Let’s be honest: financial services doesn’t exactly scream creative marketing.
And for a long time, there was good reason for it due to heavy regulations.
But all that’s changing.
These days, financial services are becoming increasing digitized and personal, relying on creative storytelling to connect with a new generation of customers.
Below, we’ll look at some marketing tips that financial services brands need to know.
Financial Services Marketing Must Play by the Rules
Financial services marketing is just like any other type of marketing. You need to appeal to a target audience and build connections across multiple touch points.
But there are some key differences when you’re marketing financial service or FSI products.
First, because building trust as a financial institution can be a real challenge. Second, you’ll need to work within a strict set of rules.
Until recently, finance had trouble keeping pace with the latest trends in marketing and advertising. In the past, regulations from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) held the industry back.
FINRA does add an extra layer of challenges for financial services companies creating content, social posts, and email newsletters.
Here are some of the FINRA bullet points, though you’ll want to read up on the specifics before launching your first social campaign.
Subject to the SEC Rules of Old
SEC rules dating back to 1934 still apply to modern financial dealings. According to SEA, financial services companies must maintain certain records for at least three years.
These records apply to social media marketing, too, though the organization has updated the language to make it easier to navigate today’s digital landscape.
The rules aim to make sure that financial services companies don’t promote misleading claims or exaggerate the benefits of their offerings. Meaning, always err on the side of being helpful and transparent.
Third-Party Partnerships Can Get You into Trouble in Financial Services Marketing
Be careful who you work with.
The FINRA guidelines regarding third-party partnerships are fairly reasonable. They basically say that firms cannot knowingly link to any sites that contain false or misleading content.
Within your own content, don’t share links from disreputable sources (content marketing 101) and do your due diligence before citing a source.
If you plan on guest posting on other sites as part of your financial services marketing strategy, make sure these platforms take the SEC rules seriously. While your content might not contain false information, being featured alongside misleading information may have a “guilt by association effect.”
Content Might be “Advertisements” Under FINRA
FINRA rules some types of content might be considered advertisements and as such, will be subject to advertising guidelines.
If a financial firm recommends a security or service on a social media site or blog, it might trigger NASD Rule 2111. According to FINRA’s compliance manual, this rule states that the firm must have a “reasonable basis” to believe an investment strategy or financial product is suitable for a customer.
Essentially, if you’re promoting a strategy or a specific product, it needs to have the customer’s best interests in mind. Or, you need to have reasonable cause to believe your audience has the financial savvy to evaluate a product/service independently.
As you can see, financial service companies have to play by FINRA’s rules when it comes to marketing strategies. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get creative with them.
Now that we’ve gone over the rules, let’s look at how companies can work within them to get the best results.
Financial Services Marketing: Mobile, Mobile, Mobile
Today’s financial services companies depend on convenience, ease of use, and accessibility.
If you’re a financial services company and you don’t have a mobile-first strategy, you’re in big trouble. In 2019 (and let’s be honest, the past several years, too) most customers expect to check their financial stats on the go.
Financial services sites must be optimized for the web. At a minimum, the site should include the following:
- Large call-to-action buttons that users can click easily.
- All sign-up forms must be short and easy to complete.
- Images need to be clear, and text must be large and easy to read.
Content must be mobile responsive, too. Any blog posts or informational pages must automatically scale to the size of the screen. It shouldn’t matter if users are checking out your site from a laptop or their phone, the experience must be seamless across the board.
You want customers to feel comfortable engaging with your brand. So, things like being able to complete sign-ups online, self-service transactions, and plain-language information about financial products go a long way.
Empathize with Your Audience
Beyond that, understanding your audience means speaking to their fears.
Millennials might be associated with avocado toast and a preference for experience over physical possessions, but they worry about retirement and even being able to buy a home.
After coming of age in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, this generation is less likely to trust financial institutions than their parents’ generation or even Gen X.
Many millennials feel that they’ve started saving for retirement too late or that they’ll never be able to afford a home as their parents did at an earlier age. Financial services that can tap into those concerns and help them find a path toward financial stability stand to be in good shape.
Again, like most successful brands financial services benefit from being helpful.
If you can make your customers feel like you’re there to help them reach their financial goals, they will see value in your service whether they’re signing up for their first bank account or leveling up their investment portfolio.
Embrace the Micro-Moment in Financial Services Marketing
If you aren’t familiar with the term, micro-moments are the small interactions people have with their device. This might be a quick text or email you send while standing in line. Or, a Google search like “food near me open now” that speaks to a specific need or want that happens “in the moment.”
Today’s consumer is inundated with content. Our inboxes are loaded with offers and to-dos, and social media is stuffed to the gills with news, photos, and videos. So marketers, knowing they can’t compete for sustained attention, instead focus on being “there” and being helpful across a series of short interactions.
Google defines micro-moments as “critical touch points within the customer journey that, when combined determine how the journey ends.”
Instead, the micro-moment focuses on capturing the audience’s attention when they can.
Financial services marketing can play into these micro-moments by creating articles, videos, and other pieces of content that play into their audiences’ worries, goals, and desires.
In this context, marketers should create content that answers questions like “how do I start investing?” or “how much money do I need for a down payment on a home?”
Seek to Educate in Plain Language
As mentioned, the financial sector faces an uphill battle when it comes to building trust with their consumer base.
