September 13, 2018

Do we need to listen more than we shout?  


By Rolf Merchant, Senior Account Manager

Someone wise once said that since we possess two ears and one mouth, we should listen twice as much as we shout.

The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking financial services communications is all about ‘shouting’. New products, new innovations, new hires: there is always something to promote.

However, good communications strategies must be based on solid insights. That comes from listening carefully to customers, partners, employees, regulators – and any other group that you are trying to influence.

It’s obvious that basing a PR campaign on guesswork and assumptions is unlikely to yield the results you are chasing.

As such, it was fascinating to read about the Bank of England’s decision to seek the opinions of members of the public to inform its decision-making. Chief Economist Andy Haldane said policymakers are often overly swayed by groupthink and numbers on spreadsheets. They don’t make the effort to hear from the public.

It is indeed remarkable for an institution as august as our central bank to make this admission. Mr Haldane had his reasons. He first became aware that a problem existed in 2015 when economic data was strong and pointed towards a broad-based boost in business activity across Britain. A group of businesses in Nottingham supported this view but charity workers thought he was wrong. Closer inspection showed it was the charity workers, not the businesses that were right – not at all what you would assume.

This led Mr Haldane to say that there is ‘wisdom in crowds’. In other words, you mustn’t be fooled into thinking the ‘public’ has too diverse an opinion to be worth listening to. The sum of the public’s view is valuable.

There are interesting parallels between economists, policy makers and communicators working for financial services companies. They all need to have an ear close to the ground. This is because to effect change, you need insights. To get insights, you need to listen and observe.

Myriad routes exist for communicators to find richer insights, to ‘listen’. There are many digital platforms which trawl and analyse social media, analysis of the political and regulatory landscape is easy to find, and tools to summarise and dissect the media environment are better than ever.

The more you listen and the deeper your knowledge is, the more surgical you can be with targeting audiences and delivering messages that will resonate with them.

This is an area where fintech companies are really succeeding. They have observed consumer or corporate behaviour, they have listened carefully and they have developed niche products with complimentary communications campaigns to make a real impact.

There is a deeper point to be made here, linked to the Bank of England’s predicament of a lack of knowledge to inform sound monetary policy.

Is there a role for digitally-enabled financial services businesses in particular to provide the granular insights on consumer behaviour to the Bank? Could fintech companies help collect views and concerns from the public?

Pockit, for example, has provided unparalleled insight into the UK’s ‘un-banked’. If policy-makers and economists used this to make positive change, then we could really see better financial outcomes for some of the UK’s poorest.

Suddenly, you aren’t just listening, you are influencing. And after all, the most important job for communicators is just that: to influence.