In 2010, we entered a new 20-year business cycle where successful companies will be those that better understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. But what happens when government authorities with very specific rules about how companies communicate with customers regulate these interactions?  

House Financial Services CommitteeWealth management, insurance, and pharmaceuticals come to mind as example industries where marketers and relationship managers feel this oversight most acutely. How do you thrive in the age of the customer when how you interact — and the data you maintain — is controlled by law? 

These are questions that I plan to explore next week with marketing and client experience executives from the financial services industry at "The Forward Thinker" sponsored by EarthIntegrate. Thinking through the issues around how to be more customer-obsessed in an industry where every communication could be monitored or audited, I believe that the main challenge is not to stray outside the regulatory guidelines while meeting growing client expectations for responsive, online, anytime, anywhere engagement — all while maintaining the intimacy that high-net-worth investors, for example, expect of their advisor relationships or that insurance members expect of brokers. 

One thing is clear: Buyer behavior has changed, and to better serve these more empowered consumers, marketing leaders need to invest in four key initiatives we'll explore further next week:

  1. Invest in real-time data sharing for actionable customer intelligence. Financial services firms are flush with customer data, but much of it is isolated or highly controlled. The opportunity here is how to put data to use, understanding what consumers really want from their investing and insurance relationships — and how marketing should share this with frontline advisors and brokers to help them be more relevant, helpful, and insightful without raising flags with regulators.
  2. Shift spending from general to contextual customer experiences. "Know-your-customer" no longer applies strictly to anti-money-laundering legislation. It should be the mantra of marketers who need to develop experience maps that plot out the buyer's journey to help advisors understand what their clients need at each stage in their life cycle and, by analyzing touchpoint-specific behavior, how marketing can help them communicate the right content to clients at the right time.
  3. Tie the client acquisition and management effort to the client's needs, not to how the institution thinks about its products and services. Investment here includes building out buyer personas that help advisors understand how clients differ on key characteristics like risk profile, life stage, return expectations, and need for control.  And how marketing can use these to deliver sales and service tools focused on the value customers want to receive.
  4. Reallocate funds to support content creation over ad creative. This imperative is all about how to create trackable utility-focused content against an editorial calendar aligned with the investment, personal, or business priorities of clients — and not just clever television ads.

In the coming months, I'd like to explore further how business-to-business (B2B) marketing is transforming into business-to-buyer marketing and how a stronger emphasis on the ultimate consumer is now more important to regulated, and unregulated, industries where businesses sell to other businesses that serve the customer. I hope you will join me and share your perspectives on what it takes to make B2B2C (or B2B2smallB) marketing thrive.