Differentiate or die: The problem facing financial services companies
Posted on 15th July 2018 by Jonathan Helm
Man Bites Dog recently joined the Financial Services Forum, and have taken advantage of our membership by attending a series of fascinating events and seminars focusing on the biggest issues facing the financial marketing community.
A recurring theme that continues to challenge financial services companies is brand differentiation. Because so many firms are trying to differentiate purely on services, experience, people, or the global footprint of the business when there is significant overlap with competitors – to their customers most financial services businesses look and sound the same.
Our own research has shown that 90% of B2B marketers believe their company needs to differentiate from competitors based on their thinking and ideas, as senior business audiences are only willing to trade their time for genuinely new insight. They want original ideas that really grab them, not me-too thinking. So how do you practically do that?
To develop a differentiating marketing strategy, these three key steps will ensure you stand apart from the competition, giving you the competitive edge to attract your prospects and win in your category.
Why do you exist?
This sounds like an existential question, but it’s a problem facing every financial services firm. As companies have become entrenched in their markets and have become protectionist rather than forward looking, they have lost sight of why their business came to be.
Amongst the complexity of processes and systems that developed over time to create a matrix of activity, businesses can lose sight of how they became successful in the first place.
Your first job in finding differentiation is understand why your business exists. This is unique – as every business formed for different reasons, in different markets, by and for different people – and if it’s unique, it’s not something anyone else can copy.
You need to find the fundamental values of your business and what it does truly differently that differentiates it. Don’t kid yourself – be honest – because there’s no fooling your customers.
Ask your customers
At the heart of your business and what makes it successful are your customers. There are individual reasons, both rational and emotional your customers chose you over your competitors, and you can use this insight to power your purpose and marketing strategy to help prospects understand who you are and why you’re a great choice.
The best way of find out what has made you a success is to ask your customers what they really think of you, and for you to get under the skin of who they are really so you can understand how to reach out to customers and prospects more effectively.
You need to know what their problems are, rather than what you want their problems to be. And by talking to the heart of the issues they face you can truly create an idea they can get behind.
Create insight based on segments of your customers so you can identify solutions that are bespoke to each group, and talk to them separately rather than assuming they are one homogenous group.
Focus on the value
Once you’ve understood your reason for being, and cross referenced that with customer segments based on real insight, you’ll be in pole position to understand where your natural fit is in your market.
Too many companies fall into the trap of wanting everyone to be their customer, and target so broadly that it no longer qualifies as targeting. So prioritise your target audiences based on their needs and create campaigns for each of them.
This doesn’t have to be limiting. A good, strategically sound campaign can cross continents, diverse business types, and companies with starkly different objectives, and still communicate real value in seemingly disparate groups.
There are fundamentals which tie all of your customers together, and by tailoring your messaging to different markets you will create true relevance for your target market from a single idea, focussing your marketing in a commercially effective way.