The perception of start-up life is one of excitable chaos; leaders building the plane while flying it, rolling out disruptive ideas at pace while employees go above and beyond to change an industry for good. 

But there’s pressure too, which marketers, who sit at the intersection of product development, customer experience, revenue generation and more, are often exposed to. 

The main pressure felt as a brand builder in the early days at Starling Bank, was to stick to our instincts when the competitors around us, traditional and otherwise, were walking a different path. 

Industry Goliaths relied on their 300 year head start on challenger banks and their dominant presence on UK highstreets. Our contemporaries aimed for high customer growth, subscription-based revenue generation and sky-high valuations. At Starling, we prioritised steady growth and customer loyalty. 

The pressure has lifted for a moment. In May, Starling posted two years’ of profitable growth, with a tech stack, asset classes, deposit base and market share to rival both traditional and digital banks. 

The challenge facing our brand building team now is to transform our brand identity from challenger to established, profitable and stable disruptor. We’re the first digital bank in the UK to reach this stage, meaning the path forward is ours to define.

So how are we going to do this? Well, excitable chaos is still on the menu, and lots of unknown unknowns will remain as we evolve. But here’s what I do know:

  • We have so much more to learn. I hope it stays that way, no matter how big Starling gets. Tech evolves so fast, and customer expectations even more so, that we will constantly be learning about new engagement strategies, interrogating them, and testing them if it feels like the right thing to do. 

For that reason, we won’t be looking too far forwards. We keep our fingers on the pulse of customer and market changes and adapt our plans - in hours if need be - whether that’s new creative, messaging, audience tracking or channels.

This agility is the only long-term strategy we hold dear. Annual marketing strategies feel arbitrary; they’re against the grain of our disruptive mindset.

  • We will always listen to our customers. So much of what makes Starling a disruptor in the industry is that we build features our customers ask us for, whether they’re for the many or the few. 

We’re often the first to build these features, such as the ‘Hide references’ feature we launched recently, which lets economic abuse survivors hide abusive payment references from ex-partners, while still receiving money they are owed.

I’ve previously written on why marketers should collaborate with different business departments to ensure that listening to customers is a top priority. The reason why we do this at Starling is simple: the moment we stop listening to our customers is the moment we’re no longer a disruptor. If we don’t disrupt, the industry won’t change. If the industry doesn’t change, customer inertia remains. 

  • We’ll always stick to our values. We’re the only bank in the UK to be founded by a woman, and we constantly campaign to level the playing field for all genders on financial matters, in technology and banking, and even on the football pitch. 

We’re genuinely passionate about this and will continue to fight for equality as we take the brand to the next step forward in its journey. 

As we elevate our brand identity, what we can be sure of is that we will never settle, we will always try out new things, we’ll keep listening to our customers and will always act with purpose. If we can stick to these things, I think we’ll be just fine.

Rachel Kerrone, Director of Brand + Marketing, Starling Bank and speaker at last summer's MAD//Fest London, will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight.