Human Behavior Hacks Every Financial Services Marketer Should Know
Written by: Danielle Stitt
Email. The cornerstone of any financial services marketer’s kit bag. Not the shiny object it once was after Digital Equipment Corp marketing manager Gary Thuerk sent the first “mass” email in 1978.
However, a quick look at Google Trends and the term “email marketing” has stood the test of time, showing steady interest over the last five years while other marketing channels have ebbed and flowed.
So, if you are going to use email in your marketing mix in 2017, then let’s make sure it’s as effective as possible.
One of the presenters at Inbound16 was Nancy Harhut, who’s won over 150 awards for direct marketing effectiveness (with creds like that she got my attention!), presenting “10 Human Behavior Hacks that Will Change the Way You Create Email”.
Here’s what I learnt.
We all use decision making shortcuts as a way to conserve energy and speed through our waking day. Marketers can use this to our advantage by leveraging the following human behavior hacks to improve the chances your readers notice, open and act upon your email communications.
Tip 1: Magic words in subject lines
A boring subject line is not going to perform as well as a subject line that compels you to click through, right? However, the finance sector is not an industry that can indulge in blatant click-bait subject lines. This is where “magic” words or “eye magnet” words are your friend.
- NEW – one of the top 5 most persuasive words (synonyms also include now, introducing, discover, announcing etc.). It appeals to the human brain’s need for novelty, news and newness
- FREE – spam filters can catch this so test but Nancy posited the use of FREE can lift open rates by 10%
- RECIPENT’S NAME – apparently we all like the look of our own name and Nancy has seen open rates increase by 29% when the recipient’s name was included in the subject line
- SECRET – making your readers feel they have information that isn’t widely available saw open rates increase 11% (think “confessions of” too) but check with Compliance first!
- ALERT – humans are hard wired to look out for danger… and breaking news… and could lift your open rates by 33% according to Nancy
We also have to remember that a lot of email is read on mobile so word length is important - think 35 words or less, and front-loading your “eye magnet” words to avoid them being truncated.
Tip 2: Position your message for a fast response
Humans respond to two action-inducing principals: scarcity and exclusivity. We hate to miss out (we didn’t call our newsletter FOMO Friday for nothing!). If your reader feels time-pressed or special, they are more likely to respond. This is where Nancy saw a 17% increase in click-through rates from the inclusion of a countdown clock.
Tip 3: Ripple effect of the scarcity principal
Garnering the first “yes” is the hardest but once your reader has taken that first positive action, it’s easier to encourage them to say “yes” again. The trick to activating the first yes is to make it a small ask. Subsequent yeses are made easier if the first “yes” was public (for instance on social – see Tip 4) and if you remind them they said yes before. You can ask for larger commitments as you go.
Tip 4: The benefit of social proof
Decision makers, both personally and professionally, look to social proof prior to making a purchase decision. We trust the opinions of others, particularly if they’re like us. If you can show your reader how others like them have taken up your offer, they are more likely to make a purchase decision.
Tip 5: Negativity can deliver positive results
People are twice as motivated to avoid pain as they are to achieve gain. This is why cash investments paying almost zero interest are so popular after major economic downturns or times of uncertainty. By highlighting the potential pain, e.g. “Don’t let inflation destroy your investment returns”, they open themselves to a solution that helps them avoid a negative outcome.
Tip 6: Availability bias turns doubters into buyers
We use our past experiences and memories to decide the likelihood of an event occurring. For example, if your client had a bad experience when dealing with your customer service team, they are expecting they’ll have a similar experience next time. To use this to your advantage, stir your readers’ memories or imaginations before you ask them for a response.
Tip 7: The authority principle to make you look better than your competition
Children are taught to respect and respond to authority from the get-go ensuring by adulthood this is well ingrained, making us hard-wired to listen and follow anyone that presents authority. In business, we position brands and spokespeople as leading experts through commentary in the media, releasing research reports, securing ratings and so on. We’re all familiar with the term thought leader, I expect. And your clients respond to hearing from the leading expert.
