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Thursday, 20 December 2007

Email creativity


What's the most important element in a successful email marketing campaign?

This was a question recently posed to me and I found myself going backwards through a list in my mind similar to the following - relevant content, personalisation, design, tailored subject line, maximising deliverability, permission and data quality. In the end the reason why email marketing is so difficult to do well is that every single one of the above can make or break your activity.

If your permissions are poor people will not respond, if your email is not technically correct it will not make it into inboxes and if your content is poor your response rates will suffer. Email marketing is so much more than tactical emails sent off as and when you have something to say.

This may be the last post of the year and so we wish you all a Happy Christmas and a great New Year.


Friday, 14 December 2007

The price of celebrity


It would appear that the use of a famous face in your advertising is not the solution to a good creative idea that some would have us think.

Campaign magazine has drawn up a list of the top ten worst advertisements relying on the power of celebrity and, hurrah, the world of financial services has two mentions:

3rd worst - NS&I for the use of a wooden Alan Sugar
7th worst - Abbey for their ad featuring Lewis Hamilton

Lucky for us the ad voted the worst was for Giovanni Rana Pasta featuring Ann Widdecombe - you've got to wonder what audience they felt Ann was going to appeal to.......

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Advisers and the electronic age


The story in IFAonline that advisers demand an end to paper commission statements is no great surprise.

The research, carried out by Standard Life, indicates that 64% of advisers surveyed would welcome an end to paper based communications. I think the surprise, if there is one here, is that the figure is not higher.

Given the multiple benefits that online processing can offer - reduced admin time and resource, faster payments and of course the environmental pluses it seems a no brainer. I'm confident the remaining 36% will wake up soon.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Click thanks


Here is a thought - click throughs are not the only measure of success of an online campaign.

That is all.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Jet options


So not only are us humble members of the public feeling the credit squeeze it also seems that the super rich are aware of the pinch.

According to the Observer's Media & Business section investors the exec jet market has become the latest victim.

Up to 10% of the exec jet sales are made to investors who buy an option on a new jet (delivery times are up to 4 years) and then sell on this option, previously making somewhere in the region of $10m. However now investors are concerned about their positions and are selling on options as quickly as they can with their returns dropping closer to $2m.

So if you are struggling to find that ideal gift for your loved one perhaps now is the time to get him/her that private jet they have always wanted.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Shared ownership does not seem to appeal


We've recently created an online campaign for Scottish Widows Bank focusing on their keyworkers mortgage product and so I've been more than a little aware of other offers in this market.

The governments scheme of Open Market HomeBuy was launched just over 12 months ago with the government offering a 12.5 per cent interest free loan with one of four other lenders matching this and then the borrower agreeing a mortgage for the remaining 75%.

Now the test of the appeal of this offer is in the take up and a recent Observer article flags up than only 2,000 mortgages have been completed with a target of 20,000 in the first 5 years. The problem seems to be that the mortgages that go with the scheme are expensive.

This lack of take up seems to have encouraged the government to offer more incentives and they have increased the initial interest free loan to 17.5% enabling the buyer to go to the open market for the rest of the loan.

It will be interesting to see if the increased loan % will help people get over the concern they have on shared ownership.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

How to be unsubscribed on your first email


I spend a lot of time talking about data (dull but very worthy) especially when it relates to email marketing and the ability to personalise your email communications. Each level of personalisation helps improve response rates which, on its own, is a mighty fine reason to personalise.

However no amount of personalisation will help the following from Mortgage Adviser. They've emailed me to thank me for visiting their stand at the Mortgage Business Expo - the thing is I wasn't there - I was on holiday that day.

So the first email communication I have ever had from them is complete pants. Want to lay a bet on how long it took for me to click the unsubscribe button? It's activity like this that helps get brands blacklisted as spam. Users don't have much recourse against large brands but quite often they will report irrelevant email as spam even if you think it is relevant to them - they do it as an act of revenge. So not only are your unsubscribe statistics a good indicator for how well you are targeting your email comm's but so is any spam reports.

So personalisation for email marketing is key but it's not a replacement for paying attention.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Financial Festivity


We’ve all heard the bells before. Come mid-October the supermarkets are rolling out their seemingly endless supply of Christmas stock and the accompanying advertising campaign.

We all groan and complain how every year they are earlier and earlier. Of course if that was actually true, by now we would be watching Santa running around ASDA in ad breaks during Wimbledon.

In financial services however, there is not the same glut of Christmas executions. But why not? There is a tremendous opportunity to further brand affiliation. Not in a commercially abusive way of course. Not in the “Sleigh and sell” strategy where you wish them a happy festive season and try and make up some lost revenue at the same time.

What I mean is “Sleigh them in the aisles”. Make them laugh and let them see that although you’re a financial services company, at the festive season, you too can be festive and be personable.

This is the time of year when normally guarded walls are a bit lower and people tend to throw their scepticism of sentimental executions to the wind. So maybe it’s time the industry that has traditionally not always been seen in the best light, comes out and makes everyone’s Christmas, just that much lighter.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

A friend in need


According to research from Scottish Widows Bank (disclosure - they are a client of ours) the number of people clubbing together to buy their first home is on the rise. According to the research more women are buying property with a friend than men - linked to both lower average earnings than men and a more open attitude to this solution possibly.

However the most worrying aspect of this development is that two thirds of the people who use this approach CANNOT afford to buy out the other person should things change. At first I was quite alarmed at this but then I considered that in any partnership one person is likely to out earn the other.

So, as the saying goes, if you cannot choose your family make sure you choose wealthy friends.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Every cloud....


So Northern Rocks bad luck is someone elses good fortune.

