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Take time for testing

Why is there so much financial services advertising, direct mail and literature, digital and other communications that is missing the mark?

A lot of this is produced by financial services specialist agencies but much of it looks the same.

How effective is it? What messages are IFAs getting from product providers? How does the IFA translate these messages to their clients?

Can they be bothered to read headlines in three different type sizes and colours which merge into one? What help do IFAs need to develop their own messages to clients?

The majority of providers and IFAs just do not know what is going to work when they choose their creative concepts. The decision-making process is not perfect and the decisions made will be inherently imperfect.

Why is it an imperfect process? Because agencies are often guilty of selling the ad to the client based on what the client likes. Because clients often chose ads based on their own personal preferences. Because nobody bothers really to ask the custo- mer – either the intermediary or end-consumer who is going to read the ad.

There is a better way of developing creative ideas – one which can answer the question of how is the IFA or end-customer, likely to respond. This process develops ideas based on the insight of the audience by placing propositions in front of the target market and testing them thoroughly before a choice is made.

How does it work? Likely actions can be measured, such as how many will just turn the page, read the headline only, read the whole ad, contact the provider by phone, website or, in the case of IFAs, talk to their account manager. The messages and how well they are communicated can be quantified and the learning used to improve the overall effective of communications.

Is there proof of the value of pre-testing ideas, ads and other forms of communications with IFAs and consumers? The answer is a definite yes, as it is evident in the way it has influenced clients’ decision-making. One product provider wanted to produce a desk diary to send to top accounts to acknow- ledge the value of their relationship. Alternative ideas were developed and tested and the best idea scored a 38 per cent higher level of interest than the desk diary, which was dropped.

For another provider, the value of imagery versus text-based design to make an impact was proven, so helping it choose to move away from its current advertising style. The results showed that appropriate imagery made the ads six times more memorable than the text-only ads.

In the consumer market, a major bank changed the way it described its retirement proposition, based on pre-testing its ideas with consumers.

The key point is that the testing took place before the decision to launch so saving valuable marketing budget.

It is not just providers which should be concerned with improving their marketing effectiveness. IFAs need to be interested as well, as budgets will be relatively smaller and more precious. IFAs should be supported by product providers which translate their learning from pre-testing ideas with IFAs for IFAs then to use with end consumers.

If advertising effectiveness is not a reason in its own right to pre-test, then, on the horizon, we see other drivers emerging. Treating the customer fairly will become a key factor. Providers and IFAs will have to put in place effective processes to deliver TCF and monitor effectiveness.

A recent study by IFA Census with over 200 IFA business owners and decision-makers showed an alarming lack of understanding of the impending TCF regime. Only 13 per cent said they were aware of the initiative and over half have not heard or have no detailed knowledge of TCF. Just 4 per cent believe that TCF will have a significant or very significant impact on the way they conduct business in the future.

In the survey, product providers were seen as an important source of information, not least in helping to communicate the right messages to consumers.

Overall, IFAs who responded felt that their approach did not need to change because they already act in the best interests of customers. There is clearly a need for providers to implement communication programs to explain the importance of TCF and the implications for IFAs.

As TCF gains momentum, IFAs will begin to demand that product providers get more involved in defining the key messages they should communicate about the providers’ products and services to their customers.

It is expected that some providers will take on the responsibility to help IFAs get the messages right and avoid potential claims for unfair treatment and misselling.

Stress-testing of product design, propositions and the way they are communicated to consumers and IFAs will be a key tool to create benchmarks for effective and transparent communication. Pre- testing will iron out issues of perceived unfairness, lack of clarity and complexity and hopefully improve the return on marketing investment.

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