Why does branding matter in financial services?

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David O’Hearns

By David O’Hearns, founder and MD at Dawn

What comes to mind when you think of financial services? A catchy jingle or a familiar visual identity? Any kind of distinguishing features at all? Probably not. Financial services companies are not very good at being memorable. They struggle to stand out in a crowded market and to engage or be engaging. This is a shame because today’s financial services sector is vibrant, interesting, and full of opportunity. The problem is a lack of cohesive branding.

Without a strong recognisable brand, a financial services company can’t be remarkable. It blends in, just another institution in a long row of institutions that sell uninspiring products and services. People’s assumptions and stereotypes are realised. However, branding can change customer perceptions and employee engagement, transforming a business and helping it to reach its full potential. 

How do you get branding right for financial services companies?

For branding to be truly effective, it has to be holistic, and driven right into the foundations of a business. The problem for financial services brands is that it means wholesale change, which doesn’t come naturally to the sector.  The financial services industry is built upon reliability, steadfastness, and a commitment to traditional standards. So, initiating sweeping changes is both counterintuitive and a hard sell to the board. But if you want to create a brand that chimes with the public and helps you stand out, it requires a multi-level approach.

Language choice

Financial services are nothing if not wordy; regulatory requirements demand them to be. But when you’re dealing with the public, you need language and a tone – short, every day, easy to understand, words –  that allow everyone to understand what you are trying to convey. Your tone of voice should reflect how you want to be perceived. It will depend on your brand positioning and your brand personality – and you need to know all of this before knowing the exact kind of words to use in your brand communications. But no matter what kind of brand you are, you should always keep things as simple as you possibly can. 

Focus on your values

Values matter in business, perhaps more than ever. With social media providing new avenues for bad news and inconsistencies to reach the public eye, businesses must stick to and demonstrate the values that they lay claim to. And in finance, where there has been no end of tarnished brands in public memory, it matters even more. So, make sure that your values are reflected in everything that you do – your operations, your recruitment policies, HR, customer service, and everything related to your business. 

Think customer

Financial institutions have a bad habit of complacency regarding customers, which remains a hangover from the days of limited choice. But people like being appreciated, and showing your appreciation for your customers can help to make your brand engaging and likeable. You don’t need to make drastic gestures; little ones can be just as effective – banks depositing £100 into junior accounts when they reach maturity on a customer’s 18th birthday,  insurers sending gift cards to thank customers for their loyalty on their 5th anniversary. Gestures like this make your business seem less formal and more human. 

Consistency

For branding to work, it has to be consistent over time.  Banking brands like Natwest and Barclays have slowly been changing how they are perceived by updating their colour scheme over several years, adapting and developing as time goes by. It’s better to take your time and be consistent across the business with your changes than to go for a big change quickly.

Rebranding in financial services 

Right now, there is a division in the financial services industry – traditional vs modern. While there is still a loyal customer base for the more traditional financial businesses, challenger firms are likely to soon dominate, given the shift in outlook and expectancy in society as a whole. To stay current, financial organisations will need to change. This means getting under the skin of the brand, carrying out brand workshops to understand what your brand stands for, how it is positioned in all relevant areas, and using this to stand out from competitors and create a brand and supporting identity that is like no other. But to avoid the disconcerting, old-school-customer-jarring transformation that underscores the change-aversion of many financial institutions, a gradual process is called for, so that, in time, the existing customers will accept the changes and the business’s brand will become more appealing to a wider customer base. 

About Author:

David O’Hearns, founder and MD at Dawn, a creative agency on a mission to rid the world of bad design and poor communication, with extensive experience helping financial services businesses transform their branding.