Crises hit unexpectedly and catch us off guard.
The period from the first COVID case in November 2019, to the week before the WHO declared a global pandemic, saw the S&P 500 gain 10.7%.
In the next month, it tumbled 33%. The last time the market had experienced a similar drop was in the eye of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The market drop surfaced a painful deja-vu. However, unlike a decade ago, this time people weren’t concerned only about their wealth. They were scared about their health in the first place.
There is a saying that hard times create strong men. In a slightly different context, we can say that hard times create strong brands. Now is the ideal moment for brands to emerge as leaders who are there not only for their own good but also to fulfill the ultimate purpose of caring for their clients.
The best way to do it? Through adapting your brand positioning to the trends that will dominate the market going forward.
“(brand positioning is)The act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market.” – Philip Kotler
Brand Positioning for Financial Institutions in a Post-Covid World
Brand positioning is a core business strategy, shaping consumer’s perceptions.
The brand itself is a significant business success factor. Beyond the visual identity and promising tagline, it’s what sets your company apart.
In addition to managing your portfolio, distribution channels, revenues, and the pressure on your team and clients, you should also keep an eye on your brand positioning.
The moves you make today will define your future. At the end of this crisis, whenever that is, the market and the customers will be changed for good.
Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to adapt to the anticipated changes. And below, we look at some steps that you can take right now.
Showcase stability and performance
The pandemic has devastating consequences for millions of lives. In such a challenging environment, your top priority is to make your clients feel secure. And a big part of this comes from knowing their wealth is in safe hands.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sharing your insights and experience. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and you will realize that people are now more concerned about financial stability and risk mitigation than new services and shiny features. Make sure your audience is aware that you are adapting and have a clear strategy to mitigate the pandemic’s adverse effects.
MarketBridge’s “FinTech Disruption Toolkit Report”¹ found that in addition to providing the most value, a trusted brand name and resilience over time are the two most important things for investors, regardless of their age.
That said, one of the first reactions of financial institutions should be to reiterate that they can be trusted. Banks should show stability while asset managers communicate performance.
Position your brand as a market force. Show proactive confidence, authenticity, compassion, and care in your communication. Initiate a dialogue to reconnect with clients on a more personal level.
Strengthen the bond with your clients by showing that you care
To succeed, an organization needs to ensure that its brand activity positively impacts its customers.
In today’s hectic world, the market is full of noise. To stand out, you shouldn’t be the loudest but the most honest. Instead of relentlessly fighting to push your marketing message out there, hunting down your next customer, focus on your brand appeal.
Seth Godin said it right ² – “…And louder and more persistent public announcements aren’t going to help if the situation people are in has lulled them into not listening. A bigger logo isn’t going to get someone to care about your company if the product and your story don’t resonate with them. Insisting on a bigger interruption is lazy. It’s lazy because if you really cared about solving the problem, you’d change the situation, not yell about it.”
What’s different from the times before the pandemic is investors’ perceptions and attitudes. Not only towards financial services and their providers but personal priorities and life choices.
Pull marketing strategies can help you ensure more efficient use of your marketing resources as they put the spotlight on building the brand’s reputation and credibility. This is especially crucial for the dramatic reality we have been living in for a while.
Aggressive selling strategies are so 2019. What customers need in 2021 are empathy and understanding.
When building meaningful relationships with clients, brands tend to engage emotion – thus, increase brand strength. According to statistics³, 68% of consumers expect brands to show empathy towards them, especially in these unprecedented times.
To stay relevant and secure your brand position, be easily accessible, trustworthy, and valuable beyond the purpose of your products or services. Look after your customers as your most valuable asset. Simply, be more human.
Successful brand positioning in the financial industry today shifts the focus away from the investment process. Good brand communication builds reputation and ensures business growth by defining what an organization stands for, whom it talks to, and how it speaks to its prospects. Focusing on the brand’s purpose will provide cohesive and memorable messages that investors can’t resist.
The success of your pull strategy may take longer, requiring discipline and perseverance. However, if you put your heart and brain into building a brand that pulls clients, the ROI will last longer.
The growing need to be online
The COVID-19 pandemic is a breaking point that made us look beyond what used to be normal and think more of how we can make tomorrow better.
With the shift of their habits and lifestyle towards personal comfort, wellbeing, and cherishing personal time more than ever, consumers are becoming more demanding of their service providers.
People are leaving their full-time jobs, prioritizing families and mental health over corporate careers. Remote work is here to stay. Now more and more people are searching for digital solutions to everyday problems.
