“…after they’ve seen Paree”: The challenge for financial marketers post-pandemic

There was a popular song at the end of World War I, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm,” about how soldiers returning to rural America might be restless after having seen the wonders of Paris (“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree [Paris]”). We believe financial marketers should be feeling a similar anxiety about their customers today, who during the new reality of our social isolation have experienced very different ways of interacting with their financial vendors.

There’s absolutely no question that none of us want to continue living the way we have since mid-March, but customers’ experiences with new ways of conducting business are changing their expectations and needs with respect to financial services companies. Certainly, some of these experiences have been far from positive, but the forced disruption of the status quo has opened people’s eyes to new possibilities and has elevated new and different attributes to important and valuable parts of their financial services relationships. For example:

  • Financial advisors and brokers may not welcome as many wholesalers into their offices after finding that virtual conversations work just fine.
  • Small businesses may set a higher bar for their banks to provide digital support and services after going through the pain of PPP.
  • Middle market companies may not welcome one-on-one conversations with prospective commercial lenders.
  • Consumers may place even more importance on the availability and quality of phone and online customer support — enough to overcome their normal bank-switching inertia.

EMI is currently conducting research, in partnership with The Gramercy Institute, among asset management firm marketing leaders to understand how they are providing support to socially-distanced sales teams. This research has revealed many different approaches (which we’ll share in future blog posts), but a common thread is that these marketing leaders believe that many of the adaptations forced by social isolation are likely to drive greater alignment between marketing and sales. Whether or not rose-colored glasses are playing a part in these assessments, this positive outlook indicates that at least some of the new approaches will carry on even when our world begins to open up.

On the one hand, it’s a good sign that firms may be more inclined to challenge assumptions and “standard operating procedures” in favor of new ideas that could better serve client needs. On the other hand, there is danger in greenlighting even well-intentioned new ideas if they aren’t subject to any more validation of their effectiveness than the old ways of doing things. It is therefore vitally important that financial marketers treat our current reality as a testing opportunity, not just an exercise in making the best of a bad situation. The key to this testing mindset will be analyzing data for answers to questions like:

  • Has the volume of sales opportunities gone up or down?
  • Have salespeople had more or fewer direct interactions with customers and prospects?
  • Has the quantity of inbound inquiries increased or decreased?
  • Have customers and prospects interacted more or less with digital communications?

Many or even most of the new virtual and digital approaches have the virtue of being cheaper than their pre-pandemic equivalents. That is why it is so important for financial marketers to not only “feel” that a new approach has been a success, but also quantify the increases or decreases in sales performance and customer satisfaction. Failing to do this runs the risk of marketers waking up in a world of lower budgets (“you proved that you don’t need to do as many expensive things”) and even more unobtainable objectives. In short, unless marketers can provide an alternative narrative, senior management may easily assume that marketing really can do more with less — and make budget allocation decisions that are disastrous for financial marketers and their companies.

7 Communications Tips for Banks in Developing an Effective COVID-19 Response for Small Business Clients

Now that Congress and the Administration have agreed on a $310 billion deal to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), banks are scrambling to help small businesses apply for this additional funding. At the same time, banks are providing information to small business clients on direct reliefs and channel availability, as well as tips to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The enormity of the challenge facing small businesses and the economy as a whole defies description. No communication can overcome this burden. But silence is not an option and messaging matters. It’s critical to communicate effectively with small business clients during this pandemic.

Develop a multi-faceted response. The PPP is vital for many small business owners, but many banks have only been providing information on how to apply for PPP. This means they are missing other opportunities to engage with and help small business owners, many of whom are struggling with day-to-day operational issues. Consider offering additional information on supports available to small businesses, and advice on how to navigate through the pandemic.

  • Best practice: PNC has developed a range of content to help small businesses deal with the crisis, including “Four Ways Small Businesses Can Navigate During Times of Uncertainty” and “What to Do When Cash Flow Slows.”

Create a connection. Messaging on coronavirus response must be both clear and empathetic. This is particularly important in headlines and topline statements on how the bank is supporting its small business clients.

