OPINION How financial services marketers can succeed with personalisation

Lottie Namakando

Lottie Namakando, Head of Paid Media at digital marketing agency iCrossingUKhighlights the dos and don’ts of personalisation.

Personalisation presents something of a tricky conundrum for the financial services sector. Getting it wrong can have serious consequences. This can be in the form of diminished consumer trust or penalties from the regulators and powerful tech platforms, not to mention terrible PR.

These well founded concerns can lead to a ‘safety-first’ mindset and an avoidance strategy. But this can come at the cost of actually doing what a financial services business was set up to do – namely providing the best and most relevant financial service to its customers. Personalisation is a prize still worth seeking.

Finances are of course vital, but for many people they are fiendishly complex. To navigate these tricky waters, consumers need a friendly, authoritative guide speaking in plain English. With the myriad of digital touchpoints there is a compelling case for customised and consistent content from tailored ads, emails to website landing pages.

There is also an appetite among consumers for personalisation. Accenture’s 2019 Global Financial Services Consumer Study found one in two consumers saying they’d be happy to receive personalised financial advice from banks, including spending habit reports and advice on how to manage money.

However weighed against this, the reality is, not everyone wants to feel as though they’re being monitored – particularly when it comes to their finances. In a survey of more than 2,500 customers, Gartner found that more than half would unsubscribe from a company’s communications and 38% would stop doing business with a company if they found personalisation “creepy”. Additionally, Google has specific guidelines around negative financial status in personalised advertising, so financial institutions should proceed cautiously. So how to get it right?


1)               Provide clarity

Brands need to reframe their thinking in tackling personalisation. Rather than being scared into submission by its complexity, they should start by understanding its chief benefits. When executed well, personalisation should be an audience aid, guiding people through the complexity of the finance industry. Having a relentless focus on customer experience and relevance can help us understand how we can unlock its full potential.

For instance, think about the way a potential customer would be treated if they came to a bank or a building society for the first time. You would of course wait for them to sign up and share their information before giving tailored and authoritative advice based on their situation. Like with any relationship, it’s about winning trust before sharing more sensitive information. When approached correctly, personalisation really will help FSI brands set themselves apart from competitors of all descriptions.


2)               Get the martech set up right

In order to reach your target customers in the digital realm you will need to work with the big tech platforms in order to reach a relevant audience at scale. Restrictions on targeting exist across many different paid media platforms and are being tightened greatly. Google recently made a landmark announcement on a ‘privacy-first web’ and Apple’s recent iOS operating system changes required developers to request users’ permission to track their online activity. This was a key way Facebook and other ad-based platforms were able to collect information about users to target them with ads.

It is prudent early on to examine the technical capabilities of the marketing platforms you wish to use, to understand if they support the personalisation strategy you have in mind. Auditing the audience targeting options and restrictions by platform is a good place to start.


3)               Keep personalisation consistent

Paid media personalisation certainly isn’t the norm for any FSI brands at the moment, but has the potential to provide relevant, timely advertising that is welcomed by the end user. It has been a staple of so many industries for some time now. Key to getting this right is ensuring consistency, which is a key way of hitting KPIs. For example, when a customer clicks on a personalised paid ad they would then want this to lead to a personalised landing page. However, if they are then taken to a generic landing page, the initial promise of relevancy is not delivered meaning a poor customer experience is the result. This will then negatively impact the KPIs.

An added complication is that personalised content needs to be dynamically generated – something that Google can have issues with. The reality is that for any personalised landing page not behind a login, you need to decide what Google should see. The trouble is the answer is rarely straightforward. You don’t want to risk a Google penalty by showing users content that’s radically different from the non-personalised version.


4)                A listening process

Personalisation projects need to be carefully considered and planned. Within this context, it is vital for financial services providers to listen carefully to customers. Consumer research could help determine how they feel about different levels of personalisation and what the fine balance is between risk and reward of going down this pathway. At what point does the customer view interest as ‘creepy’? Some of the areas to be considered include:

– The level of comfort customers have receiving personalised marketing from a financial services provider.

– The right offers/incentives to entice a customer to provide their personalised information – is there a point when customers feel personalisation has gone too far?

After listening, taking the right action is the key priority. Use the insights gleaned and research to then construct an audience and messaging matrix. This is something that will be both relevant for them and for your business. Crucial to this is defining the audience, what are their distinct personas and what level of personalisation is relevant to each of them.


5)               Test and learn

Once the platform capabilities and the consumer’s views on personalisation are fully understood, the final part of the approach should be ‘test and learn’. What signals are available to be able to target these differently defined audience groups? Is it via platform curated audiences – increasingly important in a post third-party cookie world or 1st party audience data?

Using this framework, a good approach is testing two different audience groups. Our recommendation is testing what type of messaging resonates best with them, then having clearly defined and relevant engagement KPIs such as clickthrough rate or view rate to evaluate performance. Comparing a version of an ad which relates specifically to the audience, versus one with a more general messaging, we can identify themes or phrases which really speak to the target audience. The results can often be surprising, challenging preconceived ideas about which messages might land. The advice here is always to go with the data, not with a gut instinct.

Personalisation is not something to be feared by FSI companies, but like with financial decisions, an equation of risk and reward needs to be considered in deciding how and when to use it. When used correctly it can strengthen customer relationships and help power future growth. Those that lean in early will reap the rewards.

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