Ask 50 financial technology providers from specialised alternative investments right through to high frequency trading the main benefits of their solution and I’d bet Bob Diamond’s final payout that the overwhelming response would be ‘improved efficiency and reduced risk’. Dive a bit deeper and you’d probably get better oversight, better transparency and an elimination of manual processes. Sound familiar?
It’s perhaps a natural result of the combination of a sector like financial services that’s dependent on data, processes and reports, with a climate of reduced volumes and a major regulatory burden to contend with. The commonality does not in and of itself undermine the validity of the answer, but it does present a problem: in a crowded market where everyone’s shouting about the same things, how can you stand out from the crowd and carve out your own identity when it comes to speaking to the media?
Who are you anyway?
A large part of the answer lies in doing the groundwork: getting your branding right (see our recent article Financial Services branding in troubled times). This will inform all of your internal and external communications, which will go some way to allowing you to assert your identity. But brand values are building blocks, not the end result: they alone are not going to make your name stick, let alone make you the company a busy journalist wants to speak to on deadline.
The next step is to identify the primary issues you want to be associated with in the market, from algo trading to the AIFMD. Taking your brand values and considering them alongside your core markets and the central challenges your clients and prospects are facing will help you to identify the main issues that you want to be known for and you can begin to build stories around them.
Focus is important: if you try to be known for everything, especially where the technological solutions you offer cover a broad range of functionality or multiple vertical sectors, you won’t be remembered for anything. But by taking a small number of key issues and using them as the framework to play out your core messages again and again in all your communications you can begin to become known for your commentary on those issues. Your messages are clearly defined, enabling you to accommodate last-minute interviews when news breaks. You become a go-to commentator for journalists on the topic. You begin to own the space.
Looking out, not in
The ubiquity of the phrase ‘thought leadership’ may have undermined its value, but however you like to dress it up (after all, the much more trendy ‘content marketing’ isn’t describing something essentially different), becoming known for your thinking has long been viewed as fundamental to good communications and is integral to setting you apart from your competitors.
With that in mind, the key to successful media relations is positioning your core messages in the context of industry issues. It’s generally well-understood that a relationship with a journalist based on your ability to provide insight into major market trends and succinct comment when news breaks will be more productive than one based on desperate entreaties to write about version 4.7.2 in beta and the way it will improve efficiencies and reduce risk. But this ability to look outside your solution set and highlight the industry story helps you assert your identity in other ways.
You will inevitably have a different take on market issues to other providers, so feeding these opinions to the press will give you a much more distinct identity than the broadly similar benefits of your solution versus another. Communicating with your market through your take on their day-to-day challenges allows you to become known for your thinking, and that will always be individual.
It’s also important not to overlook the importance of market knowledge as a sales driver. In a situation where all competing products are offering similar benefits (albeit with slight differences of emphasis and tone), who wouldn’t opt to put long-term investments in business-critical technology systems the way of people who demonstrate a thorough understanding of the space, rather than those who can only talk in a blinkered way about their own products?
Be a person, not a machine
It may be a cliché, but the old adage that people do business with people became so well known for a reason. Allow a glimmer of personality to shine through your communications, whether that’s in the opinions of your spokespeople (i.e. they are given the freedom to venture actual opinions in the media), or perhaps through your social media activity or the way you present yourselves at events, or ideally all of the above and more. This is often the area companies are most nervous about, particularly in financial services where the trend tends to err on the side of conservatism. But so long as you are clear on your brand values, align with them, and use your core issues as a guide, a small amount of common sense typically provides sufficient risk management.
Financial services has been a sector known for innovation (sometimes a little too much so in the recent past) and there will always be occasions where firms have something genuinely ground-breaking to unveil. But for the most part, the focus will be on the twin forces of efficiency and risk reduction: after all, their combination is what is allowing institutions to stay afloat. Against that backdrop, identity becomes more important than ever before. Establish what you want to be known for, display your knowledge of the market, and show a bit of personality. That will set you apart from the pack.