The Nationwide has seen deposits increase by £1.8bn in September as savers seek to find a more stable place to stash their cash.

Hey it's the only good news I could find at the moment.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

How not to use Facebook


The rush to exploit the new commercial opportunities provided by Facebook has already claimed its first victim, Alicia keys.

Futurescape, who from their site really do seem to be immersed in this stuff, have produced a Facebook application to promote Alicia Keys new album, As I am. I've no problem with that, we are all testing the water but it's the manner of the application I query.

The app (see how the jargon creeps in), in the words of Futurescape, 'is the first ever artist-endorsed, socially powered self-help tool, which lets people share advice.' Now there's probably a really, really good reason for that - what in the wide wide world of sport does Alicia Keys know about self help?

Sorry but this is such a poor connection that it makes me weep.

How much did last night cost?


As a confirmed football fan I was watching last night as we were squeezed out of Euro 2008.

This morning, as we savour the departure of 'that man' it's interesting to see the ripple effect of England dropping out of a major competition.

Sports Direct saw a drop in the values of their shares of £71m, Umbro lost 5pm off its share price and JJB almost 12p. No feedback from the publicans yet but its going to hit them hard as well. Commercial TV will be re-working ad revenue estimates this morning no doubt.

According to the Evening Standard last night could cost UK business around £1.5bn. McClaren's £2.5m pay off seems small fry in comparison (and not deserved but don't get me started).

Hips operational


By Dec 14th we (anyone selling a property) will now need to organise a Home Information Pack (HIP) as the criteria extends from 3 & 4 bedroom houses to one and two bedroom properties.

While you can debate the value of a HIP in terms of the quality/depth of information the principle was a strong one - one HIP for each property rather than numerous surveys on sales that may or may not go through.

What is hilarious (forgive my strange sense of humour) is that the official consumer HIP site has no mention of this at all on it and the last update was in September but the industry site does - now who were HIPS designed to help?

Meeting expectations


There's been a great story about a BT customers frustration in trying to query a bill and how, when he posted his story on YouTube, he finally received an apology and compensation from BT.

It reminded me of a recent report on how bad financial institutions were in responding to email requests made via their web sites - very few were able to respond within 24 hours - given the primary benefit of email is speed this seems quite unreasonable.

If you set up the expectation that users can communicate with you this way then you have to ensure you have the resources to deal with the enquiries.

With the uncertainty created by the loss of the 25 million records by HMRC you can pretty much bet that the volume of calls and emails to banks will be significantly higher than normal. Let's hope the banks can improve their service at a time when customers are most in need of reassurance.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Hey buddy can you spare me 25 million records?


Couldn’t let the day go past with out commenting on the revenues decision to lose my full name, bank details, date of birth and all that gloriously important data that they and the rest of the FS industry have been telling more years is the key to identity theft.

Well in light of yesterdays announcement from the Chancellor on behalf of the HMRC I’d like to say “I want my money back for the shredder I bought and the hours of time I’ve spent hunched over the thing ensuring that my details don’t get beyond my front door”.

Also I think the latest headlines from the Government about being vigilant is rubbing salt into the wound, I wouldn’t need to if they did their job, why should I bother!

No doubt as I write this someone somewhere in a darkened underground Car park is saying to a contact in the Russian mafia, Psst want some records and I don’t mean LP’s!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Paragon raising capital through rights issue rather than commercial credit


The market in the coming months is going to be interesting as more and more distributors and providers of financial products seek alternative methods of raising capital. Paragon is just one such company that rather than accepting as it sees it disadvantageous rates would rather dilute its share holding to secure its future funding needs. What is interesting is that the Merchant Banks make hay whether rain or shine. Either selling expensive credit or advising on issue opportunities.

Maybe now will be the right time for an alternative view to capital raising through the community lending markets such as Zopa who can put together like minded lenders and hopefully at a rate that is more bearable.

Feeling sentimental? Not if you are a first time buyer


It would appear, according to the latest research by Abbey, that first time buyers are becoming more desperate to the point that they are prepared to sell family heirlooms:

According to the report first time buyers are:

  1. Prepared to move to a cheaper area, sell their possessions and even take on three jobs in order to afford a home, a survey showed yesterday.
  2. One in four trying to get on the property ladder said they were considering relocating to a cheaper part of the UK, while 16 per cent would move to a country where houses are less expensive.
  3. The number who would be prepared to sell items of sentimental value has doubled from 10 per cent five years ago to 20 per cent now
Looks like the demographics of the Antiques Roadshow are about to change quite dramatically.

Monday, 19 November 2007

A new financial term?


Never the best at spelling myself I was amused at a story in FT Adviser today:

'Managing director of Hamptons Mortgages, Jonathan Cornell said: "It would appear that borrowers are choosing to opt for longer term mortgages as they like everyone else are noon the sewer as to what will happen with interest rates and are tired of second guessing," he said'

I'm pretty sure that's not what Mr Cornell said unless he's quite mad or it was directly after a long lunch.

None the wiser indeed.

Friday, 16 November 2007



It was great to see the work we have developed for our client IFAP win the best ecomms award at Wednesday nights Financial Services Forum awards.

Having transferred virtually all of its marketing online IFAP, responsible for the Unbiased site, has really benefited from the measurable and flexible nature of online advertising.

So hurrah for IFAP, I-Level and ourselves as the team behind this award.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Serve your work colleagues with a WASBO


Today we launch a new campaign for the Britannia Building Society allowing work colleagues to serve a WASBO on their inconsiderate work mates.

If you know someone who deserves a WASBO then you can download the WASBO certificate here and fill in their details.

