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The explosive emergence of price comparison websites and money advice websites has made for grim reading for many traditional banking brands.
But, are these brands starting their digital fight back and seeing positive movement in their favour?
We’re all aware of the challenges banking brands have faced in recent years - repairing their reputation and improving public perception in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis, PPI mis-selling and a general lack of consumer confidence.
This led to many of these brands adopting a rather cautious approach both on- and offline and, in many respects, left them with something of an identity crisis.
These were brands that all looked the same, all sounded the same and all sold the same products in more or less the same way. Few brands stood out from the crowd.
Price comparison websites exploited this to the full.
They exposed the differences between many of these brands, they highlighted which products stood out from the crowd, and they created masses of content that was not only incredibly engaging, but also extremely persuasive.
These sites took industries with high levels of customer inertia and encouraged customers to switch from brand to brand on a regular basis, particularly the insurance industry, where there is a regular purchase cycle.
And this was reflected online - in 2014, the big six comparison services (Money Supermarket, MoneySavingExpert, Compare the Market, Confused.com, Money.co.uk and GoCompare), collectively accounted for 82.75% of the click share.
In 2015, we saw many banking brands become much more confident and much more adept at producing both engaging content, but also products that have clear, discernible USPs.
Where comparison websites would previously compare several largely identical products and compare them on price alone, the banking brands have developed much more complex products that offer stronger consumer benefits, particularly in areas such as current accounts and credit cards.
But for all that the banking brands have done to tip the balance back in their favour, comparison websites (which now command a lower click share of 62% of the market) have somewhat changed the customer culture when it comes to financial products.
Now consumers are less likely to turn to their current supplier or a trusted brand, and instead seek a better deal or advice from a comparison website.
For more on this topic, download Econsultancy's Digital Trends in the Financial Services and Insurance Sector Report.
A new breed of disruptor brands, driven by content
The way in which price comparison websites and advice sites have changed the consumer journey for financial products has created an opportunity for alternative, ‘disrupter’ brands to enter the market.
Those operators that offer a distinctive proposition are able to earn coverage across these advice sites and achieve prominent positions in comparison engines, helping them to build their brand and achieve stronger visibility in organic search.
Once such example of this is Zopa, which is a peer-to-peer lending service that connects borrowers looking for a favourable loan rate with savers or investors looking for a greater return than they are currently getting from their current bank or building society.
Zopa has grown amid a backdrop of poor savings rates on the High Street and, with those potential savers now encouraged to seek alternatives by the price comparison websites, brands such as Zopa have been able to generate a foothold in the market.
Analysis in the loans sub-vertical has demonstrated just how fragmented certain aspects of the financial services sector have become, with a number of relatively new brands entering the market.
Indeed, the aggregated click share index reveals an extremely broad mix of brands, all vying for space within the loans market.
Paid is playing a big role in shaking up the market
Only one of the brands in the top ten aggregated, Clydesdale Bank, has a physical High Street presence in the UK, with the rest of the index comprising of advice websites (Money Supermarket and MoneySavingExpert), high-interest lenders (118118money.com and little-loans.com), guarantor lenders (Amigo Loans), credit brokers (Freedom Finance), P2P lenders (Zopa) and supermarket-branded online banks (Tesco Bank and Sainsbury’s Bank).
There are examples of High Street banking brands earning organic visibility, with Nationwide and Barclays present in the organic top ten, but these are pushed out of the aggregated listings by brands that are adopting a more aggressive paid search campaign.
We can see a similar situation in the savings sub-vertical, where paid activity in particular is pushing a number of lesser-known and niche operators into prominent positions in the overall click share.
In the organic search market, we see a huge level of click share being commanded by the price comparison and money advice websites, with MoneySavingExpert, Money Supermarket, This is Money, Moneywise and Which all holding strong organic positions in this market.
However, only one of the banking brands featured in the organic top ten, Nationwide, makes the top ten aggregated index.
This is largely because the paid market is much more competitive, with a broad mix of brands all vying for visibility in this market.
These include fixed bonds providers (Castle Trust), Sharia-compliant banking providers (Al Rayan Bank), insurance providers (Aviva and Legal & General), property investment brokers (Harewood Associates) and mutual societies (Scottish Friendly).
It demonstrates that paid is possibly an area in which the more traditional brands are either choosing not to invest in, or struggling to gain any meaningful traction.
Of course, click share is just one measure and alone, it is not enough to fully appraise the effectiveness of a paid marketing strategy, but it highlights that many niche brands are seizing an opportunity.
And it reminds us, that whilst the banking brands are becoming much more savvy when it comes to producing content that their customers crave, it shouldn’t come at the expense of other, key marketing channels.
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