Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The IFA is dead, long live the IFA

In a side room of the Liberal Democrat conference last week, the traditional IFA was put on life support. Lord Newby stated in a satellite meeting that, “The traditional model of the IFA looks to me like a doomed species. I think there will be a drift away from old fashioned financial advice”.

He went on to say. “I hope people do take financial advice but they will want it free and they will want it delivered electronically.”

This may well be true of the old model, but at the same time in Newport the IFP was holding their annual conference. This collection of individuals represents the future of the industry. Life planners and chartered financial planners, who embraced RDR from the minute it was announced and are now using new technologies to engage with their customers and run a completely fee based model. This was a room of individuals harnessing the power of the web to ensure that the advice model adapts and changes and letting the world know through a vibrant hashtagged twitter stream.

Businesses like Informed Choice with its Brilliant with Money and recently launched Brilliant with Advice split option portals or Jackson’s whose MD Pete Matthew recently launched the completely free video based Meaningful Money .tv channel are looking to overlay free sensible advice with quality paid for financial planning.

This new model for advice is being supported and electronically enabled by businesses such as Paraplanplus whose Moneyscope product is about to launch. In addition the IFA focussed social network IFALife is growing exponentially to support the community and stimulate the growth in this new electronically enabled financial planning model. To facilitate that growth they launched their new iPhone app last week.

The IFA may be dying, but the future of ‘paid for’ financial advice is alive and kicking stronger than ever online.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fostering a new culture of test and learn in financial services

This week a group of digital industry professionals came together at the Dmexco trade show in Cologne to discuss the future of marketing. The key take out of the day was that Marketers must take more risks if digital is to be fully capitalised upon. Digital channels and platforms are so fluid that it's essential brands begin to look at running far more testing. That means allocating realistic small budgets and spending time and money on analysis. That means being open to failure, multiple failure if necessary and moving on quickly until success is achieved.

This is easy to say, but financial services is a category built on risk elimination and steeped in compliance process. Test and learn is not a natural fit within that environment, however test and learn requires a shift in thinking about the problem that may not be seen as so risky. In fact it could actually be safer in the long-run.

Seth Godin this week expanded on his initial thoughts - commonly held by many - regarding the shape of the prospect funnel. He has long held a belief that targeting in modern marketing is skewed and has gone beyond the expensive ‘one to many’ philosophy of old advertising and flipped to a 'one to the most relevant'. His assertion is that you should spend the majority of your time identifying the most influential individuals for your products and then work with those individuals on multiple small projects and rely on the viral effect to monitor an increase in spend.

This more risky initial approach could in theory actually be a less risky strategy in the long-term. You're effectively developing live real-time test cells and focus groups which will help to identify and promote your future successes at a lower cost per test and all online. Over time the products that win out will be those that are the most attractive and the most stable. It's time to think bigger by thinking smaller, be more experimental, be less risk-averse but ultimately win.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Geo-location is where it's at, but should financial services brands check-in?

An interesting video was uploaded by a French developer this week, in a few hours he'd developed a product called Track Dropper. This allowed users to leave musical 'treasure' for passers-by in specific locations. Do what? In simple terms you choose a music track from your mobile device and attach it to your location. Users who then pass that place in the future and are using the same software would be able to pick that track up, upload it to their mobile device and listen. Why's that of any use? Well it could be used by brands that have music as a core element of their strategy. So for O2, at the O2, or maybe for Diesel in their retail outlets, this could provide fantastic brand value.

Geo-location has been the building story of 2010. Since SXSW in March this year the fight has been on to win the geo-location battle. The main protagonists so far have been first Foursquare who has successfully built 2 million followers by tapping into the enthusiasm for gameplay. Users who 'check-in' are awarded points and badges while sharing their location with their friends. Second there's Gowalla who allow users to attach pictures and videos to locations for other users to pick up when they next check-in. Then on the horizon is the big beast Facebook with its Places product, with 100 million users updating on their mobiles, the opportunity for Places is absolutely monumental as people start to share their location on a huge scale.

