“We’re not just a partner, we’re an extension of the team”.
It’s something all in-house leaders will have heard a thousand times – but what does it actually mean?
From direct brand-consumer relationships to retained client partnerships, 2023 has brought a rising wave of focus for business leaders on retaining and strengthening existing relationships with clients and customers alike.
Enter, ‘Added Value’.
The idea of providing ‘added value’ to clients and customers might not be brand new, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new opportunities and approaches to be found.
In this conversation with James Bridgman, Head of Global Marketing at Pollinate, he shares his perspective on the value of collaborative approaches to partnerships across the FinTech space, and the role that marketing leaders may have to play in bringing this to life.
James Bridgman is currently Head of Global Marketing at Pollinate International, running Pollinate's marketing, brand building and awareness, plus lead gen programmes. He also leads on partnership development with global brands and strategic go to market advice for banking clients.
“In a way, I have experienced my career in reverse.
Most people work for a big company, and then leave and set up on their own – after my post grad in photojournalism, I began setting myself up as a as a designer, which quickly evolved into an agency called Silverleaf, which I ran for 18 years.
Silverleaf was primarily focused on brand strategy and implementation for start-ups or scale-ups, but we also specialised in tech businesses in and around London across a variety of B2B sectors, from professional services, to health care to tech.
From there, I switched to the in-house side, working across Ed-Tech, Recruitment Tech, and eventually landing on FinTech, including my current role with Pollinate.”
FinTech in focus – the ‘best of both worlds’
“The greatest challenge within payments right now – which is what Pollinate’s products focus on – is supporting small and medium business with the right solutions, who often need to have the best of three worlds – great technology, great UX and a trustworthy infrastructure. The banks can provide the latter, we provide the first two.”
How do you have – at the scale of a bank - the ability to gain the experience you could get from a FinTech?
“Obviously, that's what we're selling [at Pollinate], but it's not necessarily going to be a ‘catch-all’ solution for every bank, it depends where they are, not just in terms of business activity or strategy but in terms of culture.
It's a huge challenge for banks to understand how to adapt culturally, to enable innovation and learnings that they can leverage from a smaller partner or FinTech solution, to happen.”
The role of Customer – and client - experiences
James adds, “Within our industry, small businesses have been perceived as being too hard to serve at scale, in the same way corporate customers have been. Therefore, the next challenge for this industry is how do you create a personalised experience that is customed to every small business, but still provides the power and backing that traditionally a bank would deliver?
In today’s age, increasingly non-bank brands like Apple and Google are as trusted as banks used to be, meaning with embedded finance and other technologies and payment rails emerging, you don't have to be a bank to deliver banking.
Therefore, the biggest challenge for the industry is, how do you stay relevant?”
‘Adding Value’ in practice
The scene is set – the landscape is growing vaster, and more competitive, by the day. We know ‘added value’ is needed, but what does that actually look like for a brand like Pollinate?
James says, “whereas a lot of Fintech companies tend to be disruptors to the main players in the space, at Pollinate, our approach is actually to work in a collaborative way with the incumbents [the banks].”
Adding value as a service
“There are two major ways that we add value to our partners as a service.
For one, the way we work allows us to unlock value through technology solutions that banks are not generally able to unlock themselves. We don’t have to deal with legacy tech stacks, or certain regulatory aspects that banks do, but by partnering with them, we can release them from some of that.
Beyond the core platform offering, really the second element is partnering with them to enable banks to be more innovative, to keep up with smaller, yet faster moving competitors. This can be through business analysis, technology and data, go to market strategy or operational collaboration.”
Adding value as a partner and marketing leader
“Beyond that, however, I think we have always prided ourselves on being really, really focused on listening – to what their issues are, what challenges they are facing in the market, and how to work in a more agile way whilst still recognising that regulatory compliance and security can’t be compromised.
As a partner to your client, you're supposed to listen as much as you can. Incumbent banks in general do ultimately still have a huge amount of market share and trust with consumers, but they struggle to take advantage of this by themselves, because they're restricted on how they can operate. We try and help with that.”
How Marketing Leaders can support stronger FinTech partnerships
However, it’s not just about listening. as James shares, it’s also about taking a holistic approach to solving and supporting on these challenges – and this is where marketing steps in.
“Within our niche as a business, we are particularly good at a wide range of different disciplines, and we support our clients wherever we can.
