Hal Bienstock and Philippa Ushio, Managing Directors at Prosek Partners
It wasn’t long ago that fintech was the catch-all label for any company bringing financial technology to market. Of course, grouping companies that build banking infrastructure tools or back-office systems with those that deliver budgeting or stock trading apps never made much sense.
The result is that every company now must also belong to a sub-category: proptech, insurtech, HRtech, and so on. While a company description may seem like the least of a founder’s worries, how a business is categorized can have a dramatic impact on its valuation.
The way a company talks about itself sends a strong signal to the market both about where it is today and its future ambitions. If a corporate narrative is too broad, it will get lost in a sea of same. If it’s too limiting, it will quickly become outdated, making it impossible for customers, investors, and recruits to understand a business’ full potential.
So, how do you build a narrative that can truly articulate your value and prevent your company from being ‘assumed’ to be part of an inaccurate category?
First, talk to your customers – get a sense of how they see you now and what they will want from you in the future. Doing this effectively requires more than just the occasional focus group. Build a think tank of trusted customers with whom you have an excellent relationship and see room to expand. These are the best clients to speak to, as they will be able to articulate how you are different or better than the competition and/or how you are filling gaps in the marketplace.
Of course, the danger of spending too much time with people who love you is that you wind up ignoring critical voices. Supplement your go-to clients with non-customers who fit your target personas to keep things fresh.
Next, talk to your leadership team. Is the way they describe the company consistent? Do they share the same vision for the future? Is their thinking – and the words and language they use – aligned with what you are hearing from customers?
It’s also wise to speak with investors during this process. They have a critical perspective when it comes to differentiation and growth, and their considerations should be factored into your narrative.
Once this listening process is complete, it’s time to make a list of your true differentiators. As you do this, consider which differentiators allow you to build a deep moat and which are fleeting. After all, as technology advances, what was once revolutionary or disruptive may not be in the future.
Consider the insurtech space. It wasn’t long ago that a strong UX was all it took for a company to raise hundreds of millions of dollars and eventually go public. Today, many of these companies are struggling with challenging share price performance, as improving the insurance purchasing experience has gone from disruptive to table stakes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t many insurtech companies that are doing something truly different. But it does mean they face headwinds because they are lumped in as part of the ‘insurtech’ category that the public markets are nervous about.
So, ask yourself – are you a speed and convenience brand, making it faster and easier for customers to do something they are already doing? And is that speed and convenience advantage sustainable? Or are you truly creating technology that opens completely new categories? Perhaps you are a little bit of both, using one to enable the other.
Now write it down – or hire a communications branding agency to do it for you. Then use it. Use it everywhere – your website and social channels of course, but also during media interviews, conference appearances, recruiting sessions, cocktail parties and more.
Then create a disciplined process to revisit this narrative process every year. Firm strategy often evolves from year to year. The articulation of your brand narrative should too. Those small but important tweaks can keep you from having to explain to investors, “We are this; we aren’t that.”
By regularly identifying and articulating who and what you are, you’ll be able to more effectively tell the story of your brand, helping you keep pace with evolving customer, investor, and employee needs, and laying the groundwork for continued growth.
Catch-all creep is out there – don’t let it get you.
About the Authors: Philippa Ushio and Hal Bienstock are Managing Directors at Prosek Partners, a strategic communications and integrated marketing firm focused on the financial services, technology and professional services sectors.