There’s generally a very poor understanding of the dynamics of the role of the website in retail financial services interactions today. There is an acceptance that ‘some’ customers use the web, when deciding on a new financial services relationship, but not of the critical nature of the web in that choice. Let me explain how things are different from a behavioral perspective.
The inertia assumptions
Historically the majority of acquisition in the financial services space was either from brand marketing and/or campaign activity that drove a potential customer to purchase or apply for a Retail FS product/service. There is an assumption that the web, social media, mobile and other e-channels support that goal as marketing channels where we can extend the brand and campaign paradigm. That is, we can broadcast more messages, perhaps with a tighter demographic or psychographic focus, to an audience that is more diverse in their message consumption.
The problem is that the Internet has been responsible for a significant process shift in buying behavior, namely that the dynamics of buyer response has significantly flattened. In the past marketing stimuli was used to create first awareness, then interest that led to the buyer mentally listing your ‘brand’ on a sort of short-list of providers, and then finally based on further marketing stimuli (promotion, pricing, location, features) the consumer engages with your brand for your product or service. This approach to marketing is all based on the premise that consumer behavior is latent or responds to a marketing message over a defined period of time.
Now with digital interactions being what they are, a consumer can go straight from research to purchase or need to application instantly. So the ‘stimuli’ works differently today, it needs to be a ‘live’ interaction strategy, not a message strategy that waits for a latent response. The loser in this context is the traditional marketing campaign mechanism, because a campaign is a latent stimuli tool, not an interaction tool.
The new engagement model
So in this new world, buying behavior is very different. Assume a customer needs a retail financial services product like a mortgage, a new bank account, a credit card or a personal loan – what does he or she do?
The overwhelming behavior today is to think about how they will apply for that product or service, with the least fuss. They will probably be largely ambivalent to their choice of financial services provider, in that, the fact that they have a bank account with you does not automatically mean they’ll come to you for another product necessarily. What the majority of customers will do is start by looking at their options – and for that they use Google (or perhaps YouTube) as their starting point.
This research phase is critical, because it is the empowerment of the customer. Them matching your product to their needs set. What’s critical in this stage is not the features of the product generally, but the utility of the product. Take a mortgage – how quickly can they buy their house, how much do they need to pay each month and how quickly will they own their home? They don’t start by asking what are the early pay out fees, what’s the rate, and can they change their payment terms or habits midstream.
The concept that this research needs to happen at ‘your bank’ is a holdover from our traditional branch approach to FI product sales. In fact, we build our Internet banking sites just like a branch – assuming that you’ll come, ask some questions and then apply for a product. Most of the time, we won’t let you apply for a product seamlessly through our Internet branch, and we’re aiming to push you to a ‘real’ branch. This is inertia talking and it is counter-intuitive based on behavior today.
The easiest thing to do is simply shift me straight from research to a buying action once I have you online, but the more complex that is, the more chance that I’ll simply leave your Internet branch and go looking online for a faster path to the solution. What won’t happen is that I’ll suddenly be inspired to walk into your branch and start talking to a person after reading your website.
What the new web looks like
The new web we need to build right now is a set of tools to empower customers and help them complete the buying task they are looking for as seamlessly and as frictionlessly as possible. In that environment, the rolling promotions and offers we see dominating many retail FI websites today will be largely gone, relegated to simple landing pages connected to those dying campaigns.
The new website will be rich in imagery and process workflow for the engagement process, heavily personalized around what I already know about you, either through cookies, login or something like your facebook connected profile.
Additionally, the new website will be built from the ground up to be browser agnostic. It will work on a tablet, on a mobile phone, on a laptop with a whole range of resolutions and screen sizes – seamlessly. You won’t build buttons that require a mouse click, you can use your finger. You won’t populate with lots of text or links, when big images or stories will accomplish the same stimuli to an engagement.
Coming out of all of this will be a fundamental shift in marketing budgets and team structures. In just 3 years, 30% of your website visitors will be using a non-PC screen. Social media will represent 25% of your marketing budget driving brand advocacy and participation, and 50% will be on engagement and journeys, and the rest on a supporting framework of traditional media to build broader brand awareness.