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Step ahead in the Engagement Revolution

Beyond the short-term ubiquity of the General Election campaign, which transfixed the nation from Cleggmania to ConDem coalition, the global economic crisis and its impacts on our economy have remained the most significant news issue for consumers. Indeed the continuing economic crisis hijacked much of the Election coverage itself. It is against this backdrop that Lansons has updated its study into consumer sentiment and circumstances, analysing public expectations of, and engagement with, the financial services industry. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing detailed insights from this study with our clients and contacts in the financial services sector, helping ensure they can capitalise on the revolution in how people are seeking out and responding to guidance on financial issues. Whilst the financial and economic crisis remains the single most followed issue on the news agenda, the intensity of public interest in the ‘big picture’ has steadily waned. Instead people’s focus has shifted to the specific impacts on their lives and those around them. Fears over job security continue to dominate the consumer mindset, while the drying up of savings income remains far and away the biggest personal finance issue. We have reached the third of four stages through which consumers would inevitably pass in responding to such a historic crisis. The initial phase was of ‘shock and confusion’. We reported in our November 2008 study (in the immediate wake of global financial collapse) how 85% of consumers were following the crisis above all other issues. They were depending overwhelmingly on the TV news to make sense of unfolding events, and not yet equipped to assess its impact on their own circumstances, let alone how to respond to it. By the time of our updated study, in summer last year, the nation had moved beyond this shock and confusion into a second phase of ‘research and realisation’, the crisis having assumed a more personal character. People felt less confident about their financial capability as more than one in five were forced to make cutbacks. Already a number of financial services brands were seizing the opportunity to connect with a far more ‘lean forward’ audience, with a thirst for information and guidance, and a demand for openness and support from their financial service provider firms. Compared to six months earlier, consumers were visiting and trusting a greater range of information sources and had clear views on the content and tone of communications they were prepared to engage with. One year on, and consumers are now moving through a distinct third phase of ‘anger and blame’, which will soon lead into a final stage of ‘demanding action’. Bankers’ pay has leapt to the top of the list of most followed aspects of the economic crisis. Three quarters of those surveyed pointed to issues of fairness as the key to securing their trust in financial services brands. The call for better communication – more open, frequent and personalised – is second on peoples’ list, reaffirming the opportunity for more organisations to retain and attract customers by engaging directly on their agenda. Perhaps surprisingly in the current climate, over half of the public believes financial services companies should invest more in their brand and communications. So the door is open for brands that can find their way to it. Close behind comes ‘better regulation’, confirming that this is far from a remote, abstract issue for the public, and that politicians will feel pressure to react strongly to this demand. So throughout this Parliament more than any other, companies need to remain close to the policy and regulatory debate, sharing insights, monitoring developments and preparing for possible scenarios. We have not only witnessed a shift in focus and mood among the public, but also significant shifts in the balance of media influence, as consumers change the way they access information on financial issues. Despite two thirds of the public tuning in to television to catch up on financial issues, the dominance of this channel has fallen off 14 per cent from its 2008 highpoint. Over the same period, the internet has rapidly increased in influence, now representing a dependable source of financial information for 63 per cent of consumers. A substantial and growing 44 per cent of consumers are now informing themselves through direct engagement with financial services companies, everything from case study films and website guidance to ‘ask the expert’ webcasts and social media chat facilities. Rather than recession having slammed the brakes on changing behaviours, if anything it has served to accelerate this change. Consumers have been far more interested in their finances and thus far more conscious which companies are meeting their expectations. So with this consumer Engagement Revolution already well advanced, its shape and direction clear enough, providers need to consider how they can stay a step ahead. As a consultancy at the heart of the financial services sector, we have revolutionised the support we offer to mirror these new opportunities and challenges. Already we are working with clients to enhance brand value through more relevant, persuasive forms of engagement, and in delivering stakeholder research to inform corporate repositioning. We are helping others to understand political change and to influence regulatory policy. Lansons leads the way in building online partnerships, producing and placing rich media content, and exploiting social media. When we emerge from this period of transformation, the winners will be those who have seen, understood and responded best to trends in their markets. To find out more about our latest insights and how they relate to your company or sector, email insight&research@lansons.com or to contact Richard email richardw@lansons.com