2017 started with regulation being the primary topic of conversation for most regulated financial firms, but by the end of the year regulation was pushed aside by cryptocurrencies, as bitcoin went from happy hour and networking chatter to THE primary topic of conversation. Throw in a chaotic year of global politics, social activism, the ever-changing technology, and a stock market that continues to go in one direction (that would be up), and 2018 starts with the pedal to the metal. Here are my quick takes on 2017, along with some challenges, opportunities and threats that lay ahead in 2018.
By the way—as a reminder, I’m looking at these from the perspective of someone who specializes in providing marketing and technology to financial services/FinTech firms (both regulated and non-regulated). As such my perspective is formed by what I see and hear from clients, prospects, other firms we work closely with, organizations I’m involved in, what I read, and good old gut instinct.
Content continues to rule, but go with quality over quantity
We’ve been advocating content marketing as a subtle and useful way to reach your customers for years. It’s worked for us, it works for our clients. This won’t change in 2018 but what will change is the increased focus on quality. It’s no longer about jamming keywords in titles and producing as much content as possible to showcase on your Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.
With so much noise being pushed out, customers are going to focus more on when you do post/share original content than on a constant flow of mediocre content, or content for content’s sake. This “should” lessen the burden of feeling like you need to post daily. Post when you can, try to post regularly, and do so with quality.
Continued increase in automated marketing and CRM
Firms are continuing to look for ways to take advantage of the CRM and automated systems that have invested time and money in and use them to their fullest, or to get a proper (perhaps their first) CRM infrastructure set-up. It’s one thing to invest in lead generation, but once that lead is generated how do you stay in front of them or continue to offer services to existing clients?
We first saw CRM and automated marketing consulting pick up late in 2016 but really gain traction in 2017 and see it continuing in 2018. Additionally, new tools for automated marketing continue to launch at various price points, which means there is ongoing growth and interest.
Integration and access to data
Nearly every tool has some type of API or hook available to integrate with third-party technology to create a powerful process. Some are out-of-the-box and simple to tie together, while others require programming to get them to speak to each other.
For example, we’ve tied a lead generation request to a CRM record, adding it to a separate email marketing distribution system, and associating it to an account application/portal user/demo request for multiple clients this past year.
For a while, big data was a trend, now it’s more focused data and these integrations provide more of the data at a basic level that marketers and decision makers need.
Providing utility increases — clients want data too!
It’s not just your staff that wants data, clients want data too. Not only that, clients/investors are looking for the sites and apps they use to go a step further by adding more intelligence, utility, and even anticipating needs. It also goes without saying that they also expect a great user experience as well.
Clearing firms, brokerages, and even the exchanges are increasingly focusing on a great customer experience to retain and grow their client base. Value-added data and experience add value as trading stocks, futures, and ETFs are perceived more as a utility.
Tech and marketing become more intertwined
In the first two trends, you see how technology and marketing has become more intertwined. To make these set-ups work as a 2-month project (instead of a 2-year project) it requires focus, clearly stated specs, a willingness to start with the basics and build, and a team that can understand and organize both the marketing and the tech.
Cryptocurrencies: Real or the next example of Tulip Mania?
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies create opportunities to capture leads for products like Bitcoin Futures traded at the CME Group, and to have new conversations with existing clients. If you’re a believer, you can now enjoy registered products, funds, and other exchanges to invest in cryptocurrencies; if you’re a hater, you now have ways to short the product.
Either way, we can tell you that page views, social mentions, and pretty much anything bitcoin is getting traffic and attention. If you’re not a part of the conversation, you’re missing out. By the way, how’s that flip phone your using?
Active marketing grows the business and reactive marketing means it’s too late
We increasingly hear of client bases literally dying from RIAs and firms that serve families. These firms built their business and then felt “comfortable” at a certain level and generally stopped marketing, thus losing visibility and the ability to generate new clients. Especially when their clients are essentially part of their network. Playing catch-up in marketing greatly reduces the chances of a firm being able to come back to its previous size, let alone grow. In 2017, we’ve seen more firms begin to realize they need to keep up, and stay in front of new prospects and clients. That marketing doesn’t need to mean constant advertising or daily blogs, but being consistent, visible and having an infrastructure in place to build up, and dial it back without going silent.
Sales and marketing of alternatives
Let’s face it, when you have a stock market that goes one direction (again: up) and pretty much outperforms most funds, ETFs, etc. –you’ve got to create a strategy that is unique, distinct, profitable, of-interest AND be able to tell your story.
