News Analysis: Google Takes on Financial Services

In the UK, Google is set to launch a new financial services division with a new credit business the first product to market. As Adam Clark Estes reports, the initial offering will provide businesses with a small line of credit linked specifically to Google’s AdWords program.

A number of items within the announcement are worthy of attention:

  • It’s a new product within a new division of Google
  • The plan is to expand to countries beyond the UK in the “next few weeks”
  • Credit cards will be issued with very competitive rates

Why This Is Important

  • Financial services is a fresh field ready for disruption: Disruption in the financial services sector has been a long time coming. The sweeping tide of digital has washed through most sectors but has been held back from regulated sectors like financial services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Innovators are seeking a way into these lucrative markets
  • Google understands speed to market: Many industries rollout new offerings over extended time frames. It can take years for innovations in one national market to reach another. Google’s intention clearly intends to move very quickly to cement a foothold
  • The loan book is the thin edge of the wedge: As I suggested at a recent personal lending conference, disruptive competition is likely to come from outside the financial services industry. Cash Converters in the UK last year saw 154% growth in their personal loan book; in Australia they experienced a not insubstantial 28% growth. This is not about bit players – it’s about trends – and there is a wave of change coming. Google plan to be surfing this wave

The Bottom Line: Connected Consumers Shift to Where their Sense of Trust Takes Them

Despite advertising and branding blitzes over the previous 24 months, most financial services companies are viewed with suspicion by many of their customers. Long term lock-in has allowed FS companies to claw back GFC losses and to grow. This move by Google (and the accompanying announcement by Amazon) will capture the imagination of Connected Consumers – the tech savvy early adopters of a disaffected consumer world. Google has been building trust with Connected Consumers for years, turning every search result, every click and every app login into a brand experience. This may be the first step in what could truly be a transformative monetization strategy.

Your POV

Would you take a loan from Google for AdWords? What about cash? Where do you see this leading? Add your comments or send us an email.

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Trust and the Marketer

Consumers have always suspected marketers. Of something.

But this “something” has always been elusive. Hard to pin down.

In the back of the mind of most consumers, there is a small voice – a remnant of our evolutionary instinct – that warns us of a potential risk, a trap. The limbic system is part of our pre-verbal brain that we commonly refer to as “gut instinct”. And because it works without language, we are often challenged to put these feelings into words. As a result, we are left with a sense of mistrust. Something vague. Indiscernible.

But the limbic brain is also the space of creativity. It is the place of imagination and symbolism. And it is the essential playground of the marketer.

Each day, as consumers are bombarded with 3000+ messages, it is the limbic brain that acts as a first level of defence. Most droll pieces of advertising or communication are discarded – with only the most creative and most relevant breaking through.

These days, marketers have to work even harder to cut through the noise and confusion. It’s not just about creativity. It’s also about psychology, human behaviour (change) and analytics. We need to cover all four.

Over the last few years, Australian TV show, Gruen Planet, has peeled back the layers of the mysterious advertising onion. It has laid bare the role of planning and strategy, creative, copy, image and production. Blogs like Adam Ferrier’s Consumer Psychologist provide insight and analysis into what people buy and why they do so.

Infographics like the one below, provide a neat way of understanding some of the techniques used in advertising – but my limbic brain also tells me that we need a different approach now. Sure these approaches will continue to work – but we need to go further. We need to build a different kind of marketing – one that does not set off the limbic alarm bells. We need to address the deficit of trust experienced by consumers.

What if we could create marketing with a purpose (not marketing with a cause). Imagine what that would mean for our customers. Imagine what it would mean for our employees.

And imagine what it would mean for the marketing industry.

Sound dangerous? Don’t worry, it’s just your limbic system acting up.


Trust is the Gateway to App Sales Success


When we search on the internet we are investing a small amount of trust in the speed, responsiveness and accuracy of the search engine that we are using. After all, the future of your brand is micro. We trust that Google or Bing is reliably trawling the web for the latest information, indexing knowledge to the deepest level and connecting the dots between what we need to know and where it can be found.

