HawkPartners’ research, supported by neuroscience, has repeatedly shown that emotional factors typically trump rational ones when consumers select a product or service.  Although one might assume that the financial services category is somehow different given the inherent “rationality” of dollars and cents, we’ve found that that “softer,” latent factors play an even more prominent role in decision-making than conventional wisdom might suggest.

This dynamic presents a fundamental challenge to financial services marketers, who are often tasked with promoting their products’ rational features (e.g., “best rates,” “lowest fees,” “savviest advisors”), while not having opportunities to adequately address the “softer” factors that influence their customers’ decision making.  In HawkPartners’ Brand Authenticity Study, which assesses the factors driving perceptions of authentic brands, we found that one particular “soft” factor was especially important and a key driver of adoption in financial services: personal relevance – whether or not a provider is perceived to be for “someone like me.”

We recently sought to understand how financial services brands use advertising to demonstrate that they are personally relevant to their target customers.  We evaluated dozens of marketing campaigns from the past 5 years across a variety of financial services, including banking, credit cards, insurance, and investing in order to identify best practices for building strong, differentiated, and personally relevant brands.   While we found many different approaches to increase brand relevance, here we’ll focus on three that are shown to drive positive results:

1. Create an Emotional Connection

Financial services companies create emotional connections by appealing to target consumers’ core values, needs, or in some cases, tapping into their deepest fears or insecurities.  This often involves depicting “real life” moments to which the target audience can relate directly.

Let’s look at an example.  In 2016, Principal Financial Group sought to humanize its financial services in a way that helped customers better relate to the company.  They launched a campaign that emphasized that “life doesn’t always turn out like you expect,” depicting a variety of different real-life situations in dramatic fashion.  One spot, entitled “Graduation,” focused on the core human emotional need for security.  The spot ends with the tagline “Life doesn’t always go according to plan.  We can help you plan for that.”  The ad doesn’t even mention which financial services the company offers, or at what price (i.e., no rational elements), but rather draws the audience in with a strong emotional hook.  The campaign resulted in double-digit lift in awareness, one of the highest affinity scores in its category, and a silver ‘Effie’ award for the year’s most effective brand campaign.

2. Keep It Simple

Keeping it simple sounds so…simple.  Except in financial services that isn’t always the case, especially if you are marketing a complex product or trying to promote a nuanced advantage over a competitor.  Few keep it simple better than Ally Bank – an industry disrupter whose value proposition is a “hassle-free digital experience.”  Ally targets consumers they describe as “the money mindful” — those specifically focused on savings who are also digital banking users — with a very basic and straightforward message.

Its “Bank Facts of Life” campaign in 2015-16 sought to reinforce perceptions of Ally as a trusted online bank that uses the money it saves by avoiding expensive branches to provide great rates and outstanding customer service.  It communicates this message with humorous, straight talk: spots entitled “No Branches = Great Rates,” “Grandkids = Free Tech Support,” “Mute Buttons + Danger,” and so on.  By keeping it light, funny, and simple, Ally has convinced consumers that it is right for them and can deliver a better banking experience.

Proof points include being rated “Best Online Bank 2019” by Bankrate, Money Magazine, and NerdWallet, and the highest rated financial services firm in Siegel+Gale’s 2019 Global Simplicity Index.

3. Demonstrate Success

Other financial services brands take a different tack to prove they are personally relevant to the consumer – by focusing their marketing on results and goal attainment.  Fidelity Investments offers a great case study:  In 2016, Fidelity sought to more closely align its brand with attaining financial success, targeting proactive Type-A investors who want to “know where they stand.”

Fidelity TV ads emphasized how easy it is to “stay on track” by offering digital tools and data to help consumers reach their goals.   The ads also promoted customized advice to help investors map out a plan based on their specific needs.  In its Retirement Score spot, Fidelity provides a first-person perspective of phones, watches, tablets and refrigerators that keep people in the know, just like the Fidelity retirement score now helps keep their finances on track.

Fidelity can cite a variety of proof points that this approach is resonating with consumers, including being named “Best Online Broker” in 2018.

Which Approach is Best?

Our audit shows that there are multiple approaches that financial services marketers can take to improve personal relevance among their target consumers.  Determining the optimal approach for your brand will require several foundational building blocks:

  1. A deep understanding of your target audience, especially their latent emotional drivers and barriers to adoption
  2. A comprehensive audit of the competitive landscape, to locate white space where you can differentiate
  3. Evaluation of which advertising concepts best meet your strategic objectives through immersive consumer research

In short, focused consumer research is essential to provide the foundational insights necessary to power your next financial services brand campaign.