For the “of-interest”, the emergence of and interest in Marijuana funds was a key theme in 2016, from late 2017 and into 2018 it’s cryptocurrency and Blockchain funds.
On the “telling the story” side, we’ve seen more fund managers put more credence in having stronger marketing materials and helping investors get to know not only the strategy but the management team behind it. Interest in our Clarity Tear Sheet Designer and Pitchbook Services have not only reached new highs for us, but conversations we’ve had with clients reflect this as well as the number of attendees in sessions for personal brand management and sessions that focus on communications skills that we’ve seen at fund conferences and events.
Cyber Security: Firms of all sizes become more proactive
This became the year that firms of all sizes began to ask us questions regularly about cyber security, and not just because it became regulation. Our clients truly have an interest in how we protect their data and websites, from small to large clients, everyone wants to be sure that we protect their sensitive customer information.
All new clients and approximately 65% of our existing clients are on one of two paid firewall options that we include and make mandatory for service with us. In 2017, we became the only financial services marketing (and only firm that both we and our security provider know of) that includes a paid firewall service from leading firewall provider Sucuri with every hosting service, and built in backups and archiving. We also offer additional options for virus protection and removal.
For highly sensitive data such as Personal Identifiable Information (PII), customers are investing in additional security systems that require customers to change passwords, receive completely new login info, use two-factor authentication etc., that previously would be considered too hard or intrusive for customers—putting security over convenience.
Interest in technology infrastructure by non-techs
Along with security, firms of all sizes have become more conscious of asking about how their system is hosted (asking for cloud hosting), what infrastructure it will be built on (programming languages, server stack, CMS systems, etc.), and learning more about the capabilities of the selections made.
Cloud Hosting—adoption and interest increases; becomes easier to manage
Additionally, more and more larger firms are turning to the cloud as opposed to hosting all their information in-house. They are unburdening themselves from the cost of maintaining hardware that is quickly outdated and that requires a physical infrastructure and larger staff to maintain.
While cloud hosting has been a trend for some time, in 2017 the interfaces and tools used to manage the cloud became even stronger. Microsoft Azure has really created an amazing interface for its cloud technology, and Amazon began tying their tools together in a central interface (but still has a way to go to being truly intuitive).
We increased our transition to the cloud in 2017 and in 2018 will have 95% of our clients hosted on various cloud-hosted systems.
It’s all about the blockchain (baby)
If you haven’t heard, blockchain is the underlying technology for all cryptocurrencies and is the shared ledger stored across all cryptocurrency holders providing transparency across accounts (wallets). Blockchain is popping up as part of both existing and new exchanges, being used to manage shareholders in funds. Additionally, blockchain is being used in a diverse range of uses outside of the financial space. Look for blockchain to become a core technology in 2018.
Hello Siri, Alexa, Google and Cortana—AI and bots go mainstream
It seems like everyone has an Amazon Echo, Google Home or similarly enabled stand-alone device for their home, in addition to the phone, tablet or PC version. To those of us who remember when cell-phones were the size and weight of a brick, it may seem like these devices are silly. Who wants to ask questions out loud anyway? Silly or not, the fact is the adoption and usage rate of these devices is increasing, particularly with generations growing up with smart phone technology.
We are seeing new ways of using this technology and in fact will soon be announcing a new project of our own (stay tuned!). What we’ve found is that in creating queries to be asked by voice for these engines, they can just as easily be used to send automated text messages and social media messages in reply to a question or based on a market or other event.
It’s not too early to consider how you can use bots and voice-based actions in your business.
Just when you thought it might get easier under the Trump administration, futures clearing firms found themselves hustling to adapt to MIFID II regulations to appease European regulators for the January 3rd deadline. To help our clients meet this requirement, we developed a new MIFID II Reporting Module developed for our FCM1 system, and worked with clients to manage the ever-shifting set of regulations right up to the deadline.
Look for a flurry of activity around how bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be regulated as questions continue to arise around this nascent product.
Reflecting and Looking Ahead
This is by no means a complete look, but these were what resonated with me as I sat down to reflect on 2017 and plan to better serve our clients in 2018. As I said, in the title, get ready to start full throttle as good, bad or other, 2018 looks to be even wilder than 2017. Questions, thoughts or ideas? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you. Wishing you a prosperous 2018!