So far Metro has picked up on the story this morning.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Buying debt


The BBC is reporting that three of the top US Banks are close to agreeing to create a super fund to buy 'debt of weakening value'.

The article reports 'Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are said to have agreed on the structure of a $75bn (£36bn) scheme that will buy debt of weakening value.'

Each plans to commit $5bn with the remainder coming from other banks and in total is looking to raise $75bn.

However comments are made that while the super fund is a good idea the debt package market is actually worth somewhere in the region of hundreds of billions of dollars.

So far we have lost a CEO here and there but it seems possible we may actually lose Banks as well.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Innocent sets a great example


I've often used Innocent Smoothies as a great example of a viral/word of mouth activity with its 'woolly hats' activity. In the past they have asked customers to design woolly hats which could sit on the top of their bottles as we approach winter (to keep them warm I suppose).

They've repeated the exercise and linked with Sainsbury's and Age Concern and asked various celeb's to design their own hats. Now clearly DJ JK (?), Russell Brand and Fearne Cotton haven't got out their knitting needles but that will not bother most people. Each purchase creates a 50p donation to Age Concern and that must be a good thing.

Where Innocent have been clever is in their use of social networks. They have a flickr group and a facebook group on top of creating specific pages on their own site. Now there are only 86 members of the flickr group at the time of this post but this will certainly grow with the current wave of publicity. Despite being a digi boy through and through I know that offline PR still remains one of the best ways of driving online traffic and the people at Innocent are hardly publicity shy.

Just a shame it's going to force me to go to a supermarket.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

A mortgage or petrol?


Strange that a subject which caused major protests, endless column inches and discussions in Parliament not so long ago (petrol at £1 a litre) seems to have slipped through with little comment whatsoever with oil hitting $100 a barrel and petrol back to 99.9p a litre this week.

All I can put that down to is the focus on mortgage rates, sub prime crises in the US and the much anticipated credit crunch.

Does this mean people were over reacting to the first petrol price crisis? If your mortgage is increasing by £200+ a month an extra £5-£10 to fill your car perhaps does not seem to be as big an issue as it was last time.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Two in five (40%) of us described the nation as unfair

Here's our latest work in the web 2.0 world - posting the story we created for Britannia on Digg - a site which let's users rate the news themselves. It's a site I don't think you ever want to try and manipulate but a very good example of showing that if your story is of genuine interest users will make it famous. I've made sure, using the comments, that it's obvious this was a story posted by an agency. If you don't think people will find out you are only fooling yourself and not crediting people with the right level of intelligence.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

FSF success


I spent yesterday morning addressing the Associate membership of the Financial Services Forum on the issue of Digital Marketing and Regulation.

Quite a dry subject but with the introduction of Mifid on Thursday and the FSA specifying for TCF 'We expect that by the end of December 2008 all firms are able to demonstrate to themselves and to us that they are consistently treating their customers fairly' a lot of clients seemed keen to understand the implications for their digital marketing.

As well as Teamspirit the other speaker was Lewis Silkin a firm of lawyers who specialise in marketing and new media - very good outfit by all accounts and I came away with some good information I can put to good use.

This is the second talk I have had the opportunity to be involved with for the FSF and they keep asking me back so I must be doing something right. At the very least it makes my mum proud.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

BT credit card


Permission is a funny thing. It takes a great deal of effort to obtain and one careless communication to lose.

Today I received an email from BT inviting me to apply for their credit card (so much for the credit crunch we are all meant to be experiencing). As a BT internet customer they do have the right to email me although I am just about to unsubscribe to all their emails.

Why? I am getting, on average, an email a day from them and the various divisions of BT. I've been offered deals on extending my contract, deals on BT Vision, tips on how to use BT Wireless, how to be more green (sign up for more emails instead of paper), discover how to download music with BT and save all my files securely via BT Vault.

The trouble with email is that it feels a low intrusion way of communicating - after all I signed up didn't I?

The reality is permission does not last forever and it cannot be impossible for BT to look at the volume of emails it is sending out and realise they are saturating my in box.

It's a shame really - there probably is a BT service I might find of use but it will not be via email anymore.

PS BT don't think I don't know you own as well!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Chancellor's warning


In today's Evening Standard there is a warning from Alistair Darling to banks and building societies that they need to become more responsible in their lending having created a unsustainable housing boom.

There are a number of comments on the site primarily blaming the government for the situation which may, or may not, be fair comment. However I'm still surprised so very few lenders insist on proof that a repayment vehicle is in place.

If, as the FSA is quoted as saying, that 1 in 10 people have no idea how they will pay off their mortgage surely a mandatory repayment vehicle would be a step in the right direction?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

How fair are you?


In support of a PR campaign for Britannia Building Society we have created a micro site where you can find out how fair you are by answering a series of questions. Britannia have looked at how fair we all think we are as a nation in support of their fairness positioning.

Apparently I am pretty fair - which gives me a nice warm feeling.

We have also created a Facebook group to support the campaign really as a test to see how well this sort of activity can be in helping to spread the word.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

FSF Event


I have been invited back again to the Financial Services Forum to talk at an event on the regulatory environment for digital marketing on the 30th October.

Treating Customers Fairly springs instantly to mind. How to manage the digital conversation with a customer to ensure you have taken account on their individual circumstances? How do you apply these guidelines to devices such as mobile where you are limited to 160 characters in your SMS communications? Equally what responsibility do the search engines have now that they decide how relevant your cost per click ad is to a user (on top of how much you have paid for the ad). Permission to communicate and the manner of the collection of that permission seem to be the key.

Email can be lovely and personal but only if you have the data to make it so - if you do not does this mean you really have to offer the blandest, lowest value content? Hardly compelling reading.