  • Best practices: Citizens Bank and KeyBank both use the theme of “We’re in this together” for their coronavirus information.

Communicate information clearly. To ensure that small business clients are directed to key information and not overwhelmed by detail, focus on strong copywriting and editing, as well as using layout and navigation tools to help readers quickly find what they need.

  • Best practice: Santander Bank uses red type, spacing, headings, and bullet points to effectively organize its COVID-19 response information.
  • Best practice: TD Bank uses tabs on its website to direct small businesses to information on its own customer assistance program, SBA PPP Loans, and other relief options.

Provide guides and tools. Many banks have developed tools (such as online forms, FAQs, guides and checklists) to aid small businesses in understanding support and options available to them,and to apply for funding

  • Best practice: Huntington Bank has published a series of FAQs to address various aspects of the PPP program, including general questions, eligibility and application information.
  • Best practice: Umpqua Bank integrated a well-designed application form into its CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program information page.

Consolidate all information into a single resource center. Develop standalone portals or resource centers to retain all coronavirus-related information in a single location. This enables you to maintain a consistent tone in coronavirus messaging, avoid any client confusion, and better manage the process of providing updates.

  • Best practice: Citizens Bank operates a dedicated COVID-19 Resource Center, with links to services and resources, details on financial hardship relief assistance and a message from the bank’s CEO.

Embrace multiple communications channels. Use the numerous channels – branch, phone, website, social media – at your disposal to provide updates and directly engage with small business clients.

  • Best practice: PNC directs clients to dedicated toll-free numbers for different product categories; some numbers are operational 24×7.

Update information regularly. Many banks provided initial information on their COVID-19 response, but they have not provided regular and comprehensive updates, a critical failing in this extremely dynamic environment.

  • Best practice: Bank of the West publishes regular updates in videos featuring the bank’s CMO Ben Stuart.

Marketing in the Coronavirus Crisis: Notes from a Discussion at the Boston Meeting of the Gramercy Institute

Just before everything shut down in the face of the pandeminc, a group of financial marketers convened in Boston for a meeting of the Gramercy Institute. The session was billed as focusing on the topic of ”What’s New and What’s Next in Financial Marketing“ and indeed much of the content touched on the future, but, taking a cue from the news at the time, the host initiated a discussion of marketing in a crisis.

Broadly, the conversation fell into two buckets: communication “best practices” and the role of marketing. Two key take-aways:

  • Communication “best practices.” There was agreement that transparency and authenticity were key to building connections with customers, but also that there was no clear playbook for communication frequency and channel. Discussion participants recognized the need to respect the limited time and frayed nerves of customers but also saw potential value in providing clear guidance in an environment filled with uncertainty. Likewise, they recognized the need to find a balance between communication overload – exacerbated by the worldwide turn to digital communications in light of severe restrictions on face-to-face contact – and the value of demonstrating presence and building community when so much of the current crisis feels (and is) isolating. Finally, participants expressed mixed feelings about finding opportunities in the crisis. Many said that this was definitely not the right time to be promoting products. Some made the argument that people are looking for concrete assistance and that there was a place for tasteful promotion of solutions that could meet the needs of customers in the current environment.
  • Role of marketing. As the discussion turned to the role of marketing amidst the crisis, there was widespread consensus that in some ways the environment was one in which marketing could really prove its value in building relationships with customers and prospects and in delivering timely, conscientious, clear communications. Even more, though, there was agreement that marketers at B2B financial services companies should seize on this as a chance to forge a closer partnership with their sales colleagues, who are likely to be struggling to adjust to a world in which face-to-face contact is minimized or even completely foregone. Everyone agreed that if Marketing could find a way to enable sales to leverage digital and voice channels to nurture relationships at a distance and at scale, it would have a significant impact on the ability of the company to navigate these difficult times.

While the event was likely the last in-person meeting for the near future for most in attendance, it was a valuable opportunity to share ideas with colleagues and learn from each other as chaos seemed to be descending. It has given us much to think about as we all now hunker down, socially isolate to try to stay safe, and think about what the future might hold in store.