Financial services firms focus on stability

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For those financial services companies that have survived the economic tumult of the last several months, this has become a year to reiterate their presence and emphasize their stability and their value to current and potential clients. Most of the companies that spoke with BtoB said they planned to maintain or modestly increase their b-to-b marketing budgets this year, and all said they would spend more on online advertising than in 2008. “Online advertising is more cost-effective than print, and our feedback is that our clients tend to prefer getting their information online,” said Susan Oehrig, managing director of Ambac Financial Services Group. The breakneck pace at which economic news changes means those in the financial field have had to turn to the Internet for the most up-to-date information, said Jane Lauterback, exec VP and director of marketing at business communications specialist Doremus, whose clients include CFA Institute, Knight Capital Group and Russell Investments. “Everyone realizes that people are looking for direction, insight and some sort of path forward,” Lauterback said. “Clients want to define messages for specific, unique audiences and communicate directly with those audiences.” In addition to buying terms in Internet search engines and ad space on trade and financial news sites, financial services companies are turning to webcasts and customized sites to convey their experience and expertise to clients. “We think this is a really good time to ramp up education efforts,” said Susan Milligan, executive director of the Options Industry Council. This year the OIC will hire a full-time consultant to help it reach out to financial services advisers, Milligan said. It plans to create a new Web portal, accessible through the main OIC site, that will offer education and other services tailored specifically to financial advisers and allow them to communicate directly with the OIC. “Our goal in that segment is to really develop interest and drive traffic to that Web portal,” Milligan said. “We think this is a good time to be expanding our marketing efforts in that space because financial advisers and their customers are really looking for answers.” American Express Open also plans to use dedicated Web space to connect directly with its clients, small-business owners. The company will continue to invest in, a resource for small- business owners that provides videos, articles, expert blogs, success stories and advice from other business owners, as well as networking opportunities. The site allows users to register for live events and webcasts. “We are trying to be incredibly smart and targeted with how we use our marketing dollars,” said Marcy Shinder, VP-brand strategy and marketing for American Express Open. “We go to where the customers and the prospects are, and that's on the Internet.” At the end of last year, American Express Open launched OPENForum's Economy section, a new platform for small-business owners to connect virtually and discuss the current state of the economy. The new section features blogs and news commentary, expert advice on surviving the downturn and polls about what the state of the economy means for small business. In addition to investing online, American Express Open is continuing its TV ad campaign and will sponsor several events and attend trade shows to reach its customers. It is heavily promoting its charge card as a valuable tool for small-business owners. “In this new economy, business owners are looking for ways to optimize their cash flow,” Shinder said. “The charge card allows them to access working capital interest free, with rewards.” Grant Thornton has created a marketing message that emphasizes the value of the company's services to potential clients in the current economy. “Right now, clients are looking for any way they can to save money, so our message is really resonating,” said Edmond Russ, chief marketing and sales officer. The accounting firm has slightly curtailed its TV spending and boosted its online presence. It is increasingly using webcasts and local-office seminars to convey its take on current events or to present proprietary research. “When we communicate with prospective clients, I like to provide them with information that will offer some value,” Russ said. “We're in an ideal position because we are selling intellectual capital.” Ambac also plans to use events to reach its customers this year, from organizing small dinners to hosting clients at sporting events to sponsoring speakers and dinners at official conferences. “There's no substitute for face-to-face interaction to convey your message,” Oehrig said. The company's top marketing goal for the year is restoring credibility in the firm, Oehrig added. “Like many other financial institutions involved in mortgage-backed securities, the current economic climate has presented significant challenges to the company's credibility,” she said.
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