Knowledge Center: Publication

Marketing, Sales and Strategy Officers

What financial services marketers need to know in the era of human-to-human marketing

11/8/2018 Elisabetta Bartoloni
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The rise of technology in marketing through social media, geotargeting, and data-driven campaigns has led to a transformation in the way financial firms are branding themselves in the marketplace. Whereas 20 years ago there was a clear distinction between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing strategies, the human-to-human (H2H) era requires that a brand demonstrate its ethos and that marketers have strong technology skills.

Technological disruption in marketing

The race to technology has changed the demand for marketing talent to focus on those with a more research-centric mind-set. A company today won’t spend money on marketing until it has a clear understanding of who it is trying to target and what it is trying to get them to do. Marketers, then, must have a research mentality that provides them with a clear understanding of geotargeting and the ability to ensure that campaigns are seen by the right audience.

Financial firms are making more and more data-driven decisions supported by the data analytics provided by technology. Their marketers are building targeted campaigns around the data that exists, and the data analytics enabled by technology allows them to fine-tune their messaging and optimize delivery to their clients. Retargeting, search engine optimization, and geotargeting are all elements that are essential to data-driven campaigns, where user information is collected and utilized to ascertain when to send messages and to whom they should be sent. Data-driven e-mail marketing helps marketers to determine what time of day customers are most likely to read their e-mails and what matters to them most, and it allows marketers to craft customized, effective messages that are engaging and relevant.

The result of this technology-based transformation is that good marketers not only are encouraged to communicate the “why” of their organization but also must focus on the client’s user experience and understand what the customer truly wants.

According to the CMO of one of the largest banks in the United States, the biggest difference in today’s marketing practices from those of the past is “the notion of clarity of purpose and a much more authentic resonance with the way a brand appears. Ultimately, you can’t ‘buy or overly influence’ a customer’s impression of you, because they’re far more likely to want to listen to other users and other experiences than they are to what the brand directly says.”

Human-to-human marketing in finance

The approach to marketing in financial services is fragmented across B2B, B2C, and even B2B2C. Firms need to move past this outdated concept and focus on integrated marketing at the human level to build relationships and brand awareness of who they are and what they stand for at a very high level.

While technology and data are enabling a new era of marketing, the human experience still remains the most important aspect of marketing, and a fundamental understanding of what the consumer wants is the most vital piece of the puzzle. As the CMO of a global investment management and insurance company explained: “There are a lot of companies that do financial retirement planning, but how we think about it is what’s important to our customer, putting them at the center and having a customer-centered brand that reflects what is important to them, which includes our differentiators around caring and simplicity. That is our North Star. That’s our guiding light to make sure that we’re building authentic experiences.”

Brands with purpose

Regardless of the type of marketing, the most important element of a brand today is its purpose. Financial firms that are successful in articulating their “why” (i.e., not just explaining what they do but also why they do it) convey a sense of purpose to their audience. It should come as little surprise then that the most successful modern marketers are the ones who are able to ensure that their purpose, their behavior, and the products they bring to the marketplace all align.

According to one CMO, the financial services industry is particularly lagging behind in employing today’s marketing best practices, especially when it comes to the purpose-driven portion of H2H marketing. Furthermore, analytics knowledge, an essential skill in marketing today, is very weak in financial services, as the field has historically been more sales driven and transactional.

Naturally, there are certainly exceptions to this statement. An example of a company doing an excellent job of setting forth its purpose is State Street, responsible for the Fearless Girl campaign. State Street was able to link its purpose of gender inequality awareness and the need to advance women in leadership positions to the mission of the company, which is to safeguard the wealth and retirement of millions of men and women.

Talent that delivers on purpose

Marketing must no longer be seen as a support and service function but rather one that is infinitely more strategic and, ultimately, considers the voice of the client. According to the CMO of one of the world’s largest asset managers, today’s marketers “are the source for client advocacy data [and take] the pulse of what’s happening in that client’s world.” Financial services firms are quickly learning that they need to have a clear purpose to produce marketing materials that resonate with the brand.

The role of marketing, broadly speaking, is transforming because it’s becoming more technical and more measurement oriented while simultaneously becoming broader and responsible for the customer experience. Financial services marketers have to be responsible for the research, data, and analytics that inform effective programs and products.

On the talent side, this means finding people who are strategic, technologically savvy, and effective communicators and who are able to execute, particularly at the middle-management level. Thus, there is a need for candidates who are cross-trained, with backgrounds in both marketing and technology. Firms are hiring candidates who are well rounded and well versed in different areas of marketing. This trend is in contrast to the previous approach of hiring marketers with one narrowly defined function, such as public relations (PR).

Sourcing this talent has led many CMOs to look beyond traditional candidates and think about core capabilities that come together to oversee a particular client segment. One CMO stated: “I pride myself on hiring people from outside of the financial services industry. I have PR people who are cross-trained in digital and vice versa because I think the skills are tremendously complementary. You’re still going to need deep technical knowledge in some areas, but otherwise I think there are much bigger opportunities to play in multiple spaces. It also helps you retain talent because they don’t feel like they’re locked into a specific role.”


It is important for today’s financial services marketers to understand the firm’s business, its core purpose, and the connection it makes with clients. These human-to-human connections have much more influence over branding than ever before. CMOs ignore this trend at their own peril, as the art of marketing has changed drastically. The financial services sector would be wise to keep up with this ever-evolving landscape.

About the authors

Elisabetta Bartoloni ( is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles' New York office and a member of the Financial Services Practice; she leads the Global Markets Sector for the Americas.

Luis DeAnda is a partner in the Los Angeles office and a member of the global Marketing, Sales & Strategy Officers and Consumer Markets practices.

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