Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 3 financial services communication trends for 2013

The final chapter of 2012 provoked more questions than answers for many in financial services.   

Boards, CEOs, Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Risk Officers we speak to have similar concerns. Here’s a quick (admittedly unscientific) survey of the common themes:   
  1. How will our business prosper in a tough market?
  2. Is our social media strategy right? 
  3. Do we have reputation risk covered?   

And at a more granular level...
  • How will we use content (or thought leadership) marketing to deliver results next year? 
  • Is our brand story (or stories) crystal clear – and compelling? 
  • Do we have the right resources to explore these issues and answer the key questions?    

The answers? These depend entirely on your brand and internal capability, the white space in the market, and your commercial goals for 2013.   

That said, if you’re after a few clues about where our reference group of Board members and CXOs are heading, expect to see:

Trend 1 = content-led marketing 
Financial services brands (strategically) self-publishing more than ever

Fragmented consumer media habits, the ability to measure results and to deliver compelling messages direct to audiences are all driving the rise of content marketing, aka thought leadership marketing. 

Trend 2 = repuation risk management
A focus on reputation risk management as a discipline

After years of sustained battering some reputations are a little frayed in financial services. And yet the reputation management playing field keeps expanding - in parallel to the growth in use of social media by our customers, intermediaries and other audiences.  On and offline reputation risk management as a formal discipline is starting to be taken more seriously by Boards and Risk Committees - not before time.

Trend 3 = social media as mainstream
We may have been slow to catch on but financial services will be fast to catch up in the social sphere. 

Next year we know clients and their competitors are planning selective social media engagement across internal and external audiences. The era of (often pointless) debate about "whether or not" has finally ended, and the internal conversations at Board and in the C-suite is now more often about "how" to make best use of social media.

Best wishes for the holiday season and a very prosperous 2013. Many thanks for your support in 2012 and we look forward to continuing the conversation. This post is adapted from, and first published in pr:ognosis, the quarterly BlueChip communique

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Top ten tips for financial services content marketing from candy & confectionery

At the Global PR Summit today I saw one the most useful sessions I can share with the financial services community. Because "content" we still really don't get in the banking, finance, asset management and insurance sectors.

Whether the sale happens online or offline the challenge is gain our consumers' attention. Between Hershey's and Intel the audience reach hits hundreds of millions. 

Here's my pick of what the top ten tips for the financial services industry from retail (FMCG - Hershey's) and technology (B2B - Intel).

1. PR thinking is closest of all marketers to the editorial (brand journalism) skill set. And that's what needed to drive quality, shareable content programs that gain engagement

2. Engaging influencers is easier in niche markets where influencers tend to want to congregate - brands with broad, mainstream appeal (say confectionary) are actually more challenged to do this.

3. Front end analytics (let's call them lead indicators or research) can be more helpful than back end analytics (say impressions or engagement metrics) because they help target content to target market pain points or passions

4. Content needs to run across earned, paid and owned digital channels to gain traction - to drive engagement, loyalty and advocacy

5. Content really does drive sales - but you need the 'back end' analytics to prove it

6. Social is not a cheap date if you want to create, curate and share quality content - it's time and resource intensive

7. In retail, shopper marketing is the next big thing - and shoppers in different outlets behave really differently. A key outtake for financial services is to think about the different consumer behaviours in different locations - in a bank branch for example versus on hold on a phone call versus waiting to see their financial adviser

8. Contextual ads with blended content are much more successful

9. Costs for all this capability - content, big data management, creative & execution - go up each year. At the same time in annual planning cycles marketers are forced to make decisions each year a long way ahead on relative spend allocations in the channel - it's hard to know each year where the best investment will be

10. Technology isn't everything...stories on the other hand maybe. Intel has employees self-publishing at Intel IQ which means a veritable army of online advocates telling stories - creating the massed voices we were talking about with our clients as early as 2009.

The Hershey's content slides from David Witt, Director of global digital marketing & brand PR gave a fantastic overview of what a comprehensive integrated content program should look like. Drop me a line and I'm more than happy to share them. 

We see the world as WE are, not as it is: Global PR Summit

Do you see yourself? Or what's really there?

This morning at the Global PR Summit the panel that most captured my attention was this: "Persuasion, empathy and neural coupling: Where PR meets Dr Spock". 

Don't let the fancy title confuse you. The take-home was pretty basic, as per this post's title. 

We see the world through "me-coloured" glasses

One panellist presented what seemed like very robust proof that we do in fact see the world (or specifically, information) as we are, not as it is.

Georgia State University's Jason Reifler shared research that underscores just how subjective we are in our judgements about information - in particular information that, while accurate, contradicts what we already believe.

Our prevailing views, at least when they relate to politics, which was the subject of his research, whether right or wrong, seem to win out over the truth almost all the time. Why? Simply because we are so fixed in our views of ourselves that information that contradicts who we think we are (ie information that while correct, is at odds with what we believe and thus our self-identity) is more likely to provoke a response of denial.

This isn't a newsflash to most of us.

Think of these situations in one to one communication: surprising negative performance feedback; unpleasant truths about those we care for, or the "devil's advocate" colleague who experiences a certain withdrawal by colleagues.

Or, in the case of the research cited, populations who don't want to believe the reality of the employment track record of the political party on the other side of the fence to their own views. 

So what do we do with this as communicators?

In many ways the real news was this: when people are feeling good about themselves they are MORE open to facts that run counter to existing beliefs.

