Today's financial services marketers face an ever-evolving set of challenges, from adhering to emerging data privacy regulations to combating digital competitors — all while meeting rising consumer expectations.
These shifts may seem daunting, but they present an opportunity for marketers to lead financial services organizations into the future. To do this, marketing teams must be able to communicate how these challenges impact the larger organization and its approach to search marketing.
Data Privacy: The California Consumer Protection Act went into effect as of January 1, 2020. Upon consumer request, organizations have to share what they know about customers and give consumers the right to delete it and opt out of allowing companies to sell it to third parties. Now, consider that California's economy surpasses the United Kingdom, which is the fifth largest economy in the world. The CCPA is just the first of many privacy laws that will impact financial organizations. New Mexico, Washington, Hawaii, and Massachusetts are well on their way to implementing their own privacy protections — so if you don't feel the heat yet, you will soon. It's time to reevaluate your personalization initiatives and the customer demographic data you store. Most marketing technology focuses on cookie or demographic-based marketing, but the advantage of semantic search is it instead uses explicit consumer intent — rather than collecting demographic data.
Increased Competition: Across industries, we've seen the rise of digital competitors like Rocket Mortgage, Lemonade, and Ally Bank. They continue to outpace the growth of their industry peers, and they are outspending their traditional competitors in paid advertising — since they don't have brick-and-mortar costs — at a time when paid media costs are going up and conversions are dropping. This arms race is not realistic to compete in. The good news is that search outperforms paid media 12 to 1.
Changing Customer Expectations: We all know that consumers don't follow a predictable series of steps as they move from a research phase to "ready to buy." A recent Google studyfound that no customer journey was the same. Technology has put customers in control of their own purchase journey, allowing them to find direct answers to questions they have about a company, a product, a branch, or a financial professional. In a recent financial services study, Yext found that 82% of customers would ask detailed questions* in their search for a financial services provider, including years of experience, certification, reviews, and eligibility. Search has profoundly changed the playing field, and customers now rank it as an important purchase journey interaction similar to referrals or speaking with a financial professional. Customers want their questions answered with as little friction or confusion as possible.
These macro conditions are contributing to sweeping changes that are driving investments in search. So what should we expect to be different in 2020 — and what tactics can financial services companies consider to drive profitable growth?
1. Search will be the most important channel for financial investors.
Think about how much Google has infiltrated our lives. It's so pervasive that it's become a verb — "just google it" — and people are using it to find answers to everyday questions. It's estimated that there are over 2 trillion searches per day on Google, which is pretty amazing considering it was 6 billion in 2006. Think about that for a second. There are approximately 7.7 billion people in the world. That would mean every human being performs more than 90,000 searches a year.
In a recent HBR study, search was the most valued digital category (the study found you'd have to pay someone $17,000 a year to give up search, compared to just $500 for social). This makes sense when you consider that we use Google in our work and home life, to find a job, and even to find a spouse. Looking at the financial investor journey, we see that 31% of people* are going to at least 7 places to ask questions. Additionally, they are fact-checking these answers with reviews — 80% of financial services customers say that reviews are essential to their purchase decision*.
2. Intent marketing will be a top priority for marketers.
Marketers are turning to search and intent marketing to interact with consumers during moments that matter. Google has shared that they group consumer questions into several categories, including "I want to know," "I want to go," "I want to do," and "I want to buy."
Let's use a wealth management example. A customer asks, "Find a financial advisor near me who specializes in family trusts." This is where natural language processing steps in to read the question, translate it, extract intent, and respond. We need to understand that a financial advisor is a person, that "near me" requires a geographic location, and that "family trust" is a type of product — one which is usually reserved for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Intent can allow marketers to move beyond the campaign and transform the business across customer acquisition, servicing, financial education, retention, and more. Finally, technology can fill in those blind spots to align the company goals (like revenue, margin, and retention) with the consumer's goals (e.g., simplicity, value).
3. The knowledge graph will transform the marketing stack.
No marketing technology has been designed for the era of conversation. In 2012, Google created its version of the knowledge graph to answer complex questions. Today, almost 80% of all SERP results have answers — up 2x just in the last year. A knowledge graph is a brain-like database that is able to organize all the public facts about a company. These facts can be mapped to consumer intent and questions. They are relational, have operational controls so the business can edit them, can be reported on, and store performance information.
As financial services organizations increasingly support websites, voice search, and chatbots, the knowledge graph will play a central role in powering the new marketing technology stack. Google has a knowledge graph to answer questions intelligently, so should brands. In financial services, it's common for clients to build a public knowledge graph ready to answer consumers questions about their business and services. Expect to see more of this in 2020.
Want more insight into what's ahead for search in 2020?Get marketing predictionsfrom 10 experts at companies including Microsoft, Adobe, Yum! Brands, and more in our latest eBook.
*Yext financial services study, 2019