I'm also keen to look at blogging at how that might constitute 'advice' if not carefully crafted but then a fully compliance checked blog is going to be very dry - Steve Bee does it so well there is a way. Forums etc are not far removed from blogs in this respect. Moderation is vital.

As for social networking and Second Life etc etc that really is the wild west of digital marketing and one that will be hard to police. There you go - initial thoughts on what should be an interesting event if the last one was anything to go by.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Credit squeeze impacts on IVA firms


Yesterday was a tough day for anyone in the IVA business. Debtmatters shares lost 65% of their value, Debt Free Direct lost 29% and 20%.

A 'hardening creditor attitude' is blamed for these valuations drops - a phrase I think we'll be hearing a lot more of over the coming months.

So who will step in to the gap filled by these companies if they do cease to exist (banks, citizen advice, charities) and why do customers not feel they can approach their main lenders directly?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Ninja's are to blame for the US sub prime mess


Apparently it's Ninja mortgages that are one of the major factors contributing to the problems within the US housing market.

Before you start to try and work out how feudal Japanese assassins are involved you should know that Ninja stands for No income, no job, no assets.

And I thought the world of digital had some great phrases!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

A is for insurance


Whatever happened to, the AAAAAA insurance Company? A thought popped into my head this morning so as usual it is going to be shared.

In the days when the directory was king and by far the most cost-efficient way of doing direct response [Oh and for you young ‘uns our there I’m talking telephone directory not net directory]

Companies were often named so that they came top of the list so it wasn’t unheard of to see not just, aardvark insurance, but the more impressive AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhh! Insurance Inc. and so on.

Today in a world of naturalised search, all you need is a word density of about 7% and content to match a relevancy algorithm to ensure you come top of the list, how wonderful is that.

So goodbye to such naming conventions as they are slipped quietly into the dustbin of corporate history or the note books of branding anoraks.

The recent history of naming has been all about the proposition or naming your USP all of which were founded in descriptive techniques you now the kind of thing British Airways, then came the naming of the outcome or customer experience, all good emotive stuff like…Yahoo.

But now as the web is driving nomenclature everyone is searching for not just a name but seemingly a single word, that has the equivalent of the web ‘X’ factor, an unused .com domain a recent example being Eefoof , no I kid you not!

But me, if I had a choice between an unused domain with a descriptive name in it or a great sounding company name that had a less than perfect domain I'd take the later every time.

For me the Eefoof of today will become the AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhh! Insurance Inc. of tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Trust after Northern Rock

Jo Parker

The ‘Financial Services Trust Index’* commissioned by us, over the weekend shows that less than half (46%) of the general public considers high street banks to be trustworthy.

After days of customers struggling to withdraw funds via Northern Rock’s website, faith in direct and online banks is also low, with only one in four (25%) of those questioned declaring confidence in the Internet banking system.

The current volatility in the UK’s financial sector has also left levels of trust low across the industry, with credit card companies (22%), insurance companies (20%) and investment companies (7%) all scoring low. Building societies are shown to be the most trusted product provider, with a score of 48%.

The Northern Rock situation has contributed to the low levels of trust that the British public has in companies that look after their money.

But, with the UK having one of the most regulated financial services markets in the world, our industry offers customers a great deal of choice and flexibility. What we could see is an increase in consumers visiting firms with a reputation for being open and transparent and treating their customers fairly such as Lloyds TSB and Britannia Building Society to name but two.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Fun-ancial Services?


Trident chewing gum has got an interesting approach to its branding. The whole of its communications seem to be based on the theme of having a good time – check out its crazy website if you don’t believe me. I even saw a competition on, run by Trident, to win a day’s Zorbing. Sounds like fun.

And that, I suppose, is the general idea for your subconscious. Trident = fun.

It reminds me of how Red Bull started out. The phrase ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ didn’t appear to be enough, and the company now has two Formula One teams, an international Air Race, a British Superbikes team and also has its energy-fuelled little fingers involved in just about every sporty pie there is. Again, the website is filled with examples about how far Red Bull has gone to push its brand.

It got me thinking about the financial services industry – there aren’t many examples of the ‘fun factor’ alive and well in our world. There’s a lot of sports sponsorship, but not many companies depicting out-and-out enjoyment in all that they communicate with potential customers.

Sheilas’ Wheels (disclosure one of our clients) is one name that springs to mind, and we all know how successful Peter Wood’s girls have been with the British public. Sure, silliness and sassiness might not be the way forward for every financial services brand, but it would be nice to see from a select few.

After all the negativity that has surrounded the industry in the past two weeks, it would be nice to see a few finance firms putting some smiles on people’s faces.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Yay for PR


It's nice to see a client promote our work and the following release appeared in Marketing Week highlighting the mobile site we created for Scottish Widows.

Oh the fame!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Given Northern Rock troubles, will savers shun online savings accounts?

Jo Parker

Given so many people haven’t been able to withdraw money from the Northern Rock website in the past week, I’m left wondering what the impact will be on those with savings in online savings accounts?

It might mean we see a swing back to the favour of high street players, where you can at least queue outside to get your money out if you need to. Certainly worth watching how savers react in the next few months…

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

What is the purpose of a creative idea?


I don’t want to get too esoteric and start spouting brand and marketing gobbledegook, but I do want to talk about the fundamentals of a creative idea.

I was browsing IFA Online this morning and came across a banner for that notable protection company Scottish Provident. I read the message about the fact they’ve paid out on average £45 million for the past 11 years, all laudable stuff.

However, what made me stop and think was the flying kite they used in the creative - it seemed to hang there with little or no purpose, no witty puns about flying high or bright ideas on the wind, nada, nothing, zilch.

