B2B financial services: survival of the nimblest


The world’s getting faster. We move through life at an increasingly rapid pace, compounding everyday stresses. It’s one of the most talked about downsides to the myriad positive things modern technology brings. We are conditioned to want more and sooner. Expectations are high and tolerance levels low. Slow is bad and readily criticised.

It’s a challenge for every business: the need to move quickly, not just to capitalise on opportunities and maintain competitive edge, but to simply stay in the game.

It’s particularly acute in B2B financial services. Inherently conservative and often hamstrung by over-zealous compliance and legal functions, this is a sector that finds agile methods an uphill struggle to begin with. Then there’s the homogeneous nature of the industry. It’s crucial to move quickly when genuine opportunities to differentiate are so rare. Fail to capitalise on one, and it’s likely to be a while before the next comes along.

While this need for agility affects every function of B2B finance businesses, from product development to staffing, marketing teams really feel the pressure. With the responsibility to manage profile and reputation, generate leads and ultimately drive sales, it’s no longer enough for marketing to just be effective. It has to be fast. Regulations change; new competitors appear overnight; once-unique propositions can be replicated at alarming pace.

That’s the reality. But let’s not forget these are shared challenges. Addressed from different angles, they can be minimised. And the with right approach, rewards will come quickly. Here are five ways to stay ahead of the pack:

1. Button down the strategy and dial up the tactical activity

Our work with Nationwide For Intermediaries and The Mortgage Works (the intermediary-facing mortgage divisions of Nationwide Building Society) does this to great effect. By committing to frequent, regular campaign activity, processes are created that facilitate rapid creation and deployment.

Time from brief to multi-channel execution can be as little as four weeks now that all those involved are well-drilled in the workflow. Effectiveness is enhanced when the high frequency (tactical) activity is united by a clear and coherent strategic thread. The most recent campaigns created for The Mortgage Works highlight the multiple ways in which TMW can guide brokers through the current labyrinth of change in the BTL sector. The linking strategic theme is TMW’s commitment to supporting intermediaries and landlords.

The results speak for themselves, with TMW consistently first or second in the specialist mortgage market with outstanding scores for advertising cut-through, lender consideration, and unprompted willingness to recommend, as reported by research consultancy BDRC Continental.

2. Whenever possible, tap into a wider cultural context

We can all be guilty of being too inward-looking, and yet there’s significant potential to be realised when horizons are broadened. In 2012, Aldermore Bank, the first of the post-crunch challengers, had shaped a proposition and positioning around its very British standing. Deposits from UK savers, lent to UK homeowners and SMEs, in turn building the economy and creating more opportunity for saving. A virtuous circle with Aldermore at its heart.

We developed the ‘British Champions’ campaign: a rally cry that encapsulated this positioning at a time when national pride was at a notable high with London hosting the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. The lesson being that there’s much to be gained from moving quickly, and even more from moving quickly with the times.

3. Trust your gut (more)

This of course comes more naturally to some than others. Wherever you sit on the spectrum of data vs instinct, without the luxury of time, accepting you can’t test everything is just something to get used to. If the creative and the rationale underpinning it feels right, go for it. The risk is rarely as big as you think.

I’d even go as far to say (and this from the founder of an agency whose mantra is ‘The idea is king, and delivery rules’), that less than perfect execution is permissible (sharp intake of breath), providing the core idea is strong. Okay, there is a very fine line here, and I’m not condoning poor delivery, but this is a scenario where a balance needs to be had.

In the world of online enterprises, the concept of being in a constant state of beta supports the case for being prepared to sacrifice perfection in order to make progress.

4. Make compliance your best friends

To get to a point of high frequency communications in B2B financial services, joining the departmental dots is fundamental. A close working relationship with the compliance team has the potential to be game-changing. Education is key. Does your compliance team fully understand the speed to market challenge and the commercial value of agility? Are they up to speed with your brand strategy? If so, there’s likely to be less resistance to tactical activity which otherwise might be a harder sell.

All this is easier to achieve if your brand strategy and creative executions are underpinned by strong ideas. The clearer a concept, the easier it is for everyone to understand what’s required to make it a success. And looking at it the other way, can marketing take more ownership of risk, in the spirit of being light-footed?

Getting to better understand each other’s respective challenges – and how you each seek to overcome them – is essential. Doing that together and shaping a process geared towards speed may sound obvious, but it’s a quick win often missed.

5. And finally, don’t sit on anything

In B2B financial services, genuine USPs are painfully rare. Not only that: if you are lucky enough to have one, chances are it can be replicated by competitors with ease. In these situations the imperative to move quickly is even greater.

Amicus Property Finance offer short-term lending solutions of varying types directly to developers and via intermediaries. In the quest to differentiate, Amicus recognised the financial advantage to their clients in the way they calculated their lending amounts – a unique and compelling approach, but not ownable. So, in less than six weeks we developed and delivered the multi-channel ‘In the NET’ campaign. The effect of the email, trade press advertising and direct mail activity was instantaneous, reinvigorating the sales team and delivering previously unmatched levels of broker engagement.

To wrap up (quickly)

The speed-to-market challenge is a very real, though not insurmountable one for B2B financial services. It can certainly be mitigated by improving agility: through preparation and strategy, keeping a finger on the cultural pulse, putting progress over perfection, smart internal communications and striking while the iron’s hot.

The support we provide is vital to the success of the clients and campaigns discussed here. Bolstering your team’s capability, with an agency that understands the sector, its fundamental challenges, and is able to deliver effective strategy and creative at pace, could help you stay one step ahead.

But let’s leave it there – you’ve got things to get on with.

About Alastair

Founder and Creative Director

Ali co-founded mark-making* in 1995 after graduating from Lancaster University in Marketing & Visual Arts. Ali works closely with our clients to help bring clarity to their story, and oversees the wider mm* team to ensure it’s expressed effectively, with authenticity and coherence. Ali regularly speaks on the concept of Magnetic Brands, an approach to creating and building brands that embraces the power of being more human, in pursuit of both profit and positive impact. Ali leads mark-making’s work in helping ambitious organisations of all shapes and sizes build extraordinary and enduring appeal.