AML Head of Strategy Christian Barnes takes a look at the implications of recent months on how investment brands will be marketing themselves in the near and medium term.
As 2021 sets its teeth, it seems investment marketers, with budgets under the microscope, are faced as much with messaging considerations as with thoughts of scale and reach. A sense of partnership, understanding and showing empathy with the end customer and their intermediary gatekeepers through efficiency and value have never been more important.
At AML, we've been busy sifting through some of our own research and a host of other sources, identifying some key insights and trends which we believe will influence messaging, in Europe at least, for the foreseeable future. Some have been initiated through – and all accelerated by – Covid 19:
- Customers are fickle. We've seen data showing that, although both the expected 'flight to quality' and 'sticking to the familiar' have been strong incentives, a lack of supply and compromised service has also driven people to try new providers. This is only building on the growing trend to challenge the 'experts', governments and institutions, as to how they are behaving and throwing the whole 'way things are done' into question. Stability, confidence and resilience are highly appealing traits in brands (driving both loyalty and switch appeal).
- Customers are conflicted. The same research revealed the personal dilemma faced last year between, for example, making tax planning as efficient as possible, whilst clapping the efforts of a debatably under-funded NHS from the doorstep on a Thursday evening.
- Interdependence trumps independence. Whether it feels authentic at a personal level or not, people have been responding to inclusive, collective messaging above more overtly self-improving narratives. The sharing of human effort and responsibility in times of uncertainty is only amplified when technology facilitates it. From a customer perspective, today and tomorrow are more about 'we' than 'me'. To providers, it's less about 'us' and more focused on 'you'.
- Green is good. But hard. In the retail investment world, many of the ethical and sustainable approaches were initially rejected when the pandemic hit in favour of more 'sure-fire' traditional models. As in society at large,
that has reversed overwhelmingly since and investment brands are now faced with a continuing marketing challenge. Those that have long espoused and practised ethical investing need to find a way to cut through the surging noise that heralds the bandwagon, to land their authenticity. Those repositioning towards ethical approaches need a distinctive and relevant angle to their story that raises their brand above what are fast becoming table stakes for any provider.
- Cut-price won't cut it. Price is becoming an increasingly blunt marketing instrument. The combination of customers' reassessment of need in the face of a crisis (both for additional provision or domestic cost saving), and the regulatory directive to deliver proven 'value to investors', make price an increasingly commoditising factor among investment companies. Competitive pricing has become a pressure on all, rather than an elective tool for those with fat margins.
- Expertise is expected. Advisers in many fields are becoming appreciated for their 'life coaching' skills as much as for their expertise. As technology increasingly delivers expertise via an algorithm at an accessible price, the softer skills of empathy and understanding, experience of otherwise unfamiliar conditions of uncertainty and human trust, are all playing a greater role. This has meant customers are resorting to advisers for 'pull' reasons (the lure of a trusted, experienced friend) just as much as for 'push' (fleeing from uncertainty).
These trends have shaped the industry over the last year, but how will they influence marketing behaviour in 2021 and beyond?
Investment in brand will continue to be vital, messaging will need to be genuinely inclusive (less 'about us', more about a 'relevance to you' – with an adviser or end customer) and credible. This will likely feature less in 'broadscale' out-of-home/TV advertising and more through channels that demonstrate a proposition or set of values rather than proclaiming them. We see a strong, continued increase in investment in content marketing where great gains have been made by some in recent years. But these are crowded channels and again, whilst requiring a significant investment, the need for relevant, brand-distinctive, original content over syndicated generic material is clear.
We are also seeing providers reaching out to their intermediary channels more, offering support and tools to those interfacing with end customers to help them develop their 'softer' skills by freeing up their time with more automated products and solutions. At a wholesale level, it is again about making professionals' roles more time and cost efficient.
And as the year unfolds, product marketing will continue its resurgence overall, with propositions tailored to outcomes for both intermediary ease and end customer relevance.
Overall, we're likely to see investment marketers in 2021 and beyond guided by three, familiar key principles – albeit for less familiar reasons:
Partnership in a more specific reflection of the growing collaborative customer voice and the dizzying array of options from which to derive solutions.
Efficiency in the way in which marketing is planned and executed as well as in the benefit providers can bring to intermediaries and the lives of end customers.
Value because in times of continuing uncertainty, transparency and regulation, no-one can really justify a premium without substance (even if that substance is in the value of a relationship or experience). And delivering value in enhancing people's future quality of life is increasingly becoming a regulatory, as well as a moral imperative.