By Clark Turner, Editor UTalkMarketing.com
Financial Services have had a hard time of it in recent years. Blamed for the recession and its impact globally on the economy, banks and the wider financial sector have had to rethink their positioning and how to engage with consumers in order to win back their love and loyalty.
There have been no end of experts commenting on how financial brands should be looking to social media to engage directly with consumers but activity has been happening on rather mixed degree.
Admittedly, it’s a major step for some brands operating in the sector. Handing over some of the marketing control, that they have gripped so tightly to date, to the public is a radical step. But just as social media is encroaching on marketing practices in other sectors, financial services is no different.
There are lessons to be learnt from those who are doing things well. And one case in point is a somewhat radical campaign from American Express which has successfully been engaging bloggers and food.
“The last couple of years have been very challenging for individuals and companies and we have been trying to address this by trying to create value,” revealed Mark Roper, Vice President Merchant Marketing Europe at American Express.
“Attitudes have changed regarding great deals for merchants and cardholders and as a company we want to reflect this in the way we operate. Here in the UK we are reaping the benefits.”
One recent development has seen American Express partnering with toptable, Europe’s number one online restaurant booking service.
In a first for both parties, they have used toptable’s new web services API to build a dedicated, co-branded micro site – Top Treats – that offers American Express cardmembers bonus points and exclusive deals at almost 4,000 UK restaurants.
Available until the end of the year, and coinciding with American Express’s sponsorship of the London Restaurant Festival (4 – 18 October), Top Treats allows card members to search and book restaurants throughout the UK and is constantly updated to ensure that card members have access to the latest offers and reviews.
“Top Treats is a good example of how we are creating great deals. There are thousands of restaurants on the network and it’s good for both merchants while offering cardholders rewards,” Roper explained.
“The recession has made us realise that we need to be even more effective in our marketing efforts – who we communicate too and the channels we use to reach them. So the focus is ever more on digital – it’s the most effective and delivers ROI.”
The recession has also created a new ‘cult of personality’ with the sector in a bid to win back customers, rebuild trust and partnerships. Bankers are people too you see. Think of the Halifax and NatWest staff appearing in recent campaign. But this is not a road that American Express plans on pursuing.
Historically the brand has positioned itself as aspirational, seen as something people would aspire to own. However, the brand is now positioned as being assessable to all and for everyday purchases - not just big ticket items – with added rewards and benefits. That said, it still considers itself a premium product.
It’s operating in the digital space to communicate this message that has Roper excited, believing that it can deliver on a number of levels.
“The channel is an effective one with which to communicate the value of the product to cardholders. We can reach consumers exactly where they happen to be,” he said.
“Compared to more traditional channels, it’s more cost effective and delivers better, measurable ROI. It’s also quick to get something to market on digital.”
Hand in hand with this is the brand’s involvement in social media. Operators in the financial services sector have tackled this platform with varying degrees of commitment, But American Express has grasped the nettle with both hands.
“When we look at doing things we look to do them well. Many corporates steer clear of engaging with social media and are terrified of handing over control. We could have played at getting involved in social media and not made a big impact but working with Top Table, we have been as serious as they are,” Roper said.
“The majority of cardholding purchasers make their decisions online and blogger reviews are a key part in that marketing mix. Some have a huge following and are growing increasingly influential as social media usage grows too.”
He continued, “We have some way to go in admitting we are experts in this channel but we were looking for credible writers to endorse our offers. We wanted to increase our monthly users, Twitter followers and natural search ranking through association and so we had to ensure the bloggers’ tone and credibility was in line with our aims.
“If a blogger thinks you are using them they will resist involvement but there has been great reaction to the Top Treats promotion. Transparency is very important. We struck a genuine partnership that allowed them to associate themselves with American Express and toptable.”
It offered bloggers a chance to review restaurants and then have the reviews appear on Top Treats giving them exposure to a wider audience.
So beyond bloggers, what lessons has Roper learnt from operating in social media and conversing with users?
“You have to have a good reason for people to come back and good, compelling content is essential. The information has to be fresh, relevant and compelling for cardholders, but merchants want to see it too,” he revealed.
“When your page or feed contains good offers, people want to be the first to know. Telling their friends builds traffic and buzz. But it’s a long game; it takes time and you need to be persistent and patient to create the right environment.”
Roper continued, “Top Treats is an integral part of the marketing mix. It’s a fully formed promotion and not a tag on.”
It’s early days still for the promotion (since its September launch) but in Roper’s opinion its already exceeded expectations in terms of publicity generated and the interest from foodies, and site visits.
“American Express sees marketing as an integral part of the business, bringing merchants and cardholders together with compelling reasons,” concluded Roper.
“The world is changing really quickly with the way in which purchasing decisions are made. Marketers need to be brave in approaching digital channels helping to deliver a successful 360-degree campaign.”
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