Then I thought, was it put there as an engagement piece? You know the stuff about how creative ideas are there to engage first and then let you consume the advertiser’s message at your leisure and if you’re interested. The recent Cadbury's Gorilla being a prime example of this; demonstrate joy and by association you prompt the thought that the Cadbury's product is a-glass-and-a-half-of-milk-charged joy.

But when you look at this particular banner neither a pun nor an engagement idea seems to be present. I then wondered whether the destination would have some creative payback. I clicked through to the website which has a fine picture of mountains (presumably Scottish), but no hint of any link with the said flying kite or indeed the £45 million message.

So I then went back to the copy. It says ‘recommend protection that goes a long way’. Well being a literal sort, kites aren’t free to fly a long way, that is exactly what the string is for.

I then came back to my first impression that this wasn’t advertising, it was messaging. Now if you work for Scottish Provident please don’t take offence, I’m not picking on you. What is true of this banner is true of lots of financial services advertising.

It seems to believe that just having something to say is reason enough for an audience to pay attention - well I’m sorry, it isn’t. Even in a B2B environment where it’s my job to pay attention, I want more payback than an annoying looping kite. I’m time poor and like the rest of my colleagues want to be rewarded for my precious attention.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong and the Scottish Provident banner will become the shake and vac of our time, yet without a catchy jingle or clear product demonstration I think not. We all work in a sector plagued with a lack of trust, abstract products and complexity, so we have to work doubly hard to ensure our communications have real ideas that capture people’s imaginations and considerably more than mere messaging.

Friday, 14 September 2007

It's grim up North


It's going to be time for the PR peeps at Northern Rock to earn their money over the next few days.

What is most mysterious is why there is absolutely no mention of the Bank of England loan on their homepage and they are still running an internal banner asking users 'Looking for a loan?' whoops.......

No doubt anyone who has a mortgage with them will be hitting the site first thing this morning. I am not sure a state of denial is the best policy. Perhaps the story breaking has caught them out but it seems unlikely as it has been building for a while now.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Time to wake up to the Retail Distribution Review!

Jo Parker

Look it’s time to think about the consumer when it comes to the Retail Distribution Review. All our research shows an increase in demand for the need for tailored, independent financial advice. But if, as we fear, the RDR (as we affectionately call it) means there is confusion about what an independent financial adviser is (and it MUST mean someone who searches the whole of market) then consumers won’t be able to get what they want. The best, impartial advice available.

So let’s have a voice when RDR is reviewed in the Spring of next year. It’s in the consumer interest.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Some mobile work


We don't often show off about our work but personally I'm pretty pleased with the new mobile site we have created for our client Scottish Widows which takes the tax calculator project we have developed for them into the mobile space.

It's nice to work with a client that wants to explore this stuff and is keen to lead the way in FS marketing.

It's also been fascinating seeing just how the multitude of handsets deal with the content.

My feeling is that there is still a way to go in making mobile a quick/engaging experience for users but that the rate of change is such that we won't be far away from making it something close to the way BT tried to convince us it would be 5 or 6 years ago. Couple this with fixed price deals on bandwidth and the more people use this stuff the more companies will invest in it.

Anyway it's all a really good excuse for me to go and buy an iPhone shortly - purely in the name of research you understand.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Credit cards are the new Jazz


Being interested in all things financial means that you pick up things like this

Here’s something I spotted on the blogosphere an artist in Madrid is playing the magnetic stripes on bank and credit cards to hear what 0% APR on purchases till June 2008 sounds like

I’m sure mine will sound like a cross between Miles Davis and claws on a blackboard


Friday, 31 August 2007

The power of Facebook


Did you pick up on the decision by HSBC to reverse its plans on overdraft charges for students on the basis of pressure from the NUS who set up a protest site on Facebook?

A great example of the power the social networks.

Digital rights


Planning to place your lovely TV spot in a banner or on a mobile device? Check you've got those rights in place.

Enjoy your weekends

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Virtual confusion?


If the subject of virtual worlds brings you out in a cold sweat then I'm happy to recommend a book that is non-technical, easy to read and provides a great insight into these worlds, their value to their users and why people take part.

Virtual Lives by Tim Guest is a personal guide through worlds such as the well known Second Life the massive Lineage II (huge in Korea), World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies and many others. Tim talks to the players/residents and the companies behind these worlds.

Apparently in 2005 World of Warcraft made circa $300m for its creators, Blizzard Entertainment, where the movie Titanic took $420m. The attraction for creators is ongoing revenue.

Well worth a few real world hours of your time.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Arrangement fees


I am now about to join the ranks of the thousands whose mortgage is coming out of a fixed rate after 5 years and the marketplace is a very different one. Arrangement fees seem to have headed north quite dramatically.

I did enjoy the conversation with my existing lender when asked about the £999 arrangement fee. They obviously have a script for this and the adviser stuck to it but at no point could they justify that an existing customer who is staying with them, borrowing the same amount, over the same period justified £1,000 in fees. What kind of hourly rate would that be for a few keyboard strokes and the minimum of admin?

Reclaiming bank charges is one thing, reclaiming mortgage arrangement fees is far more appealing.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


What is the high street coming to?

I’ve heard loads in recent years about the death of the high street but help seems to be at hand from the financial services quarter.

I don’t know whether you’ve read recently that NS&I is to start selling its premium bond product through WH Smiths and it got me to wondering what will be the future of Savings and Investment products in the High Street?

Will I be able to pop into McDonalds and get a quick CTF with my kids happy meals [all Carrot sticks and water, I can assure you] or will we get the chance to place a punt on the mid250 fund at Kempton park at Corals or Ladbrokes?

