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Wealth & Investment Management
Brand advocacy

Social communities, personified stories and organic brand advocacy: The next generation of financial customer engagement

Posted by on 14 April 2022
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People trust people more than they trust brands

Today, customers want to be part of something bigger than everyday life. Social media doesn’t just connect us to people; it connects us to communities where we can build one-to-one relationships with thought leaders previously inaccessible; it allows us to actively participate in social movements we care deeply about. It facilitates reliable endorsements and recommendations of products and services because we have first-hand experiences of them, and it helps us alleviate stress by sharing a good belly laugh with our #catfleuncer community.

It gives us a voice that inspires action, one that travels outside the confines of our homes, our jobs, our communities, and cities. Social media is a tool that, used wisely, can help us and our customers, live the life we aspire to lead.

So how can financial institutions tap into this established, authentic, and powerful network of people who are sharing and talking and influencing each other around the clock? Historically, we’ve treated social media as a secondary or even tertiary medium for customer engagement. We typically follow mass-marketing strategies, relying on the strength of our logo, a memorable slogan and the visibility of our branded websites and brochures through, budget permitting, targeted events, media buying and PR. It mounts up to a significant investment where the returns are not always obvious and organic brand reach (and, therefore, credibility, trust and knowledge-share) is slow.

Today, we require a new way of thinking and acknowledge that:

a) digital communities are here to stay and

b) they are built around genuine stories,

instead of targeted mass-communication. To that point, customers today don’t want to be sold to – they want to build relationships with real people and belong to communities that will enable their goals and aspirations.

Our engagement challenge is specific and must be reframed from “how do we leverage social media?” into “How do we actively participate in digital communities, personify our brand messages, and create loyal advocates who connect us to their friends, families, and colleagues?”

The company is just our reflection

If the goal is to survive and thrive in the digitisation and democratisation of wealth and asset management, we must lift our corporate vails and personify who we are as a business. We, or rather you and I, our CEOs, our interns, should be actively participating in the same digital communities as our customers. Furthermore, we should be using our personal experiences as the metaphors that help explain our corporate stories in our own authentic way. These are stories about real life; the company is just our reflection.

Adidas is more than a three stripe logo to me; it is the tears of an exhausted, but exultant woman, finishing a 100-mile trail run. @anna.the.runner posted her reel in my #UltraRunning Instagram community. She is not a professional marketer for Adidas, nor a celebrity athlete. She is an ordinary 30-something year old woman doing something extraordinary. Her story is about dedication, resilience and never-giving-up, something I, along with others, relate to. While participating in the ensuing community discussion (of which @Adidas is a member), I am convinced to try out the Adidas Fujitrabuco Pro trail shoe, endorsed and recommended by people I trust. Adidas is no longer another sports brand; she is a person that I connect with, one who inspires me to achieve my running aspirations. In return, I become a loyal advocate.

Going forward, think about your brand attributes and consider what they’d look like as a person. Diversification? That’s someone always prepared for the unknown. Transparent fees? That’s someone who always knows what they’re getting into. Take it a step further; who in your community is living that value in their own way?

For example, perhaps your CEO loves camping in the great wilderness; how might she “prepare for the unknown” in that environment?  Can your marketing team assist her in creating an article about the benefits of diversification, post it on LinkedIn and use a real-life photograph as the visual metaphor? Will she be willing to post the content from her personal account with a question that encourages community discussion: “How do you #PrepareForTheUnknown?” The story becomes personal, relatable, and inclusive. Brand personification and employee advocacy makes a complex topic like diversification tangible, insightful and engaging.

Advocacy: utopia or dream world?

Of course, there are challenges with setting up employee and customer advocacy programs, whereby we encourage user-generated content, steer the discussion in online communities and have our people be the story tellers. Our strategies need to examine what existing digital communication platforms will mitigate the risk of regulatory infractions. We’ll need to consider how to incentivise employees to advocate on our behalf; do we recognise and reward staff to such an extent they’ll be proud to participate?

On the other hand, in supporting employees to tell our stories we not only help advance their careers, we also increase the visibility of their skills and capability to our competitors. Unlike a brand, people can walk out the door and take themselves, their talent, and their social communities with them. We need to be ready to back ourselves from a retention perspective or be happy to embrace this duality.

While this engagement strategy will require some thought and even more preparation, we’ll be wise to remember that our most significant competitive advantage isn’t our logo, marketing resources, or even fund performance and AUM; it’s our people. We’re in the business of building relationships and people trust people, more than anything else. However differentiating we believe our brand attributes to be, these are no longer superior to the customer, in the eyes of the customer; social media has equalised the landscape and we must build our engagement strategies accordingly.

The key to customer engagement is embedded in social communities, personified stories, and brand advocacy. Our aim is to be part of the movement rather than trying to be the movement itself. To a certain extent, the champions of customer engagement has been relinquished not to the entity that has the biggest marketing budget to spend, but rather to the people whose message goes the furthest.

Join Zoe Robson at IMpower Incorporating FundForum 2022. Find out more about the agenda and speakers here >>

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