Both Google and Microsoft invest significant resources in improvements to their search engines. But it’s not just about the information source – it’s vitally about relevance. This is the scary truth about search – that the search engines already connect a vast amount of information about us and make it available to the public – to people, brands and businesses.

But this fantastic chart from Silicon Alley Insider reveals that when it comes to recommendation – specifically for app discovery – social referral accounts for almost as much as search. The research carried out by Nielsen indicated that 63% of Android and iOS users use search to discover new apps in the various app stores – only slightly in front of personal recommendation from family or friends at 61%.

But the thing that drives both of these figures is trust. We trust search and we trust our friends and family. We trust search and social. And together they can be a powerful driver of sales – for whether we like it or not – we are all retailers now.

The Hard Work of Radical Transparency

I remember feeling like my jaw had hit the floor.

I had just started my first week of working for IBM and had read about an article published by an analyst firm. Days earlier – working as a freelancer – I had tried to contact this very same firm to discuss another topic – and gave up, stonewalled at every turn. And when time is money (and that money is your own), you have to choose your battles.

But this time there was something different. “Gavin Heaton from IBM” sounded so much more important. I was FROM somewhere – and it was somewhere with a big brand name. And within seconds I was speaking with the document’s author – discussing some of the findings and thinking through how this might impact my new role.

Over the years that follow, I fell in love with branding. I loved the way it extended into people’s lives – how it opened the door to opportunity and how it could change our experiences – as customers, employees and partners. But these days, branding is a different beast. It’s been inverted.

Sure, many of the strengths and benefits remain, but we have to work harder now. We cannot rest (or hide) behind the brand in the way that we used to. We have to inhabit a world of radical transparency … one where our brand does not stand alone in the public sphere – but is accompanied into the spotlight by our governance processes, decisions, data and even the personalities of our staff, executives and stakeholders. Take a look below at this video from the SEOmoz team.

Are we ready for radical transparency? We’d better be – for it is already upon us.

SEOmoz on Radical Transparency in Business from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

With Mobile Commerce, We Are All Retailers Now

Closing DownThe early days of eCommerce were a hard slog. The technology was cumbersome and unreliable, the gateways were expensive and the business community was sceptical. And the shoppers … well even the early adopters were hesitant – concerned about credit card numbers, identity theft and having to pay for goods in advance that may never arrive.

But over time most of those issues have been overcome. And even those that still concern us – like identity theft, security and so on – are traded for convenience. After all, we are generally happy to share our credit card information when a deal is ready to be done.

Mobile commerce – or mCommerce – however, has been able to ride the shirt tails of eCommerce. In many ways, the success of sites like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon have not only changed our sense of trust – they have changed our consumer behaviour. Just think, for example … when was the last time you bought a DVD or a music CD from a shop? For many of us, digital experience is at the core of our understanding and acceptance of so many brands.

And as we follow the bridge of convenience through our mobile devices, we will find ourselves using what businesses call mComerce (though we will just view it as convenience). And this makes me think again – that for the future of our brands, we need to think mobile first but with a social heart.

But our businesses challenges do not stop at the mobile gateway. In fact, they are just the start of a business trend that is going to transform our industries. A couple of years ago, well respected content marketing evangelist, Joe Pulizzi  urged us to think about EVERY business as a “publishing business” – but now in the same way – we have no choice but to consider ourselves RETAILERS too. We are always on, always connected and always SELLING as the infographic from BigCommerce, below, shows. The question is … are you ready?


Get Your Game On

When I worked in Agencyland, games were part of my everyday working life. I spent a great deal of time working elements of game play into the strategies that I was developing for clients, coming up with ideas for new, short, casual games and working with my team of developers responsible for turning these ideas into games that kids would love.

The first person that I hired into my team was Terry Paton – and I learned a great deal about games, game design and user interaction from him. He had a deep love of games and would constantly look for ways to improve the gaming experience. His approach was to make games that were simple to play but difficult to master – and it was an approach which we would learn to apply to almost every aspect of our work – from web and premium design right through to communications strategy.

