Financial Institutions vs. Fintechs: The Fight for Business Banking

Fintech inroads now threaten the core business banking market as well as retail, but business marketing often lags flashier consumer banking campaigns. Financial marketers can use five broad principles to rewrite their B2B playbooks and blunt the threat from nonbank digital competitors.

All consumers — business or retail — now have incredible amounts of choice in the digital world. Almost every product or service a financial institution is offering, people can get somewhere else (and usually more quickly). New, and in many cases better, offerings and experiences are popping up every month.

While much of the attention has been focused on retail-bank challengers, technology is creating new ways to deliver value, lower cost, and improve experiences in the B2B space at a rapid clip.

It’s no longer enough for banks and credit unions to differentiate on product, rate, brand, and distribution. Yet for many financial institutions, the business side of banking remains sales-led, with marketing’s role largely to support sales. The playbook for B2B marketing is being rewritten, however, and traditional institutions must adopt it to compete against nontraditional competitors already using it.

The modern-day B2B playbook is made up of one “north star” that guides everything the marketing team does. It will sound simple (and obvious) to anyone familiar with consumer marketing: Add value. Everything should be focused on adding value to the business consumer, from the content you create, to the media you buy, to how you activate, to how you structure your funnel. You need to put the consumer’s business first and your business second (in the short-term at least).

Being customer-centric is the strongest differentiator you can build for the long-term. And whoever is more long-term oriented always has the advantage.

Toward that goal, five principles guide areas of the marketing team and function. All of them work together to drive effective and efficient B2B marketing.

1. Build a ‘Media Company’ Around What You Stand for

Successful financial marketers think and act more like publishers than advertisers. They recognize that content is the battleground for modern-day marketing. This is the world of editorial calendars, video production, podcasts, blogs, reports, and social media. It should be the core of what you do.

“Attention is not as captive as it used to be – you have to earn it. And you earn it though quality content.”
— Eric Fulwiler, 11:FS

Every brand (and every person) is a media company in 2020. They understand their audience, put themselves in their shoes, and produce content that will bring them value. This is especially true in a media environment where people can easily ignore your message. Attention is not as captive as it used to be — you have to earn it. And you earn it though quality content.

Challenger banks, or incumbents with challenger mindsets, have figured this out. Iwoca, the small business fintech lender, is a good example of this. Sure they advertise, but they also publish. They put out a large quantity of high-quality content that brings value to SMB owners and operators. Many brands in the fintech space are adept at being more human and relatable in what they say and how they say it. They produce content and experiences that offer information, utility, entertainment, or all three. They offer value to their audience — like a publisher would.

Set up your marketing team to think, act, and produce like a media company (or set up a separate media team). Get someone from a publishing background to run it if you don’t have anyone who can.

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2. Balance Art and Science

Marketing used to just be about the art. You came up with a strategy, developed some awesome creative, and pushed it out in the general direction of your target audience. Every marketer now pays homage to data to varying degrees. But many online-native and e-commerce businesses live on the opposite end of the qual/quant spectrum. They’re all about performance marketing — data-driven decisions only, 1% optimizations at scale, and only investing in what can be measured.

Modern-day B2B marketing should be a balance of both approaches. Financial institutions marketing departments need strong quant, data, and analytics chops, but they also need brilliant strategic thinking and creativity.

You need to be data-driven, but idea-led. Which is tough because usually people, including the CMO/Marketing Director is more one or the other. Know where you and your team over- or under-index and try to balance it out with your next few hires and investments.

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3. Win on Quality, Then Quantity

It’s a noisy world out there. Everyone is producing content and vying for consumer attention. In crowded marketplaces, the cream rises to the top. You need to establish your institution’s brand as a voice and outlet of quality content first and foremost. You can’t afford to pump out junk — people will either ignore it or devalue your brand and products because of it.

So find people who know how to create high quality content and set them up with what they need to do their job well.

But here’s a big caveat: You can’t win on quality alone. You need to stand out for quality and consistently surface content that adds value — i.e. you need to win on quantity as well.

Once you have your media team in place and your quality standards are set, look for ways to scale the operation. And however much content you think is reasonable, double that and you might be close to what you need.

As you reach for scale, however, just remember, the thing that will matter most for your bank or credit union’s B2B marketing success in the long-term is whether you can produce high quality content on a consistent basis.

4. Always Look for the Breakthrough

Once you’ve got that steady drumbeat of content, the next gear to add to the marketing machine is the “breakthrough gear.” Consistently good content is essential, but breakthrough content and campaigns are what bring exponential growth. This is the realm of your 10x ideas, your moonshots. Like, say, doing a feature-length documentary. Or putting on a massive conference for accountants like Xero, one of our clients, does every year with XeroCon.

Breakthrough ideas are hard — they usually (but not always) take more time, money or both. But they’re so important to cut through the noise and expand your audience in a way that day-to-day content can’t (or can’t do quickly at least).

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5. Leverage Your Competitive Content Advantages

So much opportunity is lost, not by doing the wrong thing, but by not doing enough of the right thing. Every bank or credit union has a competitive content advantage — the truths and realities of how you go about your business that could bring value to others.

It’s more about documenting what your institution already has and is good at, rather than concepting and creating something entirely new and aspirational. Some institutions do this simply by putting their best and brightest in front of a camera and pushing “record.”

Whatever your competitive content advantage is, find ways to maximize the full opportunity within it. Don’t just do what everyone else does because that’s the standard. Don’t buy that event sponsorship because your competition is there. Or pay for a magazine spread because it’ll get you points internally.

Double down on where you can get outsized returns relative to your competitors.

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