Rising Stars of Financial Marketing Explore Trends for 2019

Earlier this week, I was honored by the Gramercy Institute as a Rising Star in Financial Marketing, alongside 19 other fantastic industry pros. The opportunity was not only humbling but also allowed me to reflect on what 2019 communication trends excite and challenge us here at Vested. Below, I share our perspective on how financial marketing and communications can learn and capitalise on each.

The Tortoise and The Hare

It’s hardly news that we’re surrounded by news 24/7. But there’s a divergence happening as both fast(er) news and slow(er) news trends emerge. More specifically, fast news is the almost-instant delivery of quick headlines and five Ws. But being the first to a story isn’t always what consumers need, as some topics need more time, depth and detail to reveal the full picture. And this is often the case when it comes to financial services.

Let’s look at the Daily Telegraph’s Brexit WhatsApp group. Instant(ish) updates on what’s happening, delivered straight into your WhatsApp inbox alongside messages from mates, mummy friends and partners. It’s digestible but expansive with a personal and more casual tone. Contrastingly, we also have Tortoise – one of Kickstarter’s most successful investments of 2018 is due in early 2019. Tortoise is proud to be slow and take an in-depth approach to news. It’s also opting for partnerships with brands rather than advertising.

Thumb-Stopping Moments

The way we as consumers consume products and information is ever-evolving and has resulted in a rapidly-changing content landscape. Plus, as social media platforms alter their priorities and subsequently their algorithms, the science behind curated newsfeed slowly begins to crumble. We no longer have total control over what content we’re served and when–but we haven’t totally surrendered our lives to Instagram (not yet at least). We still have control over when we click, and when we buy. So, it begs the question: how do we in financial marketing, cut through the immense amount of content on the internet and create “thumb-stopping” moments?

As people that use social media regularly, it can be hard to separate our own preferences and behaviors and look impartially at how the masses interact with content. But the removal of self from the marketing equation makes way for trend-spotting among target demographics.

Measuring What Matters

Measurement is always a key part of the conversation with our clients, and advances in technology have allowed us to look differently at engagement and success. But this proliferation of data can be a slippery slope. Because of its vastness, it is easy to become enamored with meeting particular metrics by particular dates that may not speak directly to strategic long-term goals.

It’s important to start off 2019 marketing efforts with a conversation around what your priorities are and how success is measured before getting bogged down in social followers or website views. Moreover, data needs to be contextualised as success can’t be measured in a vacuum. For example, instead of just looking at how many people visited your site in the last month, it’s equally if not more important to look at how long they visited the site for and what pages they clicked through to.

Audience Algebra

Whether you’re a B2B, B2C or B2B2C communicator, audiences are at the heart of what we do and the decisions we make every day. We’re all increasingly under pressure to demonstrate that we know, understand and can reach the *right* consumers. And whilst audiences are often segmented or categorised, let’s not forget they’re made up of individuals.

The CFO you want to reach, the potential recruit you want to attract and the intermediary who sells on behalf of your business, are also consumers with personal interests, passions and consumption habits. Understanding these specifics and serving up content outside of the traditional “box” they’re used to being put in helps create the thumb-stopping moments we mentioned earlier. It also creates an opportunity for adding a personal touch, setting your content apart from the masses in financial marketing and other industries.

The Health of Wealth

We’re all actively managing our health more than our wealth. But how can financial marketers tip the balance and encourage better self-financial management the way SoulCycle is marketed as therapy for your body and mind?

Nudge theory and behavioural economics has been much discussed in both the financial services and health and fitness areas. And within fitness, it shows that incentives make people move, like insurance policies that offer reimbursements for gym memberships once you log a certain number of hours. So, how do we use this line of thinking to help consumers prioritise financial wellness and incentivise them to stick with it?

It’s about real-life, every-day decision making–the immediate changing of habits like opting for homemade coffee over Starbucks, or ensuring an extra chunk of money from your paycheck is moved to savings. It’s not to say we should ignore big-picture, more complex personal finance subjects like investing or saving for retirement; but capturing the practical application of finance that leads to immediate results is top of mind when we look at 2019 industry communication.