For a couple of years, we focused on the idea of “play” – of what would capture, engage and stimulate the people coming to the websites that we would produce. We thought long and hard about what worked, we tested ways to surprise and delight and we relentlessly measured “plays”, high scores and ratings, pass-ons, level achievement and “time in game”.

We essentially focused on behaviours that rewarded the player. And, in turn, those players rewarded us with their time, attention and competitiveness. It was a win-win (oh and a win for the brand too!).

But there was something in the nature of play that fascinated me, even though I had moved out of the B2C space. It seemed obvious that the B2B world sorely needed a jolt – and play seemed the answer. So, a couple of years ago I started (but never finished) a series on the future of your brand – and the first future that I saw was “play” – power, learning, adventure and the “yelp” of delight.

Recently, I read Aaron Dignan’s Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success, and found a thorough investigation into the nature of play and how it can be (and is being) incorporated into our working lives. While it is easy to think that this book is about engaging Gen Y in the workplace, to do so would be to undersell it. The lessons and explanations apply universally. This isn’t a book for a new generation, it’s a book for anyone who is seeking to motivate and engage others. And because it applies principles that we already understand (gaming) to the world of business, it frames work in a completely new way.

Imagine … just imagine that your employees didn’t say “I’m going to work” – but said instead, “I’m getting my game on”. Now, that would really change the game!

Oh, and if you want to learn more about Aaron’s approach – check out this video of his recent speech – Why the Future of Work is Play. I couldn’t agree more. 

PSFK CONFERENCE NYC 2011: Aaron Dignan from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.

Looking Across a New Media Universe

We have been talking – and writing – for years about the shifts that are happening in our marketplaces. We tend to focus on the industries that are most obviously connected – energy, technology, media and finance. But the real shift, in my opinion, is more to do with the underlying shifts in consumer behaviour. Take a look, for example, at this infographic from NielsenWire.


The Nielsen US Fact Sheet for January 2011 indicates some of these shifts:

  • That we are moving away from broadcast TV to more interactive channels (with high adoption of satellite and cable)
  • That mobile devices – especially smart phones are a powerful and important channel (there are more mobile web users (83.2 million) than VCR owners (70.6 million)

But if we look beyond the facts and figures and think about the impact that this is having on our lifestyles then it raises some interesting challenges. How are we preparing for these shifts and changes in behaviour? How are we structuring our businesses to support and engage people?

Just think – every one of these smart phones is a media creation device. With the press of a few buttons, consumers can:

  • Rate and review our products while they are in the store
  • Gather competitive intelligence on our offerings
  • Seek discounts and competitive quotes
  • Capture and share their customer experiences as it happens

Perhaps the real question we need to ask is what are we investing in for our own future participation in this new media universe.

@oldspice, Old Dogs and New Tricks

I can remember the smell of Old Spice from my youth. It reminds me of old men. Men much older than I am now. Or so it seemed. In reality, they were the young men of my parents’ lives. They were the dusky, active men of 70s – surfers, sailors, layabouts. They went water skiing in the summer and to the snow for winter. They drove real 4WD vehicles (for a reason), smoked way too much and drank VB. Or was it Tooheys New?

Whether this is accurate or not, it’s the brand image that is hard baked into my mind.

So it was going to take some effort to recast that brand association.

Now, I know that I am probably not in the target market for old spice body wash, nor even in the right geography, but it seems that the @OldSpice man campaign has been a great success. Take a look at the case study below for a neat summary. And if you want more detail, check out Jordan Stone’s post on the We Are Social blog.

But beyond the statistics, what can we learn from an old, sleeping dog like Old Spice? What can we see from the way that brand perception was able to shift through a coordinated, integrated trans-media storytelling point of view? What roles did broadcast, celebrity and social media play in amplifying and extending the brand interactions – and why were they potent? I’m going to think on this in relation to the P-L-A-Y framework for storytelling and get back to you.

Say Yes to Twitter

I was watching this video from the Kaiser’s Toilet on Twitter and Google’s new Buzz – and it got me thinking. Much of the discussion that we see around social media, marketing and new technologies relates to yes/no decisions. The conversations are framed in terms of scarcity – of time, resources, budget and so on. But one of the fundamental transformations that the social web has driven is that of abundance. Of information, knowledge and connection.

