Seth Godin Says Financial Marketers Must Hit ‘Reset’ for COVID Recovery

The way to set your institution apart from the pack, especially now, is to focus on empathy and peace of mind, advises the world's most respected marketing expert. Technology is a critical component of that, but too often customer-facing applications are slapped together with 'toothpicks and glue.' The essential capability is to be able to know each consumer and meet their needs, not the bank's.

Seth Godin isn’t just a marketing demigod — he’s a passionate believer in the power and importance of a profession he’s devoted his life to.

In a keynote address to kickoff a virtual marketing series presented by Temenos, “The Power of Marketing in Uncertain Times,” Godin assured financial marketers that “the work you do is really important in rebuilding the economy. We need your skills, but we also need your leadership and humanity.”

His message wasn’t one big pat on the back, however. Godin didn’t become the most sought-after marketing speaker on the planet by spewing platitudes. He laced his presentation with pithy and succinct observations, intended to push listeners to out of their comfort zone.

He said, for example, that bank marketing is typically thought of as good ads, stock photos, promotions, sponsorships and such issues as “How do we get the word out?” “Where do we open a branch?”

“That’s not marketing. That’s advertising,” Godin insists. One of the results of the worldwide pandemic will be a financial marketing reset.

“When we get to the other side of the crisis,” says Godin, “the world will be different.”

People are going to take a deep breath and think about their future, he continues, and they’re going to remember which institutions actually saw them as individuals during the crisis — not through some big ad campaign, but through person-to-person interaction, even if it was from a distance.

Godin honed his marketing expertise initially in the trenches as an entrepreneur. He founded Yoyodyne, an internet marketing agency — later acquired by Yahoo! — and then launched revenue-sharing content site Squidoo.

Most people, however, think of Godin as a best-selling author. He has written nearly 20 books. Some of the most notable for marketers include “This is Marketing,” “Permission Marketing,” “Purple Cow” and “All Marketers are Liars.”

An Opportunity to Race to the Top

In his remarks during the Temenos marketing webinar, Godin stated that “your brand is not your logo.” Brand is a shortcut people have when they think of you, and what they expect of you.

“When we look at how people and businesses choose and stick with a bank, most of the things that banks work really hard on aren’t at the top of people’s lists,” he says. Very few people, for example, will love a bank or stay with it because it pays three extra basis points, has never made a mistake or offers end-to-end encryption.

“These are things you have to do,” says Godin. “These are table stakes.”

If all you’re doing is traditional marketing focused on such attributes, nobody should be surprised that consumers have trouble telling one financial institution apart from another.

The result, Godin states, is a “race to the bottom.” In the old days that meant giving away a fancier toaster. Now it’s become a very expensive cycle of rolling out new features and extra-cost items to attract consumers’ attention.” $200 signup bonuses, given liberally pre-COVID, for new checking accounts come to mind.

“In our quest to chase after the next customer,” Godin states, “are we forgetting the people who already trust us?” There’s plenty of money to be made from a loyal customer, he asserts. From a business, that sticks with you for years or from consumers who view you as their family bank.

Set Godin technology that has changed the market quote

The big opportunity right now, says Godin, is to deliver peace of mind, and empathy. That empathy doesn’t have to be expressed with a discount, or waiving a fee, he states. Rather it needs to be expressed in the way humans want to interact with other humans, which includes with websites. Any interaction that helps them feel seen and understood.

One of the major impacts of the pandemic, besides health, is a “frozen economy,” as Godin puts it. “What we’ve seen in the past is that when things begin to come back, a few people show up eager, seeking opportunity, but most people show up with trepidation.” They’ll be looking for stability and looking for trust, Godin states. Helping them find that is where the marketing expert sees the biggest opportunity for financial institutions, not some big new campaign.

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The Most Important Ways to Use Technology

If the above comment sounds like a return to “old-fashioned banking,” it is, at least in the sense of understanding and serving small communities of customers intimately. But much of that now is done digitally. “Digital, in addition to being more efficient, can actually help people get what they want,” says Godin. However, he points to a “big stumbling block” with digital that hinders its effectiveness.

“The digital delivery infrastructure has been held together largely with toothpicks and glue,” Godin maintains. He’s not talking about the primary centralized systems, but all the applications “around the edges that have been layered on.”

The pandemic-induced marketing reset, mentioned earlier, will enable banks and credit unions to tackle this issue, he believes. What marketers can do now is take a deep breath and go back to the beginning and do some intentional design of websites and mobile apps.

Ask questions such as: “Why are people looking at our web page?” “What job are they hiring us to do in this moment?” “How do we do it for them?” Institutions need to flip around the typical banking perspective, says Godin, so that it’s the consumer in charge and the institution has to figure things out, not the other way around. Personalization is a key to this.

“The technology that has changed the marketing world and will continue to change it is ability to treat people differently — instantly and at scale,” Godin states. “That is what you most must invest in.”

Marketers Must Earn Permission to Reach Out

The way an institution’s brand message spreads is the same way every idea spreads these days — not from the top down with a big marketing spend, but person to person.

“The single most important cultural engine of our time is the network effect,” Godin emphasizes. How a bank or credit union uses that effect will make all the difference. For something to be worth talking about (in a positive light) it can’t be a gimmick, he states, and can’t be because it helps you, but because it helps the person you’re seeking to serve.

So if you are texting people just because you can, you’re burning an asset, says Godin. In fact, if you’re passing information about your best customers to another division to try to upgrade the person to a different product, you might be burning an asset, he cautions.

This is a critical point because Godin believes that open rate will be a critical marketing factor in the next ten years. When you have trust, you can get attention when you need it, he points out. But if you take attention when you’re not entitled to it, you will lose that advantage and be ignored.

Most people have a smartphone and marketers can text them, it’s true. But, advises Godin, “each of us have has to earn the privilege” of showing up on their phone. Marketers get that by providing “personal and relevant messages for people who want to get them.”

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