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September 29, 2008
After the Crash: Rebuilding Financial Services Marketing

The Wall Street meltdown upended the positioning and customer credibility of most financial institutions. Catastrophic loss and universal shock forces an almost complete re-positioning and messaging to consumers by the surviving banks, brokerages and insurance companies.

Rethinking fundamental marketing concepts and messages come in the wake of widespread feelings of helplessness, fear and loss which are frequently followed by anger, resentment, finger-pointing, name-calling and blame. Every financial services advertiser who promised safety and security was found wanting. Those offering growth and insight were caught flat-footed. And those promising customized service were either overwhelmed or on radio silence. Nobody really knew what was happening, when or what to do about it and consumers were basically on their own; adrift in a turbulent sea..

Now with personal finances and macro-structures in disarray consumers are reeling over losses and struggling to salvage savings or portfolios. The task of rebuilding trust and growth will require much more than a snappy new tagline or a shiny new spokesperson. It will demand a basic change in how financial services firms address customers. Since 9/15 nobody believes that a banker, a broker or an insurance agent can protect them. And many consumers blame their trusted advisor's for getting them into trouble.

Financial service marketers have to take these five steps to have even a shot at rebuilding credibility and reducing defections.

1. Face Facts. Admit that the cascade of actions overwhelmed you and apologize. Don't try to stonewall. Don't whine about your own losses. Don't try to appear to be fellow victims. Your customers see you as the bad guy worthy of blame regardless of the facts or your perspective. 9/15 was an emotional flashback to 9/11 with more, personal consequences for more of the population.You cannot swim against this perceptual tsunami. Think like a Japanese -- bow deeply and apologize.

2. Place Yourself in the Food Chain. Explain clearly to customers where you fit in the bigger picture and explain which stressors on the system (sub-prime debt, credit default swaps, low liquidity) affect your operations. As soon as the Feds figure out their plan, map your services and offerings to it. Present yourself in the new marketplace context. And it wouldn't hurt to offer free consultations or services, extended hours and financing planning resources aimed at retirees, parents paying for college, newlyweds, new homeowners and other segments with common anxieties and needs.

3. Don't Make Excuses. I'm sorry will work best. Nobody will buy the reasons why you didn't know what was going on or the reasons why you didn't proactively warn your customers or advise them to move earlier, faster or smarter. The damage is done. Focus on digging out. Credibility will rest on the degree to which you acknowledge it and the number and quality of ideas you have for helping people get back on their feet and back on track.

4. Show the Way Forward. Map your offerings and services toward the common goal -- rebuilding, growth and safety. Don't look back look ahead. Present your offers in terms that directly align with customer goals which are to recover as much as they can and protect whatever they've got left. Incentives, special offers and clear education and direction on what to do will be appreciated.

5. Be Part of the Solution. Offer direct pro-active advice. Do what your customers think you should have been doing all along. The biggest element driving the panic was the sense that individuals and even institutions could no nothing but watch the dominoes fall. As the pundits and the media struggle to offer solutions, proactively take a position. Offer clear advice on what to do based on distinct investment objectives. Don't hedge. Don't equivocate. Pick a few smart things to do and push them loud, clear and often.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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