Staff Reporters
Nov 7, 2014

Highlights from the Financial Services Marketing conference

HONG KONG – At Campaign Asia-Pacific's Financial Services Marketing conference here yesterday, marketers from banks, asset-management firms and insurance companies took a good hard look at the challenges they face while sharing practical lessons from both inside and outside the finance industry.

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Our journalists present highlights from each of the day's sessions.

Opening panel: Current trends and financial landscape

The opening panel was a wide-open discussion with a broad mandate to examine what’s going on in the financial landscape, which set the tone for the day and touched on many topics that came up later.

Jay Milliken, a partner at Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy, moderated the panel, which included Ken Kamel, director of group marketing and communications at CIMB; Subhrangshu Neogi, director of marketing and brand with Religare Group; and Justin Peyton, APAC chief strategy officer at DigitasLBi.

Technology, data and social media were all prominent on the participants’ minds. Those issues all came together in the first topic the panel tackled, which was what’s driving non-financial firms, such as Apple Computer, to get into the financial-services field, as the California tech giant recently did with its ApplePay service.

Peyton summed it up with a word: data. “There’s a new profit layer,” he said. Telcos, retailers and others have no legacy from financial structures or regulations and can focus on owning the customer experience. Just as importantly, they want to own the insights to feed other parts of their business or even to sell to other players who want to have a better view of customer journeys.

“The problem is, over the years,” said Kamel “customer experiences have moved from physical spaces onto mobile devices, onto digital platforms, and its very disruptive to us”. Banks have invested considerably in branches and ATM networks, giving customer service on a face-to-face level. Suddenly having to catch up with companies that don’t carry the same on-the-ground overhead is difficult, not just from an operational standpoint but from a customer-experience perspective as well. And that is as much a marketing issue as it is anything else. “At the end of the day,” he explained, “people want to be engaged with something and that’s very difficult to replicate in a digital space.”

The topic of owning customer touchpoints came up repeatedly, which led to an assertion from Milliken that within five years, CMOs are likely to be spending more time and money on technology than CIOs.

“That’s already happening,” said Neogi.

Technology as a change agent was a strong theme in the session, and the panelists agreed that older, established firms need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the startup world. Companies in that space put the customer experience at the center of everything they do; they play by different rules with fewer stakeholders to satisfy. That sort of unrestricted ingenuity can grab market share quickly, but trust is still of paramount importance for a financial brand.

The key issue finance firms face is how behaviour changes much faster than regulations. But that can’t be used as an excuse for a lack of innovation from the old guards. The consumer is in control and you have to go where they are, which today is on digital, social and mobile platforms. Still, Peyton emphasised, there has to be a human element in the game and “that’s a powerful role for the banks to play.”

Panel:  Building your brand and reputation

Branding and reputation only works in the long-term if it starts with the people who work at the company, said Seraphina Wong who heads communications and branding within UBS Asia-Pacific’s global advertising unit. “People build culture, culture builds brands," she said. "Otherwise, brands are nothing but a logo. Essentially, you can’t expect to hire people who are capable and then convert them to your culture no more than you can marry someone because they look good and hope that they will make a good wife." On the other hand, if you hire people with high integrity, who collaborate and bring the best for your client, it feeds back into high performance and better revenue, she said.

But sometimes, cultures have to be fostered. For the Kotak Mahindra Group, said its EVP and head Karthi Mashan, what has worked well for the firm is “finding the B2C person inside the B2B entity”. “It’s about finding the human-side of the Shylock that we all are.”

“Half of my time is spent internally facing and selling, more so than ever,” agreed fellow panelist Mark Rogers, executive director of multimedia sales at Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal Asia-Pacific. “It boils down to simplifying your goals. If you have your objectives right internally, you can achieve your goals externally.”

“But how much power does the marketing department have within a transactional and financially focused organisation?” asked moderator Zoran Svetlicic, a partner at Shift.

Marketing, claimed Wong, is high on the agenda at UBS. “Although people who are client-facing are basically selling, they know that they can’t sell without the strength of the brand behind it. It goes down to a deeper level than style, it affects the making of the product itself.”

An example of a financial product which marketing influenced into being, said Mashan, is ‘Kotak Junior’ a savings bank account for children which the company created around the bank’s sponsorship of Indian Idol Junior. “It’s the first one we’ve had kids come in and ask for it,” said Mashan.

A breakthrough for Kotak Mahindra, continued Mashan, is the refocusing of its products around consumer lifestyles rather than details such as interest rates. “Our best-selling credit card is the one that offers free cinema tickets. The spends are also the highest and the delinquencies the lowest,” he said. “Interest rates… that’s the carburetor, and the customer isn’t buying the carburetor. She’s buying the gorgeous car. It’s about resonating with the customer’s lifestyle rather than forcing her to learn how to bank.”

