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January 27, 2020

Communications professionals — including CMOs and CCOs — are modern-day storytellers. It is our mission to convey what our brand represents and where customers fit into the narrative. If a financial services institution exists to serve its clients, then those clients must have a clear and central role in everything we do. But first, you must know who your customers are, where they are, what matters and how to engage with them. How? With optimal use of data.

Any financial services brand likely has a trove of data on customers, from basics such as age and location to more detailed information on spending, savings and investing habits. Marketing to current clients is picking the low-hanging fruit — you know them and have clearly done something right in attracting and retaining them. However, if you continuously look to this group alone, then you risk reviewing a skewed audience sampling and, more critically, you risk missing out on potential growth for your organization.

Before you tell your story, step back and think about who is listening and who else should be. Step away from your organization’s own data pool and access the vast amount of external research and data available at your fingertips. Your findings will likely impact not only what your story says, but how and where it is told.

Play to the audience

Good performers know how to read their audiences and adjust their acts to keep them engaged until the final bow. With a financial services brand, you have the advantage of time — time to conduct in-depth researh that will enable you to truly understand your audiences before delivering your best lines. New consumer studies and surveys are released with great regularity, so get to know your audiences based on what they report, from where and how they consume information or conduct financial transactions to the issues keeping them up at night.

Put a name and a face to each audience targeted, literally. By creating personas that represent target markets, you and your team can develop a better sense of what makes them tick. A persona may include factors like age, gender, educational level, career and homeownership, as well as hobbies, interests, pain points, and financial and family goals. Additionally, media consumption and online behavior are critical, as they will influence how you convey your story. Use as much data as possible to build out personas, as having more insights into an audience will enable a more focused — and likely more successful — interaction.

Avoid sweeping generalities

Once you begin delving into your target audiences, you may find some conflicting data within groups, but variations are expected. Consider generational differences: Boomers may be influenced by information direct from financial institutions or face-to-face interactions; Gen Xers may rely on a mix of expert advice and self-education; and millennials tend to get information from a variety of sources, especially online, and are largely influenced by their peers, families and social networks.

No single persona, however, can represent an entire generation. For example, depending on their location or background, some millennials may behave more like Gen Xers, or vice versa. Create and follow subgroups to capture and understand their distinguishing characteristics so you can be better prepared to tailor your story when needed.

Review where and how you connect

Once audiences are better defined by research, you may need to rethink where and how connections are made. Maybe your brand has been promoting financial literacy by creating a library of content on your website, but traffic has been lackluster. The data used to develop personas should provide clues about whether the content is relevant, both in terms of its information and in its delivery. If your target is a subgroup of millennials, quick three- to five-minute podcasts might be more attractive and easily digestible than lengthy articles, and some paid advertising may be needed to drive potential listeners to those podcasts.

If your financial services brand is constantly being overshadowed by a competitor in one communications channel, think about a roundabout way to make inroads. Building thought leadership among the trades, for example, could be accomplished through creating compelling dialogue in other channels and among related influencers that then cascades over.

Seek out a sounding board

In a day and age with so much data available, take in as much as you can to make the most informed decisions for your financial services brand. Use data to know your audiences and understand how to be relevant in terms of content and channels, and consider consulting with experts to fine-tune your strategy. 

If you're interested in learning about other ways to make impactful changes in 2020, check out my top six financial marketing resolutions.

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