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Don't Forget the Fundamentals in the Pursuit of the Latest Financial Technology



We talked to Tom Fishburne, Founder and CEO at Marketoonist, about the state of marketing in financial services, what bank marketers should be focused on, and how to focus on micro-moments. "I feel like sometimes there's a bit of a herd mentality that people get so excited about the shiny new thing that they can sometimes forget about the fundamentals, what's really meaningful to audiences," Fishburne says.

How has financial services marketing changed over the past 10 years? 

I think a lot of it has come about as with the nature of technology changing and there's been a responsiveness to that. So I feel like as all the trends come along that we've all noticed with mobile and social etc. it's fundamentally changed how marketers in financial services think about marketing. The biggest shift, if I put a headline to it, is the shift from a megaphone approach to marketing to one that's more conversation based. Where ultimately it's not the brands that are entirely control of the brand message, but the consumers actually have a voice in all of that. And that's created a lot of challenges with brands as they try to adapt. 

Good. So what do you think is the biggest thing that financial institution marketers should be doing that they're typically not doing? 

I think with all of the focus on tech I think sometimes the shift has gone so much to high scale we've forgotten a little bit of the high touch. We had an experience recently in our own family where our daughters were old enough to have their own bank account. We took them in for the bank account experience, and there's one bank that really focuses on that explicit use case of signing up someone for their first account. And afterwards our daughters had received hand written notes from multiple people in the branch office thanking them for opening an account there, and it left an impression with us. It's a bank that we normally weren't really aware of, but we knew they were focused on this use case. To think of a handwritten thank you note as a potential disruptor feels a bit counterintuitive as everyone's going to mobile and the most efficient ways to connect with audiences. But I feel like sometimes there's a bit of a herd mentality that people get so excited about the shiny new thing that they can sometimes forget about the fundamentals, what's really meaningful to audiences.

Yeah, so people think "Oh it's technology, it's effective,” and that might not always be the case. 

Right, there's a shift I have seen Google talk about. They came out with a mobile report last year where they describe something they refer to as micro-moments that matter. What are the micro-moments that matter to your audience, and how can you use technology to really connect with them in those micro-moments. I feel like often the technology gets applied with a pretty broad brush, rather than thinking what are the micro-moments, and then what is the technology that's now available that allows us to take greatest advantage of that. And in some cases the best way to take advantage is maybe something as traditional as a handwritten thank you note. Or maybe something with a mobile app that really makes it easy to do deposits. We used to work with a bank that had a limit on the value of deposits you could make with your mobile phone, which seems frustrating. Other banks come along that think about that micro-moment and the types of checks that we would deposit and they think about that differently, and now we are in a place where the switching costs are getting lower and it's much easier to think about financial services brands in terms of the needs of the moment. Google's big take away was that people are now more loyal to those needs in the moment than they are to any particular brand, which I think is really exciting. 

I think so too. I like the idea of micro-moments, because it gets to the experience and the emotion. It's grounding it in time and place, so you're thinking about what they're feeling right now and kind of going through that as a marketer. So what would you say is the biggest obstacle that financial services marketers face when they're trying to implement these practices? 

I would say the biggest challenge has to do with compliance. As it goes from a megaphone where you control the message to one where you don't have as tight of control on the message, that's an uncomfortable place for any marketer, but in financial services there's all sorts of regulatory and legal aspects to that. Let alone the brand police and how you want your brand to be perceived. So I think that's a tough pendulum that's swinging and managing that is a tricky one for marketers. What I think it ultimately entails is engaging the broader organization to look at things not just from a compliance point of view, but also from a marketing point of view. I had a cartoon I showed today that had some marketers standing in front of a billboard, a completely blank billboard and they're saying this is our compromise with legal. 

I talked recently with a marketer at Axe which is a consumer products brand. They do edgy marketing, but they're also within unilever they're one of the billion dollar brands within unilever, so unilever protects brands like that pretty carefully. And I asked them, "How do you get away with some of the edgy stuff that you do? How do you get that past legal?" His answer was that rather than do what a lot of marketers do, where you have a marketing execution that's fully baked and ready to go, they come to the lawyers with edgy ideas at the real early stages and actually ask them to put on their creative hats and say "How far would you take this idea?" 

So it's a training thing. We're going to train the lawyers to think like us. And they were actually caught off guard. They weren't used to that, but they got really excited about it, and they embraced it. And some of their edgiest campaigns ended up coming from the lawyers, because they were wearing their creative hat rather than just their compliance hat. 

That's good. I was really intrigued, speaking about the speech you just gave, with the story of a woman who that was excited about Nutella. She kept promoting Nutella and she created a Nutella world way. 

Right, she created her own holiday. World Nutella day. 

That's an interesting scenario for banks to wrestle with. What if you have somebody who is doing this and you're trying to navigate through wanting to embrace this activity and compliance. What would you say about that? 

