Meerkats not the only source of intelligence

Research seen exclusively by Marketing Week reveals that consumers looking for information about their household expenditure prefer websites like Compare the Market over brands’ own sites. But above-the-line campaigns run by financial services brands still make a significant impact. By Michael Barnett.

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The internet is the best way for financial brands to get their message out to consumers, according to a new study seen exclusively by Marketing Week. The latest Financial Services Tracker, from research company fast.MAP, commissioned by the Direct Marketing Association, indicates that comparison sites such as Compare the Market with its meerkat brand ambassadors are the most common way for consumers to discover and consider offerings from financial services providers.

In terms of how people find out information about financial products and services, the survey puts comparison websites equal with recommendations from friends and relatives, with 40% of people saying that they use both sources of information. Independent websites are used by 39% of survey respondents, while 32% of respondents use a brand’s own website.

Asked what influences their consideration of and trust in financial brands, 76% of consumers agree that “a clear, easy-to-use website is important”. In the past year, this view has strengthened from “agree” to “strongly agree”.

Fast.MAP managing director David Cole says: “A website is so integral to a financial services offering now that if you have not got it right, it is quite an issue. It has to be impressive, it has to be clear. It is now part of a brand’s infrastructure.”

The proportion of consumers using a brand’s own website to find out about products has fallen since the tracker study was last carried out in June 2010. However, the figure is still at its second highest of the five surveys that have been conducted since December 2008.

Asked what influences their consideration of and trust in financial brands, 76% of consumers agree that “a clear, easy-to-use website is important”

The upward trend over that time has also been replicated among independent and comparison websites. Their growing lead over brands’ own websites, in terms of where consumers go for information, indicates that consumers are more likely to see a brand’s site as a transactional tool.

Financial brands’ websites have shifted their focus onto making it as easy as possible to purchase, according to AA marketing director Michael Cutbill. “You have got to think of it as the transaction channel of choice,” he says. “There are lots of people who will have done research in all sorts of areas, but when they get online they just want to buy. The key is to have a clear website and to make it as uncluttered as possible.”

The similar standing of independent and comparison websites suggests that many consumers are using multiple websites to research financial services and products. Cole at fast.MAP says: “Generally speaking, they are prepared to do more work. They are getting their information from a wider variety of sources. Social media and the connectivity they have with friends and peers mean they are being exposed to new companies. They want to be more open-minded about things.”

With consumers not only gathering but sharing information about financial brands online, there is an opportunity for marketers to communicate specifically with active users of review sites and social media. This is in spite of the conventional wisdom that financial brands struggle to build effective social media marketing strategies, according to RSA chief marketing officer Pete Markey.

“We try to identify those customers who think we have delivered a good experience, and then give them information to share with others about our brand and what we are offering.”

When consumers are asked to name three car insurance brands they would choose if the offers were identical, the most frequently picked are those with the most above-the-line advertising presence

However, Markey also says that large numbers of customers prefer a multichannel approach to finding out about financial products and services. Many will go online to research but will also speak to someone on the phone afterwards (see The Frontline, page 25). Visibility on the high street is also still an influential channel for prompting consideration of a brand, the report shows, with 47% agreeing this is important compared with 18% who disagree.

Personal contact is still important and something that people want from financial brands, says Cole. “There are three key threads now in a brand experience the website, a high street presence and recommendations from friends and family.”

He adds: “People now want a very rounded, stable and predictable relationship with financial brands.” This stability appears to be underpinned by a sense of familiarity that consumers want to establish with the brands they use.

Respondents’ primary reason for preferring a particular brand to others is reputation. While word-of-mouth recommendation is instrumental in building this in the minds of consumers, traditional mass media advertising also appears to hold sway over their attitudes towards brands.

When consumers are asked to name three car insurance brands they would choose if the offers were identical, the most frequently picked are those with the most above-the-line advertising presence. The AA leads the list of brands, named by 26% of respondents, followed by Direct Line (24%), Churchill (22%), Tesco (20%) and More Than (16%).

This is in spite of the fact that consumers claim not to be influenced by TV advertising. Only 18% say that seeing a regular TV advertising presence is important in convincing them to trust and consider a brand, compared with 42% who disagree with the statement. The bigger financial brands have seen a recent resurgence, says Cole. “In 2008, when people were desperate to save money, some people chose lower profile financial services brands that offered better deals than the big-name players. This explains why some of the big brands suffered in that time, but they seem to have come back now.

“Consumers are no longer desperate to save every penny. They prefer brands they know.”

The frontline: we ask marketers on the frontline whether our “trends” research matches their experience on the ground

cutbil

Michael Cutbill
Marketing director
The AA

I broadly agree with the findings. They do not come as a huge surprise, and they reflect some mega-trends that have been going on in financial services marketing. I would agree with the observation that a clear website is the most important touchpoint for consumers because in market after market, the channel of choice really is online these days.

Although it is difficult to put a figure on it, I think the general trend in website design is towards having less information on the landing page for the consumer. These days, it is becoming more common to have links that enable people visiting the website to make a deep dive into the content if necessary. It’s also important to make buying a product online a clear and easy process because many consumers only go to a brand’s website when they have made a decision.

We do not intervene hugely and we do not advertise a lot [on social media or independent websites]. What we do take seriously is what people are saying about our brand. We feel the right way to respond is to make it as easy as possible for people to make comments directly to us.

We have an area called the AA Zone, and we are in the process of redesigning our website to let more direct comment come on to it.

We let word of mouth come about organically, and we let our service speak for itself. It is difficult to convince people that your brand is great when such proclamations come from the mouth of a company.

The core of the AA’s reputation comes from the breakdown service. All of the AA product range benefits from that halo.
Customers tell each other about the service they receive. We are in the happy position that the breakdown service is so big we are already doing the thick end of 10,000 breakdowns a week. A lot of people are either getting the service, or experiencing it second-hand, or it is lodged somewhere is someone’s psyche.

pete

Pete Markey
Chief marketing officer
RSA (parent company of More Than)

More Than has increased the size of its ebusiness team by at least 30% in the past 18 months because we see it as being absolutely vital. We are investing a lot in usability and the testing of our site. We have seen more and more sales coming online in our business. It is not a surprise to me at all.

We are on the phone, we are on price comparison sites and we have our own site, and that works well. As consumers are changing, the kind of contact they want is changing too. There are those who just want to interact online, therefore the web is really important. There are those who like multichannel contact, so they will go online then ring up.

We have been working hard to change our scripts and our approach on the phone so we are tuned into this changing consumer who is already full of the data and information that they have gathered online, and wants to have a more simple, straightforward call than someone ringing directly with less information.

Marketing communications should generate brand trust, but company literature is less viewed year on year. If people have a good experience, they will tell others. Obviously if you get it wrong they will tell others too. There is power in you getting it right, and for that to be talked about. Recommendation flows from there.

The website and social media are both important, but TV, radio and outdoor campaigns still dominate people’s views about what is a big brand they have heard a lot about. Our bigger competitors, which spend three times as much as us on above-the-line advertising, show there is a way to spend your way to get higher up in that list.

Reputation comes from hearing a lot about a brand, so visibility is still very important. Companies that spend very little on brand marketing are probably much further down that list. Traditional media still has a very important and very powerful role to play.

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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