both provide a way for brands to stand out and differentiate themselves, and both work well together. Social media provides a connected audience and is ideal to amplify content. Content marketing can curate, personalize and craft that content into a personalized experience, whether a message, article, web site or commerce transaction. Useful content, amplified through social, ideally drives peer-to-peer endorsement of a brand’s point of view.
WREAKS: And this is particularly important to B-to-B financial marketers, yes?
GOLDMAN: Exactly. This is the “Holy Grail” for B-to-B marketers, looking to engage influential buying groups at any stage of the buying journey.
WREAKS: Bob, add some color to my first question. Why does financial’s emphasis on Content and Social—right now—not a surprise?
VERRICO: First, great point from Mike on pointing out that these are the “natural channels” for people today. That’s different from the natural channels for many (but not all) audiences just a few months ago. Perhaps millennials see social as more of a natural channel then in-person or events. Still, either way we MUST be where our audiences are and provide what our audiences want and need. This points directly to both social and content marketing.
WREAKS: Bob, so why does an emphasis on Social and Content channels not surprise you?
VERRICO: Sure. First, there are not many other options that can mimic live interactions and relevant thought leadership in the form of content. Secondly, this is how audiences want to (if not, have to) engage today. We are all in this lean forward mode. Right now, we are bit more and thirsty for expert guidance, perspectives and advice and curious about what our peers (social) are thinking. Lastly, it is critical to understand the needs of the audience when positioning content. This where data becomes so very important. Without accurate data, we are shooting in the dark!
WREAKS: Andrew, are you surprised by what is NOT in these top five lists?
GOLDMAN: The lack of email marketing as a “Top 5” choice stands out to me. So does the absence of Webinars on the “Top 5.”
WREAKS: While I am afraid I cannot offer you an answer as to why these two were not at the top of list for financial marketers, I’d like to ask you why you feel these media channels are especially suitable for financial marketers right now.
GOLDMAN: These channels excel at delivering subject matter expertise in agile ways, either through highly targeted campaigns or mass, often live, virtual events. This helps the B-to-B marketer reinforce relevance even outside the buying moment, sharing a POV on quickly changing circumstances like the COVID pandemic effects on business and culture. The market rollercoaster and legislative updates (the CAREs Act, for instance) of the past two months or more suggest the importance of an ongoing flow of agile content for decision makers.
WREAKS: Mike, what DON’T you see from this research as a top media channel for financial marketers? Why types of media would you expect to be at the top of list that were not?
BOSCO: One thing that surprises me is that Video is lower on the list for most marketers. We’ve been seeing an increase in video consumption across channels, specifically in Financial and News content, as reported by industry sources and our media partners. Sight, sound, and motion can be extremely impactful. I also believe in the synergy between channels like Video and Search to reach audiences across their journeys. All of these channels should be working in chorus to tell your brand’s story.
WREAKS: You raise a good point. For my two cents, I agree. I would expect to see Video higher up on the charts, as well. I will say, that perhaps it is not as low as it appears when considering the full listing. Of 19 different media types, video placed 4th (B-to-C) and tied for 4th (B-to-B). There will still a good number of media channels that ranked beneath video. Still, it’s very clear that Social and Content broke away from the pack in terms of media channels of choice—and that includes video. Bob, what DON’T you see at the top of this list that surprises you?
VERRICO: I agree with Andrew. I was expecting to see Email marketing near the top. This is really impactful right now. I believe that financial audiences likely have more bandwidth these days to read content and newsletters for example—as s long as the content is good, relevant information.
WREAKS: Bob, the word “relevant” can be overused these days. Give me an example of what you mean.
VERRICO: OK, InvestingChannel curates lots of data around what only financial advisors are consuming on our sites. I am referring to things like top ticker searches, most read articles, ad consumption, etc. We curate this data into newsletters with the results, analysis, trade ideas, etc. This level of relevancy brings together crowd sourcing insights and peer-to-peer transparency that is extremely valuable to investors, particularly today.
WREAKS: That is a good example—and it provides real value?
VERRICO: Yes, Bill. This is the precise reason as to why it is relevant—it provides value. This type of relevant content gets strong and deep engagement levels and is educational for the advisor community to see what other advisors are searching for or reading—and why.
WREAKS: Bob, does anything surprise you about what media are missing from the top?
VERRICO: Well, let’s say this, I do understand why Social and Content are so high on the list. At the same time, I am pointing out that there are other media channels that are drawing some water right now.
WREAKS: Which ones come to mind.
VERRICO: Streaming TV is “on fire.” So is traditional TV. Video, in general is also up from what I see. Also, again I will agree with Andrew. Webinars are doing well right now. Here’s how I look at it. What it really comes down to is that there are essentially two types of channel experiences or “usage.” On one hand, there’s email, social and webinars. These are quick and can get relevant information out and dispersed pretty much “on-the-fly.” On the other hand, there’s streaming, video, and TV which are more planned and, obviously, not as reactive.
WREAKS: Bob, thank you. Lastly, panel, I’d like to ask your take on these responses (that were taken in the midst of this Covid pandemic) in comparison to how these responses might differ under normal circumstances. Now, I realize that what WAS normal circumstances may be different from what MAY BECOME normal circumstances in the future, but I am wondering how you feel this emphasis on Content and Social will fare in as leading financial marketing media channels in the future? Another way of asking this question: One year from today, would you expect to find that financial marketers are still leaning so heavily on Content and Social marketing to engage their audiences?
BOSCO: To me, this is an acceleration of an existing trend in the industry, the trajectory was already there, but the times we’re living through have boosted this and in some ways decreased focus on product or direct response messaging. Though brands that can’t find a genuine voice to speak to their audience are going to find that while these channels provide reach they may not be effective.
GOLDMAN: I agree with what Mike has said. I think that this emphasis on Content and Social is bigger than just a knee-jerk reaction to pandemic media habits from financial marketers.
WREAKS: Please go a little deeper with this. Tell me why.
GOLDMAN: Sharing relevant content in personal and unique ways, at all times (not just during these uncertain ones), should be an “always-on” strategy for B-to-B financial marketers. This is the case especially in financial services in which many firms are offering some degree of duplicative products and offers.
WREAKS: So are you saying that Social and Content do some of the heavy lifting to differentiate one brand from the other?
GOLDMAN: Exactly. Consumers and organizations are still trying to build trust amidst our industry’s post-2007 recession. Many of our products and services remain commoditized. Banks, arguably, all function the same basic way. Despite innovation in many areas of product and customer service (i.e.: credit card offers, institutional loans, mortgages, investment advice), no single bank is the best at ALL of these for EVERY customer. Content seriously empowers institutions to emphasize strong suits and differentiate their services and their brands in the process.
WREAKS: Bob, will content and social be leading the pack of media channels as we emerge from these current unusual (pandemic-era) circumstances? What’s your take?
VERRICO: Yes, no doubt. Both Social and Content marketing have been strong channels for financial over the past few years and I expect this dominance to continue into the future—with or without pandemic circumstances. I suspect that proven success today will deliver a deeper “proof of concept” for the power of both Social and Content and the success will drive further insight and resources for firms to develop these channels more post pandemic.
WREAKS: Panel, Bravo. Thank you all for sharing your smart thoughts with us to help me—and our readers—learn so much more about media, and specifically financial media, and why certain types perform better now (and beyond). There are a lot of smart take-aways from this interview and I thank you all.