key learnings financial brands must carry forwards into 2021

By Tamara Littleton, CEO of The Social Element

This year has certainly thrown every business in at the deep end – and in terms of communication, we’ve seen both sinkers and swimmers across the board. If finance companies have learned anything from 2020, it’s that being able to respond quickly to any form of crisis should be their top priority going into a new year.

Over the past several months, it’s been critical for brands to respond to the rapid change in circumstance and consumer behaviours, and offer solutions in the hour of need. It has emphasised the need for close contact with the customer, but also for empathy in how the brand speaks to them: in a year where nobody has been sure which way is up, understanding and humanity have demonstrated their importance in brand comms.

For finance brands in particular, they have been faced with increasing consumer anxiety. Financial worries are deepening in the emerging recession, and there’s been a pressing need to act quickly to replace their front line connection with customers as bank branches closed, with attention turning to seamless digital replacements. As we head into a new year, here are the most critical learning points for finance brands as they prepare their 2021 comms strategies.

Agility feeds authenticity

By necessity, financial institutions have become agile in terms of moving between digital and physical service, as well as in flexing their social media muscles to respond to an ever-changing news agenda – with realtime impact on people’s lives. Whilst it may appear that a light is finally shining at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of a vaccine, having this agile approach to both business and marketing strategies must continue into the new, uncertain year.

We’ve seen how quickly things can turn sour and those that aren’t able to respond quickly and with humanity will be at risk of communicating in a way that alienates their consumers – this is a fact that will not change even with the end of Covid-19 restrictions. This is why investment in a strong digital marketing strategy is essential. Channels like social media allow brands to speak directly with their customers and provide a direct line of information that consumers are looking for – and being able to respond agilely across a variety of public health backdrops is now crucial.

Tamara Littleton

Tamara Littleton

Traditionally, financial organisations built trust on the idea of their legacy. Consumers were willing to trust these companies based on their historical strength – the bigger the legacy, the safer they felt entrusting their money to that bank. But as a result of COVID, a new trust-building exercise has come into play that is here to stay. Now, trust is about transparency and being there for the consumer when they need help. Being able to communicate seamlessly with customers, to offer instant answers to their concerns, and provide digital solutions that provide transparent access to money is what will drive positive connections with consumers. For now, the sector has been successful with the public’s trust in financial services reaching an all-time high of 65 per cent amid the pandemic. However, as we enter a new phase of living, they must work hard to continue adding value with the products and services they offer and maintain a supportive position in their consumer’s lives.

To learn, you must listen

Without listening to what people are concerned about, banks run the risk of promoting inappropriate messaging. Reverting to a corporate tone of voice, as is usually the instinct of the financial services sector, at a time when customers are angry, confused or inquisitive can be as damaging as no response.

Measuring social sentiment, regular surveys and focus groups will be key to getting instant reactions to the news as it unfolds. They can then zoom in on what their customers care about and help drive a valuable conversation – and critically work out what role, if any, their brand has to play in discussing the issues at hand.

Actions speak louder than words (but we should use those, too)

After a year dominated by transformative moments, from the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement to an increasing emphasis on the need to tackle climate change, consumers are no longer satisfied with brands that just say the right thing. We are past the point of talking and are now at the time to take action on these issues.

It is time for major financial players to rethink the part they play in this narrative as brand accountability will be a necessity moving forward. To do this effectively, these businesses need to tune themselves into the social consciousness of society and adapt their content strategy accordingly – using those aforementioned listening tools to understand how best to do so.

Of course, words are nothing without action. In September last year, the UN Environment Programme launched the Principles for Responsible Banking. These principles are in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. Over 220 banks have undergone the strict impact assessments and analysis to join the coalition. In response to Covid-19, they’ve helped support their customers by sharing practices and solutions with each other and allocating financial support to help their clients.

Financial brands need to continue on this trajectory. Communication needs to be fast, responsive, helpful and based on genuine empathy – which means tone, but also means in actions. If financial institutions can nail the action and connect this with their messaging, they’ll unite with their customers and build long-lasting relationships that help them to gain and keep customers well into an uncertain future.

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