Advanced Intelligence Show – Nancy Sherr, 1st Franklin Financial

Nancy Sherr, CMO of 1st Franklin Financial, and Kenneth Kinney, VP of Marketing and Digital Strategy, discuss digital and performance marketing, attribution, the regulated financial services industry, and TRUST on Ai Media Group’s “Advanced Intelligence” show.

Kenneth: Nancy, welcome to the “Advanced Intelligence Show”. So I know you as Chief Marketing Officer at 1st Franklin. You’re a networker amongst your peers but what do you sort of see as the biggest challenges moving forward in your industry today and with the marketing and advertising efforts?

Nancy: I would say “biggest challenges” is an unknown regulatory environment. That’s always a big challenge for our industry. And then I would say, as it relates to that, what’s going to happen as COVID goes. Our industry is very much a needs-based industry with government, stimulus packages, etc. That has a material impact on our business and then as well as what’s going to happen from a regulatory perspective.

Kenneth: Well, I know, we’ve work together company-to-company for years. How is it that a highly regulated industry with the vast amounts of data that that we bring in that you’re able to look at, how does that affect you? What is the regulatory industry really mean to you from working with an agency from an advertising perspective?

Nancy: Well I would say from an advertising perspective the ability to share data; how much data we can share and what kind of data we can share; which has a material impact on our ability to target and to target effectively. I would say our back-and-forth communication becomes stented. We are an omni-channel retailer so our ability to market from a geo perspective, the recent Google changes in terms of not being able to advertise by zip code has an impact on how we approach our go-to-market strategy. We’re very much geo based especially because we’re bricks and mortar. So when you can’t have that information or you can’t target by age because when you get a loan product somebody has to be 18 years old, depending on the state, could be 18 or 19 years old. Suddenly you can’t target by age. Well that seriously diminishes your ability to be effective in your advertising. You have to look at other ways to be more creative and have a partner that has figured out ways around that in order for you to be able to get the same level of information that you were getting before and have your advertising be as effective.

Kenneth: So this show is perfectly evergreen, because in about 5 to 10 years, you can re-watch this and Google will have done something to make that again more difficult. But I’m going to change to something. I’m going to use a dirty word on the show in 2020. “2020” is the dirty word. But the Association of National Advertisers voted the word “pivot” as the marketing word of the year for 2020. It was from a survey of their CMO Growth Council members. I’m not sure if they use the same high standards as some of the states in the presidential election but nonetheless, pivot is the word. I’m sure “unprecedented” felt pretty left out because that was probably one of the words. But when you look back at COVID-19, social justice issues, the entire year, let’s not forget the murder hornets, that we’ve talked about….

Nancy: Oh that’s right.

Kenneth: Two questions, how did you best pivot with your marketing efforts? And then how also did you best pivot with your advertising efforts?

Nancy: We’re in a unique situation within our industry specifically. The company that I’m at is 80 years old. That’s actually been something….it’s been one of our brand pillars in terms of messaging. Our ability to say we’ve been around for 80 years and we’re going to be here for 80 more really resonated in a time where you have so much instability. People didn’t know if they were going to go to school or work in the morning….if they were going to have a job the next day. They could rely on the fact that we were there. I think it’s what for us as a bricks and mortar it’s what gives us our competitive edge against the Fintechs. We’re not as fancy. We don’t have the technology but we have a company that’s been there; a bricks and mortar location that isn’t going away; and people that are there to serve them. Interestingly enough, this situation has played into the strengths that we have as an organization.

Kenneth: You’re literally using pillars, stone concrete pillars. How did you how did you pivot your advertising efforts?

Nancy: We had had that information in our copy but we started leading with that as our key messages. And really, in terms of messaging, that’s what we did. In terms of where we were advertising and how we were approaching the market, we’re in a credit based industry. We lend based and we target based on somebody’s ability to pay us back on a loan. From a targeting perspective, we continued a lot of what we were doing before but we also kind of kept in mind that perhaps somebody that was on the edge previously of a population that we might target, maybe we didn’t focus as much time there. We would focus more on what I would call our core segments. I would say we “circled the wagons” in a lot of ways with what has worked for us. We have very high renewal rates. People who we have extensive experience with we did focus on that very much so because those are people we knew through good times and bad. We’re still there and we were there for them.

Kenneth: So attribution. I bring this up a lot of times in presentations when I speak at conferences….the old John Wanamaker slide. “Half the money spent on advertising is wasted. The problem is, I don’t know which half.” I’m sure you’re not afforded that same luxury as a CMO today in a world where every business needs to grow and recoup some of their losses over the last….during the COVID period. But attribution is always a challenge for marketers of all flavors. How are you looking into the future with what’s working best from a channel mix perspective? Really, when you think about it, everybody’s medium mix models are completely broken. They’re not able to use 2019 data for 2020. 2021 data depending on where we come out of this is going to look a lot different than 2020 data and so on and so forth. So really looking at those real time attribution triggers is a challenge for people in a good year let alone a tough year like we’ve had.