They also have a rich opportunity to connect with an audience in a way that retailers and food brands do not. Finance is a topic that can be dense, dry, and inaccessible to the average person.
Brands can capitalize on this knowledge gap by explaining concepts like “how stocks work” or “how to select a retirement plan” or “save for your first home.”
A couple of techniques that go a long way:
Write Content that Breaks Down Complex Subject Matter
Customers don’t like to feel clueless. Focus on writing plain language blog posts and guides that explain concepts like investing, comparing credit cards, or saving for a home.
Many financial services seem more like an abstract idea than a tangible product. You have to sell customers on future benefits and break down how your products work and why they’re important.
Another area worth focusing in on is social proof.
Showcase past successes as a way to give clients a sense of what they stand to gain by working with your brand. Promote case studies that highlight customers in your target market — i.e. small business owners, millennials, boomers approaching retirement.
Put Transparency First
If you’re a financial services company, customers expect hidden fees and sneaky charges, so rise above your reputation and let people know the full story.
Tell customers what they’ll be paying for and how much it costs. Be clear about what factors come into play when deciding if someone is eligible for a credit card or loan.
These “unattractive” elements are par for the course with financial services, so highlighting the fine print upfront will go a long way in establishing that hard-won trust.
Turn Big Data into a Personalized Experience
It is no longer acceptable to rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. Today’s customer expects brands to meet them on their level, offering solutions that make sense for them.
And with all of this data at our disposal, brands who can’t deliver hyper-targeted offers risk appearing out of touch. Financial organizations tend to have a wealth of data at their disposal, making it easy to identify who is gearing up to buy a home or apply for an auto loan.
On the marketing side, big data allows you to do the following:
- Analyze consumer financial backgrounds and offer targeted products that make sense for their situation.
- Collect feedback from customers–this allows brands to analyze public mentions, surveys, and more to gauge customer sentiment. In turn, this allows brands to respond rapidly and make changes that speak to customer needs, rather than relying on guesswork to inform their strategy.
- Review spending patterns–This can help you cross-sell products based on income and spending, as well as alert customers to potential instances of fraud.
- Segment customers–sort your audience into different profiles and market different products to each group.
Financial Services Benefit from Video Storytelling
Content marketing has evolved into being all about the keyword-optimized blog to a multimedia effort spanning several channels.
If your financial services marketing strategy hasn’t fully embraced video as part of your content strategy, it’s time to jump on that bandwagon already.
Here’s the thing: video is more engaging than text, as people tend to be more attracted to visual content. We process images at a faster rate than we can read, so this approach makes perfect sense.
According to research from the Internet Advertising Bureau, financial marketers have increased their average investment in video by 79%. Respondents cited direct engagement with their audience as the driving force behind this decision.
That direct investment, of course, builds trust among consumers. Which, of course, is a much bigger deal in financial services than say, in e-commerce, where your biggest concern is getting someone to buy more shirts and shoes rather than manage their life savings and retirement portfolio.
Additionally, video gives marketers a compelling channel for storytelling. As we mentioned already, FINRA guidelines prohibit any blatant advertising or recommendations for financial products.
Bottom line: storytelling presents a way to educate consumers, share meaningful stories, and add a human element to a traditionally stuffy, outdated industry.
Get customers to do some of the marketing work for you. Again, real people discussing their experience with your product or service is an effective way to get around the suitability rule.
User-generated content, or UGC, is a powerful tool in financial services marketing, especially, as money is personal to people in a way that other products aren’t. Most people don’t talk openly about their finances, and as a result, what we think is acceptable as far as income or financial management differs dramatically, even among those with similar earnings.
As you might imagine, UGC can give financial brands a leg up. Customers can immediately relate to real people finally learning how to build an investment portfolio or start the home-buying process.
In a more general sense, user-generated content almost always outperforms the brand-generated content. People trust the average Joe’s recommendation over a slick campaign from a faceless brand.
Unfortunately, according to AdAge lawyers, government, finance, and advertising/marketing, are perceived as the least trustworthy industries. Read our article on user-generated content tricks for increasing engagement and boosting your reputation by teaming up with customer fans.
Make Self-Service a Priority
Earlier generations used to receive personalized recommendations from a live rep or advisor. You might go into a bank and sit down with a salesperson who would then help you set up accounts based on your goals, income, and need.
These days, customers want to have as little contact with a live human as possible.
While digitized self-service isn’t so much a financial services marketing strategy, it’s an integral part of the customer experience.
One of the biggest pain points associated with the financial services industry is waiting on hold for something as important as money. Today’s chatbots give customers the ability to get quick answers about their accounts, as well as products they’re considering as an option.
Chatbots, of course, provide one-on-one conversations with customers, but they’ve gotten way more sophisticated in what feels like a matter of months. In some cases, brands have created chatbots that bring up memes and GIFs like the best of us.
More importantly, they work to give consumers better, more relevant answers to their questions rather than a series of links to content from the FAQ section.
Wrapping Up Financial Services Marketing
Don’t let the rules stifle your creative side.
At the end of the day, it’s best to focus your efforts on creating informational content that doesn’t “promote” one particular product.
While that seems counterintuitive, the suitability restriction has paved the way for a rich storytelling landscape within this sector.
The best financial services marketing firms use their platform to educate customers in plain language. And while they might not have free reign when it comes to marketing campaigns, financial marketing can still be a creative force for relationship building.