The abrupt and seismic shift in customer and prospect behaviour resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation that was already well underway in the financial services industry.
Instead of deviating from predicted trends, the dramatic events of 2020 have acted as an accelerant for digital transformation. Topics that were many years away from review are now top of today’s agenda. All financial service organisations are grappling with the same challenges: remote working, new digital customers, the need for greater convenience, and changes in buying behaviour.
For example, to reduce the intense pressure on telephone and branch services during the crisis, financial service providers have been more actively encouraging the use of digital and mobile channels. This shift has forced many customers who may have been reluctant to interact with providers via these channels in the past, to now use them as their main point of contact, and to do so during a time of considerable upheaval for both providers and customers.
And yet, despite all the operational challenges imposed by the pandemic, the rising use of digital services is creating new opportunities that would have not otherwise materialised. None more so than in digital marketing.
New opportunities come with new challenges
According to a recent research study into digital trends in financial services in 2021 conducted jointly by Adobe and Econsultancy, nearly half of all financial services and insurance firms (48%) surveyed reported unusual growth in new prospects/customers over the second half of 2020, compared to just 30% who said there had been unusual churn in existing customers.
From a marketing perspective, 51pc reported an unusual change in customer journeys or new customer journeys.
It is against this backdrop that key areas of digital marketing need to be addressed.
Understanding the key principles of digital marketing strategy, as well as prospect insight and customer journeys is vital to success in financial services.
Determining the optimal mix of owned, earned, paid and shared channels for efficient and effective marketing has never been more important. But just because there are so many ways in which to reach prospects and customers via digital, it doesn’t mean the task has become any easier.
For example, online display and programmatic advertising still accounts for much marketing investment in relation to developing brand awareness and reach. Financial services marketers had been preparing for the demise of the 3rd party cookie upon which so many current approaches to targeting and digital ad placement revolve. But Google has now announced it will push back the deadline from early 2022 to late 2023. Still, many challenges remain around viewability, fraud and effectiveness that will impact anyone response for financial services digital marketing even if 3rd party cookies have received a stay of execution.
SEO and PPC
Other core channel areas to focus on in 2021 include search engine optimisation and pay per click search advertising. Google’s place in the customer and prospect journey has perhaps become even more important over the last 18 months. Search data itself can provide insights into changing customer and prospect trends.
Recent Google research shows how UK consumers have moved over time from seeking the “cheapest” products and services to the “best”.
Social Media and Data
And what of social media? Purely organic use of this channel for generating reach among audiences is increasingly seen as sub optimal. Thus, finding ways to combine both organic and paid social approaches that best match and reflect prospect and customer journeys is a key element of any digital marketing strategy. Financial services marketers (along with colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry) have the added burden of far higher levels of regulation and scrutiny with respect to social media content.
Finally, making use of data and measurement to inform digital marketing strategy and execution is only going to accelerate. The Adobe and Econsultancy research referred to earlier, also found that 66pc of organisations were using website analytics to create connected, personalised prospect and customer experiences. But website analytics and tag management systems need to be configured correctly to allow such insights to be gained. Too often basic set up errors lead to skewed data and misinformed decision making.
Here to stay
In summary, the shift to digital is not a temporary blip. The modern-day financial services marketer has their work cut out. But intelligent understanding of tools, technologies and propsect/customer insight is not impossible. And great rewards await those who are prepared to invest effort in getting each aspect of the mix correctly aligned.
Andrew Bruce Smith is a specialist digital PR, social media, SEO and analytics trainer and consultant. With a career spanning 36 years, he has developed and implemented many highly successful strategic digital communications programmes for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Andrew is currently a trainer and consultant in social media, analytics, SEO and digital marketing for the Amber Group, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA), the Media Trust, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA).