When “disruption” isn’t enough: Making a fintech brand stick

It’s been almost 30 years since the late venture capitalist, Harvard Business School professor and business theorist Clayton Christensen coined...

By Courtney Stack

June 1, 2024

It’s been almost 30 years since the late venture capitalist, Harvard Business School professor and business theorist Clayton Christensen coined the concept of “disruptive technology” in an article in the Harvard Business Review (and later in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma).  It’s a term that doesn’t seem to go out of style as, to this day, startups still seem to gravitate toward this concept as their key differentiator.  The reality is for fintechs, being “disruptive” is just the barrier to entry, not a branding message.

Financial services has transformed dramatically since the 1990s as companies ranging from banking to brokerage to credit cards to insurance and beyond began to embrace the potential of the internet. In the process of doing so, a whole new category of companies – fintechs – emerged, based on being internet-centric entities. So many of them positioned themselves as “disruptive” or “leveling the playing field” that the terminology became ubiquitous, making the companies themselves practically interchangeable.

But times have changed.  These companies (especially in the B2B space) are no longer “staid”, rather they are looking to break from the pack in a unique way and do so in a way that mirrors their brand promise. One look at the website for the payment processor Square and you might think you’re on the site for Apple or Samsung.  And it’s this type of approach that reverberates throughout their messaging – one based on product simplicity and “people first” rather than the technology.

When it comes to a fintech brand, following are a few more ways to build a brand for the long term, focusing on the customer and not the technology that underpins the business:

  • Creativity can be the calling card of your B2B brand: For decades, B2B brands, including those in fintech, were…how to put this politely…staid. They were focused more on product benefits, cost savings, technological innovation and other business drivers.  But recent research from LinkedIn shows that an overwhelming majority of senior marketing executives (89%) believe brand building is just as important to driving long-term revenue growth in B2B as it is in consumer marketing. Furthering this, more than two thirds (69%) of B2B marketers believe B2B purchasing decisions are just as emotionally driven as B2C. This explains why 81% of senior B2B marketers believe B2B brands are producing increasingly creative campaigns rivaling consumer brands.  So it’s ok to be disruptive when it comes to your marketing.
  • Talk with, not at, your customers/prospects: The issue that so many marketing initiatives (e.g., advertising, direct email/mail, collateral material) is that it’s a one-way conversation. Your business tells them what you want them to know and hope that’s enough to drive their decision.  With the advent of social media through platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, this opens up the channel for prospects to speak directly to the company and learn more about you.  So use that to your advantage. Famed consultant Peter Drucker once said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Through social media, you’re able to find out more about the customer because that person is telling it directly to you.
  • Gamification? Yes, really: For years, fintechs have steered clear of anything that reflects the intersection of financial services and games, believing it reinforces an unfounded belief that there’s a connection between investing and casinos. But recent studies have shown that gamification is becoming a key drive to growing fintech brands – specifically digital banks – because they help forge a connection between the customer/prospect and the company. Modor Intelligence projects the market to grow at a CAGR of 26.5% until 2027, partly due to the fact that companies have seen up to a 700% increase in conversion rates.  And gamification isn’t just the domain of startups either.  BBVA, PNC and Ally have all deployed gamification programs in recent years, and there’s no reason to believe this will change. So look for ways to augment your site through gamification or other features knowing that it might just result in increasing those conversion rates.

Developing a brand in the rapidly changing world of fintech is a huge undertaking. The brand needs to speak to your customers and prospects while differentiating itself from all the other players. Making it stick is even harder, but by building a creative brand, talking with your customers/prospects and deploying programs like gamification, you can deliver on the brand promise people will value for a long time to come.

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