FinTech PR and the Strategic Pivot: Navigating a Dynamic Industry

May 3, 2017

- Peter Czyryca, Boston

As we close the books on the first quarter of 2017, the fintech industry has many reasons to be optimistic, despite the geo-political shockwaves that kept some investors on the sidelines last year. According to KPMG’s latest quarterly update, “The Pulse of Fintech,” robust venture capital funding of $13.6 billion more than offset declines in M&A and private equity investments, which shows the industry was resilient in light of the Brexit and U.S. election tumult.

“A successful fintech company will likely need to pivot their business several times to rise above the competition. When they do, these organizations will need the entire company, including its marketing and public relations resources, pulling in the same direction and as efficiently as possible.”

The KPMG research also highlights the maturation of certain fintech sectors such as payments and lending and the significant leaps made by other, more-fledgling segments, including regtech and solutions providers leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning. This organic progression, combined with the trend of banks and larger institutions snapping up both established and nascent brands, should propel further innovation and investment within fintech.

The industry is certainly dynamic, which works both for and against its development.

Growth and investment is certainly positive, but the rush into sectors such as payments and robo-investing has created a glut in which weaker brands, if they can’t build critical mass, are often cannibalized for assets and intellectual property. At the recent Lendit Conference, for instance, OnDeck’s Noah Breslow compared the online lending market of today to the online brokerages of the early aughts, in which 140 operators was quickly winnowed down to just five major players following a rapid shakeout.

Competition is a cornerstone of a healthy industry but when it occurs too quickly, companies may have to act swiftly and pivot their business to new verticals or markets. This effort to re-imagine an offering or service can be critical to establishing a larger value proposition that instills permanence in the face of a potential shakeout.

We’ve all heard of the economic moats that companies such as beverage stalwarts Coca-Cola or Pepsi enjoy, the barrier to entry in the soft drink industry is too impenetrable to entice serious competition.

Unlike large, corporate behemoths, a fintech company’s ‘moat’ is often not as deep and is under constant attack by other nimble, cost-efficient competitors. As data volumes and computing power grows, it’s often the newer players -- who don’t have to service outdated software or technology for legacy clients -- who can come in to a given market with a distinct advantage. It’s often the unfamiliar startups who are creating enhanced solutions that challenge existing business models. To compound matters, in today’s 140-character, shorter-attention-span world, both consumers and businesses want and need change at a more rapid pace than ever before.

Given this landscape, a successful fintech company will likely need to pivot their business several times to rise above the competition. When they do, these organizations will need the entire company, including its marketing and public relations resources, pulling in the same direction and as efficiently as possible. Move too slowly or neglect to implement a cohesive, holistic plan and ‘the next big thing’ is on the scene, forcing a reactionary pivot.

Here then, is a PR roadmap for success as it relates to achieving a successful pivot in a dynamic industry:

Ensure the entirety of the brand reflects the new focus/approach

What at first may seem obvious can easily be overlooked due to getting bogged down in altering your firm’s business strategy and executing upon it. This step is crucial in showcasing the company’s new direction, additional focus or new target audience. It should encompass everything from updating your website to reflect the new vertical or focus, to changing marketing collateral and updating social media channels. Whether it’s aimed at potential business prospects or the media, you want to be sure the public-facing components of your firm match and reflect the changes you’re discussing in the boardroom.

Buy-in and media training of all company spokespeople

You’ll want to be sure that all company spokespeople are trained and consistent when it comes to the new positioning of the firm, particularly if the sales focus shifts from B2C to B2B or vice versa. Ideally the sales team, marketing team and all media spokespeople are utilizing an updated elevator pitch combined with basic core messages. The greatest innovation or enhancement means little if the new message is confusing or, worse, conflicts with the old message.

Develop a thought leadership platform

Assuming a platform for insights or blogs isn’t already in place, carve out a portion of your website to reflect opinions and thought leadership focusing on the company’s new endeavors. Consistency is critical to build an audience and create a routine within the organization, so aim of at least one new post per month. A thought leadership platform is a great place to share the messaging you want the public, prospects and media to consume. It’s also important to leverage this content via social media channels, including Twitter and LinkedIn, amplifying the message to your networks. Lastly, it serves as reinforcement for other efforts, including proactive media outreach, bylined content placement or advertising.

Think in quarters

Establishing a quarterly-focused media plan is an effective way to be sure you're regularly pushing out fresh content tied to applicable trends or current events that reflect the revised focus of the business. Ideally, it ties in a variety of tactics, including blog posts, bylined articles, social media and proactive media outreach, all supporting a specific theme that showcases thought leadership and expertise. Such a plan helps your messaging stay consistent through quieter periods such as during the summer or around the holidays.

Feedback and communication

An ongoing feedback loop should be implemented, whereby the sales team shares intelligence gleaned from being out in the field. This gives leadership, marketing, and the public relations team valued insights so they can better speak to clients’ specific business needs and understand the customer journey. Even the best-laid plans encounter the occasional bump and require pivots. The same is true with the press. If something isn’t resonating with the end-user it likely won’t resonate with the media. What’s working (or isn’t) and why? Share both positive and negative intel as both can have an impact on media strategy.