As a millennial marketer, one of my favorite parts of the work I do is reading studies about my generation. This comes out of professional curiosity, so far as marketing financial services to millennials is concerned, but it’s also driven by a somewhat morbid fascination with the identity crisis that researchers seem to have with us. From study to study, blog article to blog article, each perspective constructs us as a sort of “Schrödinger’s millennial”: We bankrupt ourselves on avocado toast, but are also killing restaurant chains by not eating out; we’re lazy workers, but also frequently job jump to ambitiously pursue career growth; we are everything to all people, as it suits them in the moment.
When it comes to marketing anything to millennials, brands are forced to contend with a massive generation that is still struggling to be defined by standard metrics. Particularly regarding finances, millennials can be hard to nail down—on the one hand lacking trust in established banks, while on the other mimicking conservative saving habits following the Great Depression. But as it is with trying to understand any person, focusing on just one aspect will always fall short of actually describing the individual. Singular attributes are how we construct stereotypes, and marketers who want to succeed will need a more holistic picture of who millennials are financially.
Understanding the Unbanked
When it comes to understanding the financial decisions of millennials, it’s important not to underplay the huge role the Internet has played. For previous generations, banking and investment inherently required a measure of distance: The fastest access you typically had to money was by phone call, the fastest feedback you had on performance typically came from business columns, and person-to-person advising was essential for laypeople to make financial decisions.
Today, while all of these methods remain in place, millennials have also entered the market with an entirely new set of resources at their disposal. Want to learn financial topics? Hop over to Investopedia or any of the thousands of other resources that are available for learning. Want to have fast access to your money? Sign up for an electronic brokerage or an entirely digital bank. Want to buy a new insurance policy? Skip your local agent, post up on the couch with a hot cocoa, and browse a wider breadth of policies online until you find something that suits you.
In addition to our access to these resources, millennials are also the generation that grew up with the Enron scandal, a bank-backed housing bubble, and a subsequent economic crisis. Pile onto this the handful of other investing and banking scandals of the past five years, and you have a recipe for a population who might have knee-jerk reasons to distrust traditional banking habits. But contrary to what you may hear, distrust doesn’t have to translate into apathy.
A research feature from First Data revealed that, while millennials do indeed want to keep their banks at “arm’s length” in terms of how they engage in a financial relationship, they are still remaining engaged by making financial plans and being ever-present online for financial needs. The result of this dynamic is that some startup brands have reoriented to this way of thinking, and successfully driven business with this demographic. But how?
Stealing the Success of Startups
It is astounding how many apps are out there that claim to make you money.
From survey apps that drain your battery with hours of ads, to a bevy of budgeting tools, to new and inventive ways to be constantly investing, there are more options than ever for people to use their time and money in an immediate way to (hopefully) make more money. To earn visibility, trust, and a returning audience, the most successful companies are turning to financial content marketing strategies that anyone marketing financial services to millennials can learn from.
Take for instance Betterment, one of the more prominent “robo advisor” players on the field today. Betterment’s app hits the sweet spot for millennial investors: It’s app-based, immediately accessible, and it places advisement behind an electronic buffer rather than requiring person-to-person interaction. But in addition to this, their entire website takes a content-oriented bent.
Deciding what type of account to open doesn’t push you through a dull lead-gen form, but rather asks you questions about yourself and then provides information to explain the recommendations it produces.
For those with questions that go beyond the introductory process, Betterment hosts an ever-growing library of teaching and guidance resources for users who want to learn the basics of investing before jumping in, or for current investors who want to continue to hone their knowledge. This combination of transparency and do-it-yourself resources hits the sweet spot for marketing to millennials: Lay everything out, make the experience simple and easy, and let the user do the rest themselves.
On the banking side of this equation, Ally continues to be a leader in the digital bank space and makes clear overtures for millennial audiences with its branding. But moving past the homepage reveals a site that is holistically ordered to come across as a digital partner for their customers. Similar to Betterment, Ally also offers a content hub where users can learn as they go. But where investing brands are supposed to sell you visions of your future, banks are supposed to partner with you for today. For this reason, Ally organizes their blog smartly around big life moments, common questions, and pressing current issues that help their financial content marketing always remain immediately relevant.
Follow the trail of your favorite digitally present financial brands, and there are some similarities you’ll quickly pick out that make for success with millennials. These are practices that finance brand should pay attention to:
Mobile Presence Is Good, Apps Are Better
Audiences in general are increasingly (and constantly) present on their mobile devices, and this goes double for millennials. If your experience is difficult to access from a mobile device, you absolutely need to build out site-responsive resources to support mobile experiences. Beyond this, however, take the lead of brands like Personal Capital or Mint who are using cross-platform apps and interactive content to hook and hold audiences.
Take a “Do-It-Yourself” Approach
Millennials, typically, don’t want to call or speak with a representative as their first resort for questions, learning, or setup. While human help is still the gold standard for customer service and troubleshooting, make sure your brand has ample resources for your millennial audience to learn, prepare, and take hold of their own finances. This method is key for communicating transparency and earning trust, and it also lets your audience develop common knowledge and language that will make them more comfortable talking about your brand to others, or talking to your brand about issues and requests, which is key for developing a community.
Be Quick, but Also Thorough
Betterment, Ally, and similar sites all put you one or two clicks away from all of the big drivers of the website. Two clicks drops you into an article that meets your curiosity or questions, or can drop you into an interactive experience to set up an account. Even more importantly, this immediacy remains true across platforms. Constantly seek out ways to make the process of taking actions or arriving somewhere on your site quick and simple, but make sure that the actions or content that users arrive at are detailed and powerful. This is a dynamic that brands flip all the time, with difficult-to-navigate content hubs that drop you listicle after listicle but don’t provide much worth. Rather, seek ease of navigation and well-constructed content as your gold standard.
It will likely be some time before we’re able to fully codify millennial thought and behavior. But on a macro scale, it seems clear that more millennials than we might expect are excited, curious, and serious about securing their financial future—they’re just looking for brands to partner and enable them to do so, rather than looking for relationships with advisors who do the work for them. Financial content marketing is a powerful way to make your brand accessible, secure a niche for thought leadership, and provide direction without stepping on the independent sensibilities of the millennial audience. Aim to meet your audience where they are, and you’ll quickly position your brand to secure both its own future and the future of your new, trusting audience.
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About the AuthorMore Content by Kyle Harper