When a “Safe” Approach Really Isn’t

When a “Safe” Approach Really Isn’t

We have an experiment for you. Look at ads, websites or brochures from ten or a dozen financial services companies. Cut out the marketer’s brand, put them aside for a day, then go back for another look. Can you match the content with the brand?

Probably not. There is a certain similarity among the communications. Not outright copying — but similarity in imagery, style and promises. Any photos probably have a lot in common, with lots of handshakes, important people in important meetings, and happy people enjoying lifestyles presumably made possible by their financial products. Dive into the copy, and you’ll probably get the same impression. Lots of talk about commitment, service and being focused on clients’ needs.

This is the marketing equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Blending in with the Joneses might be a more accurate characterization. We’re not sure why so many financial marketing communications look and read so much alike. Maybe the assumption is that “our competitors must know what they’re doing — if they are saying xyz and using images of abc, that must be what motivates prospective clients.” Maybe it’s just seen as “safe.”

Blending in is safe for a herd of wildebeest. For marketers, it’s a waste of increasingly scarce marketing dollars. Signaling that you’re just like your competitors doesn’t exactly give new clients a reason to do business with you.

Standing out isn’t easy, particularly in financial services. Soft intangibles, like trust, know-how and service play a greater role in the purchase decision than in most categories. And compliance issues can make “safe” particularly appealing.

But it can be done.

The first step in standing out is right out of marketing 101. What is really different about your company and your offerings? Why do your current clients choose you? And, most important of all, how do these attributes add value? Are they enough to sway your prospect’s purchase decision? Honest answers to these questions will go a long way toward shaping the messages you need to communicate. Zero in on what matters to your clients and what you do better than anyone else.

But it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it (and how you show it). For example, a few years ago we did an advertising campaign for BNY Brokerage (now part of ConvergEx). The target audience was institutional investors. The key point of differentiation was our client’s position as the only major full service institutional broker operating on a strictly agency basis, with no potential conflicts from a proprietary trading desk.

The safe approach would have been to round up the usual images — trading desks, smiling brokers with smiling clients, etc., etc., all introduced by a headline that said something like “Our Interests Are Aligned With Yours.” A real page turner (in advertising, that’s not good).

Instead, we worked with the client to create the unexpected, something that would really stand out in the relevant digital and print environment. We developed ads built around large images of brokerage “packaging labels,” including health warnings (financial health, that is) and ingredients listings (Conflict of Interest 0%). Eye-catching, humorous, and completely distinct from anything else prospects would be seeing. BNY Brokerage got their message through the clutter.

Best of all, it didn’t require any special effects or a multi-million dollar ad budget. Just a little imagination, and the will to step out of the industry’s marketing paradigm.

1 Comment

  1. Henry
    January 17, 2012

    This is a test comment.

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