Interview: Carnegie Mellon Professor Ari Lightman On How Students Are Empowered By Learning To Use Brandwatch Consumer Research
By Kara FinnertyJun 10
Published February 22nd 2016
Exploring the sophisticated underbelly of how a financial business manages to continuously prove so popular provides some clues for other firms seeking to emulate success, even to those in other industries.
With a rapidly changing demographic in its primary audience, and the world of finance morphing into something unrecognizable, financial brands face a real challenge in remaining relevant.
Louis V has been Strategy Planner for one huge financial brand’s media sub-brand for the past year, since switching from BBC Worldwide in early 2015.
Louis reveals that reaching new audiences is a core part of the strategy at the moment.
“Finance and millennials, you ordinarily wouldn’t put them together, would you? In truth, we’re actually investing a fair bit into lifestyle content. We’ve also got luxury content. It’s important to have those things because they’re not heavy. They’re not business-y.
It’s still a case of talking about stocks and the things we’re known for, but we appreciate that’s not the only thing our audience want from us – because even if they like finance, they’re still normal people with a broad range of interests.”
This diversity can be seen not only in the media profiles on social for the brand Louis works with, but in the brand’s other channels. Its Twitter accounts alone boast over three million followers across its handles.
How then, can an institution mostly recognized for finance, begin exploring other topics in its content while still maintaining a level of relevance and credibility among its core following?
According to Louis, it’s a matter of finding the themes that complement the expertise the brand is already recognized for.
“It’s the ten best wines to try when you’re traveling around China, or something else we believe will resonate with our readership.
But then you can feed in angles which are uniquely us. For example, did you know that China has more vineyards than any other nation? Or that China produces 902 different variants of wine? There are all sorts of good data behind the stories, and they don’t always have to be strictly financial.
This is one of the ways I think we are attracting or engaging with millennials while still retaining the identity.”
Naturally, reaching millennials is something many brands are hoping to achieve in 2016.
Savvy brands are seeing that it’s a case of taking the longer term view.
Even if those that are currently interested in investment information and financial news are perhaps older, or are rarely identified as millennials, building a relationship with millennials now will help the brand in the future, and take a more nuanced perspective on what is in reality a hugely diverse demographic.
“You hear a lot about the ever-present millennials, which is definitely something we think about a lot as we develop our brand strategy. But I think that perhaps millennials are changing in the kind of content that they consume.
When we’re looking at targeting, it’s not just a case of trying to attract young people. What would often be considered as millennial products, like your BuzzFeeds, your VICEs and so on, I think that’s starting to shift.
Things like COP21, the climate change meeting in Paris last November, speak volumes about how things are changing. Five, ten years ago, no one would have cared except a select few; typically younger people. Now we’re seeing it practically enter the mainstream.”
It’s not only about producing materials for particular audiences, but also about being relevant in identifying and shaping themes as they emerge.
As millennials mature and enter later stages in their careers, they become more likely to be interested in business-orientated offerings. Capturing that, and engaging with them throughout that journey, is where Louis suggests the value lies.
As millennial values drip into the more traditional world of finance, his team are ensuring that they’re a key part of that evolution.
“With digital technology it’s not just the ease of access to things for consumers, or trying to be on every hot new trend or platform. For us, it’s about looking at what’s really changing underneath all that and saying ‘okay, this audience are actually engaged with government in a way that’s different to before’.
They’re engaged with the corporate climate. They’re engaged with all these different things that we would have narrowly written off had we not been paying attention to. And missing out on these things as they’re bubbling up is how you lose relevance as a brand.”
Of course, this strategy is not exclusively about attracting new audiences. Much of what the media brand work on is focused on understanding more about its readership.
Through a mix of social media and traditional market research techniques, including a questionnaire sent to a segment of its target audience, the team is able to gauge the success of its campaigns.
For example, one investment firm was concerned that its reputation had suffered amid a security scandal, based on the broader public reaction on social.
After a campaign designed to improve this perception, initial results didn’t seem to have made much difference. However, by working with its media team, it was able to get more tailored feedback on its audience – a much more important group for the investment firm.
By the end of the campaign, polls of its finance and business audience revealed that although mainstream public perception hadn’t shifted much, the business’s reputation for security had dramatically improved among the audience that mattered most.
“We used a mix of research methods to get a feel for the particular audience that this firm were interested in – that would be your high net worth individuals, the C-suite, business decision makers and the like.
We analyze the comments and feelings towards the brand before the campaign, and then after. Thankfully in this case we were able to see a much more positive association with the brand where security was concerned after the campaign.
