Bancography | Branch Planning, Marketing Research, Brand Strategy, Products & Profitabilty

Content Marketing Lessons for Financial Institutions

By Luke “Kip” Owen, Account Manager for Truebridge Financial Marketing

Financial marketers often wrestle with a difficult question: How do you “sell” to consumers when they don’t want to be sold? The answer is to give them the information they want, not the products you think they need. Give them what they’re looking for — helpful, easy to read information on topics important to them.

Many banks and credit unions recognizing the importance of “content marketing,” as the practice is called, have built blogs, created Twitter accounts and launched Facebook pages. Sadly, many of these bank and credit union initiatives are mostly one-dimensional. Here are three projects illustrating some important lessons for financial content marketers.

The importance of a professional presentation

Smart Banking Tips, a blog-style website from Western Community Bank, is a model for how a bank blog should look. Its presentation is very professional, with the feeling of an online magazine. Topics range from helpful shopping tips to ideas for small businesses on how to survive the financial crisis.

Western Community launched the blog-like site after concluding that traditional ad campaigns were no longer having the same impact as they once did.

“The ironic part about it all is that our blog doesn’t focus at all on our products like our traditional ad campaigns,” noted Western Community SVP Adam Weight who is in charge of the site. “We focus instead on topics that we know are important to our clients.”

WESTERN COMMUNITY BANK – SMART BANKING TIPS
The site has a large article library spread among six topics: Business & Economy, Family Finances, Loans & Credit, Online Tools, Security Helps and Ways to Save.

There may not be many comments at the site itself, but the bank says the list of email subscribers is growing. Western Community emails full articles in the body of the email.

Now that the website has been up for about a year, Weight said the bank is preparing to promote it through the various customer touch points.

Presently, the bank gets an average of about one visitor per day to click through back to the main Western Community website.

Kiosk & Display | Digital Merchandising for Financial Institutions

The value of a large library of content

AnchorBank* in Wisconsin has a slightly different approach to content marketing. Instead of a separate blog, they host a large library of educational content at a subdomain called the Financial Answer Center right on their primary website.

AnchorBank’s Financial Answer Center hosts a massive library of content, organized into 12 different sections, each with about 10 articles each:

  • Paying for College
  • Investing for Retirement
  • Cash & Debt Management
  • Buying & Selling Home/Real Estate
  • Major Life Events
  • Your 401(k)
  • Getting Ready to Retire
  • Buying Insurance
  • Investing & Investments
  • Running Your Business
  • Planning Your Estate
  • Career Transition

ANCHORBANK – FINANCIAL ANSWER CENTER
Appropriate sections include a link to “Contact a Financial Consultant.”

There are six lifestage stories you can read as well, from “Adam” who is just starting out to empty-nesters “Paul & Julie.”

Having such a large library of content is a luxury for the folks manning AnchorBank’s Twitter and Facebook efforts. This gives them a lot of material — hosted on their own website — that they can share with fans and followers. Liz Boelter, PR manager for AnchorBank, says that the messages they send about things other than products are the ones that get the best response.

“Our content library makes it easy for us to continue sending out messages around important topics we know our followers would be interested in reading,” Boelter said. “Without our library of content the opportunities we’ve created may never have occurred.”

One of the most popular topics to date came just after the New Year when they sent out a message saying, “Have you resolved to better manage your cash or pay off debt? Download a free Education Guide online today.” A shortened URL steered people to a page where they could download the guide free. They also mentioned that their online calculators are very popular among their social media hits.

ANCHORBANK – OPT-IN FORM
If you’re going give something that has significant value, like a multi-page PDF Financial Education Guide, you can ask for something in return. Collecting MCIF information is a vital tactic in any content marketing or social media strategy.

Getty Images | Content Marketing

Generating leads for new business

Dedham Savings Bank*, a $1 billion community bank just outside of Boston, shows that content marketing can directly contribute to the bottom-line. For roughly five years now, they’ve been using educational content both online and in branches as tools to help start conversations with customers.

Jerry Lavoie, EVP and COO, says that without these materials available in the branches, many opportunities that have come in over the years may never have happened.

“The other day I was having a conversation with a branch employee about a commercial lead that started by a simple request for our educational guide on borrowing for small businesses,” Lavoie said in an interview.

And there’s a bonus for staff, too. “The guides give our employees a sense of comfort knowing that they don’t have to remember all the answers,” he said.

Dedham Savings says the point isn’t just to give customers the information they’re looking for, it’s about maximizing the opportunities every time someone requests something like an educational guide. Each request is a signal to the bank that the customer has a need that goes beyond the traditional checking or savings account. Dedham Savings forwards each request it captures directly to the appropriate sales rep who follows up accordingly.

