By Patrick Kampff, Strategy Director and Mick Smyth, Senior Strategist, Siegel+Gale
Brands have been helping consumers to navigate a variety of challenges since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, we have seen many brands go above and beyond their typical products and offerings, expanding and diversifying beyond day-to-day operations to support customers’ everyday lives.
We’ve been speaking with 14 global financial services CMOs and brand leaders to get their perspective on how they steered their brands through the pandemic and what this can teach us about how to rise to the current economic challenges facing the world.
Although the individual challenges that countries face may differ, our study has revealed broader themes to provide lessons for marketers and CMOs throughout financial services.
COVID-19 acts as a guide for more contemporary issues
A pivotal challenge for brands during COVID was uncertainty. Rather than dissipate as vaccines have become readily available and the spread of the virus began to slow, uncertainty has remained high with the cost-of-living crisis and record levels of inflation. It is now clear, like SARS-CoV-2, uncertainty is here to stay. As Simonetta Rigo, Group Chief Marketing Officer with Evelyn Partners in the UK, highlighted, “The pandemic was 2021, hyperinflation 2022, but the red thread we’re seeing now is that uncertainty is never going away.”
Nevertheless, this ambiguity ensures that brand leaders experiment with new ways of delivering for their audiences as the balance of online and offline continues to evolve. “It forced marketing to think in a more multi-platform way. I think we’re going to see that hybrid approach continue – and that, ultimately, also fortifies and strengthens marketing,” shared Global Head of Marketing at Blackstone in the United States, Arielle Gross Samuels.
While brands continue to deal with an unstable future within their businesses and for their customers, they are discovering new ways to demonstrate how they genuinely add value to the world on a broader scale.
Harsh economic times serve as an opportunity for brands to demonstrate their true value to the world
Financial Services were handed the blame for the 2008 global financial crisis. Fast forward to today, society faces multiple challenges, from the climate emergency to the pandemic and, of course, the aforementioned cost-of-living crisis. However, unlike in 2008, Financial Services can help people navigate these challenges—and gain recognition for doing so.
With consumer expectations ramping up, particularly with issues such as sustainability, people are demanding more from the brands they buy from and the financial institutions they partner with. More consumers demand to know how their money is being invested, and many organisations are responding positively. “It’s so important that we don’t group people all together. With different inclusionary approaches, you start to see that there are big differences in peoples’ needs. That’s something that we’re always cognizant of, to make sure our research and actions are more inclusive and better reflective of diverse needs,” highlights MetLife’s Michelle Froah, SVP, Global Brand and Marketing.
Despite this, many topics brands are expected to comment on are also incredibly divisive. It can be challenging for marketers to take a stand without alienating anyone. Purpose and values are widely relied upon to guide decision-making in this regard. As Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing & PR Officer at Ally in the United States, pointed out, “The scariest thing right now as a marketer and leader in a company is deciding which societal issues you should comment on and which ones you shouldn’t. In today’s fragmented political environment, you need to let your brand values guide you.”
Brands are also beginning to make tangible impacts on things that affect customers in their day-to-day lives, from facilitating financial education through marketing efforts to providing access to much-needed services like credit, particularly for those in society most in need. Othon Vela, former CMO at Brazilian fintech Neon, shared, “We’re working a lot to provide a path to credit. You may have been refused, but I’ll show you how to get credit. We’re trying to provide hope. We’re trying to provide at least a way for people here to improve their quality of life and gain access to credit.”
Ensuring that customers are aware of the genuine societal value Financial Services brands provide will serve individual organisations and the industry as a whole.
Complexity in life and the desire for simpler experiences are directly proportional
As unpredictability and complexity increase, people are striving to simplify their lives. Brands can play a significant role in this process. Many organisations are actively seeking to align with customers and become long-term partners. Abey Mokgwatsane, Chief Marketing Officer at South Africa-based Investec, shared with us, “Most people around the world are just feeling a little bit more uncertain about the future. It’s in that context that companies need to be a trusted partner and advisor for their customers.”
As brands build partnerships with their customers, they must go beyond the low-hanging fruit and simplify the experiences that matter to people. Jed Scala, Chief Customer Officer at One Main Financial in the United States, pointed out, “Ease is more than just making it easy to do a transaction. Of course, we want to make it easy for customers to do things such as uploading a document for review. However, for us the concept of ease also encompasses the language we use when speaking with customers. For example, asking a customer if they want us to ACH the funds? May not make sense to them. Ease is also about avoiding jargon, rendering financial concepts more accessible by communicating in straightforward and clear ways.”
Organisations that simplify customer experiences can drive brand loyalty that will benefit them financially in the long term.
Another day, another challenge
The hurdles currently facing the industry will subside with time; however fresh challenges are bound to replace them. The expertise shared with us by our FS industry experts shows just how lessons learned over previous difficult periods can be tweaked and applied to whatever challenges we face.