Test and learn (versus spray and pray)
At first sight, establishing a brand or attracting new groups of customers in the B2B financial services sector appears to be a tough task.
In most areas, there are large incumbents with well-established brand positionings who invest heavily in brands, believing (a la Byron Sharpe) that outspending their competitors is the key to maintaining market share. And as media consumption habits fragment, many brands feel they have even more ground to cover, and therefore require larger budgets to remain in the game. Take the investment management sector, for example; Fidelity, M&G Investments and Blackrock have each spent in excess of €10M across Europe over the last three years.
These brands are also investing huge amounts in pre-campaign research. Brand positionings and campaign narratives are developed on the back of extensive research, and huge efforts are made to understand customer dynamics and channel consumption habits. These inform messaging, creative treatments and help make decisions between different channel priorities. Significant budget is devoted to run tracking, both pre and post-campaign, to provide (albeit relatively static) views on the performance of the campaign against key metrics.
However, for new or mid-market brands without unlimited budgets, there's still hope.
In many ways, this traditional approach can be seen as ‘analogue’ in an ever-more digital world. But by embracing a more ‘digital’ mentality, there's considerable scope to take on bigger competitors.
While there's still the need to conduct focused research upfront, it should now be targeted and customer-centric. It should focus on understanding customer journeys, what attracts us to a brand’s products, what channels we use, and where new potential customers can be found. All of these are key, but don’t require a long or costly exercise.
And this research still needs to inform a distinctive brand positioning and creative platform that captures the essence of the brand. It must have the potential to grab customers and potential customers’ attention. But most financial services brands end up in a sea of sameness rather than differentiation; take Aviva Investors' ‘For today’s investor’, Aberdeen’s ‘Simply asset management’ or Artemis’ ‘The Profit Hunter’ - there’s a real opportunity for brands with smaller budgets to be distinctive.
To do this, brands should abandon the safety-first approach of testing every aspect of a campaign up-front, and instead embrace a ‘test and learn’ and ‘digital first’ mentality.
Take LDF, a private-equity backed business which provides financing for UK SMEs. With a small budget, LDF developed a digitally-led and acquisition-focused ‘Welcome to the Flipside’ campaign, which positioned the brand positively against the bureaucratic experience offered by banks and other lenders. The campaign began with modest weekly spends across multiple digital and social channels and alternative PPC strategies. All aspects of the campaign were then subject to rigorous, on-going monitoring and optimisation through a joined-up measurement framework that spanned the entire marketing funnel. Based on the results seen, the campaign was constantly adjusted in real time, with poor performing creative and channels dropped or downplayed, and better-performing aspects up-weighted.
This method can be applied to any marketing strategy. As conversion rates and ROI increase, budgets can be increased, avoiding the wastage of pre-planned campaigns. Once the core acquisition campaign is established, more brand-focused channels can be added in to improve engagement and further drive conversion, but, again, beginning on a ‘test basis’, and with an emphasis on channels that also drive response (such as online video or Sky Adsmart). For LDF, the benefit of this approach was unquestionable; the campaign paid back the total investment within the eight-week test campaign and ultimately delivered a 300% return on total marketing investment.
The approach has proved equally effective in a higher-value, more service-orientated context. Brewin Dolphin, the investment manager, for example, had for a long time failed to translate a high client satisfaction into strong levels of customer acquisition. However, by shifting to a similar digitally-led approach, it was able to drive a 30% increase in referrals within a three month period.
So, it seems many B2B brands are approaching their marketing campaigns in the wrong way when they work backwards from a fully formed campaign. Instead, the real key to success comes with a ‘test and learn’ approach, assessing the performance of all channels, creative treatments, ad formats and types of messaging in real time and adjusting campaigns accordingly. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, so why isn’t the same caution applied when paying for a marketing campaign?