So we are seeing a fundamental disconnect between the way that we VIEW this emerging world and the way that it OPERATES.

Say yes to Twitter from Marcus Brown on Vimeo.

The idea of VIEWING a website or social platform is a behaviour that has created a world view. It comes from 50 years of broadcast TV. It places us, “a user” (and therefore a dependent) in a passive mode. The newer, social web places us, the PARTICIPANT at the centre of a hub. It requires choice, it engenders responsibility, and presupposes action. It PLAYS to the concept of abundance and see scarcity as outmoded, traditional, passe.

But as Mark Earl’s Herd has taught us, it is behaviour which changes thinking, not thinking that changes behaviour. So perhaps, surreptitiously, our engagement with the social web may have wider implications. Or maybe the social web is more chaotic, playful and unpredicatable than our marketing and IT “use cases” would suggest.

This interesting article by Alan Wolk shows how the #thuglife meme has made Twitter into a purely experiential platform. More importantly for marketers, perhaps, is the scale of this type of participation – which far exceeds the early adopter circles that characterise much of the social media debate:

It's an interesting use of the medium, and the people participating in these hashtags seem to be getting as much value out of them as the Twitter-Is-a-Serious-Business-Tool types who busily append words like "Genius!" to their retweets of a fellow blogger's "Top 10 Reasons Location-Based Services Are the New Twitter."

What we are seeing is the logical extension of YES. We are seeing the “crowd” embracing abundance and participating in a way which is consciously unselfconscious.

What would happen if we did the same? What if we said YES to Twitter? What would happen if we followed everyone? Would our world change? Maybe not. But maybe WE would.

Can Curating the Crowd Work?

george 002Having worked on two, and heading into the third Age of Conversation book (bringing together hundreds of thought leaders in a single, crowdsourced book), not to mention our recent efforts around The Perfect Gift for a Man (30 crowdsourced stories reinventing manhood), I feel like I have a fairly good grasp on crowdsourcing and its potential.

But can it work for advertising? Will it work for agencies? And, perhaps, most importantly, will it work for the communities which emerge almost spontaneously to become part of a crowdsourcing project?

Unilever are putting this to the test. Via Idea Bounty, the Peperami brand are tapping the wisdom (and creativity) of the crowd to ideate their next integrated marketing campaign. Those creating the winning idea will receive a $10,000 payment and see their concept be turned into a global campaign.

But this is not a one-off – The Guardian reports, “Unilever said it has no plans to retain a full-time ad agency for the Peperami account in future.” So clearly, we are seeing the beginning of a shift – the Brand (Peperami) are moving ideation away from the agency world and reaching out directly to their customers. In response, over 1000 submissions were received.

Amelia Torode airs her concerns around crowdsourcing advertising – and the energy with which it has been taken up – raising some interesting points in the process. For example:

  • Is the $10,000 prize a rip-off? After all Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer companies
  • Turning ideas into something more substantial takes real skill, expertise and commitment
  • Have agencies been “over-paid, over-precious, over-protective”

The comments to the post make for great reading. The debate moves from the role of creatives and interns (and whether they are ripped off by the agency business) to the process followed by Idea Bounty.

But the question that concerns me is – “is this sustainable?” Crowdsourcing is hard work. Not all ideas have legs – or can be extended across different channels and cultures. There is a real overhead – which I presume will be taken up by Idea Bounty – and it may simply be that we shift the budget from the ideation stage to the curation of those ideas. And if that is the case, have we really achieved anything? Will the ideas be better? Will the sales increase? Will the brand be more loved by its consumers?

There are many more questions … but I will leave you with this – if your customers really do become the creator of your brand, and if they are successful, do you share the spoils of the success with your community? You see, for me, crowdsourcing is not one way – and while a one-off “prize” may satisfy at first, it could easily leave a bad taste in the mouth long after the first bite. And is ANY brand ready for the kind of backlash this could generate? Are you?