Financial services B2B. Come on in!

Believe the hype.

According to Wired we’re living in a period of blinding innovation and consecutive year-on-year technological leaps. We can’t argue with that. Technology has supercharged the capacity for investment and development in the financial services market, providing a solid foundation for unprecedented levels of efficiency, scale and capacity in a centuries-old industry. We love the relative simplicity and speed of our banking apps – and pretty soon we’ll be taking artificially intelligent financial advice from those same apps. The time it takes to go from breakthrough technology to mass-market application is shrinking. 

Beyond streamlining the operations of the financial services industry, the digital revolution has created infinite possibilities in its marketing by facilitating the seamless integration of creative solutions to somewhat traditionally conservative marketing. 

 Consumer financial service marketing has embraced this digitally new founded freedom wholeheartedly, with marketing campaigns evolving with impressive creativity and innovation. Who could forget Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robotic head barrelling wildly about for the FCA, urging consumers to make their PPI claims before the deadline? A loud example, but a testament to the growing presence of digital creativity and its increasing influence on financial services marketing.

What’s wrong with B2B?

Yet the same cannot be said for the B2B financial services sector, which in marketing itself, has a sizeable catching up to do with its consumer counterpart. Financial services advertising guidelines are notoriously strict and campaigns are heavily regulated by industry watchdogs, but this should not translate into a lack of innovation and development.

London is a globally renowned hub for financial services, and with the vast creative talent in this country, there is ample space in which to significantly improve the approach to marketing the lucrative B2B financial services. As firms adapt to the rapid pace set by the digital age, even the Goliaths of the industry will find themselves needing to regain their step.

The answer?

Better client briefs. Greater trust and transparency with the agency partnership. More confidence in a chosen agency by the client to share the business strategy behind a brief. This should ultimately lead to more innovation, braver marketing and a greater return. 

Creative, innovative, sophisticated and powerfully effective results-driven marketing in tandem with seamless integration into the financial services niche. Sounds peachy, doesn’t it, if not a bit of a mouthful.

Innovation and creativity are vital to ensure B2B financial services marketing is responsive, dynamic and effective to its audience. 

Any agency worth their salt will understand that strict marketing and advertising regulations in this sector can make the creative process a challenge. Alongside the regulations, there is the added difficulty of conceptualising often abstract financial B2B products. It’s not quite as easy visualising a basket of securities with lower expense ratios and broker commissions – than it is visualising an iPhone XR.   

So we find tedious, abstract library imagery being used time and time again to represent B2B products and services. 

That’s not to be said it can’t be done.

Last year, AXA Investment managers rolled out their Robotech Revolution campaign, with the target of securing $300m of investment. ThisCity had no involvement with this campaign – but we like it!

A dedicated website, communications line and a series of live events were impressive marketing innovations. This helped to secure over £1bn in investment, bolstered 7% year-on-year growth and saw AXA become winners at the 2018 Financial Services Forum Awards for Most Effective Campaign in the B2B category. Their campaign slogan “Tomorrow: Augmented” demonstrated effective brevity and the creative images capitalised on the power of the ocular featuring slick, robotic visuals (digital and physical) for emotional and cognitive impact. AXA IM has demonstrated the impact of effective marketing – superseding competition from financial giants – by implementing a strategy that was creatively sophisticated.

We need more examples like this.

Yes, some of the larger investment banks and asset managers have highly developed content marketing strategies, leveraging content and research from across their departments and investing heavily in paid distribution. And some are using social platforms such as Instagram (and its IGTV video platform) in their B2B – pushing out braver, more relaxed, human content.

We applaud you. And we recognise you have budgets and the resources for this kind of activity.

But given the scale of the B2B financial services industry, the bar must be raised to revive stagnant marcoms practice in every area of business and every size of organisation. 

What’s missing in the metrics is music

Eight months on I am still feeling the impact of Lisbon’s vast Web Summit, where more than 70,000 eager digital devotees gathered to be inspired, invigorated and juiced up about the future.

My days at the Web Summit had been spent looking into shiny new worlds.

I’m told “this is where the future goes to be born”, (achingly overhyped). Bloomberg calls it “Davos for geeks”. I listened intently to dynamic presenters promising transformational technology, producing endless data for an analytics paradise and was showered with optimism. To paraphrase L P Hartley’s “The Go-Between”, the future is another country: they do things differently there.

But in a backstreet, tiny former chapel, decorated in Portuguese hand-painted tiles, I found something that inspired me more.

I was listening to a well-known Fado singer, who expressed the emotion of the genre using his entire body. In this intimate room, lit only with candles, and no microphone – this singer rendered the yearning “saudade”, the untranslatable emotion at the heart of traditional Fado music. Sadness, melancholy, and longing, but also happiness and love – a whole range of sentiments are expressed in Portugal’s folk music. This was way more than singing and playing the guitar; it was telling a story of emotions. And I loved it. It was the sheer emotional rollercoaster of the Fado singer that really got to me, not the big data, the tightly, well-focused algorithms or the hyped-up insights.

So as an industry should we focus a little less on science and a little more on feelings? 

Have we become too obsessed with data insight and media channels at the expense of emotion? Not according to a recent article in Marketing Week about Unilever seeing an improved ROI by focusing on data-driven marketing and a programmatic approach to media buying. CEO Alan Jope said, “Our brand communications are led by a deliberate and data-driven audience segmentation and programmatic approach to media buying.”Jope will know his segmented metrics better than anyone – but would Levi‘s have rapidly propelled its sales of Levi’s 501 jeans by 800% using a data-driven approach rather than the iconic, “I heard it through the grapevine”? Well, that was decades ago – technology has changed everything, so comparisons are meaningless.

But authentic communications will always require an emotional connection.

Brand thinking should be based on stories and experiences, applying the power of emotion to make us feel and act differently. Jason Heller, consulting firm McKinsey’s global lead of digital marketing operations and technology is quoted on “There is this bifurcated world where you have some chief marketing officers who have this religious zealousness over protecting the soul of creativity in their brand and feel like data has no role in it whatsoever. And then there’s this other group of CMOs who feel like data is enhancing creativity.” I’ve not met many CMOs who ignore data insight, but the point is well made. And I’ve met a few CMOs who believe that an obsessive culture of measurement damages creativity. I liked GoCompare’s Zoe Harris’ comment: “A poor story can’t be helped in any channel, no matter the spend that’s put behind it” (Marketing Week).

McKinsey’s recent report “The Perfect Union: Unlocking the Next Wave of Growth by Unifying Creativity and Analytics”, was carried out with US Association of National Advertisers. In my opinion, this excellent report is bang on and indeed creatives need to cosy up to tech a lot more for the benefit of their clients. McKinsey also surveyed companies on the American S&P 500. Businesses that have worked hard to collaborate data and creativity grew revenue by an average of 10%, compared to 5% for those businesses that did not.

Quality insight, together with great creative and experience are what clients look for to generate powerful marketing campaigns.

At ThisCity we talk about a rough guide being 45% insight and data, 45% creative and 10% magic. With a close relationship between creative teams and analysts, data can drive better creative, which in turn can increase marketing performance. But agencies need the confidence of their clients to allow time and budget for the 10% magic, as well as insight. ”Finger-Lickin’ Good”. “Just Do It”. “Because You’re Worth It”. “Every Little Helps” and Wieden+Kennedy’s recent and brilliant line for Tinder: “Single, not sorry”.

There’s plenty of Fado in those.