Tip 8: The power of “because”
This is one of my favourite tips. Nancy referred to psychologist Ellen Langer’s experiment where an office worker jumped the photocopier queue. When the worker asked if they could go ahead of the person in front, the probability of the person agreeing was increased from 60% to 94% if they used the word “because”. It didn’t matter what the reason was, “… because I’m in a hurry” was about as successful as “… because I have to make some copies”. Perhaps try that in the coffee queue tomorrow!
Tip 9: The journalists’ secret that boosts readership
The information gap theory is that humans will act to close the gap between what we know and what we want to know. Journalists are taught to answer the 5 Ws + the 1 H i.e. who, what, when, why, where + how to ensure their article leaves no question unanswered. And marketers can encourage action by highlighting an information gap with subject lines like “How to boost your savings”, “Why under-insurance can leave you stranded” or “When using a fund manager makes sense”.
It’s also worth noting that numbers stand out in a sea of words because they promise ease and order. And if including numbers in your subject line, Outbrain’s study of 150,000 article headlines found that odd numbers are perceived as more credible than even numbers. The exception is 10 and its multiples which also work because they are cognitively fluent.
Tip 10: The Von Restorff Effect
In 1933 Hedwig von Restorff’s experiments on memory found that if you want people to notice, make it distinctive. For marketers, Nancy recommended piggybacking on holidays and celebrations, customer birthdays, and anniversaries. People notice and remember things that standout and special days clearly fit into that category. E-commerce and retailers have mastered this with sales around the end of financial year, Boxing Day, Black Friday, Easter etc etc.
However, the major holidays or events can be crowded from a marketing message point of view so Nancy suggested leveraging minor holidays or even inventing your own celebration/ remembrance day which works too (I’ve scheduled in World Compliment Day on 1 March, have you?!).
Capturing the Attention of Millennials: Be Relevant and Digital
I know Gen Y are stereotyped as being transient, digital natives who are impossible to capture, but that is just the world we live in today. Technology has caused a proliferation of advancements and the financial services industry is (or should be) feeling the pressure. We have seen the rise of the robos, fee compression, virtual advisors, and various regulatory changes, all culminating to challenge financial advisors to find ways to cut through the noise to demonstrate their value.
Developing an effective marketing and lead generation process that’s tailored to millennials is vital for two key reasons:
- It’s the only way you’re ever going to capture their attention
- It’s the only way your business can remain profitable serving this demographic
Let’s be honest; there is a bit of an over-hype and obsession with millennials right now (don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously a fan). Nearly every business is starting to ask itself, “How do we capture this next generation?” And they’re spending tons of time and resources devoted to this one demographic. So think about all the different emails, social media and digital advertising you’re competing with, even beyond just the financial services industry. Whatever you put out there will have to be niche to their needs in order to capture their attention – and will have to feel authentic if you want to build enough trust to get them to engage.
As you begin to assess your ability (or desire) to serve younger investors, the question about profitability will inevitably come up. The traditional marketing advisors do today for their HNW investors is just not an effective or profitable way to target millennials. No COIs, business networking, client events, newsletters – that takes up way too much of your time. Instead, you should take a more scalable approach using digital marketing and messaging that actually resonates with your intended target market. Serving millennials should not be a loss leader; that’s exactly why segmenting and tailoring your marketing will be vital with this demographic.
Bringing it back to our friends Marg, Chip and Drew
In order to assess what type of marketing will effectively capture the attention of our three millennial personas, we need to answer these questions:
- What are their aspirations?
- What are their problems?
- When is the best time (in their lives) to capture their attention?
Marg seems to be more reactive and short-sighted, only seeking advice when there’s a triggering event causing her stress. Chip and Drew tend to have relatively similar characteristics, which you’ll notice quite a bit throughout our research. Aside from income, assets and debt levels, Chip and Drew tend to have the same needs and preferences. This means that you can take a relatively similar marketing approach in terms of messaging, but you’ll need a slightly different approach for each party later on, when we get into fees and service models.
