Familiar words in unfamiliar times

As 2021 sets its teeth, it seems budget-squeezed services businesses are faced as much with messaging considerations as with thoughts of scale and reach. According to Christian Barnes, Head of Strategy at AML Group, they could do worse than revisit partnership, efficiency and value as key watchwords when compiling marketing plans.

Sifting through our own research and other sources has identified some key insights and trends which we believe will influence messaging, in Europe at least, for the foreseeable future. Some have been initiated through – and all accelerated by – Covid 19:


Customers are fickle. 

Although both the expected ‘flight to quality’ and sticking to the familiar have been strong, supply constraints and compromised service have also driven people to try new providers. This builds on a growing trend to challenge ‘experts’, governments and institutions as to how they are behaving – and throwing the whole ‘way things are done’ into question.


Interdependence trumps independence.

People have been responding to inclusive, collective messaging above more overtly self-improving ones. From a customer perspective, today and tomorrow are more about ‘we’ than ‘me’. From a provider’s, it’s less ‘us’, more ‘you’.


Green is good. But hard.

In the retail investment world, ‘ethical’ approaches were initially rejected when the pandemic hit but that has reversed overwhelmingly since. Investment brands that have long practised ethical investing need to find ways to cut through the greenwashing to land their authenticity. Those repositioning towards ethical approaches need a distinctive, credible (and relevant) story that raises them above it.


Cut-price won’t cut it.

Sticking with investment (but arguably true elsewhere), competitive pricing is now more a pressure on all than an elective tool for those with fat margins. The combination of customers’ reassessment of need in face of a crisis and the regulatory directive to deliver ‘value to investors’ make price an increasingly commoditising factor.


Expertise is expected.

Advisers in many fields are becoming appreciated for their ‘life coaching’ skills as much as for their expertise. As technology increasingly delivers expertise via an algorithm at an accessible price, so the softer skills of empathy and understanding, experience of uncertain conditions – and human trust – play a greater role.


We believe these trends influence marketing behaviour in 2021 and beyond:

Investment in brand will continue to be vital but will likely feature less in ‘broadscale’ out of home/TV advertising and more through channels that demonstrate rather than proclaim. Messaging will need to be less ‘about us’, more about ‘relevance to you’ and credible. We see a continued increase in content marketing investment. These are crowded channels and success requires brand-distinctive, original content over syndicated generic material.

Providers will reach out to their intermediary channels more, offering support in the form of more automated products and solutions to free them to develop their softer skills. At a wholesale level, it is again about making professionals’ roles more time and cost efficient.

Product marketing will continue its resurgence, with propositions tailored to outcomes for both intermediary ease and end customer relevance.

We’re boiling all this down to some familiar themes, recast for less familiar times:

  • Partnership in a more specific reflection of the growing collaborative customer voice and the dizzying array of options from which to derive solutions.
  • Efficiency in the way in which marketing is planned and executed as well as in the benefit providers can bring to intermediaries’ and end customers’ lives.
  • Value because in times of continuing uncertainty, transparency and regulation, no-one can really justify a premium without substance (even if that substance is in the value of a relationship or experience). And delivering value in enhancing people’s future quality of life is increasingly becoming a regulatory, as well as a moral, imperative.