Why Can’t Banking Be Easier Than Buying Cereal?
Step foot in the cereal aisle at the supermarket and you may feel immediately over-stimulated — a seemingly endless array of brightly colored choices, each screaming for your attention. Instead of being organized how consumers might want them (e.g. healthy vs. sweet), they are organized by brand and profit margin. Those high-fiber options for adults are placed above eye level almost out of arm’s reach, while sugar-laden brands targeting young children are conveniently located at toddler height on the bottom two shelves.
Cereal brands have intense competition for shelf space, receiving a limited allocation based on sales, market share and (in some cases) kickbacks. Now of course the typical adult consumer isn’t aware of the complex politics that determine why their box of Cheerios might be in the back of the aisle, or why it’s almost impossible to find Grape Nuts or Mueslix. Truthfully, most consumers don’t care about any of this either. Instead, they’ve just grown accustomed to wading through the entire aisle until they either find what they want. A sort of coping mechanism kicks in, as they scan for familiarity and/or look for items on sale. Generally speaking, the experience is inconvenient and inefficient — even if people aren’t consciously aware of how frustrating it can sometimes be.
So what does shopping for cereal have to do with shopping for financial services? Consumer expectations are low. Things have been inconvenient for so long, no one ever wonders why there isn’t a better, easier, more simple approach. Whether you’re talking about cereal or banking products, consumers expect both to be an overwhelming and generally annoying experience. This is particularly true for those in the key demographics that institutions compete over to sustain revenue growth — Millennials, digital natives, and young families. That’s why every banking provider is obligated to do everything possible to keep things simple if they hope to differentiate their brand.
Treat Financial Services as a Trusted Brand
A “brand” signifies “trust” — what consumers can count on a company (or product) to deliver. For banking providers, their brand must now stand for “simplicity.”
Consumers don’t typically have much knowledge about financial services, yet financial marketers still frequently ignore this fact and overwhelm people — pushing products instead of solutions to life problems. Does the average adult even know what the term “HELOC” stands for, and why they might need one? No, people don’t think in those terms. Do most consumers think (or even know how) to decide whether a new or used car makes the most financial sense for their situation?
A study by Accenture found that Millennials would prefer to use financial services offered by Google. While Google doesn’t offer banking products (yet!), the real question is why? The answer is undoubtedly that they trust Google because its suite of solutions help effortlessly guide them in every other aspect of their lives. In short: people trust Google to make life easier. Banks, on the other hand? Not so much. Even though consumers know Google isn’t in the banking game today, they’d be more than willing to give it a go — How bad could banking with Google possibly be? It’s not like it could get any worse.
For financial marketers, the challenge is to brand their institution as being relatable and helpful — just like Google — which, in turn builds brand awareness and puts their name top-of-mind (again, just like Google). Institutions who will win consumers’ attention and affection are those that think like consumers: simplify the process. Consumers want to trust that your institution can help them simplify their life and make financial decisions easier. If you can equate your brand with “easy banking” in consumers’ minds, you will foster strong relationships founded on a bedrock of trust.
Finding Big Success By Starting Small
While many financial marketers obsess over getting more leads for sales, the job isn’t truly over until the people you’re pursuing are happy, because happy customers create brand loyalty.
That’s why it’s important to take a look at what frustrates banking consumers the most. You might get this feedback from a survey, or from your frontline service reps, from which you will need to prioritize items. Action items could include an investment in more products, especially digital products designed to save people time and make it easier to manage money. Another priority might be more process-oriented — changes intended to encourage people to see that your institution respects their time and keep things as friendly and approachable as possible.
To begin your organization’s simplification approach, pick a single product and process to simplify from the customer perspective. Selling more mortgages is typically a major strategic priority for most retail banks and credit unions, whereas the process of getting a mortgage is typically seen as intimidating for consumers. Many marketers tout how easy it is to get pre-approved, but if those who got a mortgage were surveyed after, they likely would have appreciated more simplicity and transparency during the actual mortgage process. You need to identify opportunities to focus marketing on the entire consumer experience – not just acquisition.
Guiding Consumers To Conversion
While those working in a purely marketing capacity can’t always make the process easier, you can support the customer journey by setting expectations. Transparency into the many steps to closing on a house creates a sense of trust with consumers, allowing them to plan their busy life around each step in the process.
Here’s an example of how this could play out, using tried-and-true email marketing. Once someone is pre-approved for a mortgage, create an email campaign, with each message focused on a different stage in the process. The first email to potential borrowers should include the following:
Congratulations on your pre-approval! We hope you are as excited about your new home as we are, so let’s walk through what you can expect.
- Making an Offer. Once you’ve found the right place, contact us so we can help you apply for your home loan.
- Credit Reports. We will order credit reports from [Credit Reports Vendor] for each mortgage applicant.
- Gathering Documents. We will need a variety of documents in order to process your loan. These include income statements, tax records, employment history, your purchase agreement [etc., as related to your institution’s loan approval criteria].
- Home Appraisal. To ensure the value of your property, we will order a home appraisal.
- Mortgage Processing. We use an online tool called [insert your solution/product name here] to secure your electronic approvals throughout this process. You will get many emails during the process, and you simply need to review everything on your device, and authorize it with your electronic signature.
- Mortgage Approval. If your mortgage is approved, we will provide authorization to schedule your closing. All documents will be sent to the chosen title company and prior to closing, we will provide you with a disclosure at closing. This will inform you of your loan terms, projected mortgage payments, closing fees and more.
Subsequent emails in the series can be sent with links to helpful articles on your website such as a “Moving Checklist” and maybe even discount coupons to local vendors who might be helpful to this audience. The idea is to embrace the total marketing experience at a life stage that can be anything but simple, so that consumers feel supported, build trust and extend coveted brand loyalty.
The final email should be sent after the loan closes and presumably the customer has moved, so that you can cross-sell (soft-sell) other products, services and solutions.
Closing Thoughts: With the amount on most financial marketers’ plates each day, it’s easy to lose perspective and forget that your products need to fit into people’s real lives. After all, you’re part of this fast-paced, media-intensive world we live in, too. That’s why now more than ever it is important to put yourself in the mindset of everyday banking consumers. In every decision you make, be aware of how easy it will be for your end users to understand and act, as well as the lasting brand impression you are going to make.
When financial marketers commit to making things easier for people by leveraging the digital tools and technologies available today, banking will no longer be the stressful and burdensome chore that it is today. If you do it right, then hopefully people will spend more time and energy figuring out which brand of cereal they want to buy — and finding it in the supermarket aisle — than they do picking a checking account or applying for a home loan.