While after the pandemic ends, some customers will surely be happy to return to face-to-face interactions with their financial advisors, what is certain is that the need for physical interaction will significantly diminish.
MarketBridge’s “FinTech Disruption Toolkit Report”⁴ found that younger investors tend to be less loyal to their investment service providers. The research states that 70% of young customers would switch to an online-only firm with lower fees, and 71% would open an investment account without speaking to a person.
The need to be online and be more flexible is bigger than ever. Research shows⁵ that 88% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19.
It’s high time for investment firms and asset managers to put the spotlight on digital products like applications and virtual wallets. Digital solutions are now defining the industry rather than disrupting it. This is best reflected in the boom of the FinTech industry. The first quarter of 2021 is now the largest funding quarter on record, having seen VC-backed FinTech companies globally raise $22.8B, a 98% year-over-year growth.⁶
Personalized services’ value is also rapidly growing. According to “The State of Connected Customer 2020” by Salesforce⁷, 52% of consumers expect offers always to be personalized, up from 49% in 2019. Moreover, 66% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs, with 66% of respondents saying they are generally treated like statistics.
Customer experience is what will lead the disruption in investment management rather than product or market innovation. Incumbent companies can benefit most from the customer experience improvements as they add value to their established customer base, broad historical data, and market knowledge.
Thus, stand out among new players entering the sector. Digital communication today enhances the need for omnichannel interaction. Provide the care people need to ensure their ongoing actionability.
The Case of Achernar Assets – A Brand Overhaul in the Eye of the Pandemic
Every project is different. At Squash, we have always believed that branding for financial institutions is no “one-size-fits-all” exercise. As a result, we spend significant time getting to know who sits on the other side of the table, understanding their needs and drafting the best way to hit their goals.
So was the case when we were trusted to execute the complete brand overhaul of Achernar Assets, a Swiss-based holding company with a global portfolio. This came at a time when a few, if any, financial institutions would have dared to make such a drastic move. But Achernar saw the midst of the pandemic as the perfect moment to slow down, reflect on its image, and make the necessary moves to jump into a future full of opportunities.
The process we followed to deliver what proved to be a project that far exceeded our clients’ expectations consisted of four key steps.
1 – The growing need to be online
We know the industry inside out. But this is never enough when working with clients in a niche as crowded as the asset management one. That is why we basically became an extension of Achernar’s team. We sat with the upper management to clearly identify the key traits of their organization and understand what made them tick.
Unlike many other asset managers, Achernar wasn’t the traditional “behemoth,” allergic to change. Just the opposite – the company had already realized that the market had shifted, and they were looking for a way to appeal to the needs of the new generations and capture the dynamics poised to dominate the future of the industry.
What was more important is that Achernar wanted to communicate a change of heart. From a legacy, fossil-fuel-dominated portfolio, they had shifted to ESG-compliant investments and backing causes related to UNs Sustainable Goals.
2 – Evaluation – laying the foundation
We realized right on the spot that the whole branding package we were about to deliver for Achernar had to be bespoke. No buzz words, no fanfares – just openness and honesty.
However, we made sure to look beyond the client’s brief to explore what potential opportunities they might have missed. We came up with a plan on what particular points of their business should be highlighted as the leitmotif of the brand’s communication.
3 – Execution – rolling the sleeves up
After sketching all the possible opportunities and prioritizing where to push, it was time to unleash our creative team.
Our cohesive unit of designers, video creators, copywriters, and web developers joined efforts to create prototypes of all the branded experiences the client was targeting.
The symbiosis within our team allowed us to overcome one of the critical issues many financial institutions face – the lack of coherent branding. That way, we could unify the tone and the visuals to create a branding experience that addresses all senses equally.
4 – Delivery – surpassing the client’s expectations
The truth that many agencies will spare you is that the brand positioning truly works only if it delivers. Alternatively, when you can quantify the outcome of your investments.
While Achernar’s management was overly satisfied with our work, we made it known that we are there even after the project’s completion to ensure the rebranding will reap what we had already sown.
Want to see for yourself? Here you go.
Banks, asset managers, investment firms, family offices all have the unique opportunity to dust off the image of being these distanced institutions, driven only by cold financial logic.
This is the time to be empathic, friendly, and present for your clients. Build a brand image that screams you are there to ease their lives. Because when nothing else does, even the slightest effort will make a difference. And clients have a long memory.