Key Takeaways:

  • Years ago, advertisers discovered a simple secret to getting their messages heard. They discovered the social contract between the marketer and the listener. Entertain me and I will listen to what you have to say. Content marketing is based on a similar contract – Give me helpful information and I will listen to your message. What they are basically saying is, “Answer my questions and I will consider you for solutions.”
  • Today’s consumers no longer want to be sold. They’re looking for more than catchy slogans. They need information. One of the main reasons social media exists is that people are looking for answers, specifically from their peers and other trusted resources. They like social media because it filters out the noise (e.g., ads from you and your competitors).
  • Content marketing can be as basic as having helpful information. The reality is that you have to do more than just provide content.

Luke “Kip” Owen is Account Manager for Truebridge, a financial
marketing firm offering education-based content, just-in-time marketing
and online referral training. Learn more about Truebridge at their blog,
or download a free copy of this report,  “Cross Selling Success Factors.”
* Both AnchorBank and Dedham Savings are Truebridge clients.


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Comments

  1. Jeff Stephens says:

    Luke, this is a really great article. You’ve provided great examples of financial institutions really doing a good job of creating and distributing value-added educational content, and have provided lots of great tips for success with this strategy. I believe VERY strongly that content marketing will need to be a big part of the future of “marketing” for banks and credit unions…and educational content is one of those strategies.

    But I also believe it’s important for bankers to realize that educational content is not the only form of content marketing–it’s just one. Overall, content marketing can be defined pretty broadly as providing value-added content of any type to the audience. The commonsense assumption for bankers is that this has to be about personal finance education. More accurately, the content just needs to be brand-relevant to the financial institution creating it.

    For instance, if a credit union were trying to build a brand around being hyper-focused on the local community, a great content strategy would involve disseminating content that supported their focus on the local community…not necessarily educational financial content. They may run a blog about what’s going on in town, secret deals and offers at local merchants, interesting gossip and news from the region, or advice on how to support the local economy.

    Financial education content is obviously relevant to the business of banking, but I think it offers several important limitations to banks and credit unions:

    1) It’s what everyone else is trying to do, too.
    2) The FI’s ability to produce UNIQUE financial education content is very very limited, and if you are only rehashing content that already exists online, you’re not really adding value.
    3) FI’s will quickly run out of stuff to talk about, which will lead to a stagnant blog (or whatever channel they’re using). “I can’t think of anything else to write about” will be heard quickly in their offices.
    4) The truth is, most FI’s are not really the world’s foremost authority on financial topics, so their credibility as experts is actually quite limited. FI’s know the business of banking, but they don’t necessarily have all the magical answers to how to be financially prosperous.

    In any case, I’m really glad you wrote this article, because content marketing is wildly underused in financial services. And I believe that if banks and credit unions can be aware of the truly wide range of topics they could produce content about, there would be a limitless supply of truly unique and value-added content they could each produce that would be relevant to their audiences.

  2. Thanks Jeff for inviting me to share thoughts on content marketing for banks and credit unions. There are many retailers who have been using these techniques for years but with the Internet has opened up the possibility for any size institution to conduct these techniques in a cost effective way. Hope your readers are able to take something away from the post. Regards, Kip.

  3. I think it’s important to distinguish between the content and the marketing that goes hand in hand with a content marketing approach. The marketing aspects can be all the bells and whistles that help attract the reader. This could be in the form of a contest, youtube video or even a TV ad (yes, I said TV ad). Here you don’t have to be focused on education. I always say that education or rather content online is down right boring. But when you ultimately grab the viewers attention, what’s your responsibility as an institution to the consumer? An important question for banks and credit unions to ask themselves. I hear many institutions claiming to be the trusted financial provider for their communities. While they talk the talk they often don’t walk the walk by showcasing this assertion. Instead they focus on a narrow view of what a bank is – rates and deposit account services. This is one of the main reasons your point #4 is unfortunately correct. While these services are ultimately what a consumer comes to a bank for, we all know there’s so much more they could be doing with their primary bank. This is what needs the most improvement – how to build upon the relationships you already have in place.

    Thanks for your feedback Jeff and I too believe that content marketing will be a necessity moving forward and the more dialogs we have about how this approach can be effectively executed, the better off our clients will be down the road.

  4. Are there other forms of “content marketing” for financial institutions besides “financial education?”

  5. Jeff, the best way to think of content marketing is to think of every marketer in any type of institution acting like a publisher of a magazine or newspaper. In some form or fashion your goal is to educate or rather inform the audience on some topic. While the content is educational in nature, the approach is quite different then the many financial literacy programs you’re probably more familiar with. Implemented the right way, you can engage clients while at the same time generate quality referrals to your professionals at the bank who can take things to the next level with the client. The goal of content marketing, at least in our approach, is to drive referrals and appointments with more customers with all of the bank or credit unions products and services, including investments and insurance. To do this you need the right tools and process in place. As we always say, content alone is boring and content alone is not going to necessarily generate new biz for you.

