The last 18 months have been many things. Hectic, bizarre, unpredictable, sombre. They have presented us all with some very desperate and challenging circumstances – but out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have also seen an enormous amount of flexibility, adaptability and change.
Remote working has become a universal thing, we’re far more conscious now of social distancing and respecting other people’s space, and many of us will have taken to new digital services whilst in lockdown. That might include digital banking of some kind, grocery deliveries or the explosion in apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It has been said that the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption by as much as a decade.
Teddy Butz, Europe Marketing Lead for Plaid, explains: “I’ve seen Plaid, and fintechs more broadly, shift their marketing strategies in a number of ways. The first is customer loyalty. A lot of fintechs have struggled during the pandemic and I think this effect will be felt for quite some time. Just ensuring that customers are first in your marketing strategy has been more important than ever for us.
“Second is spending more on digital. During the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in engagement with digital channels because people are at home, working on their computers more. Social media is a great example [as well as] digital events and also companies replacing typical print ads with digital ads. I think this will likely carry on post-Covid as companies allow for remote work. Lastly, from a comms and messaging perspective, just being sensitive to consumers given how the pandemic has affected each person and each company differently.”
Those sentiments are echoed by Sarah Aird-Mash, who is Head of EMEA Marketing for CurrencyCloud, which last week it was announced would be acquired by Visa in a £700m deal. She explains her views on the nature of change during the last year-and-a-half: “Previously we had a lot of chance to do things face-to-face, and now things are a lot more online,” Aird-Mash says.
“I think that what’s happened is the world has changed because of the pandemic and people have changed; what our customers want and our customers’ needs have changed. It goes beyond what they need professionally and into what they’re looking for personally, so before the pandemic there was a lot of focus on performance marketing and reach and conversion. Brand was almost becoming a thing of the past. Now brand marketing is becoming more and more important because customers really want to work with a brand that has values they can buy into and that they really, really care about. Brand has become first and foremost. As part of that, customer retention is really key. A happy existing customer is worth a lot more than a new customer, so we’re doing our best to retain our customers and be more responsive, build brand loyalty.
“Then there’s the increased focus on online, because everything has gone online, so almost going back to basics and ensuring we’ve got all the foundations set up properly, the SEO is in there, we’re testing and learning all the time, always optimising, maximising everything we can do, finessing our targeting. I think those are the main three areas where we’re adjusting post-pandemic, but I think that brand is a really important piece for us.”
For other companies, the pandemic has proved to be a significant challenge. Even many established and well-known fintechs might have been less than 5 or 10 years old at the time the first lockdown hit. Some struggled, while others grabbed hold of the pandemic as an opportunity. Recurring payments platform GoCardless was founded in 2011 – a veteran by some fintech standards, despite being less than a decade old. As Marc Waxman, the company’s Growth Marketing Director, tells MoneyNext, they used the pandemic to focus on transformational growth.
Waxman says: “It was much more about looking at longer-term bets, so the activities we could do now that would have an immediate impact but would also certainly impact the future beyond the pandemic and the effects that we were getting from it. I think that’s probably the main strategic change that we made, which was, rather than trying to optimise campaigns, to look more at some of the transformational things we could do.”
GoCardless has taken advantage of the millions of payments it processes on a daily basis to get its name out there more and put itself in front of users to enhance brand awareness. It also revisited the mechanics of a prospective referral scheme, examining how merchants use its platform to identify what GoCardless could deliver. The result was a monthly statement of benefits sent out to merchants to remind them of what GoCardless has already delivered, particularly in terms of functionality and benefits to the merchant, tracking the impact that had on their NPS score. These were made possible by focusing on longer-term transformational initiatives – something Waxman says GoCardless emphasised during the pandemic.
Others, like Allica Bank, actually launched during the pandemic – something that presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. Head of Marketing Chloe Fenton explains: “We actually had the luxury of being able to see how other businesses had reacted to the pandemic and capitalise on a few of their mistakes.
“When you really look at how companies approach their marketing strategies, you could see them go through different phases. The first bit was the reaction stage, where the pandemic hit and suddenly we were all thrust into this completely unknown world – our customers were, we were, everything is just quite scary really. As marketeers, we didn’t really know what to do, we hadn’t experienced this before, and I think it was really interesting to see how companies reacted to that. We had the standard thing – the letter from the CEO and all of those kinds of communications – and I think what was quite good for us, as Allica, was when we came to launch we tried to think of ways to do something differently compared to how other companies might have approached that.
“The thing I think we got after that reaction bit was about stopping, listening and thinking ‘we’ve got this new world, how do we actually understand it and help our customers?’ It was like your customers needed you more than ever so how do we learn, how do we help them, what do we do?
“The next thing that came along was the rebuild,” Fenton continues. “I actually think this was super-exciting for us as marketeers because it meant that we could almost go back to the drawing board and say ‘what do we need to do to help our customers?’”