Understanding customers better has also helped the Wall Street Journal maximise existing subscribers, said Rogers. “It’s important to make sure that our customers are happy that they have paid $400 to subscribe. We’ve started something of a members club, providing them with money-can’t-buy opportunities such as a webcast session with the leaders of Occupy Central.”

Keynote:  Optimising customer engagement: The next competitive frontier

Customer experience is a core competitive advantage, according to Daniel Ziv, VP of customer analytics, APAC and global product strategy at Verint.

For finance firms the path to that advantage often goes through data. And there is a lot of it out there. “For years we’ve been using market research, and collecting transactional data,” Ziv said “so you would think we know our customers. As financial institutions, we know their age and their salaries. But that doesn’t tell us enough about who they are. They are much beyond that.”

Firms need to look past structured-data sources, Ziv explained, and investigate the “dark data”: unstructured sources that are already in-house but might be hidden in some other department, away from what marketing teams typically access.

Ziv advocates combining the voice of the customer with big data. Tweets, emails and blogs are one source of unstructured data that he highlighted as readily available for mining. But even more directly, and exclusively, institutions like banks and insurance companies have access to phone calls that come in on a daily basis. Many of these are already recorded for quality or compliance reasons, but there is market information in there too.

Complaint calls might be the richest source for finding a competitive advantage because from a marketing perspective, people are telling you exactly why they are unhappy and exactly what you can do to fix it. “Customers are sharing with us who they really are and what they really care about,” he said.

And it’s much easier to keep a customer than it is to win them back once they leave.

A five-minute call, Ziv said, has over 1000 words, and all of them can help a company understand the customer journey. People call, he highlighted, when they have hit some roadblock in that journey. That’s not just an operational issue, that’s a marketing issue. The approach is similar to social listening or media monitoring, which many firms already do without question. So why wouldn’t you want to learn directly from your own clientele what their needs are?

The potential, he laid out, is for both building loyalty and increasing sales, and that’s a marketers job.

Panel: Thought leadership

This panel, moderated by Angus Maclaine, chief executive of Fundamental Media, looked at the benefits and challenges for financial brands in establishing themselves as thought leaders.

Panelists agreed that one of the biggest challenges was delivering appropriate, useful content in a compliant manner. Paul Edwards, group GM of corporate communications for ANZ, said the notion of content creation had changed his company’s approach to communications. The bank recently launched Blue Notes, which is edited by a prominent former financial journalist, Andrew Cornell.

Edwards said the move had been partially responsible for ANZ’s realignment of its communications into a “digital first” function. He said the advent of social channels meant that financial institutions were under more pressure to deliver information in a timely manner, which in turn was having an impact on internal processes.

“The timeframe for turning around content is shortening dramatically,” he said. “We need to move to a new kind of relationship with our friends in compliance and risk. We can’t do what we used to do, which was a three-day turnaround [for a piece of content].”

He said removing legal and compliance departments from the equation had helped speed things up dramatically, but noted that a long-term relationship with the bank’s chief executive had played an important role in gaining trust and authority as a communications lead.

Liza Ding, Asia-Pacific head of marketing for Deutsche Bank’s asset and wealth management division, said it was important to draw in external authorities such as academics to produce credible content. “What we say [by ourselves] may be considered a sales pitch,” she admitted.

Edwards said content producers at ANZ were not in the business of lead generation—and that’s OK. “I think as marketers we have to get over the idea that we have to keep justifying ourselves,” he said. “We have to focus on adding value and innovating, but we wouldn’t be kept on if we weren’t adding value.”

Panel: Social media to social selling to social business

There is a tendency for financial brands on social media to be overly focused on fire-fighting, to dwell on every negative comment while ignoring the positive, pointed out Mabel Leung, regional head of brand insights at AXA Asia. “There is power in leveraging the good posts to build positive branding with customers.”

Fellow panellist David Ko, managing director of Daylight Partnerships, said that Leung’s point is especially true when you think about financial marketing as ‘event-driven’. “Buying a house, a car, having children, going to college, these are positive moments brands can target, with permission of course.”

Of course, brands shouldn’t ignore the negative comments made on social media. The importance, said Ko, lies in knowing the difference between a true customer complaint and a troll, and not getting too worked up over every negative comment. “Clients often get very nervous about negative conversations," he said. "The way I see it, it’s about starting conversations. Even a negative comment is a great place to start.”

