An Interview with Cam Marston of Generational Insights
I met Cam Marston from Generational Insights a few weeks ago at the 2015 FSI OneVoice Conference. I’m fascinated by generational buying differences, but recognize that many financial firms presently choose a single communications strategy across all clients, regardless of age. I asked Cam for an interview to learn more about the Gen-Savvy Financial Advisor. He had some great insights into how financial service firms can begin to target their client communications by generation.
Linda Wittich: Tell me a little about Generational Insights and your background.
Cam Marston: We’re a marketing consultant group. We help companies and their employees understand where demographics and generational trends overlap; and we help them understand generational-specific biases. Firms are increasingly realizing that the messages that have resonated so well with Matures (born 1945 and prior) and Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) may be a complete turn-off for younger generations. In fact, younger generations often respond with such cynicism to traditional marketing messages that they even begin to distrust the firm unnecessarily. I help firms identify the best messages they have in their training programs for each generation, and how they can place these messages in front of their clients. Basically, I answer questions like “How do we teach a 50 year old to sell to a 25 year old, and vice versa?”
About 15-20 years ago, I was focused on HR and understanding turn-over trends. The research spoke for itself; more often than not we saw common issues based on age and generations. The emotional drivers for one generation differed from another, and when generational needs were left unmet, the employee elected to leave. Since the information was so compelling, I expanded from just providing HR research to helping companies dig deeper into specific behaviors and what needed to change to retain great employees. Today I see that the same trends and learnings apply to generational differences between younger and older clients, and the related behaviours remain consistent. So, if you don’t use the right voice and message for the audience, you risk the client leaving for another firm that they feel will do a better job
As for me personally, I didn’t choose to be expert on generational change and the impact on the marketplace. I simply just responded to people asking for information – the job found me.
Wittich: It seems like your company focuses a lot on education. Have you seen any firms starting to build generation-specific marketing scripts or automating various processes like onboarding or customer service?
Marston: I see it coming. There are channels right now that exclusively target specific demographics – think robo-advisors – they are clearly aimed at Gen X (born 1965-1979) and Millennials (born 1980-2000). Although these two generations are quite similar, they do buy differently. Gen X prefers an educated sale where they personally do the research and Millennials display more of a herd mentality – a “me too” approach to buying. Since robo-advisors are tech-based solutions with a target of only two generations, I see this as the perfect approach to automate the delivery of differentiated generational scripts for onboarding and customer service.
Overall, I imagine some of the groups I worked with five or six years ago are beginning to automate some of their processes or customer communications. It’s certainly true that my current clients are seeking very specific tactical solutions. I see many of them looking for ways to implement generational-specific strategies directly into the business communications.
Wittich: How come we haven’t yet scratched the surface of personalizing communications? I’d love to see us using data to personalize messages and ads but it seems like so few firms are even doing basic mirroring by using age-appropriate pictures in their ads. Why aren’t firms using their basic demographic info?
Marston: Many companies, particularly in financial services, are very big and highly regulated; hence, they evolve and react fairly slowly. Making a change is not only like turning the Titanic; it’s like turning the Titanic with a row-boat paddle, as one of my clients said to me. Furthermore, these firms are successful – so they don’t want to abandon ship on what’s worked so far, even when they intellectually understand the argument for change. Also, compliance departments are often very cautious about changes to sales and marketing messaging, and it’s a big challenge for them to change directions. Technology firms need to provide Sales and Marketing teams with communications tools that also satisfy compliance in order for personalized communications to take off.
Wittich: Based on your experience with the financial industry, what are the key characteristics of a generational-savvy firm?
Marston: Metrics and leadership are the two most crucial components of any change management program. The firms that are out there doing a good job of categorizing their company (book of business, advisors and internal employees alike) based on age-specific demographics, and then implementing concrete growth plans, are being successful. Look for executives who take the metrics and listen to their producers as they communicate with clients, then provide generational-specific feedback – those are the firms who will really lead the industry in this transformation. You need leaders who understand that “if we don’t sort it out, our competitors will”.
I think the most obvious trend right now is how the gen-savvy firms are shifted their recruitment messages to really the target key drivers of Millennials: being part of a team, being encouraged to innovate, making an impact on society.
Wittich: If you worked inside of one of the major financial service firms, what would be your number one demographic to address?
Marston: Target Generation X; they are in their primary earning years and really need you. The first thing to do is know the buying habits of the Gen X mother and cater to them; she has become a remarkable self-educator. Gen X buys based on what they learn themselves. If I was at one of the major firms, I would shift my existing approach and messages such that Gen X is the primary audience.
Wittich: How can a firm do that?
Marston: I think the easiest place to start is through newsletters and sales collateral. I believe in starting at the segment level and then introducing true personalization once a program is in effect. I recommend doing generation and life-stage specific newsletters and customer-facing sales sheets. Offer content that truly resonates with the different audiences; make them say “Wow, this is me!” I recommend firms take these communications out of the hands of individual salespeople and create great collateral for their producers – collateral that speaks so clearly to their audience that it also indirectly serves as a training guide for producers to replicate the same messaging in their verbal discussions.
Wittich: Thanks for sharing your insights with us today, Cam. It’s going to be very interesting to watch financial service firms evolve their marketing strategies to suit new generations of over the next 5-10 years. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss the topic with us.
Marston: You are very welcome!
Linda Wittich, Vice President