In particular, one opportunity emerged that was apparent to Allica. In commercial mortgages, many of the new bank’s customers were small businesses who were faced with the chance to buy other retail outlets from businesses that had sadly folded or were less able to continue trading. That is a unique reflection on the circumstances the world found itself in.
We have all learned to adapt to the changing world around us and the oft-quoted “new normal”. In particular, the way we communicate with each other has changed significantly – whether that’s remembering to check in with a friend or co-worker you would usually see every day, or adapting to new working patterns and learning new apps like Teams, Slack or Zoom.
“You’re muted”, for instance, is a phrase that many of us still have ringing in our ears. So how did banks and fintechs adapt to the changing landscape of communication during the pandemic and how do you reach consumers when the means to do so are constantly changing?
Allica Bank’s Chloe Fenton says: “We’re a relationship bank so we’re very much about bringing back relationship managers to small business customers – they’re people who are financial experts who will meet with the customer, who will understand their business for the long term and be able to provide financial services and banking support, whatever they need. This is what we’re building – we’re still new and we’re still building this. The whole idea is that they go visit them and of course that’s not necessarily what customers want anymore.
“Trying to understand what those communication channels are, I don’t think there’s necessarily a best one – it’s what’s best for your customer. I think the way to approach it is to make sure you have multiple communication channels. The thing to also think about is their physical location now is not necessarily always in the office. Consider what their situation might be and think about that in the ways that you outreach them, making sure you have plenty of ways they can outreach and also thinking about the timings of that as well. Their situation has changed and so might their available timings.”
That’s something that Marc Waxman, Growth Marketing Director at GoCardless, agrees with. “Having a multi-channel strategy is key,” he says.
“There’s no one place, as we know. The distribution of prospective customers across so many different platforms is enormous. The reality is that if you are putting out your message and you are doing your best to target it to the right people, whichever means you’re using – whether that be cookie-based targeting, or selecting channels or the types of communications based on what you think your customers might be looking for – presence in those places is key. I don’t think there’s one answer to that; I think it’s many.”
“Such increases were especially prevalent for social media and messaging apps, but particularly remarkable was the unprecedented uptake in video conferencing apps and programmes,” the researchers said.
The findings show that, of more than 1,000 US consumers surveyed, 43% were using text messaging more often and more than a third (36% and 35% respectively) were using voice calls and social media more often in lockdown. This was followed by a rise in video calls (30%), email (24%) as well as a 22% increase in the popularity of online games.
So much has changed during Covid-19 that it begs an important question – will there be enduring impacts from the pandemic that we will continue to see for many years to come? Many of our panel thought so.
“There are so many unknowns,” says Waxman. “We don’t know when we’re going to come out of this, if we do come out of it. Will things go back to what we thought was normal before? What we have learned of course is that the concept of remote working has changed forever more, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been forced to become more emotionally intelligent; as we come out of whatever this is we’re in right now, we as marketers have become much more aware of needing to listen to what our customers need and want. The days of saying ‘this is what we want to shout about, this is who we are’ [are over]. Its actually much more, in my opinion, about listening to your customers and how you can help them. If that’s the overarching marketing message and marketing approach, then that would be a good thing in terms of representing businesses better and making it clearer to customers what we do to help them.
“I would also like to think that a little bit of power will be drained away from the likes of Facebook and Google because we don’t have to pay for ads that shout who we are if we just take the right marketing approach and listen to what our customers need and want.”
Sarah Aird-Mash of CurrencyCloud offers a couple of different learnings that we can take out of the pandemic and beyond. She points out that people are more mindful of their spending than before. Time spent at home with our friends and families, and the unfolding situations across the world, have prompted us to be more aware of what’s important to us and what isn’t. That may include spending less and focusing less on unimportant things, but also indulging in things that we now acknowledge are important to us. The pandemic has forced many of us to reflect.
She also says it’s a shame that it took a global health crisis like Covid-19 to make us realise that we can connect to people without going and visiting them. “I think pre-pandemic we put up invisible barriers and boundaries between ourselves and other countries,” Aird-Mash says. “We felt like we literally had to fly somewhere to understand a market or a culture, or to work with another team. Whilst that is really important, I think the pandemic has shown us that we don’t need to be putting in those miles to connect with people – we can do it online.”
Perhaps the last 18 months will also teach us not to be complacent, rather to be wary of how quickly the status quo can change. Sarah Aird-Mash continues: “The biggest thing that I’ve learnt is not to take everything you think you know for granted. Everything can change on a pinhead and from a marketing perspective, you think you’ve got it all nailed, it’s all happening and you’ve got your plans in place. You need to be agile and dynamic and be able to adapt those super-fast. Don’t take your marketing plans for granted. Be ready to rip everything up and start again because you don’t quite know what will happen.”