With these trends in mind, the question for communicators is how to make the most of these opportunities in 2019; how to use them to engage with audiences in different ways, capture their interest, encourage loyalty and create brand differentiation.

Have any big ideas for 2019? Share them with us on Twitter (@vested) and Linkedin; and don’t miss an earlier blog post by UK CEO Elspeth Rothwell on what financial marketing trends she’s keeping an eye out for next year.

 

Chez Vested: Champagne and Caviar

Tis the season! Last week, we welcomed over 150 financial marketing and communications C-suite professionals into Chez Vested for a champagne and caviar-themed holiday party. The event was hosted in a stunning loft space in Chelsea and featured an array of sparkling French wines and champagnes, complemented by Petrossian caviar; endless charcuterie boards; passed h’orderves; a photo booth; and of course, Vested accessories.

The evening kicked off with some brief remarks from our CEO Dan Simon; as well as our caviar expert, Mark De Francis, of Petrossian. Mark shared his insights on how caviar has changed over the last 50 years from old-world to new-world, and which wines pair well with the Parisian delicacy before guests began their sampling.

Each room was dedicated to a specific champagne and accompanied by carefully curated Vested accents–like the rosé room, where we served Grand Cru Brut Rosé. The room was brimming with champagne-colored balloons, books and bobbleheads in honor of our chief economist, Milton Ezrati. Towards the back, a spread of caviar was accompanied by Bereche Et Fils Brut, an aged combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with complex aromas of cranberry, strawberry, baked apple, and white pepper.

During the party, we also unveiled our inaugural edition of VestEdit, the firm’s magazine featuring thought leadership pieces from its staff. Digital version coming soon!

We were thrilled to see new and old friends from Bloomberg, Morningstar, New York Life, AXA and others.

And while we say it after every party, Chez Vested truly has been our most successful event yet. The photos say it all:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Millennial Recruitment Boils Down to Just One Word: Trust

At Vested, we’re fortunate to have some of the best in the businesses of public relations, marketing and finance. This is no accident. Hiring smart, dedicated and hardworking team players has been part of our mission since day one. When CEO Dan Simon, COO Ishviene Arora, and I first began putting the Vested wheels in motion, understanding — and attracting and retaining — the current potential (and Millennial) applicant pool was at the forefront of the discussion.  

The evolution of talent

Decades ago, making a career for yourself meant applicants finding a decent-paying job at a well-known company and putting in the time to climb the corporate ladder. Oh, how things have changed.

Call it the Zuckerberg effect, or the Uber-ification of the labor economy, or whatever cutesy name you like, but today’s workforce—also known as Millennials, (shocker, we know)—find the idea of entrepreneurialism greatly appealing. One could interpret that in a few different ways. After all, finding the idea of entrepreneurialism appealing and finding entrepreneurialism itself appealing are two different things.

Those who find the idea of entrepreneurialism appealing are drawn to things like relaxed dress codes, unlimited vacation, abundant snacks, or a “fun” culture. As we say in our Manivesto, there’s nothing wrong with that. But entrepreneurialism is not hoodies and M&Ms; it’s a sickness, a deep-seated commitment to quality, a hunger for more than just a “job.”

It’s no secret Millennials get a bad rap when it comes to work. While they’ve been deemed lazy, noncommittal and entitled, we feel quite the opposite. For the best of these young applicants, who also account for the largest part of the labor force, there’s a desire to create something from the ground up, to build a legacy and watch it flourish. In many ways, it’s personal. Work becomes part of one’s identity. So if it’s a part of them…

Why not let them own it?

Literally. At Vested, every full-time employee is a dividend-yielding shareholder. Thus, as the business grows thanks to the employees’ efforts, they see the real and tangible payoff. Similarly, we give our employees full transparency into our success. We do this through a variety of initiatives, such as quarterly financial performance reports from our CFO — including how the business’ performance maps back to things like bonuses and profit sharing. Yup — we offer profit sharing, and also have a defined equation to determine employee bonuses. And we align employee and business success in even more ways, such as offering commissions on all business sold and on referring great new talent that further helps the firm grow.