  6. I found a pretty good list of books on the subject of content marketing. The one we site often at Truebridge is Get Content, Get Customers by Newt Barrett and Joe Pulizzi: http://shellybowen.com/2010/03/content-strategy-books/

  7. Is “financial education” the only kind of educational content that financial institutions can/do produce?

  8. I think it was Jeff Stephens who brought up the example of providing the community with a place to go to find great deals from various local retailers throughout the community. In my view, this is an aspect of “financial education”. You’re helping people to be aware of ways they can save money. I know Umpqua tweets this kind of information to their followers. Often times the retailers they’re mentioning are their own clients. In the end, whether it’s a video, podcast or newsletter, the content makeup will have something to do with financial education or information because that’s what we want from our banks and credit unions.

  9. Good discussion going here. Although I had not thought of it using the term “content marketing,” it turns out that descriptor is a very good way to explain some of the key strategies we are planning to employ at Nicheruptive. At today’s financial institutions, content marketing is…marketing. It’s ancillary decoration (albeit very important decoration, don’t get me wrong) to attract customers. In other words, a bank is still a bank, but uses a different form of bait to attract its target market. What we’re working on is kind of the opposite, though. In our case, in creating niche banks, the content IS the company. The banking services will be secondary. Our goal is that nobody will come to us because of our banking services; they will come to us because the content that defines us resonates with them. The banking services will just be there as tools if and when they are needed.

    Whereas content marketing is about trying to create engagement where a bank already exists, our work will be in creating a bank where engagement already exists.

    If that’s not confusing enough, I can try harder. :)

  10. Kasey Skala says:

    Financial education isn’t the only content institutions can produce, but in today’s climate, it’s the most important. As Luke mentioned, it’s also the one that most institutions fail at.

    American Express’ OPEN Forum is by far the best example, in my opinion, of providing educational material in a manner that doesn’t come off as self-promoting. But in the end, who benefits? AMEX.

    I’ve noticed a number of smaller banks and credit unions beginning to focus more on education the past 6 months. One approach that’s easy and effective is video, but again, a lot of using it incorrectly.

    Clearly, education is the way to go though. If I come to your sight, don’t feel like I’m getting sold a product that I may not need/want, and walk away with something (knowledge, awareness, education) than I’m more likely to come back and in the end, purchase said product.

    Nice article, Luke.

  11. @nichebanking, this is an interesting approach your group is taking. Have you ever heard of these guys: http://www.beerloversbank.com/

    @kasey thanks for your feedback. I checked out your site and will follow you on twitter (@truebridge).

  12. Thanks Luke, we are excited about our concept. We still have a few more ducks to get in a row before we make it all really clear to the world what we’re working on. Stay tuned! And regarding http://www.beerloversbank.com, yes I’ve definitely heard of that….

    Keep up the good work

  13. In regards to credit union blogs, I’d like to highlight Truliant’s – http://www.truliantfcu.org/blog. You’ll notice the goal isn’t product pushing.

    Ryan

  14. Luke, thanks. This is a terrific piece. Wish I’d found it sooner.

    Your second key takeaway is critically important. We’re all tired of traditional marketing messages, and I would argue that this presents a uniquely difficult challenge to financial services marketers in light of the financial crisis. Among too many consumers, our industry is seen as part of the problem rather than the solution.

    Providing solid, non-sales oriented content – in effect earning back the consumer’s trust (and attention) – is a must for our industry.

    We launched the Today’s economy blog in March 2009. It’s dedicated to helping Canadian consumers navigate the downturn and recovery. Like Truliant’s blog, we’re dedicated to steering clear of product promotion. We’re thrilled with the response we’ve received.

  15. Kevin, that’s the beauty of the blogosphere, it may have been published months ago but it still remains relevant today and you were able to find is the most important part.

    Keep up the good work with the blog.

  16. Canadian FIs are really leveraging content to build deeper relationships with their customers. Check out SmartSteps for Parents (bmo.com/smartparents) or SmartSteps for Business (www.bmo.com/smartbusinessowners. Wonderful examples of content helping to support the customer buying cycle.

    But to Editor’s point, content marketing shouldn’t be seen as a tactic (i.e. just build a community site). The elements of content strategy should be used when producing content for any of your marketing efforts, from print brochures to branded community portals. Your content should be relevant, findable, persuasive and sharable.

  17. Agree with Chad that content needs to be “relevant, findable, persuasive and sharable.” I like what Lee Odden (author of Optimize) says about content marketing – that you first need to optimize your content for your reader (relevancy), then for search (findability) and then for social media (sharability). With the launch of BrighterLife.ca, we focused on blogger/influencer outreach and social extensions (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). The fact Kevin’s Today’s Economy Blog (mentioned earlier in comments) was already established helped the bigger content hub get a toe hold within the blogosphere. We’re able to maintain both the Google juice that’s been built up over time – and the relationships Kevin has grown with other bloggers – both key to growing the acquisition of readers.

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