While I recognize how extremely complicated that is, and there isn't a one size fits all playbook, I think this is a fundamental lesson for marketers, and it's going to continue to be awkward. I described it as the awkward adolescent stage of digital marketing. But I think that the rule of thumb in any marketing execution should be to ask is it worth sharing? Is it something that the Sarah Roso of the world for your institution, there's certain things that you can't have them say within your portfolio, if it makes it look like you're endorsing certain things. So the question is, for those people who are out there like that, and they may have small platforms or large platforms, are you fundamentally as marketers engaging them in a way, and giving them something that's worth sharing. Are you seeing them as a potential ally of your brand rather than as a threat to put a wet blanket over? And that's the challenge. I think, and again it's not easy, but I think that we'll see a lot of brands experiment more and more with that and the most important thing is that within the organization it can't be a silo'd approach. The easiest thing to do is just say no. The silo'd approach turns into that as the path of least resistance. What we have to do as marketers is to have courage and encourage the broader organization to develop a framework that works. I've heard it described as freedom within a framework. You develop a framework that's expansive enough that lets you do what you need to do, and you develop that framework collaboratively so you tick the boxes. But you develop that framework with a mindset to ultimately do what everyone wants, which is to do a financial services brand that really resonates and takes advantage of the shift that's happening, whether the brands on board or not at the end of the day. 

It kind of opens up the possibility of failure, which I think a lot of people see as scary, right? But that risk, you're not going to be notable. 

Right, I think there's the possibility to frame failure in tiny boxes. To have failure that can be somewhat self contained and basically lower the risk of failure so you can learn from that and then excel at that. 

Interesting, what's an example of that? 

Well one that I shared today actually, a clothing company called Beta Brand, they launched clothing, they compete against bigger brands and they launch a new article of clothing every week. You could think that type of model would be a colossal nightmare, you would have warehouses full of inventory. But they decided to frame it so that they're able to make the clothing basically on demand. So they'll come up with a concept, each week a new creative concept, whether it's pants made out of disco-ball material or whatever, and then they'll see the demand and basically make up to that demand. Some ideas go by the way-side, some are tremendously successful and they build on that as a platform. But they did it in such a way--we often hear of tech companies doing that, where they fail small. Living always in beta. But that's an example of a physical goods company that's able to approach that mentality. I think that always in beta mindset could apply to financial services too. Keeping it contained. The framework again, and the stakes lower, small scale trials.

So they can see the demand via their digital portal, and they can say "8 people want these pants, we'll go ahead and do it for 8 people."

And they said they've never lost money on a single new product in production, which is crazy for consumer products. But they launched the gluttony pants, which were a pair of pants around thanksgiving with an extra button to make more room for the meal. That did really well, so they launched an article of clothes for each of the seven deadly sins, and those have all become great stories and they expanded upon that. Other things didn't go as well, and they let that go by the wayside. But they built that mentality that always in beta philosophy into their organization. And then obviously with compliance is a different story in financial institutions, but I think some form of that is still possible. 

Yeah, it's not as scary if you realize the failure is going to pinch rather than devastate the company, right? 

Yes, exactly. You can do it with a small subset of an audience, you can do it within one store environment, or a retail branch environment. You can do small scale trials and then build on that. And I think we live in a world where so much is happening in fintech that a lot of other organizations, not traditioanlly within financial services, are going to be pushing some of those envelopes that traditional players aren't as comfortable pushing. So I feel like that's a tough one to watch too. And what it requires is for every brand, whether you're large, small, been around for a long time, or a relatively new entrant, every brand has to fundamentally think like a challenger. How would you challenge the way things have always been done? And by thinking like a challenger you can take advantages to move and change this stuff. 


So let's conclude by talking about the future. What's the biggest thing that financial institution marketers need to keep their eye on going forward in the next 10 years? 

I feel like a lot of it in my view is going to be a little bit less about the shiny new thing that comes along every week, and more about the fundamentals and making sure that you have a platform so that when the new thing comes along, next year at South by Southwest everybody's buzzing about something, that it's not just about that technology, but it's really how do you get the most advantage of the technology using the philosophy you've already built into your brand. So this last South by Southwest was all about virtual reality. I'm sure in some form virtual reality will touch financial services. Who knows what it will look like. But the first executions at South by Southwest were basically just about that technology. You could walk into a giant happy meal box, and see this happy meal box. That's not going to help people want to engage with Mcdonald's. That's an example of people saying "Here's the shiny new thing, let's create something around that." And I think for financial services it's going to be less about the shiny new thing and more about how do we, going back to the micro-moments that matter, how do we really understand our customer? Which we need to be doing anyway. How do we really understand these micro-moments, and how do we always have an eye for new technology that will allow us to do that job well? Whether it's, again going back to the hand-written thank you notes, or the virtual reality of the future. Ultimately it's not putting the cart before the horse. 

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