Hot Seat: Finance Marketing Leader Crystal Eastman On Why Brands Need to Hire Journalists

When I shared the stage with Crystal Eastman at the Digital Marketing Financial Services Summit in November, I immediately recognized her as my favorite type of person to interview: A brilliant storyteller who stumbled into marketing by accident and figured out how to do great things inside complicated corporations.

Eastman transitioned from an “artsy” four years at the University of Miami to a career as a finserv consultant after American Express made its way onto her personal list of most-admired companies. She worked her way up to VP/GM of marketing at Amex, turning around several early-stage LOBs through an advanced approach to content and digital marketing. She then went on to serve as the CMO of Behalf, a fintech startup that’s raised over $300 million in funding. Next came the managing director and head of retail marketing role at BlackRock.

Currently a free agent, Eastman visited Contently’s office to give an honest assessment of the finserv marketing landscape. She discussed the biggest industry mistakes, advice for finance marketers, and why brands need to hire journalists. Check out the video interview below, followed by a transcript of our chat.

What are a couple of mistakes you see people making in financial services marketing?

I think the biggest mistake is to have experts at something be responsible for creating the content for customers. I’ve actually seen this at every company I’ve ever worked in. There’s this chasm between the corporate story and the customer story. And the corporate story is very easy to get lost in because we go to work every day and we sit in a conference room all day long with our colleagues and we talk to each other. We have this one discussion, and it’s about: What our product does that our competitors products don’t do. It’s about what the market opportunity is. It’s about how good our technology is—etc, etc.

There’s no way for you to come up with the right story for the real humans in that conference room. So I think that’s the biggest mistake—when people who make the product or the services are also responsible for making content for the true customer.

Companies get it best when they hire people who are video editors or have journalism backgrounds. They bring that external view and expertise on how to create content that people would actually consume and look forward to. Then you can merge the artistry and the science of those experts with the internal teams that are the experts at the product. That’s the way best content gets created for customers.

Why do you think a lot of marketing teams are hesitant to bring in people with that pure journalism or editorial DNA?

Well, I think it’s uncomfortable for brands, right? We all—me included—create content on a day-to-day basis, and we’re used to doing it our way, and we also feel pretty proud of it. So it’s quite something to confront that you may have been doing it wrong all of this time. When you invite a different type of expert into your process, it’s a shakeup. Everything about their approach will be different, and you have to be willing to be uncomfortable in order to get your content to the next place with this alternative point of view.

What advice would you have for marketers at a financial services company who have trouble getting their content through compliance?

I would encourage all marketers to treat compliance as their most important partner or even their customer. If you’re thinking about your compliance colleague like you would your customer, utilize design thinking to understand their unmet needs, understand what their outlook on life is and the emotions that they’re bringing to their own job, and figure out how to problem-solve your way to yes.

In the same way you would if you’re acquiring a new customer, compliance partners are critical to the process. They’re there to keep us out of jail. You want them on your side. And it’s in all of our best interests in marketing to find a way to tell our story that also meets our compliance partners’ requirements. So I would say start earlier, schedule face-to-face meetings, explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, explain the goal of the content you’re producing. Invite your compliance partner into the process to help you understand how to say what you want to say in a compliant way.

Compliance partners are critical to the process. They’re there to keep us out of jail. You want them on your side.

Looking ahead into 2020, what are some of the big opportunities that you see in financial services?

The companies that are going to win are the ones that truly embrace customer advocacy and help regular everyday humans solve the problems that they have with managing their finances. I’ve been disturbed by how big credit has gotten in the U.S., and I’ve certainly participated myself in many aspects of building credit-oriented businesses. It’s very lucrative for a financial services company, but I personally believe it’s bad for customers.

Companies will lose if they’re going too far on credit and not going far enough on helping customers live within their means, put away money for the future, and have an emergency savings initiative, so that whatever happens to their family, they can afford to do the right thing. Whatever their dreams are—pay for college, buy a house, retire—these are things that many people are not going to be able to afford to do unless their financial services partners help them by eliminating some of their unhealthy financial behaviors.

The younger, nimble companies that are spending very little but really striking a meaningful tone and creating truly meaningful content in social media storytelling are the ones that are going to win.

Content is really important for helping people understand the way they’re standing in their own way, right? I think content is a wonderful way where you can release stories of people just like you, whoever the you is, that help make it real, and help make it human and help people be able to kind of see themselves more clearly through the eyes of others. Because one of the big behavioral economics teachings is that people don’t see themselves clearly. So it stands in the way of them making smart decisions.

What’s your big prediction for financial services marketing this year?

I think the smaller players are going to win the day. I think the large financial services players are still spending an excessive amount of time on things like Super Bowl commercials and focusing on things that mattered 10 years ago.

The younger, nimble companies that are spending very little but really striking a meaningful tone and creating truly meaningful content in social media storytelling are the ones that are going to win.

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