Hence what the psychologists and HR folk call the "warm start" when giving feedback one on on. 

You know the drill: I really appreciate that you do "x". What I want you do do more of/stop doing/modify is "y". "Y" isn't helpful because of "a, b & c". Can we talk about this more?....Great. In closing I want to remind you how great it is that you do "x".

The BlueChip Communication team call this the "sh1t sandwich". It's a good format for some people to hear feedback but can appear clumsy and patronising to those who recognise the format and just want to get to the feedback bit.

That said Reifler's research shows that this same format works on the larger, mass communication, scale. And I've seen it used many many times by CEOs in financial services giving the standard "call to arms" address to staff. The format, at some very basic level, is to tell people how capable they are, then ask for them to step up. Then of course the close involves reminding them again how great they are. 

A simple way to more open minds

Why do this? Because it makes people more open to what you say after "you're great". So the "warm start" actually warms our brains up to hear information we need to hear - but may well be completely at odds with current beliefs.

Personally I think this simple finding is profoundly useful to communicators. As Reifler said, we should use this knowledge for good, rather than evil!

In particular he found graphs seem more effective at bringing people around to more accurate perspectives. 

And as for our vulnerability to mis-information? As per the picture in the twitter screen shot at the top of this post, here are some of the ways we see things through those "me-coloured glasses"...we:

  • select like-minded media sources
  • reject unwelcome corrections
  • continue being influenced after corrections
  • use familiarity as a heuristic for accuracy.

This last one is similar to behavioural finance finds that suggest people are more likely to choose mutual fund (managed fund) investment options that are offered more frequently ie we also mistake frequency or simply numbers for merit in investment choice.


Here are a few select tweets from the session. One other stunning finding from Raymond Mar of Canada's York University was that reading fiction significantly helps us understand other humans - more below.

"Frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities." Fictionshapes the brain - Raymond Mar on  neuro panel
RT : Frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities.Fiction shapes the brain-Raymond Mar  neuro panel 
More from neuroscientist Raymond Mar  session ("Your brain on fiction") see 
 Prof Raymond Mar: Narrative fiction world of books & film is cognitive/emotional simulator that creates increased empathy skills
  Theory (tested quantitatively) holds: ppl who read more fiction develop better empathy (books = flight sim 4 brain)

 neuro session- Raymond Mar on  panel "frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities." Fictionshapes brain
Theory: ppl who read a lot of books (fiction) are better at understanding other humans  Now that's extraordinary. NB TV NOT same

Raymond Mar  ‘Our experience reading fiction is similar to flight simulator' explaining impact of stories on brain
ExpandTheory: ppl who read a lot of books (fiction) are better at understanding other humans  Now that's extraordinary. NB TV NOT same

 I am attending the Global PR Summit in Miami on behalf of BlueChip Communication.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Global PR Summit: integration; narrative; earned attention

Proctor & Gamble's (@ProctorGamble) Marc Pritchard talked today in Miami at the Global PR Summit (#PRSummit) about the power of earned attention.

What struck me was this: not the huge success P&G had with their Olympic "Mom" campaign, not the power of narrative, not the fact that more than half their impressions came from earned media but that NONE of this is new.

What is new is the channels (social) and the clarity of the 'take-home' for conference attendees.

That take-out is this:
1.     Brand and event assets used to deliver 'earned' attention rather than 'paid' attention are MORE effective
2.     The whole narrative was led by a PR firm not an ad agency
3.     The narrative determined thecampaign strategy and elements  - through the line, not just below the line

My own experience running AMP's Olympic and Torch Relay communication campaigns (circa 1998-2000) mirrors exactly the P&G message albeit on a much smaller scale:
  • Tell an authentic story and one that resonates with consumers
  • The more integrated, the more effective the campaign
  • Writing that story allows communication strategists and those charged with action to take the narrative into strategy, planning and execution

Marc's final exhortation to those on the "agency side" (consulting we prefer to call it!) was this: "Push us (clients) to make us think about the audience we need to reach – and push us about how to reach them with authenticity and brilliant story telling".

 I am attending the Global PR Summit today and tomorrow in Miami on behalf of BlueChip Communication. For more info about any of the posts please contact us.

Global PR Summit: industry at a cross roads

An industry at a cross roads was the rallying cry from Paul Holmes as he opened the Global PR Summit today in Miami.

With US attendee numbers down due to Hurricane Sandy, Holmes addressed a more international audience of PR leaders than expected – about challenge & opportunity, about continual misconceptions of PR and of a future in which PR is becoming more central to brand building and corporate success.

Personally I'm fast becoming a PR-bear. By that I mean that when I look around I fear for our future with so little notable thought leadership globally. Some of the best thinking about our so called profession seems to come form those outside the actual industry – marketers, business leaders and social media experts in particular. And those pundits would suggest our biggest challenges are this:
  1. Measurement
  2. Integration with other forms of communication or campaign elements 
  3. Social media 
To be fair all three of things, if right, are opportunities not just challenges, as Holmes suggested at the outset. But the intelligent debate isn't coming from the PR folk – maybe we're just too close to it.

It's the first time an event like this has been run, and while numbers were down, registrations exceeded all expectations. Why? In part because Holmes has been successful, through the Sabre Awards and The Holmes Report, in broadening the geographic footprint of the Holmes Report brand and its associated events.

I'm tweeting from the event using the conference hashtag of #PRSummit today/tonight (Wednesday AM AEDST) and tomorrow. Blogs will be posted here with the best of the thinking from the conference.