“You don’t walk up to somebody and say, ‘Will you marry me?’ You say, ‘Hello.’ You introduce yourself.” -Sarah Cooke

In an increasingly decentralized and chaotic digital marketplace, it’s harder than ever to woo people over to your financial brand. The problem is compounded when brands take a pushy, overly aggressive approach to advertising themselves.

Sarah Cooke, Founder of Cooke Consulting Solutions, calls this the “narcissistic marketing problem.” Financial brands focus on storytelling about their products and services, forgetting about the importance of politely introducing themselves to new audiences and asking them about their needs.

Sarah joined James Robert Lay on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast and together, they share insights for targeting your audience through decentralized communication

The Decentralized Media Landscape

Decades ago, just a handful of media options dominated the marketplace. It was mostly newspapers, magazines, and TV. Today, there are hundreds of other media channels, including dozens of social media companies with millions of users.

Now it’s not so simple for a brand to decide, “What’s the best way to reach new people?” The decentralization of media gives advertisers just as many options as their audiences.

In banking and finance, the old guard is still struggling to adjust to massive market changes. The digital world feels completely out of control. Plus, many institutions still operate under tight corporate restrictions that make it difficult to compete in a decentralized marketplace.

“An abundance of opportunity can be very dangerous,” James Robert says. “We know when we’re trying to communicate to the masses, it’s probably going to fall on deaf ears.”

Instead of broadcasting one message to many people, it’s more effective to divide it into multiple customized messages and build strong bonds with numerous small audiences. 

Related Content: Tell Stories that Sell with this 7-Step StorySelling Method for Financial Brands

“It lends itself very well to strategic storytelling,” Sarah says. Strategic storytelling is an approach to sharing your brand message that goes beyond just saying something about your products or services. 

A strategic story gives a carefully and intentionally crafted, but gentle, nudge along the consumer journey. It encourages someone to engage in certain behavior, but it doesn’t push them forcefully. 

The Narcissistic Marketing Problem

Sarah says new research shows storytelling is a highly effective way to bond people to brands. “But for some reason,” she says, “and I call this a narcissistic marketing problem, we want to talk about ourselves and all the good that we're doing. No one cares about that. That's the hard truth.”

Related Content: Story Marketing for Financial Institutions: Be the Helpful Guide, Not the Hero

Financial brands spend millions trying to convince people of things like, “We have great rates!” or “We’re the best bank in your community!” Meanwhile, they forget to ask what their audience really cares about. Your audience might not care about your rates or your company’s reputation in its hometown.

Move past the commodity of price.

Sales and marketing value erodes when messages are ineffective. Your audience’s attention begins to wander, and they remain open to other offers from your competitors.

It’s almost like being on a bad date. The other person never has a chance to think, “They care about me,” because your company is too busy droning on and on about itself.

“Flip that focus,” Sarah says. “Make it about them and not you.”

So, What’s Your Problem?

Perhaps your organization isn’t suffering from a narcissistic marketing problem and is actually doing a good job of asking its customers about their needs.

You’re not out of the woods yet.

You might still have a sales and/or communication problem.

James Robert asks financial brands to constantly reevaluate, “Is it a marketing problem? Or is it more of a communication challenge?”

Communication problems often trickle down into sales problems because sales teams tend to focus almost exclusively on lead generation.

Sarah says, “I have some clients and prospective clients that come to me and say, ‘We just want lead gen.’” Many of them don’t care much about the marketing cycle or building brand awareness. They’re almost obsessed with finding leads, even though it’s all part of the same problem.

When her clients try to jump straight to lead generation, Sarah asks them to pump the brakes and put the focus back on the customer. She suggests a much gentler approach. 

Related Content: Stop Pushing Messages & Start Creating Dialogue 

“You don’t walk up to somebody and say, ‘Will you marry me?’” Sarah says. “You say, ‘Hello.’ You introduce yourself.” 

Only then can you begin to have a two-way conversation and build the trust it takes to form a long-term relationship. Wholeheartedly customer-focused communication is the secret to turning on the faucet of steady lead generation.

How to Address Crisis Communication

If your financial brand has a communication problem, James Robert suggests looking at precisely where the pain exists. He asks Sarah, “How might we be able to respond to crisis communication or have a crisis communication plan in place so that a crisis does not create as much pain as it would otherwise?”

Sarah recommends starting by setting up a crisis comms team, which is a group of people dedicated to addressing communications issues in moments of crisis. It should include top leaders like the CEO and marketing director, but it should also include other key stakeholders.

Welcome diverse opinions and insights. Include lower-ranking employees who don’t usually have a voice in your marketing efforts. Ensure people aren’t being excluded due to their skin color, gender, and so forth. 

Make sure your crisis comms team is hearing voices from people who actively use a wide variety of social media and digital channels. Get their takes on the situation. Listen closely to the language they speak and the lingo they use.

Consider responding vs. reacting in a crisis situation. Who will speak as a single voice for your organization? Which channels will you use? How will you respond professionally without speaking from a reactive position?

Most communications problems, including those that arise in moments of crisis, are predictable in advance to some degree. If your company takes time to plan for them, they’ll be easier to handle in the heat of the moment. Having a crisis communication plan in place allows you to work proactively and keep your overall marketing plan on track, even when a challenging moment inevitably comes.

Marketing Trends at Financial Brands

To wrap up the discussion, James Robert asks Sarah to share some of the trends she’s seeing in marketing, sales, and communication, especially as they relate to financial brands. Here’s a summary of what she sees coming in 2023 and beyond.

  • Boutique credit unions will continue to see a surge in consumer interest.
  • Trade associations, community groups, and other organizations will build even more partnerships with credit unions.
  • Small banks and credit unions will become more comfortable with fintech partnerships, allowing them to serve new audiences without hiring in-house.
  • Successful brands will “dive in with empathy” and “find the feels” in terms of connecting with their customers’ deepest feelings about money.

To learn more about marketing, sales, and communication at financial brands, connect with Sarah Cooke at cookeconsultingsolutions.com. And as always, you’re welcome to reach out to James Robert Lay at the Digital Growth Institute.