To help determine the path its brand should take on social media, Credit Suisse has set up a social-media competence centre. The centre brings together expertise from different parts of the organisation such as risk management, communications and marketing. “We have processes in place to get an economist or an analyst on Twitter and an internal educational video that explains the risks as well as the benefits of social media,” explained the firm's digital lead for Asia-Pacific, Aidan Bonel.

Once you’re on social media though, what do you say? If you’re a financial services firm content and thought leadership are front and centre of your communications agenda. “Every brand now is a media company in a way," said Bonel. "Content is the life-blood of social media."

AXA has started to pilot a newsroom in selected markets. “It’s not about pushing products,” said Leung. “We deliberately tell the entities that the newsrooms are not a sales platform, but are about brand-building and customer engagement.”

Localisation is also key to a solid content strategy. Credit Suisse has economists in each country who create infographics and content around the firm’s core competency: brokerage. “We have a lot of people in our corporate comms department who develop owned media," Bonel said. "We have online mags, great content on YouTube, and we can syndicate it on all channels. It’s about a continuum…. You keep moving forward and adjust content to work better.”

In the current communications market, a former journalist is a more desirable hire than a former public relations practitioner, commented Ko. “It’s just the way it is.  What’s needed is the understanding of what people want to read and the ability to make that content attractive and click-worthy.”

Steal like an artist: what financial services marketers should learn from other categories

In his session, Zoran Svetlicic, partner at branding company Shift, presented ideas from outside the financial sector to inspire financial brands to think differently about their approach to marketing.

Svetlicic drew on the idea of artists such as Picasso “stealing” ideas from elsewhere and making them his own. “Good banks copy, great banks steal,” he joked.

In one example, ICI renewed interest in its paint products through CSR initiatives that gave revitalised rundown urban areas through new coats of paint. Svetlicic suggested that banks could take a similar approach by involving themselves with people at a grassroots level, not just targeting “expats on big packages”. This would help build trust and ultimately stronger brands, he said.

He also pointed to Airbnb as an example of a company that had inspired trust in its users through transparency and ensuring that individuals offering and using its services are clearly identifiable. “The stealable idea here is to humanise to build trust,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity to bring humanity back by using technology to humanise.” He said that if a bank is confident enough in its offerings, it should open them up to reviews in forums, for example.

The final example he presented was from Nike. Over a period of eight years, the company developed a comprehensive guide to the sustainability of different fabrics. Instead of keeping this information to itself, it made it available to all companies working with textiles, including competitors.

“If you’re supposed to be ‘here for good’, what can you do?” he asked, borrowing Standard Chartered’s tagline. “You probably do lots of due diligence. Could you open up some of those tools? I think there a lots of things we [think have to be proprietary] but that would be a lot more powerful if we opened them up to the rest of the world.”

Sponsorship debate: Creating bespoke events versus sponsoring third-party events

It is often difficult to measure the ROI of having sponsorship partners and events in the financial-services sector, but the value of such events goes beyond just revenue, according to panel speakers.

Hosted by Jonathan Cummings, managing director at StartJG, the session began as a debate on the topic of sponsorship and its best practices. Featured speakers were Janis You, BNP Paribas Investment Partner’s head of client marketing communications, Catherine Gibbs, AIA group’s head of sponsorship and Jaime Lee, head of events at Swift.

A key point that emerged from the session is the importance of mitigating the risk of sponsorships by focusing on what can be controlled. Starting with the objectives is a crucial part of this. Gibbs cited AIA’s sponsorship partnership with the Tottenham Hotspur football team as an example.

“There’s always risk," she said. "You can’t control whether the football team will win or lose; they’re just human beings. But what you can control things like shared value and a five-year roadmap and vision with the sponsor.”

The concept of risk goes hand-in-hand with measuring success, which should be of a qualitative nature rather than “set against the company’s revenue”, the panelists agreed.

A shared sentiment was that when it comes to sponsorship and events, judging results works best with surveys, third-party feedback, and the measurement of word-of-mouth, press mentions and general sentiment, as opposed to bottom-line ROI, which is difficult to determine. Lee emphasised “looking at the needs of a client” and “getting the business owner and stakeholders all involved and making sure that the right people are present” when setting up an event.

“Create a sense of ownership for everyone before the event kicks off,” Lee added.

Keeping things clear from the start is what You chose to emphasise. “When it looks too abstract, we phase it out," she said. "If management is happy, we move to phase two. We take it step by step to make sure everyone is on board.”

Keynote: Digital media

Dennis Potgraven, strategy director at Havas Media Hong Kong, walked the delegates through the role of digital touchpoints in the financial customer journey. Although nothing he covered was particularly revelatory, Potgraven provided a concise yet comprehensive overview. He began by observing that despite the digital and mobile acuity of Asia's consumers, long queues and laborious processes persist at banks. A recent arrival in Hong Kong (from Amsterdam), Potgraven referred to his own painful experience setting up new accounts. Yet his overall message was more hopeful: that three key trends will help institutions address these issues.

