Why finance brands are pushing experiences
- Financial services companies are increasingly differentiating themselves on experience instead of product pricing.
- Big brands can offer premium extras for customers, a means to strengthen relationships with existing customers and attract new ones.
Finance brands are pushing money-can't-buy customer journeys in an effort to keep customers engaged. Take Mastercard's "Priceless Surprises" lottery, for example. Customers who get their name drawn could be sent to a dinner at a fancy restaurant, on a vacation to their favorite city, or even have Justin Timberlake show up at their doorstep. It's part of a larger trend in financial marketing to let the customer "feel" the experience of the brand in a way that's not connected to a particular product or service. "Storytelling is dead," said Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer for Mastercard, speaking at Advertising Week New York on Tuesday. "You need to engage with consumers in a way that's completely different; you need to connect with them as people, understanding what matters in their lives." So, rather than craft a story for the customer, brands now want to be part of that story, being there for life experiences that matter most to them. The thinking is the result of a change in the marketing strategies from storytelling around products to enmeshing the brand with the customer's life. "There's been a shift away from product pushing to advice and financial health," said Dean Nicolacakis, principal and fintech co-lead at PwC. "Part of that is driven by sales challenges some banks have had, and part of it is driven by a desire to do a better job of fulfilling the needs that clients have, like listening, understanding and solving problems." And meeting the needs of the customer -- financial and otherwise -- is what brands are hoping will hook them. Mastercard isn't alone in its move towards move towards experiential marketing. Last May, Visa, for example, used social media influencers to highlight how followers can use Visa to access "exclusive experiences when engaging with local culture in Thailand." The common ground among experiential marketing strategies is to connect with a customer's passions and use them as platforms to connect with the brand. These include music, sports, culinary experiences and travel. "Once you've got that experience, you [the customer] are a convert hopefully for a lifetime, and as a brand ambassador," said Rajamannar. Some brands are pushing premium experiences previously only accessible to higher-end customers, including preferential access to events. JPMorgan Chase, an active event sponsor, has negotiated deals with sports teams it sponsors to offer its customers early access to tickets and discounts on site. At Madison Square Garden, Chase customers can skip crowds by relaxing at Chase lounges. These small perks amount to tools that solidify the link with existing customers and can attract new ones. "At the end of the day, it's about engagement and relationship deepening, and also about creating that envy with non-customers," said Howie Edelstein, executive director for sports and entertainment marketing at JPMorgan Chase. For higher-end Chase Sapphire credit card customers, Chase is offering unique experiences that can be purchased with money or points through Chase Experiences, including private dinners and tastings with famous chefs, winery weekends and event tickets. Mastercard also offers "experiences of a lifetime" for a fee -- for example, tickets to a Broadway show including a meet-and-greet with the cast costs $100. "It's about how we impact day-to-day fan experiences, [and] how we carve out higher-end, high-touch experiences," said Edelstein. Another major bank is focusing on support for community-building experiences. TD Bank acknowledges that crafting experiences are an important part of its customer outreach strategy, but its technique is to go hyperlocal. "For us, we try to play in a very localized space," said Arianna Orpello Lewko, head of brand and digital marketing at TD Bank. "While other brands can send people to Disney, we want experiences to be relevant to local markets and communities we serve." Examples include setting up fundraisers for community groups, and contributions to charitable causes. Orpello Lewko said branch managers consult with TD's corporate offices to determine the types of experiences that are relevant to local audiences. TD has, however, designed customer experiences involving surprise thank-you gifts. For example, it once turned an ATM into an automated gift machine. For Nicolacakis, extra experiences are a way for financial services companies to set themselves apart when the price of products becomes increasingly even across brands and when customers ask for more personal touches. "Once they can't differentiate on price, then they have to differentiate on experience," he said. "People's expectations are changing, they are being set by interactions they have with other brands outside of financial services and they’re expecting more." Featured image of Chase-sponsored concert at the Club Bar & Grill in Madison Square Garden, courtesy Chase