I was perusing over Chris Skinner’s blog post “Here’s what the new normal looks like” when I realised that, while Covid’s impact on funding, digital transformation, ESG and regulatory issues in the fintech space have been hotly debated, little has been written about how communications have to change, and specifically, the media landscape.
The fact that blogs like Chris’ are seeing higher web traffic as no doubt 11:FS and the Financial Brand are too, says a great deal about the shifting sands fintech PR and marketing folk are trying to navigate, as fintech professionals seek insight and advice to navigate the crisis.
From VC funding falling to its lowest level since 2016 to digital banks struggling for sign-ups and big banks trying to keep the economy going while most of their staff WFH, fintech has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The fintech winners and losers have been fiercely debated. One group that is facing new threats and opportunities is media publications.
One hand giveth, the other taketh away
The Covid-19 crisis has created a challenging media landscape.
On one hand, the crisis has exacerbated a fall in advertising revenue for publications. Many outlets are running skeleton editorial staff, and those that are working have a heavy focus on Covid-19 stories - this is where the clicks and shares are at the moment. Bigger titles across the business and national media are similarly affected but not as acutely.
On the other hand, with no face-to-face communication, media outlets and the journalists that work for them have become an “essential service” for our industry. Media provide an independent and curated platform for information sharing. Critically, media outlets have the trust and eyeballs of industry decision makers. As marketers and their colleagues in sales grapple with how to sell in a pandemic, there is growing recognition that media is one of the best channels to raise awareness and drive sales leads.
Our report “How to influence fintech buyers?” indicates that trade media is the third biggest influence on the selection of a technology buyer by a major bank or fintech, for example.
Smart PR agencies and marketers should be exploring how earned and paid media can help brands drive the industry agenda and, frankly, provide a platform for sales.
What should fintech brands do? It’s about you, not me
The Covid crisis has created a challenge for brands around relevance and tact.
The crisis is the number one topic of discussion. We have seen requests from journalists covering “How will Covid-19 accelerate a cashless society?” through to “What are financial service providers doing to ensure operational resilience in response to the pandemic?”
If brands want to maintain visibility and join the conversation, they need to have news and opinion on the impact of Covid-19. But this must be done with tact. Simply jumping on the bandwagon and pushing out a hastily prepared Covid-19 press release about how your company employees are working from home will look uninteresting at best, and ambulance chasing at worst.
Brands need to explore how they can meaningfully add to the debate. Anything too introspective is likely to look self-serving. Some key questions include:
- Operational steps: What are you doing as a business to mitigate the crisis both internally and externally? What unusual steps have you taken to protect staff and ensure continuity of service for customers? Taking about Zoom isn’t enough.
- Immediate issues and threats: What are the issues your customers (and customers’ customers) are facing? Some firms may be unaware of potential issues and threats. By identifying issues at a macro-level, we can help industry stakeholders see if they face the same challenges. And any ‘owned data’ that can quantify these issues is hugely valuable in a time rife with conjecture and speculation.
- Addressing client and market needs: How are you helping your customers to manage the crisis? We’ve learned that some clients are actively working on Covid issues around access, pricing, limits, etc, and often in partnership with industry or government. Sharing how to combat these issues is valuable to other firms in the same position.
- Industry leadership: Is there a need for leadership or a coordinated response? We’re seeing companies unite behind initiatives to create an industry level response. Is this something your brand could consider? The whole is often greater than the sum of its parts after all.
- Foresight and projections: Does the business have a position on what the impact will be on its market and its customers’ markets? If we have insight into potential impacts, brands can educate the market on what they are and ideally, suggest tactics to help mitigate.
PR beyond the pandemic
We don’t know how long the crisis will last, but one thing is clear, the way brands engage with the market needs to change. The media landscape is just one part of it, albeit an incredibly important part.
Digital channels will take precedence and there will be increased competition for the attention of buyers, influencers and policy makers. They will be looking for insight that helps them to address their immediate challenges – both Covid and non-Covid related.
Looking to the future, brands will need to change how they communicate across three key areas:
- Awareness: With the media facing challenges, firms need to explore owned, paid and shared channels to build awareness more directly with key audiences. Non-traditional media and industry influencers will become more important, as firms explore and experiment with new platforms.
- Engagement: We need to take a lead from fintech practitioners – fintech marketing must be 100% digital because engagement is 100% digital. From virtual events to webinars and podcasts, we need better content, better platforms and better value exchanges to drive the conversations necessary for business growth.
- Sales: With even less focus on human contact than before, more and more decision making will be made without direct engagement with the brand. Prospective customers will make selections based purely on your online presence so web assets need to filter and funnel prospects expertly, meet their objections head-on, and provide evidence of success.
Now is the time to start developing our thinking around longer-lead, strategic campaigns designed to maintain awareness, alter the industry agenda, influence policy or create market demand.
Some things won’t change - content will remain king. And shared content even more so. With so much “stuff” out there especially around Covid-19, stakeholders are seeking guidance from authority, which means that partnering with industry leaders and experts can make the difference between success and failure.
Fintech was created by crisis, and its future will be defined by this one.
Brands that continue to demonstrate company value, showcase thought leadership, and engage with the market, will be the ones that ride out the storm and emerge stronger for it on the other side.