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Meet the millennials: Six smart ways to satisfy their banking needs


With the rise of millennials as the largest living generation—and their steady escalation toward becoming the dominant workplace culture—it is increasingly important for financial services marketers to understand the millennial mindset.

And it is a different one.

They’ve grown up in a time of rapid change fueled by technology. They don’t know a world without digital and they embrace the technology: 87 percent say that they trust new financial services technologies, while 55 percent say they prefer to do everything related to their personal finances on their phone. 

What does this mean? It means they live for technology. They trust Google; they love Apple. Yet surprisingly, they also value in-person interactions. So while the majority of them go online to conduct their financial business through your digital channels (such as website and online bill-pay), roughly 51 percent still use physical branch locations. Typically, those on-site visits are to solve a specific problem or converse about a complex transaction.

Thus financial services organizations often feel the need to walk a tightrope: Evolve with millennials digitally driven demands, yet remain a time-honored source of trust and stability. Those that understand and engage with this seemingly split mindset will gain lifelong, valuable customers.

Based on Merkle’s Maximum Recognition, Minimal Effort: How financial services can meet millennials’ emotional needs, this article outline six strategies for building a successful millennial program in 2017:

1.    Feed the need: Consider millennials’ desires first

Face it: Bankers are primarily driven by unit goals tied to bonus incentives. They operate in the mindset of selling accounts—checking, mortgage, investments, etc. But banks need to shift to understanding where customers sit each life stage and what their needs are: for example, to buy a home, not to go into debt. Or: to send their kids to college, not to go into debt. Marketers will better connect with millennials once we start to think about their needs and speak in those terms.

2.    Motivation orientation: Look past customer behavior

Financial services have a wealth of first- and third-party data that can inform a millennial approach. From big data’s predictive nature to a seasoned expert’s understanding of previous success, just about any strategy can be defended with some point of view.  But it’s crucial to look beyond the behavioral data to understand why the behavior occurs in the first place—the motivation. Is it that “I want a trusted advisor,” “I want to be respected,” or “I want to be known by my financial institution”?  Address the key purchase motivators in your messaging approach. 

3.    Part won:  Add motivational segmentation  

Once you understand the emotions of any segment, a tremendous opportunity awaits in segmenting based on them. First, analyze the demographic information of each segment. Next, start building a segment-based communication plan that culminates in a series of journey maps. Leveraging data to add motivational segmentation to your repertoire can not only increase engagement with ads, but also inform and enrich the entire customer experience.

4.    Channel challenges: Target individuals based on segmentation and channel preference

We know this group tilts toward technology and digital. So why do banks continue to mail this group when they’re interacting every day across digital channels and devices? Millennials are saying, “Speak to us through the device that I choose, not the channel, not the device that you choose.”  Let the customer decide how, when and why to interact. The customer wants control, not being told what to do. Minimize the hassle and provide transparency about the process.

5.    Bigger data: Enhance interactions and communications

We have seemingly endless data about millennials. But we need the “So what?” Once taken, the aforementioned steps will answer that question as you build a successful millennial program strategy for 2017. According to the Harvard Business Review 2014, “True brand intelligence lives at the intersection of head and heart, where their emotional self meets the analytical self.”

6.    Mulling multi-channel: A smart approach to customer communications

Every customer journey is unique across multiple channels and interactions; ideally, your contingency plan addresses every moment in it. If a customer opens an informative email, send a second one that builds on that message. If they visit your website but don’t enroll, you might retarget them with display ads that push the right benefit. A well-constructed journey map seeks to understand the customer’s objectives at every moment—and react to behavior in a way that helps them reach those objectives.

Align each customer’s journey to the value that drives it. Sometimes off the bat, a strong database can land pretty close to putting the right customers in the right motivational segments. But sometimes you’ll need some trial and error to determine which line of messaging resonates with each customer. Starting with the baseline journey, you have a chance to create a mix of messages informed by various motivations. Then you can track what messages they respond to and sort them into the ideal journey that optimizes the experience. To manage each moment in a journey map, you need creative actions aligned to each motivation.

As millennials grow into their full earning and spending potential, countless financial services brands will jockey for their attention, trust and loyalty. The winning brands will take the hassle out of financial products and bolster customer pride and self-reliance.

And those that reap the rewards will fill more than financial needs: They will address the values that inform how millennials make decisions. That realization, ideally, should inform another set of decisions: those made by smart financial services leaders.

Brian Campbell is senior director of strategy, financial Services at Merkle in Columbia, Maryland.