Where do you think the obvious opportunities will come from?

Good article on the value of blogging


I found this article on FTSE CEO's and blogging of interest on Times Online.

How true the connection between blogging and share price might be is open for debate but it's a brave shot at attributing value to corporate blogging.

IAB set's up standards for Search marketing


It's good to see the Internet Advertising Bureau flexing it's muscles and starting to get involved in the world of search marketing.

Teaming up with the DMA they have established a charter for search marketing companies to adhere to.

Given that the world of FS is one of the biggest investors in cost per click advertising this is only good news. Despite a ban on buying trademarked names it's still possible to set up a campaign and target your ads to your competitors brand names. In the hyper competitive and price sensitive world of general insurance this can be very detrimental to any client's activity.

The charter is aimed directly at search companies themselves. The interesting point to note is that the companies, to comply, must be certified by either Google or Microsoft (with others to follow). Makes me wonder what the hold up is with Yahoo?

Friday, 17 August 2007

Not completely e-Bay


An eBay catalogue arrived through my door the other day. And after my initial confusion that the items displayed within it did not need to be purchased in the next few hours, and they were, in fact, sample products from some of the site’s more established traders, I noticed a more significant point about the company’s approach to external communications.

As a web-based outfit, you could be forgiven for thinking that eBay might solely promote itself online, but they are big enough and wise enough to know that a more holistic approach works best.

We all know the power and effectiveness of e-comms, but there is something to be said for good old human habit. If I’ve got five minutes to kill before the football comes on, I might well flick through the Ikea, Argos or (since two days ago) eBay catalogues – but I’m not going to get the laptop out specifically to do it for that amount of time.

This also backs a viewpoint that traditional hard-copy newspapers will never die out as sources of news – so they, along with online news sites, should continue to be a priority for PR activity. People, by their very nature, are habitual ‘flickers’. And I’m not talking about a photo-sharing web forum.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Integrating off and online is best!

Jo Parker

Great to see some research from the Royal Mail today that shows that consumers spend almost 25% more when digital advertising is integrated with direct mail campaigns.

Shoppers who prefer to engage with both direct mail and online advertising spend on average £105 a month on goods and services after receiving a combination of the two - £19 more than those who like online ads only and £34 more than those who would choose only direct mail.

The research, carried out by Quadrangle, also revealed consumers’ views on email communications:

69% feel that email is best used for supporting or clarifying the mail they receive

Six in ten agreed that they would prefer a company to approach them first by post, than by email

Over half of respondents believe that DM gives a better impression of a company than email

Eight in ten believe that email is best for communicating brief messages

66% prefer to receive detailed information by direct mail

69% prefer to receive important or sensitive messages by direct mail

This is great because it backs up our own advice to clients. We have seen a huge shift towards email (and the cost savings and targeting advantages are compelling) but at the cost of traditional direct mail. At the end of the day, the media selection must be based on what works best for the consumer.

wikipedia manipulation


Despite lessons learnt by organisations attempting to manipulate blogs, forums and online communities it seems a lot of agencies/clients still are at it.

Recently Wikipedia caught the Vatican, the CIA and the Labour Party (don't read anything into the order they appear here) tweaking information to improve their public images using its Wikipedia Scanner tool.

So it's a tough call for brands and organisations. If something is blatantly untrue the best course of action is to complain directly to Wikipedia rather than amend the entry yourself. If something is not to your liking but not untrue then you may need to leave it to your brand guardians (have you tracked them down yet?) to police it for you.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Capita Enabler

It was good to see Capita offer a useful package to advisers with the launch of the Capita Enabler - allowing an adviser to develop and maintain their own website. You can see the full story here on IFA Online.

For any business the creation of their first web site can be a step into the unknown. Combine this with a lack of internal resource to maintain content (out of date content is a killer in terms of brand image) and you can see the logic in Capita's move. If this solves the issue of designing, building, hosting and updating content on a basic site then it's a good move all round.

The only negative may be that the adviser is tied to Capita's systems should they wish to upgrade their site or take full ownership - this kind of stuff is rarely discussed in the short term but is worth considering in the long term.

Who owns the content on your site?

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Second Life. Oh dear.

This excellent article on should make sobering reading for marketers thinking about creating a space in Second Life. As Pete reported earlier this month, Axa are taking a look, and I'm sure many others are, too. As much as I hate to contradict Pete – and making myself look somewhat of a Luddite – I think spending valuable budget on Second Life is a huge mistake. Finally, here's the proof: Coca-Cola's 'Virtual Thirst' pavilion receiving just 27 visits on "a random day in June…" Just so you know, there are now over 7 million avatars in Second Life.

My big question with FS providers considering Second Life is "what are you offering?" 
  • If you're just creating a space to run your adverts, forget it. 
  • If you could create some kind of advice provision to avatars, that may be better (but fraught with legal issues). 
  • If your underwriters had the stones to create insurance to avatars and their online property, then it would be worthwhile. Maybe.

Second Life is only a worthwhile venture if you create something that Second Lifers need. In that respect it's really not that different from Real Life.


Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Equifax report


Having attended a Chinwag event on the 'dark side of social media' a month or two ago I was not surprised to see Equifax release a report on the personal information security issues raised by people's profiles on sites such as Facebook and Myspace.

As these sites often ask for and display information such as date of birth, pets name (often used as passwords)and location networker's can inadvertently provide valuable information to fraudsters.

I changed my personal details on a few of these sites as a result of the Chinwag event - it might be worth checking what information your profiles have on them.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

A funny thing happenend on the forum


We often monitor a range of web sites to see what people are saying about financial issues. One of those sites is thisislondon the web site of the Evening Standard.

