Can financial services marketing meet the social media challenge?

Anna Cotton is head of marketing at Brandworkz.

While the rest of the commercial world has been free to develop social media strategies to engage with existing and future customers, the financial services and insurance sector has had to be more circumspect until now, chiefly due to the fetters of legislation in terms of compliance, data protection and privacy.

As a result, integrating social media activity with the marketing strategies of financial services firms has been challenging. Concern about apparent lack of control within this medium and fears of breaking compliance and regulatory terms have seen social media largely left to one side by financial services marketers.

At the same time, the financial services industry recognises the need to exploit social media as a strategic long-term investment if the crucial Millennial generation is to be brought on side and retained.

Millennials were born into the technology age. They think differently about brands these days. They take little or no notice of conventional advertising; they see customer feedback on the internet as the decider of whether or not to buy. They don’t bother with customer service departments if they want to complain; they go straight to Facebook or Twitter to have their say. They wonder why the banking and insurance industry isn’t just as brand-savvy as the rest of the commercial world – as innovative as Apple, as useful as Google, as engaging as Buzzfeed.

Alas, it appears Millennials are not at all impressed by banking and insurance brands. A study by Scratch found that 53% of the sample thought their bank offered nothing different from others, and that 33% believed they didn’t need a bank anyway, while 73% said they’d be more excited about a new financial services offering from Google, Amazon, Paypal or Square than their own banks.

A wake-up-call?

The good news is that some interesting developments in the industry are offering ideas as to how banking and insurance businesses can reinvent their brand image to attract new young consumers.

Progressive, an insurance service business, has gained over 5.4 million fans on Facebook. How? Simply by posting highly on-brand visual content, using a mix of humour, inspirational quotes and quirky input from a character called ‘Progressive Girl’ to project its promotional brand messages.

Financial investment company Charles Schwab has achieved more than 100,000 likes on Facebook with a more sedate approach, balancing self-promotion and helpful advice. It’s all done by providing helpful content on investment, planning and retirement created by the brand itself. Obviously a very competent content marketing team at work here!

Insurance service provider State Farm Nation takes a different approach again. It has gained 1.5 million likes by sharing ‘hacks’ from other sites about health, lifestyle, safety and cookery techniques. Though most posts are curated, the content combines to appear like on-brand, helpful advice for the community.

It’s clear that to be ‘social’ you have to be engaging, sharable, educational – and ready sometimes to have fun. A sound marketing plan doesn’t seek to persuade people to buy; rather it promotes the brand through discussion about how the particular product or service will enhance the consumer’s life.

A safer ‘social’ life

An increasing number of financial services businesses exploiting social media opportunities are using brand and marketing technology platforms to manage the process. An automated process with a documented audit trail is created and accessed from a single interface, bringing together the people, departments and policies involved in compiling and posting social media messages.

Thus they can control the creation, approval and posting of social media messages, helping to reduce the risk of compliance breaches or the wrong messages appearing in the wrong context.

Today, finally, the financial services marketing world is beginning to view social media as an opportunity rather than a hazard.

Anna Cotton is head of marketing at Brandworkz.