What we now call ‘marketing’ began long before the name was coined. In the mid-1800s, traveling salesmen dressed “snake oil” and other tonics in fancy packaging and extolled their virtues to a gullible public. New marketing applications soon proliferated in the belief that marketing could make many new things possible in virtually any business situation. For more than a century, implementation, experience, and ultimately strategy have helped marketing evolve from crude beginnings into today’s sophisticated practices.
Consumer product firms have been the pioneers in the marketing field and have taken the undisputed lead as the creators of marketing’s best practices. While sophisticated marketing techniques have spawned consumer giants, most financial services firms had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the era of sophisticated marketing.
The Advancing State of Financial Services Marketing
Financial services marketing has, however, evolved rapidly over the last decade. As a result, the very nature of the marketing function in financial services firms is undergoing a dramatic modification as more attention is paid to marketing-driven processes that impact the entire firm. Our observations suggest that the more progressive financial services organizations are currently going through an intellectual and practical transition that is forcing the reexamination of the role of marketing within their firms. Many have begun to realize that financial marketing responsibilities include not only developing the firm’s mission statement and key messages but also defining its business focus, relevant differentiation, competitive advantages and value proposition.
At the same time, however, a number of financial services marketing directors must engage in long-term turf battles with other departments before they can implement worthy financial marketing initiatives that will help accelerate the achievement of corporate goals. In many financial organizations, the persistent problem of differentiating financial marketing from sales still remains largely unresolved. In addition, some financial services marketing directors must still enlist substantial management support just to maintain equilibrium and obtain the opportunity to accomplish even limited objectives.
Focusing on the Customer
Peter Drucker, a sage of the financial marketing discipline, discussed customer-defined value almost 50 years ago. During the last decade, his concept of a customer-centric focus has become part of popular marketing literature and is now the guiding principle of financial marketing. Drucker’s fundamental mandate that ‘the customer’s interests must come first’ can be summarized by the following statements paraphrased from his extensive writings:
The only valid definition of business purpose is to create a customer.
What the business thinks it is producing is not as important as what customers think they are buying; what customers consider to be value is decisive.
Every business has only two basic functions: marketing and innovation.
Marketing is your whole business as seen from the customer’s point of view.
While easy to articulate, customer-centric practices are difficult to implement in most financial services organizations. Obstacles include a prevailing product-push mentality, a focus on short-term profitability, under-investment in financial marketing activities, and the lack of solid market intelligence about the needs and wants of target markets. We believe, however, that in the future the most successful financial services marketing organizations will be those that make Drucker’s principles their own through extrapolation, adaptation, and creative application. As effective financial marketing evolves to a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary activity, successful firms will create a culture of customer orientation throughout the organization and incorporate advocacy for customer welfare in all corporate decision-making.
With the financial services industry currently going through a transformation, management’s challenge is to provide the leadership to displace the status quo and create a culture of opportunity. Early adaptors who apply the concept of ‘integrated marketing’ on an organization-wide basis will not only develop a customer-orientated culture, but also create opportunities for innovation, improved performance, and incremental profitability.