Change is the only constant in the financial markets, except for the rare “UNCH” you might see in a stock’s daily price performance. Volatility has been the name of the game this year, with the VIX hitting a high-water mark in March due to turmoil in the banking sector. But this financial chaos and uncertainty—and its cyclical nature—isn’t uncommon. We’ve experienced and seen the other side of it before.
As marketers and communicators, we’re known for our ability to adapt to change and pull the appropriate levers amid adversity. And the world is facing a lot of it right now. In the first half of this year alone, we’ve advised on the aforementioned market volatility and fallout from unprecedented bank runs, along with workplace and workforce issues, the astronomical rise of generative AI and its business and reputational impact—all while knowing the Great Wealth Transfer is taking place before us.
Our role is more important now than ever.
Being overwhelmed isn’t an option
The more we’re expected to offer smart insights and sound ideas around the inevitable issue du jour, we as financial services marketers have a responsibility to unlock ourselves not just to keep up, but to truly get ahead.
Every industry is impacted by financial market performance, and over the last two-plus years, it’s been a roller coaster. Is the Fed going to raise interest rates? What’s the latest Jobs Report? Where is Consumer Confidence? At the same time, wealth demographics are evolving as part of the Great Wealth Transfer, calls to address economic insecurity across the country are increasing and the desire for purpose over profits is becoming the norm. Throw the era of disinformation into the mix and we must navigate real-time changes in how our stakeholders perceive and experience financial services brands.
Of course, technology disruption and innovation do more to keep us on our toes, forcing us to consider what, how and where we communicate with our core audiences on a more regular basis. But exploring new tools or platforms in isolation will never be enough to keep up. The growing volume of topics, issues and channels presents a steep learning curve for any one individual to grasp in the time we have available each day.
Harnessing intelligence, innovation and impact
We believe that with our skills and smarts as marketing communications professionals, we have a responsibility to influence and amplify all the ways in which people can create, build, preserve and distribute wealth in today’s economic environment.
The good news is we have more influence than ever to make a difference. Our expertise as communicators has never been more essential to the C-suite than it is today. It’s validating and encouraging to know that the scope of our significance is evolving, particularly in the financial services world.
According to a recent survey of Fortune 500 senior communications executives from Korn Ferry’s Corporate Affairs practice, 40 percent of top communications executives report directly to the CEO with an increase in CCOs reporting to the CHRO—13 percent, up from nine percent in 2015—or the General Counsel—11 percent, up from four percent—“reflecting the function’s increased focus on employee communications, crisis communications, and an ever more complex legislative/regulatory environment.”
The only way we can keep the C-suite influence on virtually every issue that impacts an organization is to work smarter, not harder, to meet the needs of today.
So, what do we do?
Follow the numbers
All successful marketing and communications programs start with one question: What does my audience care about? For as much as financial services firms are focused on numbers and data, many struggle with capturing what matters most, let alone knowing how to act on that information.
Be honest. How well—and carefully—are you tracking what your audience cares about, who they respect, and how they consume content? Point-in-time surveys help. Proprietary data that flags purchasing patterns helps too. But as marketers, we now have an incredible opportunity to innovate how we consume and digest data to drive more intelligent—and efficient—communication strategies.
From gauging audience interest in real-time across key themes and topic areas, to assessing content consumption habits by channel and preferred formats, to measuring brand affinity, messaging penetration and performance, we can now harness the power of technology and generative AI to do amazing things much faster and more precisely than ever before.
Today we can predict which messages will resonate, who will shape a conversation in any market and which consumer and buyer intent signals to prioritize and push through the sales funnel with targeted messages, content and outreach. But most of us aren’t leveraging that capability in our daily work and risk being left behind.
The sum is always greater than its parts
While leveraging and maximizing data to its fullest potential seems obvious, we recognize it’s not always easy for communicators to get their hands on it. Oftentimes, financial services firms with established in-house communications teams have strict silos across disciplines like marketing, PR, public affairs and social media, to name a few. It’s time to break down the walls.
Each function holds valuable information that, when working together, can inform a holistic strategy. Say you’re an agency professional engaged with a client to support media relations on the PR side of the house. You’re acutely aware of the issues that reporters—and their readers— care about. In addition to gaining brand recognition through earned media, you can create content like a blog or whiteboard video that can be leveraged by the marketing team or posted by the social media team to move clients and prospects from awareness to consideration to conversion. From there, you can see where the content generated the most engagement, and tinker with format and delivery methods for subsequent outreach. On the flip side, knowing the types of content people are interacting with can signal a topic that could pique the interest of a reporter. And that’s just scratching the surface.
We can’t afford to wait
According to Cerulli, $84.4 trillion of wealth will be transferred through 2045, with younger generations, charities and non-profit organizations standing to gain. This tectonic shift is occurring at a time when financial advice is more affordable than ever, and how Americans choose to receive it is changing dramatically. Despite this, we’re still seeing record numbers of Americans in debt. ‘
Financial services firms can and will play a pivotal role in what happens next. And marketing communications professionals are in a particularly exciting position to understand the numbers, glean insights and apply that intelligence to inform the programs we design to reach today’s—and tomorrow’s—customers. Whether it’s the belief that every single American deserves competent and ethical financial advice from qualified financial professionals who are required to act in their best interest or acknowledging the view that the financial services sector has a responsibility to align profits with purpose, why wouldn’t we do everything we can to help people move up the wealth spectrum and make a positive difference to society?
Technology is critical to moving our collective data intelligence from insights to impact. If we don’t take a page from other industries, like healthcare and retail, that have jumped ahead of us to successfully execute full-funnel marketing programs in partnership with cross-discipline departments, we’ll lose our stronghold and risk our credibility with C-suite leaders.
The future of marketing communications is here
As communicators, we have an opportunity to help firms digest and harness the power of all critical data—economic, business and customer alike—to make an impact that will last for decades. But it’s the combined power of insights and innovation that will drive value, increase influence and build a stronger future not only for the financial services firms we support but the customers they serve.
At the end of the day, knowing what matters to your audience is paramount. Whether your goal is to change a perception or convert a client, they’ll tell you everything you need to know to be successful—if you know how to listen. Otherwise, data can’t become intelligence.
Just like financial services firms have a chance to win the day with the next generation of wealth, we as communicators can help shape the financial futures of millions. What are you waiting for?
By Reed Handley and Greg Hassel
This article was originally published in the August 2023 edition of O’Dwyer’s PR Magazine.