From market fit and business analysis, through to marketing and brand and through to product and technology, in most cases, we can join the dots up more straightforwardly than they can, because our business is set up to move more quickly and act in a more agile way.”
The Roles and Responsibilities of Marketing Leaders in 2023
James highlights, “In the tech sector, this year there's been a bit of a retrenchment in terms of marketing, as budgets get a little tighter, and as usual, marketing is usually the first department to feel it.
But there are many interesting opportunities around how you develop your strategy smarter rather than bigger, going back to my previous points - it's not about making more noise, it's more about listening, understanding the challenges, and having a genuine voice.”
1 – Combining and collaborating
Cross-function – and cross-technology – collaboration, for James, is crucial for in-house teams.
“There are some interesting opportunities right now for marketers to work smarter rather than bigger.
If you can combine and collaborate the talents from several different areas, you’re going to create more value for your audiences. This could be the subject matter expert, the design creative, the video creative, the copywriter, or the data department.
Also, the use of AI can unlock more of these challenges, as you can get through that initial scoping and drafting phase a lot quicker now and generate more fully fleshed out concepts, quicker.”
2 – Stronger storytelling
“In a world where content – whether whitepapers, reports or news posts – are ubiquitous, it’s really not about making more noise - there's so much noise out there, it's more about having a genuine voice.
Pre ChatGPT or other AI tools, there was a huge amount of content of relatively low quality, now there's going to be a huge amount of content of average quality due to use of these tools, therefore we all must raise our game by creating meaningful stories to share with other people and organisations to connect with audiences.
Over the next few years, there will be a need to create truly thoughtful content that connects with audiences emotionally more than anything else, which hopefully will lead into an increase in quality of content generally and perhaps a slight a drop in quantity.”
3 - Engaging with stakeholders
James highlights the importance for those in lead marketing positions to, “find a way to translate key metrics and KPI’s of your marketing activity to the rest of the business, who don’t necessarily speak brand or marketing, including why it’s important, why you’re measuring it in a certain way and how it will lead to the wider business objectives – i.e. sales.
You can't use the wrong measures that don't align with the rest of the business. Also by taking this approach, you can contribute new ideas that are valued by other business leaders.”
Cutting through the noise, and brand-agency relationships in 2023
James highlights, “there's a significant change in terms of the type of media you must produce and competitiveness across all markets.
Therefore, as a marketer you must be more productive, but at the same time find a way to cut through that noise. I believe that's why there is never a strict line between the outsourced agency team and the internal team anymore, as utilising different talents and creative ideas can help produce the variety and quality of content needed to cut through noisy markets.”
James adds, “if you’re in-house, you tend to understand the brand a lot better than any external support would. This is particularly evident in a technical industry that focuses on a niche sector – we have found agencies usually don't come in with the required level of expertise for our senior level target clients, meaning the content that they produce is far too educational for the audience.
By collaborating, agencies can leverage the knowledge of those subject matter experts within the businesses themselves to produce the ‘right’ assets.”
Final advice for FinTech marketers looking to ‘add value’ in 2023
James concludes, “Whether it’s for clients or for your own stakeholders, something I’ve been told many times by founders and leaders is that you need to translate strategy into action.
You need to be able to explain marketing and brand strategy in something that's tangible - the brand strategy could be to position an organisation as a leader in the category - what does that mean in practical terms for the business and for marketing? And how is that executed?
If business leaders understand the tangible aspects and how they link to the overall goal, then they're much more likely to understand how ‘marketing’ is contributing to the business.”
Success in marketing, in 2023, is more about collaboration than ever before – not just with colleagues, but with clients. In a fast moving and uncertain world, everyone benefits from an open and creative approach to partnerships like this, the challenge is getting there.
If you want to strengthen your marketing strategy and are looking for support, GO! can help put you in touch with the right people. Contact us here.
James is Head of Global Marketing for Pollinate International, having built their marketing team, tech stack and brand over the last 4 years. Currently active across three continents with Tier 1 banks, and having raised three funding rounds, Pollinate’s technology and expertise impacts thousands of businesses taking billions of dollars of transactions around the world. James also advises banking clients on brand and marketing strategy to launch fintech products.
Previously, James has built and led marketing teams in a number of tech companies, and ran his own specialist B2B marketing and brand agency, Silverleaf, for 18 years. He advises on a number of start-up accelerators and is Non-Exec director of two green tech companies.