But what are the implications for Financial Services brands. There's been plenty of chatter about location-based services, but that doesn't mean brands should really be worrying too much at the moment. There's no harm in experimenting with some accounts as an individual, and/or setting up profiles for your organisation's locations, all these new services should be tested out to identify utility. But there's no pressing or immediate need to go any further with it. There are some applications that I feel could work well for the insurance or mortgage lending space, but at present the services need to mature and users need to start getting involved more deeply before location will have real impact

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The shifting summer holiday paradigm

I started running again recently. There are myriad reasons why it's good for me, not least the fact that I get to run in places that I wouldn't normally have occasion to visit. My running coincided with the beginning of the summer holidays and as I huffed and puffed around the back streets I dragged past a bench that I've gone past many times before. You've probably seen loads of benches like it. Someone, or some body placed it there years ago, but you've never seen a single person actually sat on it. You've probably wondered why the hell it was ever built in the first place.

On that particular night though there were three kids sat on and in front of it, about 14/15 years old chilled out, enjoying the early evening sun (yes there was sun this summer) and just having a very pleasant looking time. Three days later on the same route I passed the same bench, but this time there were 5 or 6 kids hanging out. Same vibe, quiet, chatty and relaxed. There was a mix of boys and girls and
they looked pretty cool (what do I know, I stopped being able to read that barometer years ago). It had a lovely feel to it, not so much incongruous, as unusual that this was where they'd chosen to be. Granted it had a little bit of greenery, some shade from the sun with the trees, but nevertheless it was basically in the middle of a suburban sprawl with no shops nearby, no real 'entertainment' on hand, just a bench as a focal point and few opinions.

My running's continued sporadically over the summer holidays and rather than varying the routes as is my normal practice I've been following the same pattern and as the weeks went by the size of the group that was gathering around this previously unloved bench grew to around 20. I started to enjoy running past it. It was convivial, quiet, considered and above all fun.

Then it began to change. As I ran past it seemed slightly more fractious. The group was bigger, there was alcohol, it was rowdier, there were factions, the conviviality had gone and as I ran on, two of the original kids I'd seen weeks before were walking away.

I went on holiday at the end of August, returning at the end of the school break at which point I resumed my slow painful fitness regime. When I ran past everything was different. The original kids had gone and had been replaced by a completely different group of individuals. Obviously I'm looking at this as the parent of kids not a million miles off this age, but they were oiky, 'orrible, oily individuals.
There was a lot more drinking, a lot more shouting and the original spirit was gone. Come yesterday evening, two days after the schools had gone back there were four kids left drunk and surrounded by litter.

The bench was over. The cool kids had moved on. The spirit had disappeared. The paradigm had shifted. I’d like to think the cool kids had found another anonymous bench. If I’m honest they’re probably back at school, but it suits my romantic side that they’re all happy chatting in Pleasantville just a few streets away.

Now inevitably this whole episode has led me to muse on the nature of social networks, their adoption and possible future abandonment. I watch brands pour millions of dollars/pounds through specific channels and often think ‘I really hope they don’t ruin this’, because if they do their audience won’t stick around they’ll just move on elsewhere, not only that they’ll switch that brand off ‘FOREVER’ because that’s the choice being online gives you.

Facebook popped up out of nowhere 5 years ago, 515 million users on the late majority are still ploughing in, with brands following in their hoards, but there’s really no reason to believe that Facebook won’t go as soon as it came.

Facebook’s sudden disappearance is unlikely, but it’s important to understand when the cool kids leave and where they’ve gone, because they’re the ones who’ll spark the next big thing and as a brand you need to know about that and be prepared to act upon it. I’m not going to go into how in this post as that’s a whole different issue and in fact the answer may be, ‘do nothing, hang back’.

The point is, you have to be fluid, you can’t be too brash and you have to consider the huge range of variables that may open up to you through digital channels and be prepared to embrace them. Concentrating in just the one area and using it and abusing it for every last drop of value is a dangerous game and can ultimately leave you in the wilderness, with a bunch of ‘friends’ that left for a better bench long ago.