Chip and Drew tend to be a little more financially mature than Marg; they look at longer-term goals and aspirations. The only exception would be that, when it comes to how these three define financial success, they all answered, “Having enough savings to retire when I want” as their top choice.
With the goal of tailoring your marketing messaging and approach to effectively engage these different segments, here are our recommended approaches.
Marketing to Marg
Topical blog posts and social media are the way to go. Even though Marg might not be ready for or in need of your professional advice quite yet, you can still find scalable, automated ways to prospect her (with the long-term goal of eventually capturing her once she becomes more like Chip and Drew). The key is to identify those triggers that cause Marg to seek help and find a way to insert yourself into the picture through digital marketing.
Writing a blog with topical posts that address key questions or issues that Marg might Google or research in her time of need is a great starting point. Think of blog titles like: A 5-Step Guide to Building a Budget, What to Do When You Have Credit Card Debt, and How to Improve Your Credit Score. Even though blogging might feel like it takes a lot of initial effort putting together the content, once it’s written, it can be leveraged in so many ways that you can actually realize a return on that investment of your time.
One blog post can be broken down into 10-20 different social media posts, posted on many different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), and can be used for months after the blog goes live. And, over time, that content will accumulate and improve your website’s visibility in search engines (that’s search engine optimization) to increase visitors and visits from people like Marg.
Marketing to Chip and Drew
Build a targeted marketing campaign focused on life event planning. Retirement is still a very important issue when it comes to emerging wealth prospects like Chip and Drew. Not only do they define financial success as the ability to retire when they want, they also cite retirement planning as the top financial issue they want more help with. However, big life events are the key trigger for Chip and Drew to take action on their finances. And so the key to capturing these millennials is by striking at the peak of their interest – when these life events happen.
But before you can market messaging and content specifically focused on life events like marriage, first-home purchase, first child, and change of career, you have to first address any potential branding issues. If you’re serious about wanting to engage this group, your brand and website cannot be hyper-focused on traditional financial advisor themes like retirement, investing and wealth management. Expand your current brand or create a separate brand geared to this demographic that focuses on financial planning for life events (which can still include retirement as one key component). Then build topical messaging and content that plays to each life event, like “3 Financial Musts After Having Your First Child.”
If you’re fully committed, you could even take it a step further by implementing marketing that specifically targets millennials going through specific life events. For example, you could pay to promote social media posts or ads that only target millennials between the ages of 28-30, the average age most millennials are getting married . Maybe you purchase ads on blogs or other websites like The Knot for newlyweds or The Bump for new parents. You could also identify social influencers who blog or speak about life events and other topics affecting your target market and look for cross-promotional opportunities. The more targeted your marketing and content, the more likely you are to cut through the noise and capture millennial attention.
This brings me to a key point
Marg, Chip and Drew are not niches; they are merely personas representing 3 key segments within the millennial cohort. However, niche marketing is a very powerful tool that should not be overlooked when discussing effective ways to market to Gen Y. The more niche your content and targeted your advertising approach, the more effective your marketing will become in grabbing their attention. Case in point: A 33-year-old dentist is much more likely to click on something titled “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Debt from Dentistry School” than a generic title like “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Student Loans.” You want millennials to feel your content to is talking specifically to them – and that you’re a resource who understands the needs and issues of people just like them.
To those advisors who still aren’t really interested in serving millennials, but are using this series as an opportunity to review industry trends – this niche thing is not just for millennials; it can be an effective marketing tactic to use with all generations of all ages. There are so many changes going on right now in financial services that can confusion among investors and muddle your value proposition as a financial advisor. Recent technical innovation has caused a proliferation of many different business models in our industry. You’ve always competed with DIY platforms, but now (whether you like it or not), you’re being compared to robo and virtual advisors who likely spend a lot more on digital marketing and targeting than your traditional advisor. That’s why niche marketing can play a key role in helping you to cut through this noise and grab the attention of potential prospects (no matter what age they might be).
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