Financial Marketers Caught Chasing Bad Ideas and Bogus Trends

Is it possible there is a sort of golden rule for financial marketers to follow for the good of both consumers and their own institutions? Something like 'Market unto others as you would be marketed to'? Forrester Research believes much of what marketing is becoming is misguided and potentially brand-damaging.

Every financial marketer enjoys access to a free source of consumer input that can help guide their decisions — their own judgment. And sometimes it takes guts to listen to one’s instincts when the prevailing “wisdom” says otherwise.

“Just because AI and big data can help you do a thing, for example, doesn’t mean that it should always be done — or done at all.”

“Remember that you’re a consumer as well as a marketer. Have you been annoyed or put off by an ad? Conversely, have you experienced something excellent? Bring your experiences as a consumer into the conversation and encourage others to do the same,” comments Forrester in a thematic report “The Self-Defeating Marketer: How to Put an End to Marketing Dissonance.”

That’s not always easy when everyone around you has bought into the Latest Hot Thing — or several of them simultaneously. This Forrester report and a companion, “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces Erupt,” together make the case that a good deal of what financial marketers have been buying into over the last few years has been of questionable value — perhaps even detrimental to their brand’s relationship with consumers. Or that, at least, marketers should be questioning the values of these new ideas and applying them with more judgment. Just because artificial intelligence and big data can help you do a thing, for example, doesn’t mean that it should always be done — or done at all.

“Marketers are amassing data, profiling customers across devices, automating campaigns, and co-opting customer values,” Forrester states. “But by over pivoting in these areas, they’ve creeped out customers who want some level of anonymity and authenticity from the brands they interact with.”

Taken together, the Forrester reports make a convincing case that marketers — who are supposed to be promoting their brands — are doing an effective and efficient job of turning consumers against them.

Creativity Is Getting Lost in the Rush to Build Martech

At the same time, the reports suggest, the race to build the highest martech stacks have diverted funds towards data and technology and away from things the add creativity to marketing.

“Anyone who has ever watched a banner ad stalk them all around the web won’t feel nearly so happy with personalization.”

The problem, in Forrester’s view, is that the promise of technology in marketing isn’t materializing as imagined.

Instead of bringing consumers messages that match their needs, “they’re exhausted by the endless drone of bland ads that follows them around the internet, clogs their inboxes, and interrupts their social media feeds. Over time, customer’s receptivity to marketing has eroded, their interest has waned, and they’re actively taking steps to block out the noise.”

In some cases, Forrester argues, marketers have to put themselves into consumers’ shoes. The promotional idea that fascinates them because they can do it may not sit so well with the consumer.

Take the idea of personalization, the concept of tailoring things very specifically to each consumer. On one hand everyone loves to talk about Amazon and its algorithms pointing out what else you’d like to buy or recommending movies as a high point of personalization. On the other, anyone who has ever watched a banner ad stalk them all around the web — say that one that promises a cure for fat in your liver — won’t feel nearly so happy with personalization. Financial brands have done their own share of such stalking through programmatic advertising.

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5 Ways Marketers Can Be Moderate in Obsession

Forrester’s papers suggest how financial marketers can course correct without abandoning “customer obsession.”

“We’re not saying you should throw away all the tech and start over — not in any way,” says Brigitte Majewski, VP and Research Director at Forrester in a company blog.

She says that as brands use powerful new tools, they should be asking thoughtful questions, and coming up with solutions.

Some trends the firm sees, and its thoughts on how to address them:

1. Respect Consumers’ Preference for Anonymity

Marketers in all fields have been spending billions on data and on data-related technology to get to know their consumers better.

Meanwhile, Forrester states, consumers “crave and demand privacy.”

The firm cites research in which nearly half of consumers surveyed take measures to limit the data that websites and apps collect about them.

“They have reason to be concerned,” says Forrester. Its own research that found that “24% of global marketers admit they have no ethical concerns about using customer data.”

In fact, Forrester suggests that the data fulcrum could productively lever the other way for marketers.

