How Storytelling Affects Awareness and Consideration: An Analysis of Financial Services Brands
Using insights from Performance Storytelling™, FIG’s data-driven ad analysis platform, we can optimize brand messaging to resonate at different stages of the marketing funnel.
At the heart of every marketing strategy is the centuries-old metaphor of the funnel. Conceived by E. St Elmo Lewis at the dawn of the Progressive Era, the funnel represents the consumer buying journey in a series of stages. Buyers start the funnel with a wide array of potential brands in mind, and as they make their way down-funnel, the initial set dwindles as they weigh their options and make a final decision. Though the funnel has been expanded and refined over the years, its three foundational phases — awareness, consideration, and conversion — continue to hold sway in today’s marketplace. No matter how many new digital touch points proliferate along the journey, marketing’s essential task remains to reach consumers when they are open to influence and, ultimately, drive them towards making a purchase.
The goal of advertising is two-fold: accumulate positive impressions at the outset of the funnel, and remain top-of-mind as consumers navigate the increasingly labyrinthine purchase journey. Using data from Performance Storytelling™, FIG’s AI-driven analysis platform, we can isolate an array of narrative tactics in video ad campaigns and measure their impact at different stages along the funnel. When we ran an audit of brand messaging in the financial services sector, a number of intriguing patterns emerged to suggest that what drives awareness does not necessarily drive consideration. Let’s break down the outputs using two outlier data sets.
Performance Storytelling™ in Action: Voya and Prudential
Within the financial services category, Voya and Prudential reveal strikingly different narrative approaches — with meaningfully divergent results. After categorizing 2019 video commercials within FIG’s proprietary taxonomy, we located key differences between the two brands across three analytic planes:
1. Thematic Focus—Brand vs. Product
Brand-focused videos use jingles, slogans, logos, and other aural-visual cues to trigger lasting impressions of a brand’s ethos and personality. Product-focused videos highlight function, usage, and other rational considerations of a brand’s goods and services.
Voya’s creative assets are marked by a bright orange color palette, chipper brand jingle, and whimsical animaloid spokescharacters who embody a friendly and approachable brand personality. Rather than giving specific product recommendations and rational insights into the financial category, the mascots engage in lighthearted conversations with human subjects, gently encouraging them to plan for their financial futures and implicitly directing them towards Voya for counsel.
Prudential’s videos open with a qualified financial expert who guides viewers for the duration of each segment. Set in a variety of cities across America, the ads address the specific economic realities of each location with targeted insights and fact-based recommendations. After establishing a nuanced understanding of real people’s financial goals, Prudential directs viewers to speak with a local advisor, thereby concluding the vignettes with a tangible solution.
2. Story Type—Insights, Expert Recommendations, Brand Characters, Product Features
This thematic cluster uncovers the mechanisms used to relay information — do the videos foreground industry insights, expert recommendations, brand characters, and/or product demonstrations?
Voya’s fictional characters provide breezy entertainment, not nuts-and-bolts financial advice. Unlike the mascots of Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade, Voya’s do not share specific product advice, nor do they comment on the financial category at large. Our frame-by-frame analysis shows that Voya’s mascots act more like supportive companions than instructive coaches, suggesting that their primary purpose is to personify the brand as caring and affable.
Structured around financial experts, geography-specific facts, and explicit advice for planning a prosperous future, Prudential’s ads rely on authoritative testimony and rational appeals. Bold text overlays provide statistics that factor into financial planning, while man-on-the-street-style interviews share thoughtful commentary on what it means to spend, save, and plan across America.
3. Story Tone—Informative, Comedic, Surprising, Optimistic, Dynamic, Joyful
This tagging framework classifies overarching attitudinal register and emotive impact. By labelling the videos across a range of affective variables — surprising, comedic, et cetera — we can position video content along the spectrum of informational to entertaining.
Conveying comedic, surprising, optimistic, and joyful tones, Voya’s videos are primarily entertaining. Starring whimsical origami mascots, famous sitcom actors, and relatable human characters, the ads associate financial planning with positivity, comfort, and playful banter.
Shedding light on the economic hardships of real people across America, Prudential’s ads strike a much more serious tone than Voya’s. Though the videos ultimately conclude on an aspirational and uplifting register, they set out by portraying particular economic challenges with sobering statistics and down-to-earth interviews.
Where Voya and Prudential Land on the Funnel
Source: YouGov 2020 © All rights reserved
Pulling brand perception data from YouGov, an international research and analytics group, we see that Voya outranks Prudential in ad awareness, while Prudential leads in consideration. When we correlate the brand health data with our topic and tone analysis, a clear pattern emerges: Voya’s brand-focused themes and lighthearted appeals garner ad awareness, whereas Prudential’s product-focused themes and educational specs drive consideration. It is worth noting that over the same time period, Prudential’s overall awareness — the percentage of people who recognize its brand, not necessarily its ad segments — is 2.2 times higher than Voya’s (likely a product of Prudential’s 145-year legacy status, compared to Voya’s six-year history).
Our data suggests that for consumers, the awareness phase is an imaginative vista, one in which aspirational messaging and symbolic narrative devices are apt to leave an impression. Voya’s animated mascots, jocular one-liners, and vaguely financial language thrive in a consumer mindset that is open to myriad possibilities. When the consumer moves towards the consideration phase, however, the journey gets more serious: it is time to weigh the pros and cons of each contender and make educated guesses as to whether the top brands can actually deliver on their promises. By addressing the specific pain points of everyday Americans and explicitly demonstrating how it can help, Prudential resonates with the ever-shrewd and discerning purview of consumers in consideration.
By running campaigns through FIG’s proprietary analysis tool, we’re able to pinpoint which brand messaging tactics resonate at each stage of the consumer journey. These insights can be used to strategize the tonal register of various consumer touchpoints based on brand-specific KPIs.
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