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- 15 Jun 2012
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Fashionably Marketing Financial Services


Digital marketing attempts in the financial services industry are failing miserably

Duke Greenhill, founder & CEO of Greenhill Partners, highlights 3 ways the financial services industry can up its game by taking cues from luxury fashion’s digital marketing playbook.

Amateurish. That’s what a recent study called the digital marketing attempts of the top 50 financial services companies. Just as consumers clear their throats of the dust left behind financial bailouts and Ponzi schemes, the financial sector should be using digital and social media to improve its reputation and to quell consumer mistrust. But the category is failing. Miserably.

In its defence, the financial services industry (“FSI”) is confined by stringent government and industry guidelines, but these regulations aren’t the problem. Fear and a lack of acumen are. For example, thanks to fears of losing brand control, only 59 per cent of FSI companies maintain a Facebook presence despite the fact Facebook is a top-eight destination for 95 per cent of the brands’ traffic.

And thanks to a lack of acumen, even though 84 per cent of category brands have a social media property, only half react to customer engagement through them. In fact, according to Financial Advisors Magazine, most industry operatives say they don’t leverage social media because, “We don’t know how.”

 A recent study called the digital marketing attempts of the top 50 financial services companies amateurish 

As a leading specialist in engaging affluent consumers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with both FSI and luxury fashion brands. My experience has taught me that the two categories are similar. Both possess a sometimes crippling fear of digital media – finance for fear of regulation and luxury fashion for fear of diluted exclusivity. Both perpetually navigate the treacherous terrain of consumer emotion – the emotions surrounding one’s money and one’s image and esteem.

Over the last few years, the digital marketing efforts of luxury fashion have gone from lacklustre to laudable. Many labels have assuaged their fears of social media by developing processes that retain brand control. They’ve created elegant digital content that amplifies the values and emotions of their brand. They’ve developed cutting-edge technology to enhance experiences at every possible touch-point during a consumer’s journey.

Why, then, can financial services – which face the same digital media challenges as luxury fashion – not do the same? It can… by stealing a page from the luxury fashion playbook. Here are three ways they can start.

 Many luxury brands have assuaged their fears of social media by developing processes that retain brand control 

Hearts & Heads

Emotion is of key importance in luxury and FSI marketing. The emotion that buying a Bentley conjures is quite different from that of buying a mutual fund. But in both cases, the consumer is paying less for the product itself and more for the way it makes them feel.

Financial service customers buy because they want to feel a certain way about their futures. They want to feel responsible for taking control and confident that they will be prepared for the life changes they expect, and especially for those they can’t predict. If financial service brands want to resonate with consumers, their messages need to hinge on this mixture of ‘heart’ and ‘head’ communications.

How Luxury Brands Have Done It…

The Tiffany & Co. “Engagement Ring Finder” mobile application is the perfect example of a marketing tactic that leverages both consumer hearts (love) and heads (discover the perfect ring for your loved one).

How Financial Services Could Do It…

Trust is at the centre of consumer emotions when it comes to financial service providers. Therefore, transparency of process is more important than ever. At the same time, control is also a pivotal issue – consumers need to feel that they’re making the best decision to be in control of their money and their futures.

Because the Tiffany app held consumers’ hands through the daunting process of selecting an engagement ring (control), consumers walked away from their purchases confident that they’d done the right thing (trust). FSI brands should take a cue from Tiffany and develop digital tools that remove the complexity from financial decisions and put the process – quite literally – in the palms of consumers’ hands.

Imagine an app that helps you confidently select the best risk allocations for your 401(k), or a microsite that walks you through retirement planning. By making the process transparent, the consumer can be in control (head). When the consumer is in control, he feels confident in his decision (heart).

 FSI brands should develop digital tools that remove the complexity from financial decisions & put the process in the palms of consumers’ hands 

Celebrate the Social Journey

Unlike most industries, the financial and luxury fashion categories sell not merely a product or an end-state, but a social journey. Luxury fashion’s promise, for example, has as much to do with the experience of purchasing and wearing a garment as the garment itself. The finance industry, similarly, may be selling advice or protection or investment opportunities on the surface.

Beneath it all, however, it’s really hawking long-term confidence – peace of mind and the promise of security for one’s near and distant future. These are personal promises – social promises – for the pride of wearing a new garment evaporates if no one is there to see it worn, and the benefits of smart retirement investing are useless if one has no one with whom to enjoy retirement.