It's always had quite active forums and seems to attract posts from a wide range of users. People tend to be very open and honest in forum postings - more so than say in the letters pages.

One of the most recent stories related to increased mortgage rates combining with increased fuel prices all indicating soaring inflation.

The posts on the subject ranged from 'why is there no tax deduction on mortgage payments', 'anyone with a mortgage who hasn't factored in interest rate rises is a fool', 'this is good news for homeowners as their savings attract better rates' to 'if you can't afford your repayments ditch your sky subscription'.

Forums are often ignored as a source of insight into your customers thinking. A few hours a week can throw up some priceless insight.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Digital insults


Today it's been reported that a young girl was stabbed after posting insults on her Bebo page. Not so long ago a flamewar on a forum ended up with one of the contributors tracking down the other and attacking him.

So while digital seems to provide us with a range of new ways to express ourselves we still need to be mindful of the consequences of anything we post online. I suppose this links back to the post I made recently on online security.

What we post today can come back to haunt us tomorrow.

Monday, 16 July 2007

online customer service


It's nice to have your expectations exceeded and here's a public thank you to amazon.

A delayed order email enquiry was answered within an hour with action promised in 24 hours. Quite often I think our expectation is that an email enquiry will disappear into a black hole (actually easyjet have an email address called blackhole@easyjet).

That's the kind of service that delivers trust and I think we need as much of that as we can get in the FS world.

security begins at home


I've just finished reading a short article on identity theft and it does make for alarming reading.

The survey, by Capital One, claims that 2.5m of us throw bank statements into the bin (intact) and 14m of us don't bother to shred personal information.

Yet at the same time 82% of us, according to the Information Commissioners Office, are aware that personal information should be protected. So if ID theft is on the increase, awareness is on the increase what's stopping us all protecting ourselves?

If we go back a few years to when e-commerce really took off we were led to believe that criminals were just waiting to pluck your credit card details out of the ether. While that was never the issue (it's always been more about the storage security)it does seem now that our household bins rather than the recycle bins of our PC are the main target for criminals.

How about bio-degradable statements if we have to have paper based communications?

Friday, 13 July 2007

Digital Double-take

Jo Parker

The thing I love about the digital world is that it really does throw the status quo up in the air.

It really challenges our preconceptions about what we know or at least think we know about people.

Take the fact that a recent survey by shows that young women (18-34) are now the most dominant group online in the UK. Not nerdy teenage boys locked in their bedrooms. Indeed that there are 1.7 times more over 50 year olds than children under 18 active on the internet.

Which is why I loved the story in today’s paper, that to avoid getting hoards of middle-class, middle-aged rockers at Glastonbury next year, the organisers will be offering tickets by telephone to make sure the Radio 1 younger, hip crowd are there instead, rather than relying on the web!

It’s an important sense check for all of us planning communications, we must really look at the stats rather than rely on our pre-conceptions. Cos chances are they are wrong!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Second Life for Axa


Nice to see a financial services brand investigating the world of Second Life with Axa quoted as being close to launching a presence.

Second Life is an interesting place for brands at the moment. The membership numbers constantly grow but the feeling is that the actual number of regular users is quite low and given the global reach the actual number per country quite thin. Add in terrorist groups out to police the virtual world, the rise of concern over virtual crime (sexual crime is of major concern in some European countries for example)and it's fair to say no one can really predict how important Second Life and whatever follows it will be.

My feeling is that it’s a good place to experiment but there needs to be a very clear value exchange between a brand and the inhabitants of Second Life for a brand to be well received. However, just like the real world, some people will love the brand and some will not - there is a risk in everything we do in marketing that it will create a backlash but that alone is not a reason for not trying.

So congratulations to Axa for a brave move forward into the unknown.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Children to receive financial education


Ed Balls, the new Schools Secretary, is ordering schools to teach personal finance as a subject alongside career progression and enterprise.

"It is essential that we equip our children with the financial skills they will need as adults and get young people thinking about careers and how to fulfil their ambitions,' Mr Balls said yesterday.

I'd be interested to hear who has drawn up the syllabus?

Thursday, 5 July 2007

average age is 43


According to a report by MetLife the average age of consumers seeking financial advice is 43 with 53% of IFA's feeling their customers have left it too late for retirement planning.

It's interesting that a recent report on older audiences highlighted that internet usage had overtaken the traditional past times of gardening and DIY.

So how come, according to a recent Argent report, that financial services brands are spending, on average, 7.5% of their marketing budgets on digital activity while online's share of all advertising has hit 10%?

It would seem there's still a lot of FS brands who are yet to recognise the importance of digital.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Digital is a winner


We were asked to take part in a Financial Services Forum debate on integrated marketing recently. Each discpline was represented - PR, DM, digital, sponsorship and advertising, with each being asked to out forward the case for why their discipline should receive an increasing share of clients budgets.

Yours truly was there to sell the case for digital.

A vote was cast at the start and then again at the close to measure the speakers abilities to influence the audience.

I'm pleased to say that digital saw a 200% increase in votes and came away as the winner with PR a close second.

I think the winning point, judging by conversations with guests after the event, was that digital was a platform from which to launch all your marketing activity and as a result the old definitions of what pr or dm is are being revised in light of the digital options open to clients. For example is a brand's facebook profile pr or advertising?

The follow up to that last point is that we still have silo's (budget and personnel) for each discpline that help reinforce the old way of thinking about marketing. It's not only time to re-think attittudes to what is marketing but also to consider how marketing teams are set up.

