Financial Business

In “Marketing Challenges in Regulated Industries Part 1, Pharma & Alcohol/Tobacco,” we delved into the world of regulated substances. But what do you do when the challenges of marketing come from the strict government regulation of an intangible product – and sometimes from the very audience you’re marketing to?


Challenges in the world of finance come two-fold: government regulation and generational trends. The marketing campaigns that survive the strict scrutiny of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) are often overlooked by millennials, who are less likely to purchase on credit than generations before them. Let’s take a closer look.

Financial Business


FINRA, a private corporation acting as a self-regulatory organization, holds a strict set of rules to make sure the United States securities industry operates fairly and honestly. However, FINRA regulations change frequently, and while they release regular publications about these changes, the frequency of changes (sometimes multiple separate rule change documents in a single day!) and legalese of the content leave marketers hesitant to produce content marketing that might unintentionally violate a new guideline.


Millennials remain a challenging target for marketing campaigns, due in part to several generation-shaping events that happened in short succession. The 9/11 attacks, the economic crash of 2008, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have given millennials a much more conservative view of money. In addition, millennials have a greater financial burden than their parents:

  • Fewer career opportunities nationwide have pushed millennials to move to urban areas, where they usually have a better chance of employment. This has created a boomerang effect:
  • The cost of living has increased across the US, as more millennials move to cities with higher costs of living in order to take advantage of better career opportunities.
  • However, incomes have not increased concomitantly with the cost of living, creating a wage gap that is widening quickly.
  • The cost of college tuition has shot up dramatically: student loans have increased 6% per year since 2008, and show no signs of slowing.
  • According to, income inequality is pronounced in this group: “It takes an income of about $106,500 a year to be a millennial one percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. That’s a group of about 720,000 young adults, and they control about double the income of the 14 million millennials in the bottom 20 percent.” Further, some 28 million out of 70 million millennials make less than $10,000 a year.

All these factors combine to make millennials the least likely generation to carry credit cards. Many see the market as volatile and uncertain, and prefer to live frugally in case of another war or economic slump. Those who do carry cards, then, are much more selective in the companies they trust with their money. So how do you market to this new generation?

Content Marketing

But wait – isn’t content marketing something most financial institutions shy away from, for fear of FINRA intervention? Well, yes – but content marketing is also vital to the survival of the modern business. The simple solution is to keep up-to-date with changing FINRA regulations using their regular informational notices. While time-consuming, it’s also worthwhile – it gives you the edge to work within FINRA’s parameters to create ideal marketing content.

Content Marketing

The next challenge in content marketing comes not from regulation, but from the audience base themselves. How do you reach the disillusioned millennials in a way that truly speaks to them?

  • Provide resources: In a world where everything is a Google away, it might seem like providing simple tools like loan calculators is a waste of time. However, placing these resources inline with relevant information might just be the thing your buyers need – and will make them feel more confident and assured when making big financial decisions.
  • Leverage user-generated content that present articles and blogs with business advice: many twenty-somethings have a dollar, a dream, and no idea what to do with them. Find a way to leverage advice about how to start and run a small business, invest wisely, or improve credit scores that isn’t from your brand. Millennials are as/more likely to trust “like-minded strangers on the internet” than even friends and family (but less than brands).
  • Go beyond your topic: sharing information about topics unrelated to your brand builds a language of communication and trust between you and your buyer. Make yourself trusted to give them personal, heartfelt information about stages they may be facing in their lives (but without a sales pitch), and they’ll give you an open channel for continued communication.
  • Put a little humor in it: in an overly formal industry, one surefire way to elevate your brand above your competitors is to take yourself a little less seriously. And it does more than give you a competitive edge – shared humor builds trust, a key component in marketing to millennials. The young-and-coming Simple Bank is an example of one finance industry company that does this well; check out what the bank calls “Credit karma” reviews.

Public Companies

Public companies have it tough in the marketing field – although they are the marketing giants of the world, expertly executed marketing can do little against the rise and fall of the global stock market. Though you have no control over the stock market, you do have some sway over instilling trust in potential buyers (or losing it) – a critical part of marketing for public companies.

The battle of fame vs. infamy is a constant for public companies. These companies are often household names, and the public generally has an opinion about them one way or the other. It’s a challenge to build positive associations with your brand – trust is essential to positive reception, and consumer trust in advertising has dropped in nearly every traditional and online category from 2013. Over the course of a year, you could confront everything from executive scandal to an embarrassing product failure to a class-action lawsuit. In most of these, public opinion will sway based on events that are totally out of marketing’s control – remember the BP oil spill of 2010?

So, how can you soften the blow of disasters like this, or even turn the situation around?

  • Communicate: BP’s PR people worked to ameliorate the damage by communicating with the public everything they could about the oil spill. Transparency about a disaster may be your only way to rebuild trust in troubled times, and leaves you less vulnerable if/when new information comes to light. Do it right away, and if you can’t do it right away tell people why.
  • Adapt to your surroundings: Smith and Wesson is now caught in the crosshairs of the political agenda, and faces an emotional market. Perhaps the best strategy for the gun manufacturers would be to side with the tide of public opinion, in carefully modulated ways.

Life in a public company isn’t easy for a marketer, even when no disasters loom. Things you might consider:

  • Get your buyers involved in content creation. In May 2014, Coke unveiled a commercial that was composed entirely of user generated content. You can reach out to your known best customers, and look also to the good reviews customers post. If your product lends itself to a video, think about having a contest for user-generated YouTube and Vimeo content. Your customers are not hindered by the same rules you are, and can say things you can’t. (Read more about user-generated content.)
  • Revolutionize your business, even if it’s just highlighting an aspect that was always there! BestBuy has faced continued challenges from bigger competitors like Apple, and shoppers who test-drive in the store, then go home and buy online from Amazon. Shares have suffered. However, Geek Squad, one of the company’s more recognizable assets, has expanded to assist small business, appliance repair, and now paid service support plans. This step is a small adaptation for BestBuy and Geek Squad, but huge in the eye of the consumer – now they have a reliable place to go for even more of their home electronics needs.

Opportunities for innovation often present in our lives as challenges, obstacles, and barriers. How will you take your next challenge and turn it into a marketing revolution?

Ready to start creating content that addresses the needs of your different audiences? Download Act-On’s Buyer Persona Toolkit and learn how to identify the interests and pain points of your target audiences so you can create content that will resonate.