Guest Post: What the Best Financial Advisors Can Teach Marketers

January 11, 2010

This is the 4th in a series of periodic guest posts. Libby J. Dubick is President of financial services consulting firm Dubick & Associates. Ms. Dubick has extensive experience in investment product strategy, marketing, and distribution at Goldman Sachs & Co. and Citibank.

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Let’s be honest:  there are probably few Marketers out there who believe financial services has anything positive to teach them these days. There’s no question that financial services marketing has received a good deal of negative press recently. But whether it’s during economic upswings or recessionary times, there’s one aspect of marketing where financial services marketers may be ahead of the curve:  the importance of trust in the selling process.

What Can the Best Financial Advisors Teach Marketers ?

Different Types of Trust

A University of Virginia Darden School of Business study identified two types of consumer trust:

  1. “Competence-based” Trust is the confidence that a company has the knowledge, skills and experience required to provide a service. This is foundational–without it, there’s no chance that a customer will choose a firm. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
  2. “Benevolence-based” Trust is the belief that a firm will put the client’s interest first. While this might seem self-evident, the recent actions and  behaviors of individuals and firms–e.g. Madoff and pyramid schemes, out-sized bonuses for bankers taking TARP funding, etc.–certainly suggests that this can’t be taken for granted.

Both kinds of trust are required as consumers expect expertise and available knowledge before purchasing a product or service (for more on brand transparency, see  “Why Your Brand Needs to be “Open & Transparent”).

After the market collapse of 2008 and the Madoff scandal, many financial firms and advisors have dedicated the last year to winning back consumer confidence, respect, and trust. And many of these financial advisers did just that–they retained clients and maintained their referral flow, keeping their business healthy and vibrant, despite the most toxic economic environment since the great depression.

What Can All Marketers Learn From The Best Client Advisors ?

  • Listen to Clients  – Smart advisors don’t assume what their clients want or need – they ask them. While this interaction should occur all of the time, it’s particularly important when markets decline. This is basic Marketing 101–staying close to your customer in good times and bad–but always bears reinforcing.
  • Be Responsive — Many advisors made a point of returning all client calls on the same day, and not when it was convenient for them. Research conducted by the Spectrem Group, which surveys high net worth investors, found that responsiveness is the most important service attribute (even more than advisor knowledge or overall client satisfaction). Do your clients find themselves contentedly speaking with a helpful and empathetic employee, or trapped in telephone tree? Reaching out to your customer when times are tough is exactly the time they need it most — and builds trust and confidence.
  • Establishing trust: essential for financial advisors, and marketers.

  • Demonstrate Expertise — When economic times became rocky, financial advisors that sent weekly updates to their clients became their primary source of financial news. Through newsletters, email blasts, and website updates, these advisors were able to shape and color their clients’ knowledge base and perception. As an expert, news about your company or industry should come from you – or you risk allowing others to shape your customers views.
  • Be Transparent — Financial advisors have added pricing and process to their annual reviews to ensure clients understand fees and value added. Too many consumers have experienced a sales promotion that offers very little merchandise, or purchased an item online only to find “handling” charges that inflate the price. Marketers who want their products and firms to be viewed as trustworthy are open and transparent and don’t play those kinds of pricing games.

Financial services firms have a lot of work to do to regain the public’s confidence and trust. Buried within every major financial services firm, however, are financial advisors who have demonstrated to their clients that they can be trusted.

They do this by listening, being responsive, demonstrating expertise, being open and transparent, and asking thoughtful questions. In today’s digitally connected, always on world, where consumers are more empowered than ever, these are actions that all Marketers can benefit from–whether in financial services or any other industry.

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Should CMO’s Lead the Corporate Growth Agenda ?

December 28, 2009

From my December 6th guest post on Mike Ferry’s  blog “Leading Good Brands to Greatness” and December 22 guest post on Branding Strategy Insider:

The CMO’s job is simple—to drive growth, right? As Lou Gerstner ex-IBM and American Express CEO once put it: the role of Marketing is to build the brand and deliver a great customer experience. But is it really that simple?

