In today’s uncertain economic environment, one of waning trust in banks and the financial industry in general, fintech and financial services organizations are waging a constant battle for the hearts, minds, and money of consumers.
Some win… most lose… but the crucial question is: what separates the two?
Understanding that “innovation” is the bare minimum you need to get a seat at the fintech table, the real winners are those organizations who master the art of storytelling to establish a memorable brand.
But, of course, you’d expect us to say that—after all, at CSTMR, we’re in the business of building brands for the financial services industry*.
But that doesn’t mean we’re wrong.
What Is “Brand Awareness?”
Now, what exactly do we mean by “brand awareness?”
There are a lot of trite—yet true—sayings about just what a brand is.
Most marketers will give you some version of the following:
“Brand awareness measures the extent to which your company is associated with a product or service.”
Yawn. Here’s our take:
A “brand” is a promise, and “awareness” is a recognition of that promise on the part of consumers.
Before I expand on this concept, let me illustrate with an example.
Brand Awareness in Action
During the immediate aftermath of the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, as depositors were scrambling to move their money to safer places, this quote from a Wall Street Journal article stood out:
Isa Watson, founder of the voice-only messaging app Squad, said she had 100% of her company’s cash with SVB.
“I don’t have the risk appetite right now to jump into another relationship with a startup banking partner,” she said. “We are actually in queue to have an account opened at Chase,” Ms. Watson said, a reference to JPMorgan Chase & Co., one of the biggest banks in the U.S.
So… what does this have to do with brand awareness?
Well, there’s a significant problem with Ms. Watson’s proposition. While Chase is a big bank, SVB was, in the weeks before their collapse, the 16th largest bank in the U.S. So much for SVB being a “startup banking partner.”
The lesson here? In times of great uncertainty, we turn to what we know best. And, when uncertainty means teetering on the edge of economic chaos, what we know best equals big brand names.
Why Brand Awareness Matters
The insight to draw from this example is the value of a strong brand image.
In the example of Chase vs. SVB, the Chase brand carries the promise of security and stability. It’s a big name that everyone—even a fintech founder’s mother—has heard of.
Just like the old saying “no one ever got fired for recommending IBM,” few will question your judgment for opting for a big-name financial services partner… even if they really aren’t that much bigger beyond the name.
And because we see it everywhere, we are comfortable and familiar with it, regardless of any actual numbers—the perception of strength outweighs anything else. It’s a promise of “we’ve got this.”
It’s clout, it’s influence, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s peace of mind for consumers.
According to research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, 95% of your B2B buyers aren’t in the market at any given time.
“Companies change their providers of services (…) around every five years. This means that only 20% are in the market for those services in a given year and just 5% in a given quarter. The other 95% are not in the market at all.”
This tells us that your brand needs to be on your prospects’ radar at all times. It’s called “mental availability” and is the most powerful product of your fintech marketing efforts: just getting your audience to even consider you.
And it’s not just consumers—brand perception is also often key to the valuation put on your company by investors and possible buyers. If your horizon is an acquisition, what do you think your new partners are really buying?
Lines of code, your customer list, your people?
Those can be updated, optimized, and replaced.
If they are paying multiples of your revenues, what they are really buying is your brand.
That’s where your real value is.
The upshot is that perception matters, and it can make all the difference when it comes to both scaling and influencing the market. Yes, “fake it till you make it” is dead (especially in Silicon Valley)… but that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage a positive brand image to help drive sustainable growth.
What Really Matters: Narrative
You may have heard the adage, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what your customer thinks it is.”
We beg to differ. That’s only true if you’re not actively focusing on narrative.
Our job (by “our,” I mean you and us) is to lead customers on the journey to becoming aware of your fintech product or service, to grasp the value proposition, and then to raise their hand and say, “tell me more.”
And they are only going to do that if they:
- Know who you are.
- Know what you can do for them.
- Trust you.
- Like you.
That’s a summation of what a brand does for you. And woe to the business that leaves it up to its customers to decide all of that.
In an industry where trust is critical, a strong brand establishes a sense of credibility and reliability. Whether it’s consumers or B2B, customers are more likely to trust their financial information to a company they and their peers have heard of.
And with many fintech players offering very similar solutions, your brand may be your key differentiator.
I’ll close here with some final thoughts.
First, brand matters.
Invest in it as much as you can. More than you probably think you can. It’s the foundation for everything you build tomorrow, next year, and next decade.
Second, work with experts.
Experts in both brand development and the fintech industry. You’ll get better work, faster, because you won’t have to educate them on your industry.
Finally, start early.
Begin building your brand when you’re building your product or service. Start with what you know: what your product does and who it’s for. Take the time to do it right; you only get one chance at first impressions.
Let CSTMR Tell Your Story
Remember that asterisk in the opening paragraph? It’s finally back:
*CSTMR is a digital fintech marketing agency—we focus exclusively on financial services and fintech. Which you probably know, or you wouldn’t be reading this.