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Matt Cunard, Sr. Digital Marketer

When you first find out you’re going to a huge marketing conference in Las Vegas, a lot of thoughts flood through your mind. Many of them have nothing to do with marketing.  

It was going to be my first time in Vegas, and I had no idea what to expect. Would I get sucked into a high stakes poker game, eventually taking home the grand prize, or find myself dubiously stumbling into a mob-affiliated situation in which I’d end up buried out in the desert?  

As of writing this, my checking account is not flush with cash, and I’m still breathing.  

But all kidding aside, the Financial Brand Forum was a bit like a poker game at an actual casino for me: I’d played before, but never at this high a level. It was unlike any other conference I’ve been to, not just because of the location, but in how well it was run and the level of speakers they brought in.  

As the conference went on, I realized the current financial marketing climate is a bit like a game of poker, and we’re sitting with some very different and interesting characters: Millennials, mobile and our approach to marketing in general. Here’s how you can get to know these players and their tendencies to work with them instead of against them.    

Player: Millennials

We’ve known Millennials were coming for a while, yet now that they’re here we’re not sure how to read them. The newcomers to the poker table, they give off a bit of a whiney and entitled vibe, yet they sport a Greenpeace T-shirt and constantly talk about all the fundraisers they’ve taken part in. Here’s what you need to know about Millennials.  

Note: as a Millennial, I’ll use “we” and “us” when referring to this generational group.  

Jason Falls, Elasticity– “Wealth, technology and parental empowerment shaped who Millennials are.” Thinking about the Millennial generation, most commonly thought of as those born between 1980 and 2000, it’s important to know a few things about how we were raised:

  • We grew up during a time of general economic prosperity
  • The middle class was strong, with pervasive wealth and a high standard of living
  • This allowed us to have the latest and greatest in technology for productivity, entertainment and keeping in touch with others
  • But most importantly, we were empowered; we were told by our parents that whatever our dreams were, if we worked hard and were determined, they would come true.

 And then 2008 happened. The economy tanked right as many of us started our adult lives. We graduated college with more debt than any previous generation into an economy that wasn’t hiring as many of us; those who were finding jobs found wages lower than expected. Consequently, we as a generation trust banks less and have changed what it means to be financially successful today.  

Deepanjan De, Industry Lead of Financial Services, Facebook- “Millennials define success far differently than previous generations.” For many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, being able to afford nice things was how they knew they “made it.” The opposite is true for Millennials, as was pointed out by Deepanjan De from a Facebook study published in January 2016:

  • 46 percent said living free of debt is their definition of financial success
  • 21 percent said owning a home is their marker of financial success
  • 16 percent identified financial success as “buying experiences” instead of things
  • 13 percent said their vision of financial success was being able to retire
  • Only 4 percent said “buying nice things” was how they measure their financial success

So, how should we interact with Millennials?  

Jason Falls- “Millennials are not a target, but should be thought of as potential collaborators.” In case you haven’t noticed, Millennials love causes. We will support causes that align with our values. We love being a part of and building something that does good, and we will start Facebook pages and create memes all day long to support these causes.  

When looking at businesses, especially our banking partners, we want to know what your values are and if we’ll be proud to bank with you. A big part of that is having the chance to provide feedback and to be a part of something. So forget about your slick marketing campaigns you have “targeted” toward us and ask us what we think.  

Player: Mobile

Mobile is a crafty player. He’s been around for a little while now, and while you think you know his tendencies, he continues to surprise you with his evasiveness. He constantly stalls the game as he feels the need to Instagram and Snapchat everything. Here’s a better approach to nailing down mobile.  

Jason Falls- “Mobile is not a place, but rather a circumstance.” Instead of focusing on the device, we should keep our eyes on any medium that our audience may consume while mobile. So yes, mobile responsive websites and apps are great, but kiosks, streaming radio (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) and a handful of other options should be looked at as well.  

Deepanjan De- “Because of the customization mobile phones provide, they are an extremely intimate place.” Think about this for a moment: when you turn your phone on and punch in your passcode, what do you see? The apps you have selected as being important to you. To put it another way, you’ll share a laptop, TV or other piece of technology with close friends and family members if they need it. Your phone? Not so much.  

When looking at a mobile strategy, my fellow marketers, we need to ensure that the messages we are sending are contextually relevant (done through specific segmentation and geo-targeting) and are delivered to more than just mobile devices.  

Player: Marketing Approach

This guy’s an old-timer. He’s always worn the same dusty, dull outfit and played loose with his cash until recently. He’s cleaned up his appearance, and doesn’t throw away a lot of chips unnecessarily. He keeps a close eye on patterns, and he’s definitely done his research on you, mobile and Millennials to know what you’re thinking before you even know what you’re thinking.   Here’s how you can make the best of your marketing approach and go from inefficient and outdated to methodical and cutting edge.  

Anson Vuong, Gallup- “Customer satisfaction and customer engagement are not equal.” In his talk about “Extracting ROI from Consumer Insights,” Anson Vuong talked about customer satisfaction and customer engagement and how they are not the same idea. Here’s the difference:

  • Satisfaction- “My bank has the right products and services, great rates and they are located near me.”
  • Engagement- “They do what they say, I feel proud to be a customer, and I can’t imagine a company who is a better fit for me.”

Our strongest competitive advantage then is the engagement of our customers, not a fancy product, service or tool. And the data shows that customers who are fully engaged in a financial institution (bank or credit union) uses more of that institution’s products and services and generates more business. While I can’t divulge the exact information because it was proprietary and only made available to those at the conference, I can say with certainty that a large part of our focus as marketers should be ensuring our customers are engaged.  

Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist– “Focus on out-thinking the competition, not simply trying to out-spend or out-creative them.” There are so many marketing agencies and brands sending out millions of messages every day that it can be hard to cut through the clutter. Being able to get your message noticed isn’t always a matter of out-spending or having the coolest creative. In instances of great marketing, the key is to out-think the competition instead of trying to do what they’re doing better.  

In order to achieve this mode of productivity, “advertising should be viewed as a tax for unremarkable thinking,” Tom said. I love this because it gives us a way out of the tool-centric, we-need-to-be-on-every-channel line of thinking that is so pervasive in marketing.  

New tools are awesome, especially when you’re initially learning all of their benefits and how they’ll make your life so much easier/awesomer/sexier. But tools come with costs. If we can take a portion of the budget we’re spending on advertising that isn’t getting us results and to put toward remarkable thinking – preferably with customers at the center – we can not only drive results, but we can boost the positive views of our brands and maybe do some good in the process.  

All of these players add something to the mix. But various playing styles is what makes a game of poker exhilarating; similarly, variation and always trying to solve the puzzle of “what works best” keeps marketing exciting.   My advice for the next time you head to the “casino?” Take the time to understand each of your key players before throwing down your chips. You may just find yourself walking out with cash in hand instead of going home broke.


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