February 14, 2019

For Love Or Money?

Happy Valentine’s Day. We love you and we want you to have a great brand position for whatever it is you are growing.

We spend our days testing brand positions for product launches and repositionings with real live people. As a result, we constantly scan the landscape for canny branding practitioners.

Where better to look than the scads of fintech startups duking it out for millennial love? So much competition surely drives innovation. Indeed, we found some positioning gems, but only after a lengthy taxonomic exercise of sorting all the brand position copycats into groups.

The problem is, a lot of these budgeting, saving, and investing apps are pretty similar: many of them use automation to allow users to set it and forget it.And quite a few use similar methodologies (the envelope system, for one) as the structural basis for their offerings. It’s hard not to be a copycat, and making the wrong decision about which of a range of attributes to emphasize is probably fatal for at least some of these companies (although according to some sources, failure rates are relatively low for this sector).

How can you use this analysis? Even if you are not targeting millennials with fintech, many of these brand positions are extensible to other product categories. And it’s also a good lesson in how hard it can be to stand out.
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Anyone Can!

With a level of earnestness that reminds us of helicopter parents at a T-ball game, the Anyone Can! brand position is all about ease. Managing money, apparently, is simple. “Budgeting just got easy,” announces Everydollar. “Anyone can grow wealth,” adds Acorns, the senior player in this group.

Of course, a brand position isn’t worth much unless you can back it up with a product that fulfills its promise. And to be fair, apps like Stash and Stockpile allow you to “start with just $5,” which sounds pretty easy. But there is a sameness to all of the offerings: nearly every front door is a monotony of brand, tagline, and product image.

Takeaway: “Easy” is a reliable value proposition. But it seems to be table-stakes in the fintech market so it doesn’t seem like a sufficient differentiator.

We Got This.

Don’t have time to manage your affairs? “You can forget about saving money,”Digit tell us, because automation will handle everything. OK, baby, you can drive my car while you’re at it, too.

Clearly the We Got This brand position is a close relative of Anyone Can! But rather than cheering you on in your personal finance learning journey, We Got This suggests that you really don’t need to think much at all. Albert, for example, “does the work for you,” and Albert’s friend Wally is “seamless, intuitive.”

Some of the offerings in this group, like Simple and M1 Finance (“the 1 finance account that does it all”), promote not just automation but one-stop-shopping, too, for banking and budgeting.

Takeaway: As AI becomes a thing, we’ll see more of this brand position, which will increasingly become a table-stakes attribute and therefore less of a differentiator.

Take That, Plutocrat!

Anger as brand position always seemed a little risky until recently, when everyone is publicly outraged about something. Why shouldn’t your personal finance app be a little huffy, too?

For those eager to sock it to the plutocrats, Blooom is an “affordable” 401K management option “for the 99%.” If your indignation is a little milder, say goodbye to “ridiculous” fees with Chime. Or check out WiseBanyan, where “investing should be a right—not a privilege.”

But our absolute favorite in the Take That, Plutocrat! category is ClarityMoney, “champion of your money.” At Clarity, “we’ve got your back.” It’s another all-in-one approach in this case brought to you by—Goldman Sachs. Yep, vampire squid is there for you.

Takeaway: Frankly, co-opting genuine outrage against the financial establishment feels just a tiny bit disingenuous when your investors are large financial institutions (every one of the companies mentioned has a traditional financial institution among its backers). We recommend a back-up plan based more on product attributes that, in the long run, can drive retention via more positive emotion (I <3 my personal finance app).


Money Mindfullness

While outrage may affect some people when they think about personal finance, surely fear ranks higher on the list of money-related emotions. And indeed, one group of fintech apps touts the calming effect they have on taut nerves. “Never worry,” purrs Prism, a bill management platform, “...breathe easy.” Budgeting program Mvelopes asks, “does worrying about debt keep you up at night?” and offers “financial peace of mind.”

Related positions focus on managing money with intention. Goodbudget, for example, urges you to “budget with a why.” And YNAB (you need a budget) exhorts you to be “intentional.”

Takeaway: This brand position seems at risk of trendiness, but the underlying offer—peace of mind—is appropriate for this category. Again, a little product-related substance would go a long way.

Points For Originality

Which fintech apps manage to stand out through their positioning? Here are a few brand positions that stand apart from the herd.  
Flattery
Is Betterment for you? Sure, if you "refuse to settle for average" and “demand better.” Betterment is "smart, modern." If you use it, you must be too, right?
All About You
"Your loan, tailored for you." Peer-to-peer personal loan provider Prosper offers customization, which feels like a very strong value proposition for users committed to being responsible about debt. Suspect we will see more of this position as automation in fintech matures.
It’s Fun! Or At Least Not Awful 100% of the Time.
"Spin to win!" If you would rather watch Wheel of Fortune than think about your financial future, gamification-focused Long Game has your number.
Join the Outlaw
It's hard not to admire Robinhood's branding. Start with a heroic archetype, keep the value proposition simple (“invest for free”), design a lean logo, and don't screw it up with any sappy Merry Men ridiculousness. It seems to be working.


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