At the recent CMO Club Summit in San Francisco, I was part of a panel discussion with Joe Ennen, SVP Consumer Brands at Safeway and Scott Thurm, Management Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, titled “CMO’s as Leaders of the Corporate Growth Agenda.”

How CMO's can Lead the Corporate Growth Agenda (image courtesy of CorpGrowth.net)

Scott led off the discussion by reframing the topic, asking, “What are the barriers to CMO’s leading the corporate growth agenda?” Joe, Scott and I spent the session discussing and debating this important question. To see another take on this topic, see Brand Autopsy’s “The New Complete Marketer.”

Barriers to CMO’s Leading the Corporate Growth Agenda

CEO/CMO Alignment – The best CMO is a CEO who believes in Marketing. The CMO’s ability to lead the corporate growth agenda starts with alignment with and support from the CEO. Not all business models and CMO’s are created equal. The role of Marketing in an organization can vary widely. And the CMO role can range from a narrow Marcom role all the way to something like a Chief Growth Officer. The CEO and CMO must be aligned on the role of Marketing in the organization for the CMO to effectively lead the growth agenda (see my blog post “Leading Your Brand Beyond Marketing”).

Growth Means More Than Marketing – The CMO has to think more broadly than Marketing. What are all of the potential growth drivers – Marketing or otherwise ? Companies such as Zappos.com have actually gone so far as to define a non-Marketing function like customer service as Marketing. A critical part of the CMO’s job is to understand the business model and all potential drivers of growth.This is becoming even more important as digital and social media blur the lines between Marketing, Public Affairs and Customer Service.

For example, at UBS, we learned from Corporate Reputation research that being “open and transparent” was a key driver of reputation, and that reputation scores correlated  with “willingness to refer others” and other business growth metrics. This led the Marketing function to explore programs to communicate to stakeholders in more open and transparent ways.

Corporate Growth: More than Marketing.

CMO as Voice of the Customer – Another key barrier to the CMO driving the corporate growth agenda is customer neglect. The CMO needs to continually advocate for keeping the customer front and center. All CMO’s could learn from A.G. Lafley, ex CEO of Procter & Gamble, who continually reminded employees that “the consumer is boss.”

Customer satisfaction surveys not only measure satisfaction. They also measure the important factors contributing to satisfaction and quantify the relationship between those factors and satisfaction. Understanding these drivers enables Marketing to define areas outside Marketing that are central to driving growth.

For example, at UBS we learned that client contact frequency was an important satisfaction driver—more was better. Yet, the majority of client advisers were contacting clients well below the threshold. This led to a concentrated effort to improve contact frequency—and drive growth.

Connecting Customer Needs with Enterprise AssetsI stressed the important role the CMO plays in getting the organization to think about the entirety of the enterprise’s assets and capabilities. Connecting customer needs with assets from outside a business unit is a great way to drive growth—and one that organizational structure often stymies.

Crest: Consumers had an unmet need for whiter teeth, and paste formulations simply didn’t do the job. A smart R&D person connected this need with synthetic bleach technology from laundry and substrate technology from paper making to create—voila–Crest WhiteStrips.

Amex Gift Card consumers wanted to buy the cards in retail. The Amex Gift Card group had no relationships with grocery and drug store chains, but another group within Amex did. So, the organization leveraged the other organizations retailer relationships to facilitate introductions and help gain distribution in over 70k locations in less than two years.

Keys to CMO Success

CMO’s clearly have a tough job, with an average lifespan of just 28 months. Lou Gerstner’s formula for CMO success is a good starting point, but CMO’s need to go further.

Building the  brand and delivering a great customer experience plus driving the corporate growth agenda can help CMO’s and their firms be more successful in the future.

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Zapped by Zappos – Learnings from CEO as CMO Tony Hsieh

November 9, 2009

The best CMO is a CEO who believes in Marketing. By this definition, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, must be one of the best CMO’s around. Hsieh, known for his firm’s digital and social networking prowess, had over 870k Twitter followers the last time I checked. I recently talked with Tony after he participated in a “What’s Your Digital?” panel discussion. And what he had to say might surprise you.