That’s how we think about success when we’re working with a partner.”
Targeting audiences and pushing out new forms of content is often considered risky by many brands, especially those operating in the tightly regulated and generally risk-averse financial sector.
Louis believes that it starts with making sure what you’re planning on doing is actually valuable to the audience you’re trying to reach.
“I think really you’ve got to know what it is you want to say, and what you want to do before you even think of opening an account or producing a bit of content. And also make it interesting – make it worthwhile.
Time and again I deal with business or finance brands, perhaps operating in spaces like corporate insurance, and I’ll hear ‘we really want to promote our YouTube channel.’
And the content on there is dry, it’s dull, and no one in their right mind would sit there for however long and watch video after video about corporate insurance. It just doesn’t happen, and I think there’s a sort of delusion there.”
Part of the problem here is undoubtedly still related to risk. A corporate insurance brand is knowledgeable about insurance, obviously. It’s the safe content to produce.
So how can it go about deviating from that safe spot to explore new ideas, uncharted channels and novel styles to attempt to drive greater engagement from its audience?
At the company Louis works for, the solution was to gradually restructure the business to encourage as much communication and information sharing as possible.
This included initiatives such as aligning and merging regional teams to form global units, using functionality and projects type to combine staff rather than geographies. There has also been a widespread movement towards empowering employees to push forward with ideas at all levels.
Louis has witnessed some of these shifts over the past year: “I think the approach that we’re taking now is we’re breaking down the silos that were originally put in place, and I think gradually it’s becoming more and more of a global business.”
Transforming the business to a more agile, decentralized organization has been subtle, but certainly noticeable.
“I think it’s incredibly valuable, the approach we have towards autonomy.
We’re making sure that even the most junior staff are free to make suggestions, and change the way that things work. I think there was perhaps a tendency to adopt a more traditional approach whereby, you take the lead from the top, and that’s that. Whereas now, if someone in the team really wanted to start making strategic changes to the Twitter account, that would be encouraged.”
Speaking about the reasons the program has been so successful, Louis says a lot of it can be attributed to trust.
“I think it’s about trust. If you trust your people, if you trust the people you’ve got working for you to make informed decisions, and can take what you could call smart risks, then you can’t really lose.
I think a lot of companies have an inherent fear of failing, and a fear of taking a risk. I mean, obviously you don’t want to take such a big risk that you’re going to endanger your brand seriously. But I think that’s the best way that you learn, by taking those types of risks.
So I think trust is a huge factor to success, because if everyone respects and trusts one another then anyone can say ‘Hey, why don’t we do this?’ Everybody will muck in, and say, ‘yeah, that’s great. Let’s do it.’ And that’s how you get good ideas and keep moving forward.”
Discussing bravery and risk-taking is easy when only considering the benefits. Undoubtedly there remain those that continue to worry about when things go wrong. Louis offers some advice for those still harbouring concerns.
“When things do go wrong, my best advice would be to update your CV! But seriously, I think when things go wrong – and if you’re taking the right kind of risks, then they will go wrong sometimes – the best thing to do is to take a look at what went wrong, and really dissect it.
Then you say, ‘okay, why did that go wrong?’ And it’s not about blaming. It’s more about acknowledging that this approach clearly didn’t work for us.
We need to admit that we’re not very good at approaching things in that way. So let’s try a different route, or perhaps we’re just not suited towards that, and we should be focusing our efforts on something that we are actually good at.
By trying different things, we’re learning. The good stuff carries on, and it’s tried and tested.”
It certainly helps when working for such a large brand, which affords its staff a level of healthy failure and considers each mistake an opportunity for learning.
When you’re being authentic and honest about shortcomings, even if they’re generally more regular than at other brands, Louis affirms that meaningful relationship with an audience prevents any mistake from spiralling into disaster.
“I think it’s good when brands are brave, and they actually stick with something because sentiment can change rapidly, especially on Twitter. If you do it right, people tend to be so much more forgiving.
After mistakes, you’ll get followers actively getting behind the brand, saying things like ‘get lost, trolls, you’ve had your turn. These guys are actually alright, and we’re going to stick with them.”
For an organization as vast as Louis’, ensuring the business can keep pace with the changes happening in the marketplace is extremely difficult.
Through a clever mix of targeting and detailed thinking about audiences, as well as business-wide initiatives to accelerate decision-making has at least demonstrated this finance brand has the skills and the determination to succeed in 2016 and beyond.
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