Financial Services Marketing Challenges

Financial Services marketing and advertising presents some unique challenges. Differentiating yourself in a crowded field of intangible products and services is a key problem for financial services providers.
Another challenge is conveying the essence of your brand message when everybody else is aiming to convey very similar messages. It’s difficult to be compelling when you are trying to position abstract concepts to appeal to individual values and beliefs.

Top Marketers Say…

 of Inbound Pro compiled 8 pieces of advice on marketing and sales from top marketing leaders. From this list, I chose the top 3, and will show – along with Best Practice case studies – how they can be applied to financial services marketing to help you better hone in on your market, discover how to communicate with them and how to persuade them to buy.

Lesson #1: Give Expression to Consumers’ Values and Beliefs

The force that creates sales, that powers our present economy, is desire – Eugene M. Schwartz

In order to get someone to take action, we need to first build up desire. When desire is built to a certain point, it overcomes all obstacles and objections, including price and uncertainty. This is why stores create the anticipation in advance of big shopping days like Black Friday, creating a frenzy by building up the desire to get the best deal on this one day.

Best Practice: Charles Schwab – In financial services, desire can be created by understanding the pent up frustrations of the customer and helping him/her overcome them. Successful marketing campaigns address specific segment needs. For instance, the wildly successful “Talk to Chuck” campaign by Charles Schwab featured rants by frustrated investors venting about their brokers’ ignoring their real concerns. One of them rants:

I mean, these financial services companies are still talking about retirement like it’s some kind of dream. It’s either this magic number I’m supposed to reach, or it’s beach homes, or it’s starting a vineyard… Come on! Just help me figure it out in a practical, “let’s make this happen” kind of way. A vineyard? Give me a break.

The campaign specifically targeted the investors who were the most likely to switch in a an environment in which it is particularly difficult to get people to switch – with extraordinary results.

The use of the principle is that Shwab tapped into the customer’s values and beliefs, coopting their angst, and giving it expression

Lesson #2: Demonstrate Disarming Warmth and Personality

People don’t buy from clowns.- Claude Hopkins

If you use humor in marketing, you need to do it right. What is funny to one person, might not be funny to the next.

Getting a giggle or a laugh from your audience is a great way to gain trust and seem more human in this digital world. But remember that this is business. There is money being exchanged for value (goods and services) and your audience want to know they’re dealing with a professional individual.

Best Practice: Progressive – In financial services, a spokesperson with personality, like Flo,  who appears in commercials for Progressive Insurance seems to strike the right balance between warm humor and a professional attitude.  A December 15, 2008 article in Advertising Age described Flo as “a weirdly sincere, post-modern Josephine the Plumber who just really wants to help. She has: the brand is flourishing.”

According to the Boston Herald Flo is “attaining TV ad icon status,”reporting that she was the subject of a popular Halloween costume. A Facebook page called “Flo, The Progressive Girl” has over one million fans, and is popular on Twitter and various Internet forums, with multiple websites are dedicated to her.

Flo’s popularity far outpaces Geico’s gecko, the villainous Mr. Mayhem of Allstate – video here – or the annoying Aflac Duck. While all of these characters may be memorable,  unlike these other mere clowns, Flo owes her standout success to a brand of humor that is subtle, good natured, upbeat, and personable, all intrinsic qualities you’d like to see in a real insurance representative.

Lesson #3:  Tap Into the Consumer’s Inner Dialogue

If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. – David Ogilvy

To get in tune with your marketplace, you need to think how they think, know what their struggles are and how they express those frustrations. The moment you can clearly describe someone’s problem better than they can, you gain their trust.

Best Practice: Ally Bank – Ally Bank, as a brand, didn’t exist until December, 2008. But since May 2009, when GMAC rebranded its online bank, Ally has gained widespread acceptance. This blog examined the Ally Bank campaign here.

According to the latest data Ally Bank has available, 40% of the financial institution’s target audience is familiar with the brand. 29% say they know something about the brand, while another 27% report having a fair- to significant amount of knowledge about the bank.

Although plenty of marketing analysts have declared advertising is dead, the bank achieved these impressive awareness numbers, not through PR or social media, but with an old fashioned advertising strategy that included TV, radio, online and print. Ally spent over $95 million in 2009, according to Nielsen, a media research company.

As highlighted on, Ally applied a classic marketing strategy to how consumers relate to brands: AIDA – Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. The concept, illustrates the step-by-step lifecycle people take on their “path to purchase.” They won’t buy things they don’t want. They don’t want things that don’t interest them. And they can’t be interested in something they’ve never heard of. It all starts with brand awareness.

More than this, they applied David Ogilvy’s advice to “use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” They did so in a unique and creative way – by reaching into the consumer’s id and expressing the inner frustrations that people have about banks: that they are cleverly being cheated. To do so, they used the purest among us – children to elicit an inner reaction to being taken by a huckster banker.
Ally decided to brand the bank as a customer-focused brand  by an institution that aims to conduct itself with complete transparency on rates and terms, not hiding behind legalese and jargon, using the concept of “straight talk” for customers, without sneaky disclaimers, teasers, bait-and-switch tactics, and providing 24-hour service that connects customers with live representatives.

The commercials made it edgy, consistent with their core values of customer-focused products and services, and honed in on the mindset of likely adopters.

Snap! principle of effective financial brand marketing:

  • Give expression to consumers’ values and beliefs, 
  • Demonstrate disarming warmth and personality.
  • Tap into the consumer’s inner dialogue.