TonyHsieh

Tony Hsieh -- The Zappos CEO as CMO

Zapped by Zappos

Before that, however, let me tell you about my own Zappos experience—which is instructive. Seeking a pair of dress shoes for my new job, I went on-line to Zappos, and saw a great pair of shoes on the Mezlan Zappos homepage. I searched for the shoes all over the site — to no avail. Exasperated, I sent Zappos an e-mail, asking: “where are those great looking shoes?” No response. I sent another e-mail, and waited…and waited.

Finally, I received a short e-mail:  “Yes, you’re correct; we don’t carry that particular pair of shoes and will remove the photo from our site.” And they did. In fact, here’s the new picture sans shoes:

Mezlan_Shoes

Mezlan on Zappos - Without the Shoes

This is great customer service? So, I related my story to Tony. He seemed mortified, especially after talking about how much Zappos cares about customer experience. He then followed up to have someone reach out to understand what happened so they could fix it, followed by an offer to send me a free pair of any shoes I wanted. Now, not everyone gets to talk to the CEO about their poor customer experience, but Zappos clearly IS different.

What Makes Zappos Different?

Simply stated, Zappos believes that customer service = marketing. Instead of spending loads of money on traditional (and non-traditional) marketing, they focus intensely on delivering a great customer experience—and recovering from mistakes with grace and humility. Tony believes that “the Zappos brand manifests itself through every employee/customer interaction,” and that brand is a lagging indicator of customer experience. His key points:

  • “The phone is a great marketing tool” – I’m not taking about mobile marketing here. Tony made the point that 5 minutes with a customer on the phone is far better Marketing than any web experience can ever deliver. He loves the phone and bricks and mortar touch points and thinks they are often undervalued by companies.
  • “Culture is our number 1 priority” – Many companies talk a good game about culture, but Zappos actually lives it and uses it as a core part of their business model. Zappos has 10 cultural norms that they instill in employees. They interview for these 10 norms, evaluate employees on them in their annual performance reviews, and let people go who don’t follow them.
  • “Authenticity and transparency are really important” – Tony sees authenticity and transparency (to read more on this topic, see my blog post) as a core part of the Zappos brand. When reporters show up at Zappos, they’re shown the bathroom and lunch-room and then told to roam around and talk to whomever they like. Tony’s daily Tweeting is less about Marketing than it is about him trying to make Zappos more authentic and transparent for followers.
  • “Zappos wants totally engaged employees” – Tony only wants people working at Zappos who are really passionate about the company and delivering great customer service. How much does he believe in this? So much that the company offers every new employee $2k to quit after two weeks on the job – they only want the truly committed.

What About Digital and Social Media?

But isn’t Zappos a social media icon? What about Tony’s almost 1MM Twitter followers? Well, get this: Tony hates the “social media” tag. He says they don’t even bother to measure the ROI of their digital and Twitter efforts.

Further, he’s not a believer in creating marketing “buzz.” Instead, he believes the primary role of every employee is to create “positive customer stories” about their Zappos experience. If they do this–everything else, including buzz, will take care of itself.

Oh, and one more thing. Tony does believe in the importance of “influencers,” but not necessarily the digital kind you might be thinking of. He noted that to this day, when his mom calls, he really listens.

Key Learning’s for Marketers

First, having a CEO who really believes in the brand and customer experience sets the tone for the whole organization. This job shouldn’t and can’t be left to the CMO; it’s the CEO’s job too. The CEO and CMO need to be partners in driving a truly customer-centric, marketing focused organization and business model.

Second, actually delivering a great customer experience, particularly in a service oriented business, comes down to employees delivering each and every time they interact with a customer. Building a culture that attracts the right kind of employee and fosters this kind of performance is just as important as any Marketing program.

Zappos Secret Weapons

These are Zappo’s true secret weapons—their CEO as CMO and their unique culture. So what about my Zappos experience? I like Tony’s description of what employees are supposed to do: “Create positive customer/employee stories.” But what I love most of all is that Tony, as the CEO, does what he says. After all, you just read a story about how Zappos recovered brilliantly from a terrible customer experience. Clearly, Tony knows how to create a good story, too.

