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Branding and design for businesses in financial services can often be conservative. So how do you bring colour and character to a brand without compromising its credibility and perception of trust?

Branding and design in certain industries and sectors can be creative, exciting, playful, provocative – think music, fashion, TV, FMCG, sports. However, with sectors which are considered more serious – think healthcare, education, finance – branding and design is often more traditional, as it seeks to reassure the audience that they are a sensible, trustworthy and safe option for your business. All this is understandable when you consider what’s at stake.

So, for financial firms, if you want to stand out from competitors or have a brand that reflects your company’s positioning or personality, how can you go about it without undermining credibility? The short answer is that it has to be done carefully, and it has to be within the context of the industry. What’s risky but acceptable in one industry might be risky and unacceptable in others. A ground-breaking concept for Nike will be unlikely to work for an investment fund, and vice versa.

Take Monzo, the bank that lives as an app only. The most visual aspect of their brand is their minimalist, ‘hot coral’ debit card, which contrasts really well against others in your wallet, even other red cards such as from Santander. Simply choosing a unique colour on a decluttered card works well in this sector, and is enough to stand out from the crowd. The best thing though is that there’s a reason for them having a different card: Monzo is indeed different from traditional banks: they don’t have a different looking card just for the sake of it, it makes sense as it backs up their position as a different player in the market.

As a new brand, as long as all the rest of their collateral follows this concept and is well crafted and well written, and as long as their service is rock-solid – especially the app itself – then they remain a credible and accepted option in the market.

As well as being visually different from competitors, there are other ways to stand out such as having a distinct personality or tone of voice. The Economist magazine’s adverts are legendary for their razor-sharp wit, and they certainly stand out from their competitors – if not just about everyone else too – yet visually they are so simple: white serif font on red background, logo, nothing else. It’s their clever copywriting that does all the heavy lifting and gives them a distinct personality which is anything but bland or conservative. Take a look at some of the publication's best campaigns. (Login required) 

These are just two ways out of many to stand out and avoid following the crowd, to veer away from that safe corporate blue and ‘logo-with-a-globe’ solution that looks like a dozen other uninspiring brands you’ve seen before in the financial services sector, whilst at the same time maintaining credibility and building trust.

Whilst it’s the brand agency’s role to point the client in the right direction, ultimately it’s the client’s call as to how bold or innovative they’d like to be – and never forget the role that the decision maker’s personality has on the process: a conservative client will err towards a conservative solution, and vice versa. For some start-ups it’s their absolute goal to look like everyone else in their sector, to prove they belong amongst their peers: to look credible and established. That can prove to be a limited decision if their product or service has a USP or offers something new and transformative to the market, as the brand should then be braver and aim to stand out from the crowd, not blend in. You can be a new player yet still try and lead the way.

As with all brands, you’re aiming to make an emotional connection with the audience, and simply doing what everyone else does won’t achieve that. Being brave and doing more than your competitors – whilst acknowledging your industry – will add value and create something memorable.