Why You Should Cultivate Your Customers (Long Before You Need Them)

November 20, 2015

NYC Rain

Editor’s note: This post was contributed by Jennifer Hill, COO of Remedy Analytics.

It is the third installment of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions: Financial Services’ new editorial series focused on creating conversations about topics that matter most to financial marketers. Jennifer’s posts will explore the changing consumer landscape alongside innovation and disruption in the banking industry.

Once upon a time, much of the advertising world spoke to consumers like this:

“We have a flashy new product. You’ll be better/smarter/cooler if you buy it. Spend money now to change your life and get ahead!”

Brands captured consumer interest with product features, flashy ads, and ever-more-impressive microphones (spokespeople) to voice the message. And the subtext was, “We’ve got it now, you need it now.”

As consumers and media outlets have evolved, however, brands have become more sophisticated. Technology creates more opportunities to place targeted ads in front of consumers. The Internet-of-Things technofies every bit of our lives, and social media and peer-to-peer sharing empowers everyone with their own center stage. Consequently, brands ferociously compete for our attention.

But with that ferocity also has come a somewhat surprising patience and long view, resulting in a new reality:

Smart brands now cultivate their consumers long before they need them.

Brands have a wealth of inroads into potential customers—websites, Internet and mobile ads, video, social media, print, and television, to name a few. The goal? Be relevant, to drive consideration. Smart brands use these opportunities to educate audiences about the bigger picture, not just the product.

Financial-services companies are brilliant at this. LearnVest is an online community founded to (originally) educate women to become financially savvy (it has now expanded to men and women). The site is largely targeted to millennial and Gen X women. Northwestern Mutual acquired LearnVest this past spring, along with its 25,000 paid users and 1.5 million users overall. The financial-services giant realized it needed an entry point into this market long before consumers are aware of their needs. The best way Northwestern can become an ally? Share free content that makes its audience smarter and savvier, so that it is armed with skills and perspective.

Sephora is another exceptional example of a brand that has cultivated a customer base over time. The global beauty-products company that differentiated itself in the market with multi-brand lines, free makeovers, a generous return policy, and zero-pressure salespeople bends over backward to educate its audience. Its in-store and online makeup-application classes build fundamental skills. Its vast online community across Instagram, YouTube and Facebook generates millions of pageviews from customers who tutor each other. Sephora subordinates product and elevates skills.

On the B2B side, there’s Hortonworks—the inventors of the Hadoop database platform that spun out of Yahoo. Its website is full of how-to videos, webinars, white papers, industry case studies, and free classes to educate a potential customer base of executives and coders on how to work with an open-source database system. They share content on the benefits of the open-source database movement to educate about industry trends, security, privacy, and developing big-data platforms. The educational benefits underscore the fact that one day, some of the students may reach out to become (highly profitable) customers. In the meantime, Hortonworks is leading a movement and solidifying its position as one of the most knowledgeable voices in its space.

The bottom line? Education creates a strong bond with consumers. They are more likely to be loyal and shop. Content is the new sales call—and it’s one that happens over time.

For more insights on how Finance Marketers can succeed with real-time tactics in an ever-changing landscape, download volume 2 of our Sophisticated Finance Marketer eBook Series.

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