As consumers become more and more aware of how data is used and grow more interested in privacy, some will seek out brands that can demonstrate that they respect privacy. Further, these brands will use data carefully and work with partners that think the same way. The firm suggests this will be an edge among those consumer who care.

A step recommended is creating an online privacy center, spelling out what data your institution collects, why it does so, what is done with the data, and how a consumer can control all of that. Lloyds Bank’s privacy hub is cited as an example to emulate.

( Read More: Growing Privacy Fears Threaten Financial Marketers’ Use of Data )

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2. Be Aware of Resistance to Personalization

Marketers tend to see personalization as a means of providing a superior customer experience. But Forrester observes that many consumers aren’t on the same page.

“Only 27% of U.S. online adults say they’re willing to let retailers use their personal information to personalize experiences,” Forrester reports. “Even when they do supply personal information, consumers are wary of how it drives personalization engines.”

Forrester suggests that marketers treat prospects and actual customers differently. Prospects may be interested in doing business with your bank or credit union, but that’s not an open invitation.

“Marketers think customer obsession means knowing everything about prospects — but that’s exactly what’s pushing them away,” the firm observes. “Prospects expect you to not know them personally. They want value, not a background check.”

Forrester suggests that personalization is so data driven that brands tend to forget to get input from the very consumers they are trying to please. This can be boiled down to: “I am not necessarily my data.”

The firm suggests a bit of old-school technique would help: “Conduct qualitative interviews to determine what personalization strategies would most benefit your customers.”

Forrester adds this: “Here’s a radical idea: Once you’ve identified customers who want no personalization, deliver on their expectations. Doing so is the most personalized strategy for those customers.”

( Read More: Consumers’ Data Privacy Fears May Hurt Fintechs, Help Banks )

3. Avoid Misguided and Possibly Insincere Positions on Issues

A growing number of financial institutions have jumped aboard various social causes, in keeping with the belief that today consumers expect their brands to take a stand. “Corporate social responsibilty” has become an activity unto itself for some financial institutions, sort of an attitudinal Community Reinvestment Act. In part this reflects the much-discussed desire on Millennials’ part to vote with their dollars for brands that like what they like, believe as they believe.

Forrester acknowledges that the research is there to support this movement, and some institutions take this quite seriously. However, in some companies the “what” and the “why” have become disconnected, in Forrester’s view.

“Many brands have merely given lip service to brand values they think resonate with customers, forgoing authentically held beliefs,” Forrester says. You can see this kind of thing on social media all the time.

Closer to home, a member of one of the firm’s consumer panels had this to say about a celebrated financial debacle: “Wells Fargo didn’t come fully clean. It only admitted to what it was [initially] caught doing, and more came out later.”

( Read More: Social Media & Social Issues Create Brand Challenges For Financial Marketers )

4. Don’t Let the Robots Run Marketing

Artificial intelligence and related technologies can do some amazing things, but letting too much decision making run automatically can be dangerous. Programmatic online ad spending, for example, has caused some major brand mishaps. JP Morgan Chase made headlines a while back for taking more human control of digital ad spending to prevent embarrassing placements.

From a different angle, Forrester recounts how Quicken Loans wound up in court. The firm had used keystroke logging to retain email addresses and marketed to consumers even if they hadn’t chosen to submit their data.

“Moving beyond basic demographic targeting is smart, especially as we approach an era of greater gender fluidity and economic uncertainty, which will hamper inferences made using traditional categories of age, gender, and income,” Majewski writes. “But brands in sensitive categories such as healthcare and finance should be especially careful.”

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5. Let Two Plus Two Equal Four — Even If It’s Not

Customer profiling doesn’t always come out right, and sometimes produces embarrassing results. The report notes that a woman who had a stillbirth had been profiled as an expectant mother and couldn’t shake that online profile designation long after that happened, causing much pain.

“Customers bear the burden of inaccurate profiling,” says Forrester.

Perhaps the most valuable advice in the reports comes down to this, in an age of sweeping generalizations about changing practices and lots of confusion:

“Making money while failing to make and keep customers happy and making customers happy while losing money are equal paths to bankruptcy.”

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