Disrupting the Financial Services Industry and the Communication Headaches that Follow


Disrupting the Financial Services Industry and the Communication Headaches that Follow


Tracey Gordon, Founder, TargetPitching LLC

There was a time – actually not that long ago – when financial services firms were able to introduce new ideas or products and solidify first-to-market brand awareness before others emulated the success. Fidelity, Vanguard, and Blackrock did it in asset management. Schwab did it in the brokerage industry. Amex did it with cards. PayPal did it with online payments.

Times have changed as new companies disrupt old, rush to market with new ideas, new technologies and new ways of expanding how people invest and spend their money.

The speed at which this fundamental alteration of the traditional landscape is happening so rapidly, that the fear of stagnation, of being left behind, has irrevocably altered how fast decisions on business strategy, marketing campaigns and messaging have to be made.

Firms used to be able to establish early dominance with smart ideas that were so attractive to customers that the company became synonymous with not just the idea, but the entire market that grew around it. And the numbers were astounding. In each of the examples above, growth numbered in the trillions of money flows or spending transactions

When the numbers are that large and the potential so great, something else happens.

It’s not exclusive to financial services, but occurs across all industries when new, very popular ideas come to market.

With so much at stake, a very expensive differentiation battle begins. Competitors who want to remain relevant don’t sit idly by. The idea originators who have become the leaders in the space don’t intend to relinquish what they’ve built. Very quickly billions are being spent across every channel that reaches a potential customer – sales, advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media.

Over the years, the communication cottage industry spinning around financial services has created many memorable and innovative campaigns. This gave practitioners an important seat at the table in the success stories for leading firms like Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity, Amex, JP Morgan etc.

The fact that this industry is so prone to disruption has created continual need and opportunity for smart communicators who can quickly adapt to change.

But, today change is happening faster than ever, impacting more of the industry than ever, and with greater consequences than ever before.

In the past, putting aside extreme market downturns, but focusing on new product or service introductions, the time allowed for adjusting could be slower, companies could react more methodically while building the communication campaigns around them.

Today, the speed of change is not just fast, but also splintering every segment of the industry, from investment management, to banking, Wall Street, payments, lending, funding and every part of the technology and component elements of the back and front-end that support and drive the space. Thank you very much blockchain.

What this means, is that communication and differentiated storylines have to happen at all levels, from the overall company, the separate channels that reach different customers, and if it’s a global company with multiple business lines across time zones, it all has to be adapted and localized for non-US regions.

So, how are marketing and communicators handling all the disruption?

Let’s just say it’s all a work in progress as in-house teams and consulting firms figure how to message about the new competitors, plan for their own reaction product, and then wrap the specific messaging into the overall firm’s communication and branding.

And, that all has to happen in a media and advertising arena that too has fundamentally changed, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The most important thing for any communicator to know now, is that we must go deep into the changes and their impact. What’s happening is complex and knowledge gets us that seat at the table. Being just a communicator means we’re outside the early decision making. It’s why the very best are industry and trend experts first and foremost. We must have the business knowledge and understand both the details and the broader trends. Only then can we provide the very best advice on how to tell a company’s story.

About the Author: Tracey Gordon became one of the most sought-after communication strategists during her years with four of the most prominent global financial firms –  Fidelity Investments, Morgan Stanley, Charges Schwab and ING, where she acquired a reputation among reporters and executives for crafting some of the most impactful industry campaigns. Her ability to understand both the complexities of the business and shifting media landscape helped her become an important advisor to the C-suite. That, coupled with her intuitive sense of what will connect with the marketplace, helped these firms become the industry leaders they are today. As a senior executive with Edelman’s Corporate Group, Tracey counseled many of their largest clients, and was part of the global Executive Positioning team.

Today, she is mirroring those achievements through her own firm www.targetpitching.com, which designs differentiation strategies for companies looking to stand out in a crowded media world, grow market share, and frustrate disruptors and competitors.



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