Creative Director at The Marketing Eye, Nick Davis, explains how taking branding seriously can reap results in the alternative finance sector
The UK market for alternative finance has been growing at a rapid rate, in fact it has more than doubled in size year-on-year: from £267m in 2012 to £3.2bn in 2015 - and it's predicted to grow even further in 2016.
So the sector can’t be doing too much wrong, can it?
Well, let’s keep in mind that lending volumes are still minuscule in comparison with total SME lending and while awareness is growing, there is still a significant majority of businesses and consumers who declare themselves at best unsure about what all the fuss is about.
This brings us on to the tricky issue of branding. The AltFi sector offers still relatively new finance models that need carefully articulating to ensure that consumers fully understand the differences, benefits and associated risks that are involved. They need to understand them logically and trust them emotionally.
What are customers really looking for?
There are three primary functions that a brand fulfils and if they are successfully combined, they make for the potent mix of awareness, understanding and trust that leads to consumers buying in volume.
In essence, customers are looking for a reason to believe, a cause, a clear proposition and the facts. Customers want to live by their values. People are motivated not only by outcomes, but also by shared values and empathy with their world.
In AltFi, customers want to connect emotionally with brands offering choice and flexibility. They want to trust them and believe in their ability to change their financial situation for the better.
The problem with the current crop of AltFi brands
Many AltFi brands are still operating with the brand identities and messages that they launched with.
These brands and identities may have been developed in a rush and on a shoe-string budget when all attention was focused on the tech and just getting into the marketplace. As a result, they often fall back on overused ideas and derivative claims.
And yet in today’s climate, there’s nothing “safe” about an undifferentiated brand. ‘Me-too’ branding may secure a seat at the table, but only a truly unique brand will ensure a competitive advantage in what is fast becoming a very noisy marketplace.
The reality is that corporate CEOs, CFOs and key decision makers are looking for a reason to believe. This is where a strong, sharply differentiated brand comes into play, seizing the opportunity to express why customers should choose one brand over another.
How to differentiate
In an arena often dominated by subjectivity, it is possible to introduce process.
Take a step back and spend time articulating your businesses’ key beliefs and guiding principles. Narrow your focus by clearly identifying your differentiating attributes and what makes you unique from the other players within the industry.
Take a snapshot of your competitors’ positioning and, most importantly, don’t just assume that you understand your audience; invest in some research.
In a landscape of weak brands, use design to create competitive advantage and win the hearts and minds of your customers. People buy into design that is thought-led and instinctive.
Visual content is the cornerstone of almost every branding campaign and is an opportunity to express your individuality as a business. And yet we still see respectable brands using generic stock imagery that undermines the credibility of their stated brand values. With a little more thought, a business can take ownership of an illustrative or photographic style.
Your selected style and approach should align and enhance brand recognition (even without the logo showing). Consider using original illustration to address your own narrative. You will have protected publication rights and it can be shaped to address your businesses unique communication requirements consistently.
Finally, work to develop your tone of voice and distinctive styles for different types of communications. Storytelling and the ability to connect emotionally with your audience are essential components of a successful brand
So in summary...
Keep moving and, if you haven’t done it recently, take the time to revisit your branding. Even the biggest brands review their strategies and define their approaches many times during their lifetime.
You want your brand to be the one that stands out against the 'me too' brands of alternative finance. Invest in researching the concerns and traits of your target audience and match these with competitor insight and your own values and beliefs. Doing so will help you to clarify your brand strategy and ensure that your business is making decisions based on a fully informed approach.