Are Financial Service Firms Listening to the Latest Social Media Hit?

In December 1972, the chart-topper was Helen Reddy singing “I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore, because I know too much to go back and pretend” (if you’re too young to remember this hit, check it out here).  That song became an anthem to a movement – and was a loud and clear message to many, include business.

Whether one was marketing a product, or running a business, times had changed and women’s power and decision making ability became recognized, encouraged and respected.

In June 2014, another trend in listening is apparent.  Several weeks ago, a woman noticed that her husband liked beer, yet when they talked about it, they realized they didn’t know what was in it.  So, she posed a challenge on her food blog, asking several brewers to list their ingredients.  This was not a new request. For years, brewing powerhouses Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors have resisted requests to list the ingredients of their beers.

In fact, Salon reported that “the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been lobbying the government to require beer companies to list their ingredients — something they’re not currently required to do by law — for three decades.” Consumers got no response.

Yet, Vani Hari, a.k.a. “The Food Babe”, is no ordinary consumer.  Her blog www.foodbabe.com, which she started in April 2011, now reports four million readers a month, with 300,000 subscribers.  Her “Food Babe Army” of readers joins her on-line petitions and calls to companies.

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And companies are adjusting.  Chick-Fil-A, Subway and Kraft all tried to ignore her, at their peril. Each of them over time have responded to her requests and gradually listed, then adjusted ingredients based on her blog posts and on-line petitions.

In fact, Subway’s recent multi-million dollar ad campaign about the freshness of their new bread recipe is directly an outgrowth of her campaign to successfully have them remove an ingredient from their old recipe.

So, now consumer companies are listening and learning.  Within one day of her most recent post and the start of an on-line petition (which garnered 43,000 signatures in 24 hours), Anheuser Busch responding by listing the ingredients on many of their products, promising all in short order and inviting Vani and her husband for a personal tour of their flagship brewery.  Within days, MillerCoors was promising similar action.  This had an amazing PR effect.  While Vani and her blog were widely praised for the actions they provoked (which went viral across mainstream and digital media alike), Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors to date have sidestepped the reputation, brand (and sales) damage for which Subway is still paying.

The jury is still out on whether they really will follow through, and what the conclusions will be (expect quite a discussion about “ingredients” vs. “additives”), but the point is clear.  Bloggers now can strike the same reaction that “Mike Wallace is in the lobby with a camera crew” did to a previous generation.

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If you’re doing good by your brand, for your customers, you’d be thrilled.  If you have something to hide, maybe not.

What is the lesson for Financial Service firms?  When you’re not providing an actual product, brand and reputation are everything.  So, are your antennae fully up, listening for any threat, real or perceived, to your brand? Do you know the key social media players in your field, including the most impactful financial bloggers, such as Daily Worth and CNA Finance?  If you reach your customers through Financial Advisors, agents and other independent “gatekeepers”, do you follow their thought leaders, like LifeHealthPro, FT Alphaville, Practically Speaking or The Reformed Broker?  Do you have a game plan in place on how to build relationships with this new world of bloggers?

Don’t be caught when questions are raised about business models or practices that may seem strange or hard to explain to the average consumer.  Even if you are proud of your work, it helps to look at it through a fresh set of eyes, before you receive a petition with 43,000 signatures. A quality marketing firm with digital and content marketing expertise can help you think through a game plan for success in this new environment.

The bloggers and influencers are now the ones roaring – and in numbers too big to ignore.

 

Michael O'Neill

Michael is the Executive Vice President of Financial Services at 451 Marketing.

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