Why Financial Marketers Should Skip Celebrities and Social Media Spokespeople

Financial institutions don't need 'A-list' names (or budgets) to effectively use online influencers, the modern-day version of celebrity endorsements. Micro-influencers, when properly used, can be the better choice, and far less expensive.

Marketing is all about behavior change. How do you get someone to think and act differently about your brand and product? In order to change behavior you first need to reach people. You need their attention. What you say to them matters, but only if they actually hear you.

Influencer marketing is a fantastic way to accomplish that with modern audiences. Too often, though, financial institutions shy away from it because they perceive it to be far too expensive. But there are good options (often the best option, in fact) that bring down the cost significantly. Banks and credit unions should reconsider their views about using influencers.

Consumers’ Fragmented Attention

The landscape of attention has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Technology has disrupted what used to be captive pools of consumer attention that marketers could reliably tap into. In the heyday of brand marketing (think “Mad Men” — 1960s era), if you were in charge of a brand or product line, you’d know where and how you could reach people. You would plan a big above-the-line campaign, heavily focused on TV, print, maybe radio and out-of-home. You knew that if you put great creative in front of people in those channels, they’d pay attention. Attention was given as long as you bought in the right places.

That is no longer the case.

The attention of the modern-day consumer is fragmented across multiple channels, and multiple pools within those channels. We’re scrolling Instagram while we watch TV. We’re listening to a podcast in the car instead of on the radio. We’re constantly multi-tasking, moving our attention elsewhere during the time when we previously would have been listening to ads.

Consumer attention is not only fragmented, it’s also no longer captive. If we don’t like an ad, we don’t watch it. We skip forward on our DVR, we click out of the banner, we scroll past that promoted post. The mobile phone has ushered in a new era of marketing by replacing a few captive pools of attention with many competitive pools. Attention is no longer given just because you bought the media.

Further, the lines between content and advertising have been blurred. TV networks do embedded ads instead of cutting to a commercial break, podcast hosts do live-reads during their shows, and often we can’t tell what’s a brand post and what’s a user post in our social feeds if it weren’t for that “sponsored content” tag.

The new landscape of competitive attention pools and blurred content lines gave rise to the “influencer” page in the modern-day marketer’s playbook.

Influencer marketing is just borrowing someone else’s attention to promote your brand. It’s the same concept and strategy as celebrity endorsements, just applied to a new technological and cultural situation.

“Ask anyone under 20 who their favorite celebrities are and I bet they will be online influencers, not movie stars or musicians.”
— Eric Fulwiler, 11:FS

People trust people more than they do brands. People trust celebrities they respect — they want to be like them. The same logic applies to influencers because for many people, these influencers are more a celebrity than the A-list movie and music stars out there. Ask anyone under 20 years-old who their favorite celebrities are and I bet they will be online influencers, not movie stars or musicians. The drivers of modern-day culture are not what they used to be.

But the real reason influencer marketing works (when done right) is that there is such a tremendous supply of influencers. And tremendous supply drives prices down.

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The Wrong Way to Use Influencers

Most financial marketers get their influencer strategy wrong from the beginning. They see influencers only as the modern-day celebrities so they just try to go buy attention from the online A-listers in their industry. But the real opportunity and arbitrage in influencer marketing is not the top-tier online celebs, it’s the micro-influencers.

There are thousands of influencers out there who have the attention of the audience you’re trying to reach. The top-tier ones will be expensive because they can be. The mid-tier and long-tail ones will be cheaper because they have to be. The audience attention they have, however, isn’t any less real than the top-tier names. Actually, in many cases it’s more authentic. There are just less (or no) brands offering them sponsorship dollars so their prices will be lower.

It’s supply and demand and it creates a big opportunity for those willing to put in the extra work and do it right. And if you can work with these micro-influencers the right way, they can deliver a genuine message about your financial brand or product that will change perception and behavior in their community.

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Stay Away from the ‘Hired Guns’

The most effective way to work with influencers is to make the partnership genuine and to make it contextual. Don’t look for purely mercenary influencers who will post just for the money. You want people who actually care about and will advocate for your product (while getting paid for it).

“The influencer who’s ‘on brand’ for Citibank is probably not the right choice for Chime or Klarna.”

This approach is the same way you’d need to think about any celebrity endorsement. The person and their brand needs to make sense for your brand. For example, the influencer who’s “on brand” for Citibank is probably not the right choice for Chime or Klarna — based both on how those brands want to be perceived and who they’re speaking to.

A critical point: Let the influencer figure out the best way to communicate your brand story or product benefits to their audience. They know their community and their channel better than you do. Give them the guidelines and get out of the way.

There’s a reason you see so many banks, credit unions and fintechs turning towards influencer marketing. When done right it can be an incredibly effective and cost-efficient way to generate awareness and activity around your business. When done wrong it can be a bust, a waste, or worse. But that’s the case with any marketing channel or tactic.

Modern-day marketers and modern-day brands understand how to leverage influencers and make it a core part of their marketing playbook.

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