However, we also know how exhausting “owning it” can be. In a client-driven and around-the-clock industry, burning out is a reality we ourselves face. We know that the commitment we ask of our “Vesties” can at times be overwhelming. That’s why we have a no-questions-asked, work-from-wherever-you-need-to policy (which we’ll aim to rename). And we offer employees unlimited vacation, sick and mental health days — which we still track for the sole purpose of encouraging those who haven’t taken PTO to get offline and relax. And one of my personal favorites: We offer a paid three-month sabbatical to each full-time Vestie every four years.

Trusting Millennial talent

Dan, Ishviene and I are not absentee owners. We’re deeply passionate about our work and want to be involved. We also know we can’t scale unless we surround ourselves with like-minded and capable young talent. Giving up our own equity so they can literally own part of our success is a tangible way to show our employees we trust them. It’s why the firm is called “Vested” and not “[Last Name] Communications.”

In our business, trust between employer and employee is the key to long-term success. Consider briefly the devolution of the corporate dress code. After places like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan did away with their dress codes, there was a feeling of fear that employees may take it too far: showing up in their pajamas or bathing suit. Let’s face it: we’re all adults here, and people deserve to be treated as such. Dictating their outfits, or not allowing them the flexibility to take care of themselves, does nothing but undermine employee loyalty. My favorite corporate dress code? General Motors’. If we can’t trust people to dress appropriately, how can we trust them to do anything?

This notion of trust has been the driving force behind our philosophy as a business, and it’s paying off. Our staff is made up, largely, of Millennials (78 percent, last time we polled), while 19 percent are Gen Xer and four percent consider themselves Gen Z. But 100 percent of our employees indicated that they’re given a lot of responsibility, and another 100 percent said they’re proud to tell others they work here. As of July 2018, we had just a four percent voluntary employee turnover rate.

At the end of the day, these numbers do so much more than just check boxes. They give us, as management, the drive we need to continue to make Vested a place for young people to succeed.

Holiday Ads in the UK: Striking A Delicate Balance

For as long as we can remember, there’s been one seasonal craze that never fails to excite the average British household: elaborate holiday adverts that fully embrace the festive season.

We’re infatuated with moving stories that capture the essence of the season, particularly if they use fluffy animals or sad stories with heart-warming endings. Dominated for many years first by Coca-Cola and then by John Lewis, each year Brits wait in anticipation to see if and how brands can make them shed a tear (or at least mutter “aw”).

This year, however, several holiday ads from popular brands were met with criticism and controversy from viewers and authorities across the UK. In an age where consumers value companies with a social mission, there is a balance to be made between commerce and charity when marketing the holidays.

Commercialized Celebrations

Many viewers this year Tweeted that the long-reigning leader in holiday ads, John Lewis, was “not Christmassy enough” and served a commercial goal of promoting Elton John’s upcoming biopic and tour. The idea was to show that gifts are more than just novelties, but rather unforgettable staples in one’s life; just as Elton John’s piano, gifted to him as a young boy, made him the success he is today. But the Brits aren’t buying it–especially since Elton was rumoured to have received 5 million pounds for the 2-minute clip.

Waitrose also ditched the sob story this year and opted for a more product-led campaign. The retail grocery store mocked John Lewis’ ‘feel good’ holiday ads and bringing it back to what consumers really want during the festive season: good food. Despite the brand’s departure from its traditional appeal to emotion, Waitrose’s snarky take on the holiday ad was well-received on social media. In some ways, the brand achieved the ultimate trifecta: taking a clever and humorous approach to an already-viral campaign while still pushing its own product.

The ad’s transparency is also a double-whammy: it subtly says what many seemed to think of the Elton John ad and offers no pretenses about the ‘stuff’ that really makes the holidays. As marketing efforts evolve over time–particularly in the seasonal height of consumerism–the more familiar consumers become with old and overused techniques and often resent the feeling of being coerced into a brand’s commercial objectives.