Nancy: A lot of what we do is direct consumer and it is list-based marketing. We do have the luxury of being able to match a contact back to a social security number, a household, an individual in the household. We have the ability to do a direct attribution based on a campaign window whether we send somebody something in the mail or whether we targeted them online and they filled out an application. We also have the ability to go back and track those individuals and see in 12 months, how many times have we contacted them and through what method. We’re not really there yet in being able to equally attribute how much weight we should put towards every contact. In a lot of ways, I look at the entire spend and say this is how much money we spent; this is how many loans we made; this is how many new customers we brought in; and this was her customer loan and loan dollar. We do look at a channel level. I would say more often, I try to drill up and take a holistic level because, I think a lot of people try to say, “well, if I ran TV or I ran radio and I only got this many phone calls or this many hits on the website from it, then it really didn’t work.” Well, that’s not the purpose of the channel. The purpose of the channel is to drive awareness. A lot of organizations get tripped up in defining “this is awareness” and “this is direct” and the money starts to go towards the direct because it’s easier to quantify the spend. But if you don’t have one, the other won’t perform as well. It really works together and it’s integrated. My philosophy is that you need to look at it from the top of the house. How much did I spend across the year and what did I get?

Kenneth: Well how have you been used utilizing a media to track offline tactics? You bought a TV radio but also with direct mail.

Nancy: We have really tried to have an integrated approach to everything that we do. Just because I send out a piece of mail doesn’t mean that I expect somebody to walk into a branch or call me. We also very much push the online interaction and Ai has been a great partner. We create landing pages with them. They test them. They track them for us. We’re a very geocentric organization. We get all kinds of data in terms of time stamping; when somebody went on; how long they spent on particular landing page; we have tests and learn capabilities with them. It’s been a really good partnership. We also take our offline tactics when we do have a list and oh, my gosh, my dog is in the background.

Kenneth: Perfect. The dog is an offline tactic.

Nancy: Yes, the dog is the offline tactic. (laughter) We work with them to provide them with any of our targeted marketing lists and then they’ll use those lists retargeting.

Kenneth: The ad tech that we built allows us to see real time data in a much different way than any other agency and we’re able to track that journey much differently than most people. I’m always curious how that benefits you as a marketer because I’ve been in the same spot you’ve been in. How do you leverage an agency to make more educated, real-time decisions instead of just guesses based on what you think may work in a normal world?

Nancy: We work very closely with the Ai team. There is a real time dashboard that actually they just launched that has been very valuable to us. We’re looking at things like keyword performance. Our team looks at it weekly, but I know that they’re looking at it every single day. It allows us to shift and to use the 2020 word “pivot” to things that are performing. We don’t have huge massive budgets and we don’t have a lot of room to be inefficient. For us, it’s very valuable to increase our efficiency, to turn off what’s not working midstream if at all possible. Also, I think that the team does a good job of helping to direct us in terms of when to sort of really shut something off versus give it a little bit more time. We talk a lot about the algorithms and the ability to learn and how Google works or YouTube works or whatever in terms of ad performance. It’s helpful for us to see what’s happening real time and also we’re very reliant on the team because I don’t have a big team to say, okay, it’s time to shut it off.

Kenneth: You worked with Ai Media before, well before I ever knew you. You were 1000 miles north living in living in the cold northeast when you were at Time Warner Cable. What brought you back to working with them across, really a pretty significantly different industry, from cable and telecom to financial services?

Nancy: I’ll say the one keyword is TRUST. I had a very good experience with Ai. I felt like they were very focused on what we needed as a customer. I felt like they were experts. I felt like when they weren’t experts, they said we’re not experts. You should go find somebody else. I think that’s really important. A lot of times, a lot of agencies try to be everything to everybody. And I think….

Kenneth: Oh, you’re kidding. (laughter)

Nancy: (laughter) But they would say it’s not really our thing. And we’ll say OK. Especially now in my role. Not so much in my past role. Just the individuals I’ve worked with have been very easy to work with….very flexible. We’ve gotten all the metrics and reporting that we ever needed and then some. Being in a very data-driven business and a very data-driven role, having that information and being able to quantify the spend in real time is very important. That would be why but the number one reason, trust. If I were to go somewhere else, I would pick up the phone and I would call Ai because I trust them.

Kenneth: Well, I trust your input. Nancy, thank you again for joining us on the Advanced intelligence show.

Nancy: Thank you.