Google Brand Exec: How to Humanize Digital Experiences in Banking

In this exclusive interview, Abigail Posner, Director of Strategy for Google's Brand Unit, discusses the importance of having an in-depth understanding of consumers in the digital space and translating these insights into personalized strategies for creative and content development.

In a digital world, consumers can acquire enough information about a product or service on a smartphone or online to make a purchase decision without ever asking a question of a customer service representative or walking into a physical store (branch).  Whether a consumer wants to buy a protein bar or new automobile, they can now leverage digital channels at each step of the customer decision journey, bypassing the traditional step-by-step sales funnel behavior.

Instead, today’s consumer has a decision process that includes many more variables and is much more iterative in nature. Shoppers not only include more competitors in their decision process, but will also jump between stages of the purchase journey almost instantaneously, thanks to the power of the internet.

The result is a concept called the Zero Moment of Truth, coined by Google in 2011. ZMOT describes how digital channels, such as social media and search, have accelerated the customer decision journey. In other words, what once took multiple hours, days or weeks now takes only minutes or seconds. If the consumer is not convinced to buy immediately, they may be lost forever.

As one of the keynote speakers at The Financial Brand Forum this year, Abigail Posner,  Director of Strategy for Google’s Brand Unit, captivated the audience with her perspective on the importance of understanding the relationship between the consumer and the digital space. Leveraging her educational and professional background in social anthropology, Posner encouraged financial marketers to have a new lens for thinking about digital creativity and new tools to spark innovation. In short, she emphasized the need to humanize and personalize the digital experience.

I had the privilege to sit down for an interview with Abigail to get some additional insights into how financial institutions can better personalize digital interactions and leverage insights to improve the consumer experience – generating both sales and loyalty. Here’s what thought leader, author, manager and corporate executive Posner had to say.

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What is the biggest technological challenge for banking today?

Posner: One of the things I make clear to every audience I speak to is that tech is only one aspect of the technological revolution. One of the key aspects of technologies changing our world is that we must change our mentality as well. It means changing behavior. It means changing our structures. It means looking at work differently. It means looking at our colleagues differently and looking at our competition differently.

We can’t see things as a zero sum game, for example. Collaboration is extremely important. It’s not about trying to be competitive inside a company. It’s about working together and being transparent.

Of course the gadgets, and understanding data, and understanding how to leverage technology, is key for success in this new era, but if you don’t have the mentality … if you don’t have the culture … and the value system … that goes along with that change in technology, it’s all going to be for naught. Because you’re not going to really leverage what technology can offer your company or the industry.

Does Google focus on almost invisibly making the search process easier for the consumer?

Posner: First of all, Google has always been about being user-first. That’s been its mentality from the start. And part of being user-first is not being obnoxious. Sometimes, I’ll wake up and my phone has gone through a reboot because there has been some changes that Google has made to make my life easier. I worry that I will need to now figure it all out, but then I relax and laugh about it because, within two seconds, I figure it out.

The point is that Google is trying to constantly make my life better without pushing it out to the entire world that they’re doing that. They’re always looking for “How can we improve? How can we improve? How can we improve?” And, going back to your point about culture … that’s also part of the culture.

Is it OK to be a ‘fast follower’?

Posner: It’s definitely fine to be a follower, but put your own spin on it … so it becomes unique to you. Every new idea is somewhat derivative. You’re just adding your own spin to it to come up with something new. Remember, taking advantage of technology means taking advantage of this new culture that came with it.

It must be in the name of making either the consumer’s life easier or their life more inspired or more particularly personalized.

How does Google balance personalization and privacy?

Posner: Google takes privacy very seriously. For Google, it is very important that we maintain those boundaries when people want them. Consumers can opt out of things, for example. You don’t have to open yourself up if you don’t want to. I personally like that because I like personalization.

The only thing I don’t like about personalization is sometimes I’m not exposed to other things because the system thinks that this is what I do and don’t want all the time. You never know when something out of a consumer’s comfort zone interest them.

How important are branding and humanization in a digital world?

Posner: At the end of the day, our brands are our stories. They’re stories about our companies and products. It’s a way for consumers to understand who we are, what our values are, and what we bring to the table. At the end of the day, we want our brands to connect with consumers.

Brands should not compel us. They should not convince us through logic. They should connect with us on a human level – and they need stories to do that. So, what the digital stuff does is actually – hopefully – make those stories better because we understand human beings better. Because we’ve made it faster, we can focus more time on the storytelling and less on the digital stuff that goes on behind the background.

One of the things I try to impart, especially to creative worlds who are scared of it, is that AI can take away all the grunt work. All the work that you’d have to do by hand … AI can take that away. So, now you can take that and leverage it for more creative means, and that’s the same thing with technology. I don’t think anybody in the technology world wants to somehow usurp humanity. They just want to make it better.

Is digital going to disrupt people and current roles?

Posner: We have always tried to progress, progress, progress. I am not saying it’s always been smooth, and I’m not saying we haven’t had some bumps along the way. Part of human existence is learning how to navigate through change. I think we all want to feel like we’re growing and contributing, and when the world is growing, you want to be growing with it.

However it means trying to connect what is going to happen in the future with what you want to do, and who you want to be. There are many aspects to technology that really have no meaning to me. I just don’t care. The key is to find ways to grow and progress as the world grows and progresses.

Finally, what is the future of voice-first design?

My husband, who was late to smartphones, talks to his phone. I don’t talk to my phone. I still like typing. So, voice is really enabling people to do what they want and connect faster. It is a beautiful way to interact, and in the world of advertising we’re using it more.

I think it’s still a vastly untapped potential because it is going to simplify our lives – taking the grunt work out of typing and misspelling. But, I think we’ve just scratched the surface of it because there is something about talking that differs from other forms of communication. Other species don’t talk.

Part of my background is – and one of the reasons I became so much of a public speaker was – I leveraged my background in anthropology. Take what you’re good at and connect it to tech. When I first came to Google, I didn’t know tech. But I knew anthropology, and I knew that there was this dearth of real understanding of the role of technology in our lives.  And I said “I’m going to connect my anthropology background to that.” And so I examined all these different technologies and surfaces and so forth, and voice is the next frontier that I would love to decode and find out through an anthropological lens: What is it really and what could it do?

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