A wealth of experience

July 29, 2020

Phil Lowery, founder of brand communications agency Projector, speaks to North East Times about his 17 years’ experience branding businesses within the financial services sector

As a brand consultancy, you have a lot of financial services experience. Tell us how it started?

When I started Projector 17 years ago, it wasn’t our intention to specialise in financial services but, after 24 months, it felt like it could have been. We were getting client after client in that sector and gained knowledge at a rapid rate. Our very first project was for Positive Solutions, a North East-based financial advice network which looked to us to help with their recruitment of advisors. That project was the start of a long and successful relationship – we partnered with the company’s owner through a range of brand and marketing challenges. From helping to recruit advisors in the early days to rebranding once it had become the UK’s biggest network a few years later, Projector provided creative support for ten years. We were hugely fortunate that our client understood the role brand played in a successful business, and he invested in that. As part of the brand-building activity, we produced creative campaigns, launched a digital presence and created various pieces of sales collateral, including an award-winning annual report. The relationship gave us a lot of exposure to that sector – at one point, their National Conferences would attract 1500 advisors and industry experts. The design and production of that conference acted as a real-life case study of our work, and we benefitted by attracting new clients off the back of it. At one point, we were working with 14 financial advice firms ranging from sole trader and firms with ten advisors up to Positive Solutions, the UK’s largest network of 1800 advisors.

So is your experience rooted in the ‘pinstripe suits’ area of financial advice?

Not at all. Following the sale of Positive Solutions to insurance giant Aegon, we continued to work with the company but several start-ups also emerged as a result. One of which was True Potential, which began its business journey as a technology firm providing back-office solutions to financial advisors in the UK. In 17 years, Projector’s team has worked with advisors, banks, fintech firms, and right now, we’re working with an investment management brand on its digital presence. Our knowledge of the market and FCA regulations make us an easy choice for clients with challenges in this sector. We’ve also had experience outside of the UK too with Fusion Group, a unique financial services organisation with headquarters in London and Nairobi. The group commissioned us to create a new visual language for its family of businesses. As the company had become more established, there was a need to create a more professional and contemporary identity to enable the businesses to communicate their proposition more effectively. The new identity needed to capture Fusion as sophisticated and dynamic, as well as reflect its location and appeal in an African marketplace. We created a brand family that bridged the gap between the UK finance sector and the African local private equity sector and gave Fusion Group a set of guidelines for future communications.

Has the advancement of technology impacted the sector?

Technology has changed the way the firms work but it’s also had a huge effect on how financial products are transacted. In the early days of Projector, obtaining financial advice and products would be done using people, so a large part of the brand we were creating for clients would focus on personal service. As technology has advanced, so has the financial sectors use and dependence
of it – which in a traditional sector is sometimes opposed. A great example of this was our work with Credit Suisse. When the financial giant formed a new global IT department, it needed help to communicate the department’s role to the rest of the organisation, which required an internal marketing campaign. This campaign helped to educate Credit Suisse employees about the new department, ensuring they were able to align behind it, understand the importance of it and how it would enable them to deliver a great brand experience to clients.

So the use of technology has meant adapting clients’ brands in the financial sector?

Technology has allowed clients to offer products and services that weren’t possible ten years ago. Fintech has made it increasingly easier to buy investments online, so we’re talking more and more about the benefits of that over service – many service brands have morphed into product brands. Recently, we worked with True Potential, helping it launch a new investment platform, True Potential Investor – an online DIY investment proposition that allows someone to open an account from as little as £100 with no financial advice. As this was a new market for us and the client, we undertook market research, carried out competitor analysis and we guided the leadership team through a series of branding workshops. These workshops helped us understand True Potential Investor’s offer in-depth and define its positioning model, target audience and look and feel of the brand. Those sessions identified some authentic values and captured what we wanted the point of difference to be moving forward. They also helped energise and motivate the leadership team, leaving everyone with a shared understanding of what True Potential Investor would represent.

Why is brand building so crucial in the financial sector?

Essentially, we’re talking about money. So people are naturally going to need to trust any business they are committing their money to – be it their life savings or a pot for a rainy day.

With a reputation still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis and ever-increasing reports of security concerns, public perception of the financial services sector remains mostly negative. A UK survey conducted by YouGov placed the reputation of the sector at number 26 out of 26, ranking even lower than the gambling industry.

The solution is, unsurprisingly, effective brand building. Cultivating a strong brand identity offers a host of benefits for financial services firms, from building trust and creating value to boosting employee engagement and, most significantly, giving customers more reasons to say yes.

With the experience you have, what advice would you give to financial brands?

Never forget your brand DNA. What does your brand stand for? Your values will not only drive internal thinking, but it will also help you connect externally with your audience and act as a barometer for decisions.

Then ask, are your brand messages relevant? Determine your meaningful difference and precisely what sets you aside from the other brands out there. Why should clients come to you over the competition?

Importantly, avoid safe clichés and tired claims. Yes, you often face a complex challenge of selling the intangible; but when everyone uses terms like ‘value’, ‘quality’ and ‘service’ to describe themselves, differentiation becomes nigh on impossible. Our brand discovery process is designed to give some objective perspective and dig deep enough to find that true point of difference – so do seek our help if you need it.

For more information contact Phil on phil@yourprojector.com

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