CASE STUDY: Why a strong brand is more important than ever for FS entrants

Sally Mackerell

Sally Mack is Co-founder and Client Director at EveryFriday, a creative agency that developed the brand identity for the new sustainably-minded bank Ashman.

Today, more than any other recent time, we live in an age of high inflation and economic instability, with consumers up and down the country grappling with rising household bills and businesses facing increasing uncertainty around their financial future. Feeling unsettled is the new normal.

At the same time, in recent years we have seen numerous challenger brands entering the Financial Services market, offering shiny new products and services to potential customers in a bid to win their business and pull them away from the more traditional, and arguably more trusted banks.

To put this in perspective, as of July 2023, Europe alone was home to 105 challenger banks, the highest number worldwide, according to research by Statista. That’s a lot of “new”, and a lot of “challenge”.

Given the current economic turbulence and the volume of new entrants competing in the financial market, never has it been more important for FS businesses to invest in a strong brand, not only to attract customers and win their trust, but to secure their place in the increasingly competitive landscape.

We were fortunate to recently create the brand identity and creative expression for the new sustainably-minded bank Ashman, which was designed to cut through the category clunk and reveal a new way forward for property SMEs and savers. With a specific target audience in mind, we needed to be fairly nuanced in our approach to the positioning and brand narrative, investing a lot of time in understanding the key audience group of property developers and investors.

Three key principles helped to guide our process – and other FS brands can learn from these when considering and developing their own face to market:


  1. A strong personality and tone is paramount, a clear point of view is better

Whilst it might seem to state the obvious, it’s all too often short-cut: focus on your priority customer group and invest time in understanding what their specific challenges are, particularly against the backdrop of the current economic climate. Genuinely show them that you understand their world and that you’re a worthy partner to address their specific challenges. This requires having a clear point of view on the world that they live and work in, and the way things could be for them. Spend time researching your customer group and be as pointed with them in your communication as possible from the outset to ensure clarity and to avoid potential misinterpretations.

We ran a series of focus groups, including with brokers, developers and internal stakeholders, coordinating Q&A conversations with each to make sure we really understood the challenges they were faced with. Right from the start we were very conscious that this was a group that makes things happen, at scale and pace, so it wasn’t just about saying we can support them in doing that, but also that we understood how frustrating it was when those things didn’t happen. We established a strong point of view, that things can – and should – be better for property entrepreneurs and their important work in the UK economy. And our convictions were grounded in the Ashman proposition.

  1. Focus on the future-state, but be cognisant of the ‘now’

When creating a brand identity for a new player, it’s crucial to think ahead as much as it is to be practical about the here and now. For a brand at the start of their journey, what’s required is a future-focused approach, to ensure that what you’re creating from a brand perspective can grow as the business grows. The business of a start-up will look very different in one year, let alone five years, so the brand has to work as a promise for the company to grow into – one that allows each new product, service and feature launched as further evidence of this promise.

By their very nature, many FS brands are scale-up businesses, looking to grow quickly and with that be as adaptable as possible. This can come with a sense of discomfort in building something that feels quite a stretch from where you may be at present, but it’s vital to ensure the creation of an agile and future-facing brand that can adapt as the world around it adapts. That discomfort is key, if the creative is too comfortable – it’s likely not good enough.

  1. Involve teams across every area of the business

It’s an age-old truth that a brand is its people, and this is even more true for a business in its inception. In-house teams, experts and colleagues are absolutely key when creating a new brand identity, particularly within the FS industry. For us, it was invaluable to have input and feedback at key points from the Ashman team and their wider network, sense-checking the work at evolving stages across all functions of the business. We needed them to feel a synergy with what we were doing, to ensure we were accurately representing their vision, their expertise and their passion.

Being a scale-up, we were dealing with a lot of new people joining at different times, all bringing new skills and perspectives to the process. So, in order for us to build a brand identity that was ready for the future, we needed to ensure everyone was aligned on our approach and suggested route forward.

Speaking generally here, within scale-up FS, there tends to be a lot of technical expertise, while often less experience from the marketing and branding worlds. Therefore, opening up the process more and involving the wider team from the outset is an important learning curve to achieving a fully aligned creative route that people can get behind. And see the brand as an important part of commercial growth.

New entrants to the FS market, while they might be at different stages of their business journey, are all ultimately building at pace and looking to scale; the journey of scale-up is a rollercoaster. It’s vital therefore to be laser focused on where you’re heading – and a strong brand identity can help to achieve that. While at the same time, a strong brand identity also creates excitement and energy for the next chapter of growth, motivating teams and supporting their decision making.

The right agency partner is right there with you in that rollercoaster seat, enjoying the ride but knowing the whole time that it’s never been more important.


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