Kristina King
Kristina King

The phrase “fintech” will turn 30 next year, along with Beanie Babies, Sleepless in Seattle, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Animaniacs, the Food Network and NAFTA. While some of these things have aged better than others, (remember the couple who contentiously divided their Beanie Babies in divorce court?) there is no doubt that the ubiquitous adoption of fintech over the last three decades has fundamentally transformed our lives.

Today, the challenge for brands at the crossroads of finance and technology is not defining what fintech means, but finding new ways to differentiate their brand from the stiff competition within the space. A recent Vantage Market Research report found the $332BB+ fintech market is expected to continue its meteoric growth at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 20 percent between now and 2028—but the road to success is always under construction, and in today’s highly competitive ecosystem, brand differentiation is more crucial than ever for fintechs looking to attract talent, investors, partners, clients or consumers. So where to begin?

Start with Transformative Empathy and Center the End User

Fintech has transformed the way we relate to each other, from ride-shares to person-to-person payment platforms and dating apps, so it’s no surprise that winners in the fintech vertical today are companies that differentiate themselves by employing an empathetic, user-first model.

Recent research shows that an empathetic approach to business is more than just a feel-good manifesto—it offers tangible benefits to the bottom line. A global study by M&C Saatchi found that 18 percent of consumers stopped using a brand in the past 12 months because of the gap between the product as marketed and their lived experience, costing the average brand over $300M in lost revenue yearly.

Whether a company is B2C or B2B, delivering a compelling user experience with empathy at its core helps differentiate the brand and drive industry goodwill, media sentiment, investor appetite, and even employee engagement. In today’s volatile market conditions, developing a positive and well-differentiated brand reputation has never been more important.

Volatile Market Conditions Can Inspire Creative Differentiation

At first glance, it looks dark out there. Publicly traded fintech companies have dropped 50 percent since last November. The median valuation of late-stage American fintechs that raised money in the first quarter of 2022 was 58 percent lower than in the last quarter of 2021. Even venture capitalist appetite is smaller, with a recent CB Insights report finding U.S. fintechs raised $13.3 billion during Q1 2022, a 27 percent decline compared with that same period in 2021.

The good news? Creativity loves constraints, as Marissa Mayer wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek in 2006, and differentiation is nothing if not an exercise in creativity. For fintech companies looking for new ways to set themselves apart from the competition under today’s perceived or real constraints, differentiation must thus be creative, compelling and just a little bit contrarian.

The Communications Status Quo Must Go

At the end of the day, putting out a whitepaper or report that says nothing new in 10,000 words or more won’t help a brand make the headlines, even if it ticks a box on marketing’s KPIs for the year. Brands must resist the urge to maintain the status quo and instead do what it takes to go against the grain and differentiate the brand within today’s fintech sea of sameness.

Neobank trying to increase financial literacy? Skip the advertorial and instead create a free-to-play Dungeons and Dragons module that teaches tabletop gaming players the basics of financial literacy in a fantasy roleplaying setting. Drop the whitepaper and get (Second) Chance the Rapper to give refurbished iPhones a second chance as educational tools for older adults learning how to bank online (and give their grandkids a digital concert to inspire brand affinity in future decisionmakers too). If bigger campaigns aren’t in budget, look for opportunities to create a custom data survey that can reveal a human truth related to core brand offerings or inspire consumers to think differently about their own behavior.

Creative communication programs can be created and executed at any budget—and in today’s market it’s more crucial than ever for fintech brands to challenge the way things have always been done and instead find new ways to leapfrog the competition in both product quality and brand perception.

Leverage Public Relations to Close the Gap between Perception and Reality

Ultimately, even if a fintech offers the best product, service or technology in the world, the path to success will remain out of reach even for the most scalable of companies if no one knows the brand’s name or where to learn more.

Ensuring brand messages are delivered consistently across all communications channels is the bare minimum in today’s world—brand messages must also be differentiated in several key ways. To recap: 1) a stellar user experience must be matched with a stellar communications program; 2) volatile market conditions demand creative, compelling and contrarian differentiation; and 3) the fintech brands that challenge the status quo in their communications programs to deliver strong, succinct and differentiated market-relevant messages are the ones that will win in the long term.

Fintechs ready to stand out and succeed in today’s market and capitalize off the long-term continued growth of the industry must identify, celebrate, and clearly communicate their differentiators while aligning communications priorities with business outcomes.

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Kristina King is a vice president at FINN Partners.