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Creative Agency Partnership in Financial Services

More than once I have had to turn away business because we are asked to be a vendor. “What do you mean you are not going to do as I say? I thought I was the client.” In most cases this kind of client/vendor relationship is a terrible way to use an agency. It does work in certain circumstances where all the fundamental questions have already been asked and answered and all that is left to do is creative execution. This situation is incredibly rare.

More likely, there are unknowns that still need to be sorted through. In that situation, it’s important to learn together.

Then, there is the question of category expertise and a client wanting to acquire access to transferable knowledge that can be applied, as if off the shelf, from previous work. I’ve never experienced this actually working. Category experience is certainly meaningful, but as a creative agency, we cannot possibly know everything that we need to know in order to be your advertising partner. We are going to have to learn a great deal.

What are your customer’s needs and expectations? With whom do you compete in the mind of the customer? How do we win?

Generic knowledge will always only take us so far and we strongly believe that there is no substitute for specific knowledge: What are your customer’s needs and expectations? With whom do you compete in the mind of the customer? How do we win? How does advertising or any other particular marketing effort help us win? This information is best gathered by downloading your institutional knowledge and thoroughly understanding your goals as an organization and then, most importantly, by going outside the organization and learning from the customer.

Our process, learned over decades, demands that we get to a deep level of understanding of your organization, its competitive position, and its value proposition in order for us to be an effective partner. In the development of a campaign, we collect feedback directly from the product knowledge base on your team, and also directly from the customer through research and then we incorporate both of these into our thinking and all of our creative work.


Building awareness for your organization in a sea of sameness and similar-sounding value propositions that characterize the financial services landscape is always an acute challenge. As humans, we like what we know and tend to choose things that we are familiar with, but achieving familiarity is a long-term endeavor.

Advertising is a specific tool to advance this cause—the building of familiarity and thus, likability or affinity—but before we jump to familiarity, we first have to get noticed. Most advertising is wasted because it is invisible to the customer. Invisible because it is not understood or perceived as delivering any benefit in the moment it is seen or heard. The best ads capitalize on each and every opportunity to leave some cognitive impression. Underscoring this point is Howard Gossage’s oft-quoted statement, “Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

The first task is to be noticed, thus opening the window to deliver a message that is memorable enough to be associated with your brand.

We suggest that our first task is to be noticed, thus opening the window to deliver a message that is memorable enough to be associated with your brand. If done well, this strategy will enhance the efficiency of the entire ad spend. Unlike the predictability that often characterizes financial services brands, advertising in financial services should strive to break the rules of expectation.


The battle for awareness, positivity, and ultimately selection is always waged in the mind of the customer. And until we have validated your competitive advantage in the mind of the customer, we cannot craft precise messaging or even our full advertising strategy, but we can hopefully convey that we have the capacity to be a fully engaged partner sharing your goals and addressing the challenges of creating effective advertising campaigns in our current fickle and overly advertised-to world.

creative agency financial services

How do you make a mark on the prospect’s mental map as we seek to win thoughtful attention in a highly competitive landscape? We can follow the frictionless path of talking about responsibility or any number of other expected and often espoused virtues of financial services firms. But this is a low-yield path. Research into the recognized needs of the customer is needed before we are ready to take action, but the preferred path is to push harder on differentiation. An axiom we have learned in both B2B and B2C contexts is that it is good to be better, but it is better to be different.

The financial industry

Emotional affinity with a brand and its representatives is essential to establish trust. Decisions are almost always made in the more primitive regions of the brain and then our more advanced homo sapien brain takes on the responsibility of rationalizing these decisions, constructing a logical case for support. As an advertiser in this industry, we cannot forget this foundational truth about human cognition. It is all too easy to believe that the rational mind is in control because it believes that it is. Neuroscience shows otherwise.

The financial industry is an ecosystem of trust. We are always responsible to earn the trust we are given. What inspires trust? Track record, rational and emotional benefits expressed simply and clearly, and most important of all, transparency. No one, no individual, no company, gets it exactly right all the time.

Trust is most easily formed between individuals. This is the basis of the profound salience within the financial industry of personal relationships. Transferring the trust one has with individual players to a larger brand that stands behind these individuals is a core responsibility of brand building and advertising.

The financial industry is an ecosystem of trust. We are always responsible to earn the trust we are given. What inspires trust?

The emotional decision-making process rooted in trust rests at the core, but it needs a complete rational backup and support system as well. So for the purposes of marketing, we have to understand and operate effectively on both the emotional and rational levels. We have to get the emotional connection right and encourage the formation of an aligned relationship between the customer’s needs and our offer. We then need to supply a full and compelling rationale so that the conscious intelligence that is required of professional decision-makers can also be fully engaged. This serves to justify a decision in the eyes of others and for the decision-maker themselves.

As the above suggests, intelligence is another hallmark of the industry, but it is not always coupled with introspection or self-awareness. Our overt intelligence can sometimes make us slow to recognize the emotional nature of decision-making, a fact of human nature that remains consistent even in the most professionalized contexts.

Overt intelligence can sometimes make us slow to recognize the emotional nature of decision-making.

In sum, familiarity encourages positivity and advertising is an important tool to encourage familiarity. Financial services is not a context in which we can make an offer via advertising and expect an immediate sale. It is a process through which we lay the emotional and rational foundation for a sales conversation to begin or to advance. Advertising’s primary role in the financial services industry, therefore, is building trust in support of sales.

It is often hoped that advertising can educate, but this is rarely the case. A sales person can engage in a nuanced conversation to present a compelling case that responds with agility to the needs of the customer. Sales conversations have the power to insert new ideas into a recipient’s mind. They have the power to convince. Advertising, by contrast, is not an effective educational tool, even if we would like it to be. Its most potent role is to make a brand more familiar and thus primed for other important but parallel efforts. Advertising is the door opener to a more extensive conversation led by the sales team.

Our promise

We strongly believe that the best work comes from engaging as an extension of your team, not as a vendor. This means that our working relationship must be founded on trust and an open exchange of ideas and information. We have found these tenets to be the hallmark of every successful partnership. We will openly examine and learn from mistakes. Trust also sets the stage for robust debate about matters of consequence. In this forum, collaboration leads to the most elegant solutions. This debate allows for all members of the team to commit to decisions made. Commitment, in turn, makes it easier for all members of the team to hold each other mutually accountable for learning and performance. Together, this foundation makes it possible for the entire team to work enthusiastically toward the achievement of shared goals.

Our promise is to make this level of teamwork our operative ecosystem, to devise and execute genuinely effective advertising for you. We should only enter this engagement if this is what we all want. Life is short and we want to do work that has meaning. Our working relationship is a key element in our ability to do meaningful work as an integral part of your extended team. We trust you feel the same.

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