Organic marketing: Potgraven cited Havas research showing that while awareness starts with paid media, word of mouth, including social media and other online discourse, quickly becomes paramount as soon as the consideration phase begins. "Customers, our clients, are, more and more, truly the media," Potgraven observed. To succeed in this environment, organisations must achieve organic reach through content marketing, which is difficult. The key to effective content, he advised, comes down to two simple questions: 'Why do I care?' and 'Why do I share?' He also noted that effective content helps to harvest customer data, which comes into play in the next phase.

Programmatic buying: Potgraven said that within a few years we will no longer plan media, but buy audience through programmatic means. Today brands buy much of display advertising and online video advertising through exchanges, but eventually even TV time will sell the same way because of the precision the approach affords. "Programmatic really brings up the opportunity to target better in four ways," he said. "Of course the right user, but also especially the right message at the right place and in the right time."

Personalised service: Potgraven pointed to retail sites and their approach to providing consumer experience as something banks must emulate. With all due respect to the audience, Potgraven said, much of what banks are doing online amount to selling; when it comes to serving customers with a personal touch, they fall far short. Successful examples he cited here included KLM, which has moved all its customer service into a quick-response system powered by social media, and a bank in Poland that provides live video chat.

In conclusion, Potgraven made reference to Darwin's survival of the fittest. "Are you agile enough?" he challenged. "Are you changing fast enough?"

Panel: Maximising your agency and supplier relationships

The ever-complex interplay between global and local markets makes it harder for financial-service marketers to choose agencies that can deliver across regions and requires going beyond the transactional “vendor/supplier” relationship.

The panel discussing the topic featured Asia-Pacific professionals Feng Min Chien, BNY Mellon’s regional marketing director; Todd Handcock, Williams Lea’s chief executive officer; and Terry Lee, director of marketing communications at CFA Institute. David Blecken, deputy editor at Campaign Asia-Pacific moderated the session.

The panel agreed on the importance of choosing a lead agency but then “hand picking and localising in specific markets”. Lee said that there’s no substitute for local knowledge and expertise and that he often hires “boutique agencies” that understand the region they operate in as well as have key connections to make things happen.

Handcock added: “The influencers make it hard to do PR. You need to look at the local markets and platform and find those conversations. If you don’t have localised knowledge, you can’t do that and you will fail.”

Chien furthered the point by mentioning the upfront barriers of local languages, tones and voices, which “make it hard to exclusively use a single PR agency based out of international cities like New York.”

Lee highlighted the role of agencies and the “constant learning as agencies try to help brands raise the bar.” On this point, Handcock said that trust is a defining factor for the cooperation between brand and agency.

“In my previous life as a CMO, I fired an agency off the bat," he said. "The people who delivered the pitch were not the same as the team to deliver. They won my business, but then they broke my trust straight out of the gate.”

The session closed on the idea that there is no 'dream agency', with Chien remarking that while many claim to be integrated agencies, the reality is different.

“Passion is important," Chien said. "You need to find agencies and people that have sparks in their eyes when they talk about your brand and business rather than have an arranged marriage set up.”

“Agencies can’t just love what they do,” said Lee. “They need to also love what we do as brand.”

Creativity, ideas and content generation in a regulated world

In the regulated world of financial services marketing, how do you get around regulations to generate inspiring and effective content?

Timi Siytangco, director of brands and agencies for Southeast Asia at Outbrain, identified examples from financial-services brands like HSBC, Visa, Goldman Sachs, Great Eastern Life and ANZ, which have been acting like publishers and providing content recommendations for readers.

If you take away search and e-shopping which are more transactional activities, everything online revolves around content—and content dominates how people spend their time online, she said. Indeed, website heat maps show very clear distinctions between content and advertising, but 82 per cent of consumers (source: Content Marketing Association 2013) like reading content from brands if it is valuable.

For example, she cited a Goldman Sachs native-advertising placement with The New York Times, ‘An Interactive Guide to Capital Markets’, which provided a visual lesson on what capital markets are and how they drive job creation, innovation and financial security. This was effective because it allowed the investment bank to showcase its area of expertise, and for the publisher to engage its high-earning readers with its data journalism capabilities.

Siytangco provided six tips:

  • Give your experts a voice
  • Make your PR work harder
  • Communicate visually
  • Be professional yet personal
  • Integrate conversion with content
  • Go always-on versus a campaign approach.

“If you observe which themes and formats your audience likes and maximise all your content assets, you will stand out because few other financial services brands are marketing like you do,” she said.

 

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