2020 and beyond: Financial services marketing

Purpose and meaning give finserv brands a chance to rise above.

BY Kim Caviness
EVP, Chief Content Officer, Imagination

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rohit Bhargava, the bestselling author of Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future (out now). After analyzing the previous decade of business and culture, the former ad exec and current Georgetown professor identified the trends that will shape the next 10 years ahead.

When Bhargava studies the marketing trends of the last decade—a rough one for banks—what does he see as a defining opportunity for finserv marketers, who are battle weary from consumer-trust, brand-differentiation and tech-upstart challenges?

We only have to look to the seventh megatrend in his just-released book in the chapter covering “Purposeful Profit.” It’s “definitely a theme I’m looking at: purpose and meaning,” Bhargava says. And it’s one that he’s written about before.

Financial services marketing must find its purpose

Purpose has taken up residence in our wallets, Bhargava says. “It’s this idea that we as people are increasingly seeing how we spend as a reflection of our own values and as a way of impacting the world in the positive direction that we wanted it to go.”

“That’s why you’re seeing unthinkable things starting to happen now, like Walmart moving away from selling some of the guns, which you would have never thought would happen a couple years ago. It reflects a new business reality where companies are not only expected to do business in more ethical ways, but also they are finding that doing so pays off in tangible business results.”

Purposeful profit started in retail and has more recently landed in finserv, partly as a reaction to Gen Z’s distrust of banking and credit, thanks to mountain-sized college loans. Consumers’ quests for purposeful spending will define the next decade’s financial services.

Companies are not only expected to do business in more ethical ways, but also they are finding that doing so pays off in tangible business results.

Rohit Bhargava
author, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future

This trend will have legs, Bhargava predicts. That said, it’s one thing to frequent CVS to reward its historic decision to stop selling tobacco products in 2015 because you believe in its healthful mission. But it’s a whole other to ask people to take the time off from work to go to their bank, fill out a million forms, reroute automatic payments, and transfer accounts and money.

“Is [purpose] the reason why people switch banks?” asks Bhargava. “Not yet—but I think that there’s a huge aspect of that for the people who are starting banking relationships. Think how important the college audience has been for a long, long time for banks. Because they know once you get them at that age, that they tend to keep their accounts for decades afterwards.”

Then, there’s a second benefit for financial services: hiring. “Purpose increasingly matters from a recruitment point of view,” says Bhargava. “That’s always been a big challenge for banks because they’re all trying to fight for the top talent. And now that top talent is saying, ‘Hey, what do you believe? What do you stand for? And can I, as an individual, go to my friends and my family and my social network and say I’m working here and feel good about myself? Because if I can’t, then I don’t need to. I’m going to go somewhere else.’”

Fair warning, finserv. Find and communicate your purpose—or get left behind.

The marketing opportunity for financial services brands

Put your money where your purpose is. Purpose is how you ask for trust. Content is how you convert your ask by skillfully explaining the meaning of your purpose and why it benefits the end user. A purpose story told well drives consumer signups and attracts talent. “Sitting on the sidelines is not enough,” writes Bhargava. “Now companies must work to earn consumers’ trust through positive business models, ethical treatment of workers, charitable good deeds, socially responsible sourcing and a daily commitment to purpose along with profit.”

The takeaway: Dig deep, do the work and identify your purpose. Make it authentic. You can’t claim to support a cause and not embed it in how you do business. It’s worth the effort, he says. Financial institutions that do it well will be rewarded.

Rohit Bhargava's latest book, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, is out now.

This is the third article of a three-part series on 2020 marketing trends, which also covers Bhargava's outlook on the marketing trends that B2B companies and associations should account for in their marketing strategies over the coming decade.

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published: May 17, 2020