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Learning From the Hidden Success Factors of the Hyundai Assurance Program

October 19, 2009
At a recent M50 CMO Conference, I had the privilege of listening to two senior Hyundai executives, Joel Ewanick, V.P.Marketing, and David Zuchowski, V.P. of Sales, discuss the success of the Hyundai Assurance Program.
Hyundai Assurance Program

Hyundai Assurance Program

If you haven’t been following this story closely, Hyundai is one of the very few bright spots in a downright ugly automotive sector. Hyundai U.S. unit sales year to date were up +1.4% and September was its 9th consecutive month of year-over-year gains in retail market share.

The Hyundai brand is clearly one of the few auto companies to be driving both sales and brand equity, consistent with some of the learnings described in a previous post, “Should Your Brand Focus on Energy to Drive Growth?”

Hyundai Assurance Program

The Hyundai Assurance program, and its success, has been well reported in the media and other blogs (see Brand Channel’s “Hyundai Formula: Inconspicuous Luxury Plus Empathy),” so I don’t need to go into great detail here about it. Essentially, Hyundai recognized that U.S. consumers were reluctant to buy cars when they feared losing their jobs. So, they launched the Buyer Assurance program which allows Hyundai buyers to return their car within 12 months, no questions asked, if they lose their job.

Success Factors – Beyond the Obvious

That’s the story. But actually, it’s not. Listening to Joel and David, it was clear there were other equally important aspects of the program that drove success. What were they?

Consumer Insight – The basic insight was simple: potential new car buyers were afraid to purchase because they feared losing their jobs. The answer, the Hyundai Buyer Assurance program, was anything but. It actually communicated two very subtle, but important additional messages:

  • “Hyundai understands me.” Consumers felt that Hyundai was really listening to them and acknowledging their real world concerns. Everyone else was just offering bigger discounts and O% APR financing. Consumers always want brands that they feel listen to and understand them.
  • “Hyundai is providing hope.” In the depths of the financial crisis, consumers were looking for something, anything — to provide hope. The Assurance program provided a simple message of hope in an industry with almost none. The program met a very real and powerful need for consumers to latch onto something that would connect them with a positive future.

Product Quality – Hyundai had a perception gap. Over the years, car quality improved significantly, yet the perception of “cheap and inferior” was deeply rooted in consumers psyche. The great recession of 2009 provided an opening for Hyundai, just as the gas crisis of the late 70’s did for the Japanese.

An opening for consumers to actually reconsider and try a less expensive Hyundai as an alternative to higher priced U.S. or Japanese models. And when they did, most consumers were surprised at the quality: “Wow—this is a really nice car.” This “surprise” generated positive word of mouth, which in turn reinforced business growth.

Media Spending – Hyundai historically spent its advertising in 1/3’s: one third for “brand” advertising, one third for dealer ads, and another third for individual dealer model promotions. Working together, Sales and Marketing consolidated all of the spending behind the Assurance Program, effectively tripling the media weight versus a standard marketing program. This enabled a fully integrated marketing program from TV ads down to dealer POP.

3 Key Lessons for Marketers

  1. The Hyundai example illustrates the power of a great consumer insight. Connecting your brand’s benefit to a compelling need is a great way to engage consumers and make them feel like your brand is for them. Hyundai identified and tapped into basic powerful consumer insights about hope and understanding.
  2. Getting consumers to rethink your brand is easier when you can connect to an external event that prompts reconsideration. Executing a new Marketing program to capitalize on an external event gives consumers permission to reconsider. Consumers wanted less expensive options during the crisis, and the Assurance Program gave them a reason to reconsider Hyundai with less risk.
  3. When you have a recognizably big idea, really put your money behind it. Hyundai tripled-down on the Assurance Program media and delivered an end-to-end fully integrated campaign in support of it.

The Hyundai Assurance program has all the earmarks of fundamental marketing done extraordinarily well – great consumer insights, a quality product, innovative marketing programs, integrated marketing — and a measure of boldness and daring-do that’s all too rare in Marketing.

Wouldn’t it be great if your brand could do the same?

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