This year has turned pretty much everything upside down. As we grapple with widespread economic instability, financial services companies have been dealt a particularly challenging hand. Financial anxiety is high, and people are re-evaluating how they spend, and who they do business with. We’re all looking for a sense of stability—especially when it comes to money.
For this reason, it’s a great time for financial services companies to consider their brand. Because at its essence, branding is about stability. A strong brand enables the consumer to relax. It feels familiar. It’s consistent. It’s something you can count on. And increasingly, we look to brands to reflect our values and beliefs—which are truly put to the test in tough times.
With that said, let’s take a look at a few branding strategies in the financial services world—and what we can learn from them:
Take a stand
Everything is going digital these days, especially in finance. Take LendingFront, a platform that digitizes small business lending. LendingFront does everything you’d expect from a digital effort—saves time, eliminates inefficiencies, automates manual tasks, increases access.
Those are all very good and practical reasons to give LendingFront a try if you’re a lender. But what’s powerful about LendingFront’s brand is that they elevate their marketing message beyond the practical to make digitizing an almost moral imperative.
There’s a tone throughout their copy—not just of how things could be, but how they ought to be. It starts with the word “should” in the homepage headline, and carries through to the bevy of blog posts covering everything from small business profiles to the realities of PPP loans.
LendingFront is taking a stance of advocacy. This is a powerful marketing strategy. It’s risky. It involves pointing the finger at an enemy, in this case tradition. Yes it’s selling a product, but more than that it’s aiming to right what it views as wrong in the world. That will always be more compelling than merely peddling a product.
The Strategy: Don’t just market a product or service. Fight for a cause.
Walk the walk
It’s one thing to pay lip service to social responsibility. It’s another to roll up your sleeves and do something about it. Bank of the West claims to be all about sustainability, and boy do they live up to it. The sheer comprehensiveness and creativity with which the brand put its beliefs into action is mind-blowing.
First, there’s the 1% for the Planet card, which enables customers to see the carbon footprint of their purchases. Clever, cutting edge, and empowering. Then, the bank donates 1% of the revenue to environmental causes. More points. The account also features a biodegradable card —bringing this sustainability ethos into the real world , and your pocket.
There’s more: the bank is a member of a Protect our Winters, a nonprofit working to reduce climate change. It also refuses to finance projects that involve Arctic drilling. And it committed $1 billion to renewable energy initiatives last year.
Now that’s a company that knows what it stands for, and acts on it. In a word, it’s a model of financial services branding to strive toward in 2020. And the results are adding up: The San Francisco-based bank has $91.5 billion in assets and just over two million customers.
The Strategy: Leave no stone unturned when it comes to enacting your beliefs.
Think beyond your category
Everyone knows that money can open doors. But how do you associate that benefit with your brand in a tangible way?
CitiBank mixes finance and entertainment to do just that. They’re creating experiences in the worlds of sports, music, dining, and celebrity—giving consumers hard-to-get tickets or allowing them to meet a famous person they’d otherwise never encounter. In doing so, Citi is extending their brand beyond the category of finance—and suggesting to customers that by doing business with them, they’ll unlock these new possibilities.
On the surface, it feels like a smart marketing strategy. But at the brand level, how deeply does CitiBank care about values like entertainment and fun? While the A-list name-dropping on their Twitter feed is exciting (Justin Bieber, Seth Myers, The Mets), it’s a bit odd that there’s no reference to this theme on their corporate website. One wonders how much more powerful and lasting this strategy would be if their commitment to entertainment and fun were reflected across all properties.
In any case, this strategy definitely seems like it could win Citi some younger customers, which was always its main aim. And from a broader perspective, there’s a great lesson to be learned for any financial services marketer: money is usually a means—not an end. Identify the “end” as your audience sees it, and expand your brand outward to include that reality.
The Strategy: Align your brand with experiences beyond your industry.
This has been a tough year, and there’s still a long way to go. But as the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste. For financial companies, now is the ideal time to take a look at your brand—how well it’s defined, and how well it’s represented in the marketplace—and re-calibrate for lasting future success.
And, of course, when it comes time to craft the copy and content that puts your newly sharpened strategies into action, give us a holler.