Festively Philanthropic

On the other hand, some brands have leaned too far into their charitable initiatives and, in turn, neglected marketing goals. For example, the viral campaign launched by Iceland this year featured a baby orangutan called Rang-Tan who hangs around in a little girl’s room because, as we find out in the second half, his home has been destroyed by deforestation from the farming of palm oil. Not only was the ad far removed from a holiday theme, but it was also deemed environmental propaganda and too political due to its affiliation with Greenpeace. Clearcast, a non-government advertising oversight committee, therefore did not allow it to run due to the breach of the broadcast code for advertising practice (BCAP).

Whether this was the intended outcome or not, the video clip suffered The Streisand effect and went viral, with viewers falling in love with Rang-Tan. However, it is difficult to know whether this is helping or hindering the budget chain’s success in driving Christmas sales. What’s interesting is the difference in responses to Iceland’s and John Lewis’ equally non-festive ads, and how important it is to know your audience within your marketing efforts.

It begs the saying “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” But does it mean that all brands should play it safe with humble narratives during the holidays?

Getting the Balance Right

The answer is no. At the heart of it, companies create the novelty holiday ads for one objective alone: to drive their seasonal sales. And many consumers openly view Christmas as a time for spending money, so it would be foolish to not market your best products. For maximum output, brands can keep the compelling narrative provided they use it to their commercial advantage.

Sainsbury’s did it successfully this year by leveraging the Christmas tree and all of its decor within the setting of a school play, to portray ideals of family and loved ones. Aldi has taken humble Kevin the Christmas Carrot to not only parody the iconic Coca-Cola ad, but to also push its franchise of carrot soft toys. And these are expected to sell out fast. Boots also worked in some tear-jerking mother-daughter content, portraying family frustrations that are cured with Christmas spirit. How, you ask? Through some hearty carol singing and a gift (a stick of lipstick from Boots, of course) “that says you get them.”

Whether or not brands will continue to push their agendas, whether it be commercial or political, it is hard to say, but we are certainly excited to see what’s in store for next year. For now, we’re looking forward to what Waitrose absolutely got right in its ad: good, festive food.

4 Trends Shaping the 2019 Financial Communications Landscape

This week, we hosted a panel of incredible experts to debate the big issues that will shape our worlds as financial services communicators in 2019. Despite the London drizzle outside, the debate inside the beautiful Carter Lane art gallery provided some great insights into trends as we all plan for next year’s media landscape.

We partnered with our friends at Signal Media to welcome Lucie Holloway, Head of Financial Communications at London Stock Exchange; Russell Pert, EMEA Industry Lead Financial Services at Facebook; Phillipa Leighton-Jones, Editorial Director, Innovation at The Wall Street Journal and Editor of WSJ City; and Signal’s very own founder, David Benigson.

Panelists brought a range of expertises to the table, including targeting audiences from investors to consumers through headline-grabbing and thumb-stopping content and techniques. This diversity of experience and interests proved a great fit for our audience of financial services communications professionals representing some of the world’s best-known neo banks, asset managers, insurers, and even a few of our competitors.

Defining Data

I kicked off the financial services and communications discussion by asking our panelists how the media landscape is changing and what innovations they are thinking about as we look to 2019. The biggest takeaway?  Data is the driving factor for ensuring engagement, impact, and longevity of content. In an age of blurred lines between the arts and sciences — where media and communications companies need to leverage data, and data companies require the art of language and analysis — driving content that is both informative and insightful requires a unique and diverse skill set. Fluffy language and overused insight are no longer good enough to cut through a noisy industry, particularly during a time where the world’s data can be aggregated in seconds. For us as communicators, applying a combination of data and meaningful analysis is key.

Navigating the Newsroom

Another central theme during the discussion was the importance of thinking like a journalist. One of the key hallmarks to successfully interacting with reporters and navigating the media landscape is wearing their hat, so to speak. Find the best stories within your organisation and tell them well.

