Why Financial Marketing Needs to Lighten Up!

I gave a webinar a few weeks back about how to come up with new ideas for content marketing that were fresh and fun using improv comedy. This wasn’t about being funny – it was about using principles from improv to create more fun. Many brands enjoyed it – even big tech brands. One very large and conservative financial firm asked nervously, “How can a conservative brand with a conservative voice still use humor – and isn’t that at odds? I don’t get it.” First I answered the second part: No; it’s not at odds with a conservative voice. And I believe that because I’ve seen it. And, yes, I know it’s a regulated industry. And using that as an excuse to have boring content doesn’t work. I wrote about this three years ago in a 3-part series. Here’s the thing: I am passionate about this because humanizing brands with stories and content is what I do.

Conservative does not mean boring

Conservative does not mean boring

The idea that a conservative financial brand with heritage cannot benefit from a lighter touch is an outdated way of thinking that won’t help conservative firms who need to adapt marketing for younger audiences as they will need to do.

It’s also an over-simplistic belief because it conflates conservative voice (or market) with a mandate to have conservative (boring!) marketing content. They are not the same. Moreover, being funny (and humor that is over the top) is not the same as having a fun, lighthearted piece of content. So if funny is too much and it might very well be for a conservative voice, it does not mean fun can’t serve you well. In fact, I’d say, you likely need fun more than other, less boring industries. Customers of financial firms don’t check their human cards at the door when they do business with you. No one does.

I also recognize that this question is coming from a place of fear. “What happens if it doesn’t go well?” is always a concern. I get it. And yet, if well thought out, fun can make a difference in social engagement and business for your firm.

First A Few Great Examples

There are more examples out there and I am seeing more all the time. That’s a great thing. More banks, insurance companies, and credit unions are getting the message. Here are a few (not an exhaustive list) I really like:

AllState’s Mayhem – the over-the-top personification of risk. You don’t have to be over the top to get a reaction. In this case, however, it worked because it dealt with the universal fear of risk in a funny way – by humanizing ‘risk’ and creating scenarios that are really unlikely to happen to most people. It takes fear out of the realm of grounded possibility so we can laugh at it.

Affinity Plus Credit Union – tired of being fleeced by bank fees? This video is pretty great.

Barclays in the UK – this conservative bank built an interactive game that was incredibly popular and designed to teach kids about money: 56 Sage Street

Wells Fargo – organized a flash mob in Times Square that became great video/social media content

State Farm – disappearing agents content

T Rowe Price – created a microsite and an illustrated video-storybook to help people set up college funds for their kids (did I mention it’s T Rowe Price?!)

And, one of my favorite examples of lightening up content comes from Marketo, an enterprise software company. Sure, it’s not a financial services firm; still, Marketo is a b2b to company that sells to big enterprises. Yet, it created a Big Marketing Activity Coloring Book for corporate marketers and it was one of the most downloaded pieces of content the company ever created (one of the great pieces of content created by Jason Miller who is now at LinkedIn). And, it successfully fueled the company’s lead gen!

And it’s not just video. Think about ways to add fun to your social media stories, your voicemails, your emails, your out of the office scripts, contests for your members, your ATM receipt (HSBC Australia created ATM receipts that had origami instructions on the back!). All of it. There are many ways to have fun. Be creative.

Just recently, I helped a credit union by bringing in Millennials for a lunch and we asked them how they would run the bank if they were in charge. We recorded their answers and they came up with a lot of fun ideas that are being implemented – from apps and gamification to contests and young entrepreneurs events – there are ways to bring a lighter touch to content and events.

Why it Matters

No one says you have to have fun content; it helps, though. Here’s why:

1. People are people, as Depeche Mode sang. Research shows that Millennials value humor and, yes, they want to learn how to invest better. But a conservative investment firm does not have to have boring marketing. And financial services firms need to attract Millennials and their money. It’s as simple as that. People don’t want to be bored. People want to have fun. They want a reprieve from all the bad marketing content shoved at them every day. There is very little risk in trying small things just to start. I think the bigger risk is doing nothing. Because most financial marketing is about as un-human as you can get. Yes, the status quo no longer works in an age of data overload.

2. Remember that marketing is always about people and their passions. People invest for different reasons. For most people, it’s not about the money itself – it’s the freedom money allows them. Then they can live their lives and do what they want. What are their passions? It’s probably not reading your conservative, boring content. I promise you. Unless they need the sleep!

3. Many financial services firms suffer from a lack of differentiation. It’s a hyper-competitive industry. So, when you stand out and connect at a human level even with a little fun, you show that you are different. Again, you don’t need to go over-the-top crazy; you just need to lighten up a bit to make a difference and be memorable. And you can test your stuff on a sample audience.

I’ve said it before and I will again every time I get this same question from conservative financial companies. Don’t conflate a conservative heritage and voice (and perhaps even investment strategies) with having to be boring and conservative in the way you present ideas. Your customers may be financially conservative; however, they still want fresh, new, even fun ways of getting information and learning. You can present serious topics in a way that is going to be heard! Forget trying to be funny. Just try for fun.

So to the conservative financial firms that still don’t get it: it’s OK. I understand the fear. However, you are not the only conservative industry and it also sounds like an excuse not to evolve. “You don’t understand. We’re conservative. That won’t work here.” I disagree. Your competition – who is taking aim at younger audiences and busier people who have data fatigue, will figure it out. And if your marketing doesn’t evolve to capture new ways people learn, take in information and take into account how younger audiences communicate, good luck.

What do you think? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Image source: http://www.gratisography.com/#people

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