How CMOs are leading the financial services industry forward amid the pandemic

(This article was co-authored by EY’s Avril Castagnetta.)

Responding to the COVID-19 crisis, chief marketing officers (CMOs) in the financial service industry have moved to the forefront in implementing strategic initiatives to redefine the entire customer experience.

CMOs are well-positioned to do so given how much their roles and remits have expanded over the last few years. Based on a pre-COVID-19 survey of 150 CMOs and senior marketing executives at leading financial institutions, our main finding was that CMOs have taken on five expansive new roles to improve the inventive capacity of the marketing department. Specifically, CMOs have also become chief collaboration officers, customer experience officers, MarTech CIOs, change agents, and inventors.

These expanded roles have become essential with the sudden transition to virtual engagement due to the pandemic. Here are five ways that financial services CMOs can draw on their expanded new roles and demonstrate leadership.

Define the brand virtually

Defining the brand is no longer a function of mass communication driving people to brick-and-mortar establishments. Instead, brands are constructed one customer at a time through personalized experiences delivered through online and offline channels, dynamically and consistently, at all points of the customer life cycle.

Financial services marketers have taken on a far greater role in defining virtual customer experiences through websites, mobile apps, and call centers. Last year, 90% of our CMO survey respondents reported taking multiple parallel actions to increase their focus on customer experience — including capturing customer behaviors (84%), increasing customer personalization (76%), and investing in data and technology (75%).

Those efforts have paid off for organizations that prioritized virtual engagement. We recently worked with a global card issuer with an annual volume of 1 million calls each month. The card issuer developed natural language processing (NLP) searches of digital customer service scripts, which helped uncover trends in voluntary mentions of customer life events. Equipped with these insights, this organization predicts a material lift in cross-sell and upsell opportunities, has become more proactive in risk mitigation, and has implemented better customer engagement activities.

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic world, financial services marketers should plan to carefully reintroduce the human element of sales and service engagement. These efforts should involve a tightly coordinated channel strategy to facilitate value-driven, purposeful engagement for the brand.

Engage with the enterprise

To create a customer experience that appropriately manifests the ideas and values of the brand, the modern marketing organization must be connected and integrated with key internal constituents, such as the chief digital officer, chief customer officer, and chief data/analytics officer.

As a first step in developing closer enterprise integration, financial services marketers should establish expectations for achieving key business metrics. Fully digital interactions can be entirely quantified, with the digital footprints of every customer interaction measured and benchmarked. These data-led capabilities have shifted marketing campaigns toward always-on, results-driven experiences that are aligned with key business metrics. Similar digital metrics can also be deployed to evaluate other aspects of the customer experience, from onboarding to support. Operational metrics are now marketing metrics and vice versa.

Define CX metrics chart

Financial services marketers should also expect strong pressure from customers for faster turnaround. Virtual interactions call for faster cycle times in generating and releasing new content, website and app user interfaces, and overall customer experiences. Delivering on these needs will call for effective collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

Align to customers with real-time data

Data enables relevancy, which translates into a true understanding of the customer. The goal is to meet consumers where they are with products and services that make the most sense for them at that moment. Especially given the current landscape, financial services marketers must respond to fast-moving conditions in which someone’s employment, housing, or education may be at risk.

To send personalized, intelligent, and actionable messages to the correct people at the correct time, financial marketers need access to the same kinds of accurate, real-time information being used in other areas of the organization, such as origination, underwriting, and risk management.

Prepare for personalized marketing at scale

Scaling this ability to personalize relevant, action-oriented messaging is quickly emerging as the top priority in many marketing organizations. Several of our clients are developing or implementing next-best-action, real-time decision engines along with customer data platforms to address this need.

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital channels by consumers, such as digital payments, chatbots, and electronic order entry systems, which is resulting in faster uptake of next-generation technology. Increasingly, financial services marketers have access to sophisticated digital networks along with faster, intelligent approaches to generating and analyzing data about customers.

These powerful, new computing capabilities enable personalization at scale, which represents a critical shift in thinking for the marketing-led enterprise. Across the front, middle, and back office, organizations have the business opportunity to deliver personalized, contextualized conversations consisting of real-time, next-best-action recommendations that are accurate and actionable for large numbers of customers. For example, EY professionals worked with a large cruise line to develop a shipboard app that digitized the end-to-end guest journey, including real-time recommendations, such as shore excursions and shipboard events.

With personalized marketing at scale, financial services marketers can be prepared for the new ways of living and working.

Create an emotional connection with customers

Last year, two-thirds of CMO survey respondents agreed that their role was going through a period of unprecedented change — and they were correct (even if for different reasons than originally envisioned).

Yet the fundamental requirements of marketing remain unchanged: understand what individual customers need or will need in the future; build trusted, inviting, and memorable brand experiences; and connect with people on an emotional level.

Personal connectedness is important in ordinary times, and it’s even more relevant during a pandemic. Customers want to do business with brands and people they respect and like. When employees create personal bonds with customers and prospects, the brand benefits through lifelong relationships.

That’s why financial services marketers need to ensure that personalized digital marketing exists alongside and in concert with human engagement. Marketing professionals must work closely with sales and service delivery teams to orchestrate the different components of the client experience. We saw this take shape with a large insurance provider, where marketers moved from simply providing brochures to developing content-enabled social media posts that position agents as trusted partners.

By aligning client experiences with priorities across sales, service, marketing, and product manufacturers, marketers can help the brand to convey value, expertise, and trust, which represent the foundational elements for cultivating an emotional connection with the brand.

The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.