The conversation naturally turned to technology’s role in storytelling. We spoke about the common misconception that AI as replacing human jobs; in fact, in most newsrooms technology is actually a mechanism to improve workflow and unearth much-needed intelligence to help fuel successful reporting. Employing smarter and more sophisticated technologies, as well as talented teams of people, will bring the best of both worlds together.

Knowing your Audience

It seems obvious, but no impactful content ever comes from guess-work. Our panelists stressed the importance of understanding one’s target market in financial services, including which medium they use to consume media, content, and information. We live in an era of instant gratification, so consumers have become impatient. Your reader may give you five seconds to get their attention, so deliver your premise in two. For mobile, short and sweet is key; for a younger audience, utilise videos and dynamic content; for your internal communications, make sure you understand what motivates your employees and help them to tell your organisation’s stories better.

Continue to improve your content program by looking outside the organisation’s walls; look at competitors within and outside your sector. And lean on data and analytics tools to test new methods and material: What channel best drives engagement? What content best resonates with your audience?

Vested and Signal present a panel on 2019 trends for financial services communications.

Measuring Success

Finally, it was agreed that targeted communications require effective measurement and evaluation. With the rise of AI and other tools, a company’s challenge isn’t about if they should measure results, but rather what they seek to measure and how different data correlates to desired outcomes.

This space is rapidly evolving. For example, businesses used to be able to measure multiple visits with cookies (how many times does a given computer IP address visit a site?) Now that most people have two or three devices, measurement must be sophisticated enough to correlate multiple data streams and understand a user’s entire journey — regardless of which device is facilitating that journey.

Key Takeaways

If you’re reading this, it means we succeeded in securing more than five seconds of your attention – so thank you! The communications landscape is ever-evolving, but it’s important we adapt accordingly to stay relevant and convert stakeholder attention from interest to action. I leave you today with our key takeaways from this discussion:

  1. Find the ‘hidden gems’ in your organisation — insights, data, employees — and mobilise them to tell your best stories
  2. Manage your newsroom as if you worked for a publication
  3. Invest in understanding your audience and how they are engaging with your content
  4. Use analytical tools to help drive future communications strategy, not just to justify what you’ve done so far

Vested Named Top Place to Work by PR News

As 2018 starts to wind down and the holidays are upon us, what better time to take a moment to appreciate what a successful year it’s been–starting with our most recent achievement: being named as a Top Place to Work by PR News.

This honor recognizes Vested’s  rapid but sustainable growth, employee retention and diversity, our benefits, and narratives about our company culture and fundamental.

Being recognized as a Top Place to Work alongside other companies doing great things further validates all we’ve poured into creating a sound business model: hiring great people, investing in them, and giving them the tools to succeed. For us, creating a work environment that employees want to be a part of long-term is central to our continued success. And that environment is made up of more than just beer or cold brew on tap (although Vested does have those, and a killer snack selection to boot); at Vested, a great work environment is a space where the staff is empowered to create, grow, and own their work from inception to the final product.

We believe this speaks volumes to young people who view jobs as part of their identity, rather than just a source of income—and it’s working. Our employees reported 100% satisfaction when it came to a great atmosphere, great challenges, great communication and great leaders.

We’re also incredibly thankful that this Top Place to Work recognition is one of many this year. Our COO Ishviene Arora won Business Intelligence’s Excellence in PR & Marketing award; both our CEO Dan Simon and the firm were named winners of SVUS’s PR World Awards; and I was honored to be recognized by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

These nods, our other great work, and our continued growth are only possible because of our outstanding and growing team. We continue to welcome brilliant minds to our ranks — folks who complement our interests and abilities, yet push us to do, be, think bigger. In January, we brought on Elspeth Rothwell as European CEO shortly after acquiring London-based Templars Communications. In April, we hired Katie Spreadbury as Director in our London office. We also hired Kevin Trowbridge as Chief Technology Officer this summer, and in September, Amber Roberts became our U.S. CEO of Professional Services.

Heading into 2019, we’re excited to take on new clients, projects, and staff, and to build new things. To see what we’ve been up to, and for a further glimpse into #VestedLife, follow us on Instagram and Twitter!