How Luxury Brands Have Done It…

Burberry has become the beacon of social luxury marketing. It achieved this status in part through its bold move to allocate over 60% of its marketing spend to digital. But money doesn’t fix every thing. The real reason Burberry has been so successful in the digital sphere is because it understands not only how to create digital, social journeys, but also how to celebrate them by using the right technology for the right purpose.

Their Facebook page, for example, has over 12 million ‘likes,’ but Burberry doesn’t use it as a sales channel. They use it to converse with their fans, remaining ever-present and constantly responding to consumer posts. Burberry also understands that digital media does not have to live exclusively on a screen. In fact, digital marketing is at its best when it’s married to the physical world and when it complements real life.

That’s why Burberry live-streamed its fashion shows and made them shoppable via mobile device. In short, Burberry has skilfully created a seamless and social retail circle, throughout which digital technology is present, urging the consumer toward conversion at just the right touch-point and in just the right way.

How Financial Services Could Do It…

FSI brands could emulate Burberry and make their digital marketing less about sales and more about conversation. So what’s stopping them? Reputational risks. At least, that’s what they say. But that’s just a scapegoat. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to go chaperone my kid’s dance because I’m afraid something bad may happen.”

But if a parent doesn’t go chaperone, scandal is far more likely to ensue. The bottom line is this: on-going, two-way, journey-creating communications would not be so risky if FSI brands would just commit to being present on social platforms – reacting to consumer complaints and accusations. Especially since more than 40% of those with high net-worth younger than 50 consider social media a key channel for communicating with their banks.

Instead of $20 million TV spot campaigns that beat consumers over the head for 30 seconds then disappear, FSI brands should be developing 20 different digital platforms that consumers can use and appreciate for the long haul. Some are doing this.

In fact, Citibank has developed a social media product for their high net worth clients to make restaurant recommendations. But on the whole, the FSI is way behind in understanding what digital consumers want. Like Burberry, FSI providers need to complement the real world journeys of their consumers with digital ones. Only this way can they remain useful and relevant.

 Digital marketing is at its best when it’s married to the physical world and when it complements real life 


I use the term “techno-prestige” to refer to the increase in brand equity that companies enjoy merely by being innovative in their digital marketing. As a marketer, generating revenue for clients is of course important, but I must also keep top-of-mind the importance of making corporate stakeholders happy. Developing new ways to use cutting-edge technology is one of the easiest ways to do this.

How Luxury Brands Have Done It…

Nothing makes a corporate stakeholder happier than skyrocketing stock prices. When it comes to luxury fashion, leveraging techo-prestige can often achieve this. In the eyes of consumers, the assumption is that if a fashion label is perceived as cutting-edge in terms of its communications, than it is also cutting-edge in terms of its couture. Consider the following:

On the first of June, 2011, Tiffany & Co. stock closed around $72 a share. Later that month, the brand launched its “Engagement Ring Finder” app and the “What Makes Love True” microsite. By July first, its stock prices were closing around $83 a share.

Since 2008, when Burberry began to shun traditional marketing channels for digital ones, its stock prices have risen more than 750%.

How Financial Services Could Do It…

Yes, finance and banking are conservative, traditional enterprises, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t leverage techo-prestige. Just as luxury consumers make assumptions about a fashion brand’s products based on that brand’s degree of innovation, so do FSI consumers. Money, investing and wealth management are complex. If FSI starts to deploy innovative, creative and ground breaking communications, the implication will be that they are also innovative, creative and ground breaking in their handling of consumer money.

Since few (if any) FSI brands have tried this, there is little data to support my claim, but common sense can go a long way. Consider, as one example, It’s a web-based platform that assists users to manage their own spending and make wise financial decisions. It was hailed as the “hottest innovation amid the recession” and was the impetus for countless platform developments yet to be launched by a major banking institution. ultimately sold to Intuit in 2009 for $170 million.

To further investigate how luxury brands are using digital to reach consumers on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- The Latest Digital: Shangri-La, Breguet & Louis Vuitton
- Is Instagram Killing the Luxury Dream?
- How to Reach the Digital Affluent Male


Greenhill Partners is one of New Yorkʼs premiere luxury fashion brand consultancies. Greenhill provides strategy and advice to major fashion brands both in terms of marketing and branding campaigns, and internal operations.