As financial services brands are heavy users of digital there's a real need to start looking internally at how you are set up and how that structure works in the brave new digital marketing world.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Online reputation


How’s your reputation these days? It looks as if the growth of social sites and web 2.0 content is making us all re-evaluate what constitutes status in the (digital) world.

I picked up on a story a while ago that people in the US were using their character rankings from online games such as World of Warcraft on their CV’s.
Picture this on a CV ‘I am a Mage (wizard) with a Revered reputation and I lead a group of 25 lower level characters’. This person has demonstrated problem solving (Revered is the second to highest level of reputation), commitment (takes some playing to build that reputation) and management skills (25 people must be a small/medium sized company). Probably someone with some useful skills then.

So how else are people ‘judged’ online? Are you an Ebay PowerSeller for example? An Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer? A flickr ‘group admin’ or do you have the most friends on Myspace.

The common theme is that we use new measures to evaluate people digitally and they don’t rely on old world values. The anonymous stranger on Amazon is going to help you make a buying decision purely based on his or her reputation (actually are we all now hermaphrodites online if no one can tell who we are?)

So if the reputation of your brand is important then perhaps you should be asking yourself – how are we scoring against some of these new ‘ratings’?

Maybe online is the new world in which we can rebuild trust in financial services brands.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Five years ago

Sam 2.07.07

Five years ago I was studying a New Media module at university and, as part of the coursework, was asked to complete was an essay with the title: ‘Does the internet change our lives?’

Back then, email, online shopping and net dating were all in full swing, and community portals like FriendsReunited had become a very popular new way for people to keep in touch with one another.

But what struck me at the time was that the internet hadn’t really changed human life. In my view, the advent of web technology had certainly enhanced our lives – communication was vastly simpler, goods were available at a cheaper price and information was much easier to come by – but it hadn’t significantly altered the things we do, only how we do them.

But now, with my introduction into the corporate world complete and Web 2.0 upon us, I’m compelled to reconsider my position on whether the internet is, in fact, a ‘life-changing’ development.

In the financial services arena, too, the web has played a part in influencing public behaviour. Online campaigns by the likes of Motley Fool and MoneySavingExpert – both positioning themselves as ‘consumer champions’ – have prompted huge numbers of people to reclaim bank charges. And the upshot of this, we’re told, is that free banking in the UK may soon come to an end: something that will impact on almost the entire adult population.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Creativity in financial services

James 25.06.07

Financial advertising - conventionally not thought of as the field in which creativity thrives. But why shouldn’t financial services advertising be creative? Indeed, why shouldn’t the sector as a whole be held up as a leader in creativity, of innovation and design.

Yes, when it comes to how advisers or consumers think of brands in banking, insurance or investment we want solid and reliable and trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be creative as well.

When flipping through the pages of Investment, the FT and The Economist, it seems obvious that, in this country at least, products, services and brands are sold rationally. Give them facts and figures and they’ll work it out for themselves. But in the US and even South Africa, emotion is what sells. Whether to brokers or to consumers the relationship, the feelings of a communication are as important as the figures or the offer.

Possibly as regulation in the UK Financial arena has taken a greater hold, there is a fear of pushing creativity. An ogre sneaks in and right at the beginning of a brainstorm and says “We’ll never get away with that, so let’s just do….” Just…a word that is the antithesis of creativity.

But regardless of the audience, the product, the arena or the potential restrictions, creativity, originality and engagement should be foremost in a creative agencies mind. When conceptualising, critiquing or assessing creative work, its important to remind oneself it is just that…creative.

Monday, 18 June 2007

PW – 26.04.07

In a recent conversation with one of the media agencies we work alongside we talked about the increasing cost of running search marketing and how, for some clients, the increase in their average cost per click was starting to hurt.

Equally on a lot of the IFA facing web sites we deal with availability (and therefore price) is becoming an issue.

This is leading us more and more to work with clients not just on the traffic generating aspect of their marketing but on improving conversion rates once a user arrives at a site. The value of analytics (telling you what people do o your site) and usability (why they do the things they do) comes in improved conversion rates. A small increase in conversion rates massively outweighs a small decrease in CPC or CPM for banners.

Perhaps, because usability and analytics often sit outside the marketing function they are not considered as often as they should be. However I’ll keep banging the drum for them with our clients and would encourage you (whoever you may be) to do the same.

Welcome to our new blog

Blogging has created a lot of hype. Everyone seems to be up to it, from political parties to aspiring novelists. But is it all hype or helping?

Research from interviews with corporate bloggers has shown that corporate blogs are giving established and new brands alike the ability to connect with their audiences, build trust and community goodwill and get valuable feedback. And that’s important because we strongly believe that brands can be built (and destroyed) from the bottom up. It also helps on a more practical level with search engine optimization (they are easy to read for search engines), to create relevant link popularity and so drive more site traffic. It’s also good for PR coverage.

Yet of 34 financial services brands we surveyed, only 15% had a current, open blog. Some are using blogs in the b2b arena, such as Steve Bee’s blog on pensions which is much admired across the industry but these are the few exceptions. This seems a missed opportunity, especially for more of the approachable, direct to consumer brands on the market – why not a blog from the Halifax personalities such as Howard for example?

There are obvious reasons for us investing the time and money in doing our own blog. But we were clear that our blog could not just be corporate spin and just a regurgitation of our press releases. So what is our blogging strategy?

For those of you who know us, we have a strong team who are very engaged in marketing financial services and the power of integrated communications. So the blogs that will follow from this one, will show Teamspirit in action – views and thoughts from our team. And do let us know what you think. That’s one of the most important aspects of why we are doing this. Look forward to hearing from you.

Jo Parker
Managing Director