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How Financial Services Marketers Can Build a Modern Digital Experience

Jay WightmanWhen thinking about the biggest brands in innovation, financial services firms are rarely mentioned alongside the Apples and Googles. Financial firms have an inaccurate reputation for being stuffy, traditional technophobes when it comes to transforming business operations and processes, especially in digital arenas. But this couldn’t be any less true for John Hancock Investments, whose Digital Experience team is thinking about digital marketing just as much—if not more than—the next tech-savvy startup. I spoke with Jay Wightman, Hancock’s Head of Digital Experience, about his “unconventional” path to financial services digital marketing and why it’s so important for financial firms to learn about digital transformation from other industries.

What previous experience has led to your current role as John Hancock Investments’ Head of Digital Experience?

I’ve been in B2B marketing for my whole career, but my path to this role is relatively unique. The majority of financial services individuals are born and bred in financial services and work their way up, but I was unconventional in that I worked in consulting and for agencies prior to John Hancock Investments. B2B marketing is all about enabling the sales force and the channels in which you sell, and it’s no different in financial services. I spent the majority of my career working with large companies that sold through channels—where long sales cycles, complex sales and multidimensional decisions abound. John Hancock Investments sells to financial advisors, not directly to consumers, so my experience of storytelling in complex channels has prepped me perfectly for this role.

Through my experience of owning an agency and working in consulting, I’ve been able to bring a fresh outsider’s perspective to Hancock’s digital world. But working on standalone projects with clients had its downside when it came to implementation and longevity; I found it challenging to revisit clients months later and see them back to their old ways. Working at John Hancock Investments has been so beneficial because I get to see the entire digital transformation all the way through—I get to be wholeheartedly invested in its ongoing success.

What elements make up a client or prospect’s digital experience?

When you think about it, almost every B2B interaction has a digital component to it. Whether it’s setting an appointment with someone and sending them a digital calendar invite, arriving to that meeting and presenting something on a device, or following up via email after the meeting, even face-to-face interactions incorporate a digital element of some sort. Digital experience strategies should use data to anticipate what clients want and need—and where we as marketers can meet them on their journey with us. Every person’s digital experience is different and is molded by his or her past experiences, knowledge of our product or service, unique needs, and how he or she is interacting with us at any given moment. It’s comprised of every touch point with our brand from awareness to closed deal. Digital experience can no longer be one-size-fits-all; it must be tailored to each person.

What is the role of digital experience in the success of the greater organization?

When it comes to digital experience, your competitors aren’t just the ones you run into in RFP and competitive situations. You’re competing with the last great and memorable experience someone had digitally. If done right, digital experience can provide support, drive efficiency and shorten sales cycles, which can have a huge impact on brands’ bottom lines. In financial services, building relationships and trust is absolutely paramount and requires face-to-face interactions. But many people just want to come to a website and self-serve rather than set an appointment with an advisor. Digital experience should allow computers to do what they do best, and free up time for humans to do what they do best. Convenience is a big driver of digital experience, and we should let our customers have that. A digital strategy should be integrated with all aspects of the organization, and should enhance all customer interactions.

What challenges do financial services firms encounter when providing an engaging digital experience?

Regulated industries experience an added layer of challenge than our non-financial counterparts. Because of regulatory compliance and disclosures, efficiency is a challenge—you have to go through a number of approval processes before being able to deliver content and messages to your audiences. When your audiences expect immediacy, speedy responses and quick returns, it can be difficult to deliver in a timely fashion.

Individuals check their mobile devices a hundred times a day, and they are consolidating their mobile device usage to a limited number of apps: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube, to name a few. If brands want to be seen by buyers, this is where they must be present. But this rapid hyper-consolidation means that financial firms are not only competing with the next financial services company, but with everything in an individual’s social feeds: global news, friend’s baby pictures, cat videos and more. This isn’t unique to financial services, either; every industry is challenged with competing in saturated digital channels for the limited attention of our customers, and we all have to work hard to stand out.

How is John Hancock Investments working to address these challenges? What advice do you have for firms with similar digital goals?

John Hancock Investments has always been a data-driven organization, which is evident from the products and services that we’ve offered for years. So our digital experience strategy is data-driven as well. We’ve made a commitment to making informed, educated decisions based on quantitative data. In many financial organizations, digital is thought of as a one-dimensional channel for distribution, but it should be involved in and aligned with every aspect of the organization from start to finish. Other financial organizations would benefit from shifting the mindset towards a more integrated and better aligned digital strategy. Use digital channels to amplify and support what you already do well. For example, we have very strong and valuable thought leadership content, so we are using digital channels to get that out to more audiences.

My final and most important piece of advice is to stay in touch with others in the digital industry, especially those not working in financial services. I spend a lot of time with digital vendors—Adobe, Sapient, and other agencies I grew up with professionally—to ensure that I’m not building a bubble around our digital strategy. Financial marketers would greatly benefit from getting out of isolation and learning how other industries are redefining the digital experience.

About Jay Wightman

Jay is Head of Digital Experience at John Hancock Investments, a diversified asset manager with nearly $132 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2015.

Jay has built a career focused on the intersection of digital innovation, business, and the experience of end users. As an entrepreneur and innovator, Jay was a founding member of several Boston-based startups that focused on the defining challenges of our time: scaling business models over the web, rethinking legacy product and service offerings with a focus on digital experience, and transforming marketing organizations through the introduction of web, mobile, and cloud technologies. Jay brings this expertise and his experience managing cross-functional teams to a new role at John Hancock investments as Head of Digital Experience, responsible for driving digital transformation.