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Fiona Blades of MESH Experience: does your customer actually want you to advertise?

Almost every brand says they put their customer at the heart of what they do, but almost all struggle to actually do it. There are too many silos, legacy systems, processes and company structures that get in the way.

Yet, if businesses were to take a step back and look at every consumer engagement through the eyes of the customer, then they would be able to make changes to how they go about their advertising.

Over the last six months, we’ve been helping UK retail banks to do just this. Bank customers have been reporting back on every brand encounter they have, whether it is watching a TV ad or using the mobile banking app. They’ve been feeding back on how positive, relevant and persuasive each brand experience has been and providing photos to illustrate their views. This direct engagement gives a unique perspective on the effectiveness of each bank’s engagement efforts – not just their advertising. It enables banks to, not only better understand how each element relates to the others but where to tailor their efforts to address issues, e.g. negative press.

The UK banking sector has come under increased scrutiny over the past year with a number of significant negative news stories making an impact on customer experience. However, the impact of the various news stories has not been universal – some banks have responded much better than others.

At the start of the year, the Co-op Bank was up for sale after the Bank of England warned its finances were off track. This negative news, understandably, had a notable impact on how consumers reacted to the bank’s advertising at the time. Whilst people liked the creative and the bank, many felt unable to take out products from the Co-op in light of this news. This was not the time to try to acquire customers. So, instead of continuing its advertising campaign, Co-op would have been better to either focus on personal messaging to existing customers or cut the advertising altogether until news about the bank’s stability came through.

Natwest has also been in the firing line, as it was announced that they were set to close 158 branches as customers were turning to digital/online banking. However, whilst this news understandably left some customers feeling disappointed and worried about the staff losing their jobs and concerns about vulnerable people not being able to easily access banking facilities, it didn’t have as much of an impact on the brand as the Co-op news did.

In part this could be down to the fact that customers recognised habits were changing and that more and more people were turning to banking online and via their mobile. However, Natwest was also proactively advertising its award-winning mobile app (which people were responding to very positively), where the bank was helping customers by meeting their changing needs for digital and online access to banking.

From our research we’ve seen that the security of knowing a transaction had gone through is a key driver in the reactions to online and mobile banking, so it’s not surprising that consumers responded more warmly to Natwest’s campaign. However, there is clearly more that can be done around this messaging to make advertising even more effective.

For banks – and indeed any brand – looking to make their experiences and marketing efforts more effective, there are three key things to remember:

It’s not enough to focus on paid advertising only. Share of Voice only gets a brand so far – it’s Share of Experience, which measures owned, earned and paid, as well as being a measure of what people are picking up rather than what marketers are pushing out that will deliver the best returns. Making successful decisions about paid advertising without putting it in the context of our owned and earned customer experiences can’t be done.

Quantity metrics, like reach, are not enough. Reach can be negative as well as positive. Engaged Reach would be a better metric, but understanding what qualifies as engaged reach needs to be agreed across the board.

Consider sequencing and context. If someone has just had a positive experience with a brand, how can the brand capitalise on this? It is one thing to get the marketing mix optimised, but timing and sequencing need to be factored in. This is becoming easier in a programmatic world, but is still a challenge for many.

With so much change in the world, it is understandable that brands are looking to reinvent everything. However, when it comes to advertising, sticking to the tradition of putting the customer first and recognising that there is a long way to go to actually being able to do so, will be key to brands thriving both today and tomorrow.

Fiona Blades is CEO and president of research firm MESH Experience

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