European Survey

The CFA Financial Marketing Report

Survey reveals that brand differentiation is the number one marketing challenge facing commercial finance firms today.

An industry study conducted by the CFA in conjunction with Financial Marketing, a marketing agency with a long track history in the ABL sector, paints a fascinating picture of the current marketing challenges that CFA members are encountering, the key tactics they are employing today and the hottest trends that they believe will drive future success.


The necessity to stand out from the crowd was highlighted as a critical issue by more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents, comprising leaders of asset-based lending firms in the US and European markets, sponsors and advisors. Despite this, only half of the respondents said that they had succeeded in improving brand awareness over the last year.


The next key challenges facing the industry are ‘acquiring new customers’, ‘having a strategic marketing focus’ and ‘new product development’.


The findings also indicate that 77% of those surveyed feel that the main obstacle to their organisation’s growth is countering the competition, with differentiation obviously playing a significant factor. Firms also cited low price unmonitored finance, regulation and credit committee appetite as distinctly limiting opportunities for expansion.          


75% of CFA members were of the view that they had achieved the previous year’s objectives in terms of improving engagement and building customer relationships. 67% had seen an increase in sales and profits and 58% reported an increase in leads generated and conversion.      


Whilst these are constants in terms of key strategic objectives for all lenders, branding and customer acquisition are clearly top of mind for a significant proportion of those surveyed right now and so it is not surprising that the most important marketing imperatives are to

·      Boost brand awareness

·      Maintain thought leadership

·      Drive sales leads, Improve conversion / customer acquisition

·      And deliver seamless product provision


With thought leadership featuring so highly as part of the wider communications mix, it is important to note that the top two content marketing challenges were considered to be ‘producing engaging content’ and ‘measuring content effectiveness. ‘Producing a variety of content’ and ‘ensuring that this is produced consistently’ were also considered to be important.

The industry will be increasing its investment in marketing. 73% of respondents said that their budgets were likely to increase, with only 27% saying they would remain the same. However, surprisingly in an increasingly metrics and ROI-evidenced environment, 58% of those surveyed disclosed that they had invested less than 10% of their budgets towards online marketing initiatives.


That doesn’t mean to say that digital marketing is not in evidence. Today, email marketing stands out as the top distribution channel being employed by 64% of participants.  Traditional media relations and print followed closely behind and website content, tradeshows and events and social media marketing again featured strongly.


Lenders outsource marketing activities to agencies because they consider them to be a cost efficient resource and they deliver value through a combination of industry knowledge and creative thinking. Evidently, understanding of the industry was a key criteria for selecting an external marketing partner as 71% have elected to use a specialist financial agency, as opposed to a generalist firm.


Jurisdictions targeted are wide-ranging with UK and US leading the field followed by Germany, Holland, Austria, Canada. France and Eastern Europe. New jurisdictions being targeted include Africa, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe Holland and Germany.


The main event-driven activity funded by respondents was acquisitions, cited by 45% of respondents, followed by growth, refinance for greater headroom and then turnarounds.


Financial Marketing’s Reflections

Michael Porter warns us that “We need to start moving into the next phase, which is one of strategy, the phase in which individual banks make choices about how they are going to be distinctive, how they’re going to be unique, how they’re going to set themselves apart.”


Great strides are clearly being made in terms of customer acquisition. However, differentiating on brand is now a key strategic priority for commercial finance organisations, but they are struggling to achieve it on their own. 

To cut through, commercial finance businesses also need to have a leader’s voice, not a vanilla voice covering the topics of the everyday.

For a marketing strategy to be successful, an integrated approach to thought leadership and content development is critical:

Coherence – are different communications logically connected?

Consistency – are multiple messages supported and reinforced, rather than contradictory?

Continuity – are communications connected and consistent through time?

Complementary – is the sum of the parts greater than the whole?”

Scanning through the advertisements of financial organisations in trade magazines it is notable that many commercial finance firms are claiming exactly the same attributes as unique selling propositions within their respective journals.

What differentiates us is our people, service, flexibility and innovation. Peppering journals, brochures and web sites seems to us to be having the opposite effect to what these companies intended.


Ironically, it follows that the greater the organisational focus on these commonly held attribute areas, the more similar these companies must appear in the eyes of their potential customers.

To achieve long-term success in today’s customer-driven marketplace, you first need to differentiate your differentiation strategy.


About Financial Marketing

Financial Marketing is a specialist, full-service marketing, branding and design agency with one simple mission ­ to help financial brands shine brighter than ever before.


The agency’s services span brand strategy and consulting, design and digital, direct-mail, social, mobile, print and much more. Their approach is truly integrated, channel neutral, award-winning and proven.


Financial Marketing supports some of the world’s leading institutions and comes to the table with all of the senior client and big agency experience that clients need.


As financial specialists, the team hits the ground running to create and build clients’ sustainable competitive advantage.


Every marketing discipline is covered, giving them the ability to deliver everything from ring-fenced projects to fully integrated, multi-disciplinary campaigns that will light up clients’ markets.


Their people have decades of experience as directors and creative talents in major financial organisations and agencies. Which means they have the expertise, deep branding knowledge and commercial acumen that will add value from strategic concepts through to creative delivery.


Financial Marketing lives and breathes commercial finance brands and branding:

They invent them from scratch.

They re-invent and revitalise them.

They look at them and see things nobody else has noticed.

They search until they discover what makes them special and communicate that through strategic design thinking and faultless execution.


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