“I know who my clients and prospects are. I just need a little PR cover and a basic website to help me reach them.”
It’s a comment we’ve heard from fintech execs countless times before. And truth be told, this approach was still somewhat viable several years ago when a well-orchestrated product launch or media tour could land you a half-dozen buzzy articles that your sales team could count on to be seen by prospects. But not anymore.
For starters, the robust trade media we once knew is no longer, with beat contraction or outright shuttering sadly affecting nearly all the publications that fintech PR professionals worked with so closely a decade ago. When was the last time you recall seeing a significant piece of journalism on one of your competitors? Chances are slim it was recently.
But beyond the evolution of the media landscape, just think about how your own buying habits have changed. For most of us, it has been a long time since we purchased anything of even moderate significance without doing our own research. Say you read a glowing restaurant review in a reputable media outlet. That’s definitely a major plus, but before making a reservation, you’d most likely visit the restaurant’s website, peruse the menu, check the ambiance by viewing interior photos, read an independent Yelp review and so on.
As much as some think the institutional buying experience is different, it’s increasingly not, especially as a growing number of purchasing decisions are made by members of tech-native generations who came of age in the era of Google. The nice trade magazine write-up on your firm or product (and that’s assuming the stars have aligned and you landed it) is a good start and a definite point of validation.
But if, after reading it, your potential client finds a tired website, an amateur-looking sell sheet and a non-existent search presence upon Googling your product sector, you’re in trouble. Even if the look and feel of your website is adequate, is the positioning right? Are you articulating your value proposition and competitive differentiators properly? And most importantly, is your message clear and succinct given people’s rapidly shrinking attention spans?
And don’t forget the effects of the pandemic, which have also changed (like so many things) the way institutional purchasing decisions are made. Two years ago, these shortcomings could have been made up for with a well-delivered pitch followed by a nice meal or social event. But with in-person meetings and entertainment completely changed — possibly forever — your marketing and communications needs to do far more of the heavy lifting than ever before.
If this is striking a chord, you’re not alone. Many institutional fintechs have underinvested in their brands or focused on just one or two program areas. But with powerful new cloud-native competitors facing far lower barriers to market entry, established fintechs and upstarts alike are realizing they must fully invest in their brand and leverage *all* the marketing and communications tactics at their disposal if they want to stand out and remain relevant once the inevitable competition arrives. Anything short of that significantly diminishes the chances of sustainable success.
While the exact program will vary based on your market, product and competitive landscape, a proper strategic marketing and communications foundation is critical. Here are the five most important elements:
1. Messaging & Positioning: Like the advanced technology platform that likely underpins your business, rock-solid messaging and positioning that resonates with all constituencies (clients, partners, influencers, employee prospects, etc.) should be the “source code” that all program elements will refer back to. The need to get this right cannot be overstated.
2. Brand Strategy: Too often, executives think of a “brand” simply as a logo and color scheme that they think looks good. But without the upfront strategic work to set the brand’s tone and voice, trying to develop these will be an exercise in subjectivity. A properly developed brand ensures that your messaging and positioning is conveyed at a gut level, and includes well-thought-out elements such as logo, typography, iconography, imagery and color palette that are cohesively implemented throughout your website, social media, sales materials, email marketing templates and so on. Think of any company you admire, in this space or others, and almost certainly they’ve dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to getting this right.
3. Website: Your website is your front door, and certainly something that any potential client or new hire will see and read. Does it make you seem substantial? Does it properly convey your messaging? Is it well-written and does it speak to your stakeholders’ challenges rather than your superlatives alone? Are the copy, back-end and ongoing content strategy optimized for search to ensure that those doing their own research can find you? If the answers are no, your website is not doing the work it needs to.
4. Sales Support: Does your sales team have what it needs to succeed? In addition to the content — which should flow from the developed messaging and positioning and be written in the brand’s voice — do the look, feel and format support your claims that you’re part of the industry’s upper echelon from a technology standpoint? Your larger competitors or the tech titans looking to enter the space would not allow a sales rep to throw together a sell sheet in Word and slap the logo in the upper left-hand corner, and neither should you.
5. Digital: When searching for your firm, what results appear? What about when you search your competitors? Your product category (which is what prospects who don’t yet know you will be looking for)? While SEO/SEM isn’t easy, there are foundational steps that should be taken with your website and the buildout of your digital footprint (social media accounts, Google Console, Google Knowledge Panel, Glassdoor, StackOverflow, Markets Wiki, etc.) to ensure that the factors Google considers when serving search results are in order. In addition, lead generation tools like Hubspot or Pardot — which are designed to pull prospects down the marketing funnel and pass only primed leads to sales — should be optimized to target your buyer personas and get the most out of the content you’ll want to develop or repurpose.
Without this foundation, which typically takes 4-6 months to build, any “PR” or “marketing” spend you make will fall well short of providing full value. But with it, you can be confident that the what, how and why you’re communicating are rock-solid, and that when your client or employee prospects come searching, you’ll make the right impression. The tactical elements you’ll build atop the foundation — which may include PR, content, social, events, direct client communication, digital marketing and so on — will vary, but all should be considered carefully, implemented cohesively and, most importantly, executed as part of a well-thought-out strategic plan designed to support your messaging and positioning and provide measurable results.
So how much does this all cost? Certainly there are bargain-basement options out there, but to do it right — ensuring you won’t have to spend the money, and most importantly time, required to do it over once your bargain-basement option inevitably fails — you should expect to spend upwards of $150K. If that strikes you as high, consider that a single full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal costs far more than that.
Ok, so how do I go about it, you ask? Finding resources to handle brand strategy, PR, marketing, design, digital and content — especially if you need the capital markets experience required to talk about this space in a meaningful way — isn’t easy, regardless of whether you insource or outsource.
Insourcing can offer more value on a relative basis, but finding quality candidates today is extremely difficult, eating up precious time and recruiting spend (and that assumes you nail the hire). Outsourcing offers a faster path, but retaining different specialized agencies for each element can be expensive and necessitates someone on your team overseeing each one.
Obviously we’re biased, but we believe Forefront Communications provides the ideal solution for institutional fintechs looking to properly build their brands. First, we’ve done this many times before, as in-house CMOs and now as an agency. Second, we offer the ability to spin up a full marketing and communications department on demand, potentially even getting to work in days. And finally, we can provide economies of scale by offering all required services under one umbrella, significantly reducing both cost and the time you’d otherwise need to dedicate to educating, managing and coordinating multiple vendors.
We know our approach doesn’t work for everyone — some feel they need to move more quickly or less expensively — and that’s OK. Chances are we know a lot of the same people you do, so we’ll tell you honestly from the start if we think we can help. We’d much rather lose a sale than sully the reputation we’ve spent our careers in this industry building. But if you’re ready to take your brand to the next level and want to learn more about our approach, we’d be happy to have a conversation.