Financial institutions can’t survive in the Digital Age without a content marketing strategy. These six tips will help you get your game plan together.
By Christopher Rinaldi, Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive
Content marketing involves creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, engage and acquire consumers while driving profitable audience action. Banks and credit unions should be utilizing content marketing to provide target audiences with useful information that draws them to a website or into the local branch for more details. Financial content marketing works best when it is easily accessible and engages audiences to create meaningful connections. Going beyond traditional marketing techniques, financial marketers should use content marketing to educate both existing and potential customers. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 58% of businesses plan to increase their content marketing budget in 2014. Let’s take a look at how to employ a contemporary content marketing strategy for financial institutions.
1. Conception: Developing a Content Marketing Plan
Planning is the first step in content marketing for banks and credit unions. WebDAM reports that 66% of the most effective content marketers utilize a documented content strategy and 86% employ a dedicated person or team to manage/execute that strategy. As a financial marketer, you need to establish the ‘what,’ ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ to support your bank or credit union’s content marketing strategy.
What are your institution’s short- and long-term business goals that content marketing can help to support or achieve? A bank might want to increase brand awareness or to generate awareness of new products, such as a mutual fund offering. A credit union might focus on driving new membership or promoting loans. Establishing success metrics upfront allows you to align content marketing tactics and reporting against tangible business objectives.
Next, it is important to determine who is available and capable of supporting the content marketing strategy. A financial institution’s content marketing team typically consists of internal marketing and information technology professionals, as well as outside support from an integrated marketing agency. An ideal content marketing team should include strategists, marketers, curators, writers, designers, developers and publishers. First and foremost, you will need executive buy-in from key stakeholders at your institution, such as executives and board members. Equally important, the writing needs to be consistent and compelling, so hiring a professional storyteller should be a strong consideration. The IT department of your organization should also be consulted to enable employee access to social media platforms and to provide input on an internal social media policy. Obtaining the supportive backing from the right people is imperative to establish a well-rounded content marketing team.
How will the content marketing strategy be executed? To start, the team should uncover issues that your audience is facing and answer these problems in a compelling way. Then, planning the most appropriate content types based on the unique messaging takes place. For example, life stage information might be most conducive to visual graphics, while instructional “how to check my account” steps might be best served with a video. Again, research determines the ideal marketing materials for distinct communications at different times along the audience’s experience with the institution.
Where will the content be placed? Marketers and external agencies should survey and assess current channels and advise on new opportunities for content placement. Channels could include an online hub, such as a site or a blog, as well as social media platforms. It is critical that your content marketing strategy balance what you think is the right approach with what your audience(s) want. This is when persona-based content is considered for strategic allocation along consumer touch points. If content marketing is in its infancy at your institution, it’s wise to start small with a few initial projects to learn by trial and error, while reporting back what’s successful to key internal stakeholders.
A significant amount of upfront planning and coordination takes place in order for the financial marketers to conceive a solid content marketing strategy. Once completed, the content marketing plan will identify the goals, team, tactics and channels required to educate financial audiences, turning leads into revenue.
The following must be considered as part of the content marketing plan:
- Brand messaging
- Content types
- Delivery channels
- Content creators
- Content reviewers
- Community managers
- Social media policy
- Editorial calendar
2. Compliance: Playing By The Rules
Compliance factors into every sound content marketing strategy, because it’s a constant challenge for financial marketers. Considering the many compliance rules and regulations in play, your content marketing team may feel hamstrung from the start. The regulatory roadblock can compound the marketing team’s challenge, since there is already a stigma associated with financial services not being the most sensational subject matter. However, compliance doesn’t have to be a source of angst when thoughtfully incorporated into the entire content marketing process. Moreover, the same creativity that goes into crafting the actual content should be applied to planning for compliance. A successful content marketing team should brainstorm the best ways to present information while staying compliant with the regulations enacted by the Financial Industry Regulator Authority (FINRA) and the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
When it comes to compliance, the content marketing team should focus more on what they can do, rather than what they can’t say. In best-case scenarios, your content marketing team works directly with your institution’s compliance department to get the legal team excited about the risk/reward opportunity for the bank or credit union. The collaboration yields smart ways to get valuable messages across to an audience without breaking any rules. Clever placement and linking to full disclaimers can make the user experience less intimidating and more interesting. When regulatory concerns are kept in mind throughout all of the content marketing phases, the revision and approval process is less daunting without hampering creativity.
Compliance issues to keep in mind for content marketing are below:
- Legal team
- Regulatory regulation
3. Curation: Supporting Your Content Strategy
Once the content marketing plan is finalized, marketing needs to work with the team to curate the content. Content curation involves collecting, sorting, and assessing marketing materials, often in a digital format. Market research, social listening and data analysis provide invaluable intelligence on how financial audiences want content to be delivered and which types are most digested. Your institution likely maintains a wealth of data analytics. This is ideal for identifying what kind of content is working, as well as turning statistics into useful content, such as infographics. The curation process determines what content already exists from your institution and what is needed to support the content marketing strategy. Does your bank or credit union have any content that can be repurposed? Recent and relevant information is consumed readily by audiences, whereas dated content is not. A shelf life of under one year is recommended for reheating content. The curator should examine the existing content to see what’s worthy of re-using. In doing this, gaps in content are identified. Next, you will need to figure out how to fill these holes in messaging while adhering to your institution’s value proposition.
While some banks and credit unions turn to third-party content providers, particularly for financial education, original content is always best. Savvy consumers want to hear directly from your institution, which in turn builds trust and credibility. So, even in cases when your institution is sharing content that is not uniquely your own, it is important to add personalized commentary on top. Preface the sourced material with the point of view of your institution, and be sure to credit the source. Once the right material is discovered or developed, the content curation team decides the best ways to separate content along different channels. For example, a white paper can be turned into a three-part blog series with stat-heavy tweets, a pinnable infographic and more content-generating opportunities. This content allocation picks up from the content analysis performed in the planning phase. A skilled content curator will mine good content, determine what is useful or is lacking and review what information and types of content are most consumed by your target audiences.
Steps to content curation, include:
- Collect marketable information
- Audit existing material
- Research new subject
- Credit all sources
- Add appropriate context
- Organize for distribution
- Analyze what’s working
4. Channels: Delivering Content Appropriately
Once the people, plan and process are in place, it is time to develop the necessary channels for your institution’s content marketing strategy. For starters, the content marketing team determines if the institution needs to enhance an existing online hub to support your content or establish a new one. This is often the institution’s website, but a blog or landing page will work, too. In many cases, a combination of all three online properties provides additional inbound marketing and cross-linking opportunities to drive more traffic and increase search engine optimization (SEO). Working with your content marketing team, an integrated agency is capable of designing, writing and developing your site, blog or landing page. Best practices recommend a responsive design to deliver an optimal user experience regardless of screen resolution, and building the hub with an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) for simplified, timely site updates. The online hub provides the full article or product information for the consumer, paying off the consumer’s journey, while providing the financial marketer valuable analytics for lead capture, remarketing and conversion. The result is a centralized destination for your institution’s other marketing channels.
In addition to online hubs that your institution develops, manages and owns, content marketing requires leveraging third-party platforms for social media. As a result of the strategic planning phase, the content marketing team will know which social media platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube – should be implemented for your bank or credit union. At this stage, marketing, design and development professionals should work together to deliver a consistently branded experience across the selected social media platforms, ensuring the visuals and descriptions convey the purpose of the pages and the institution’s unique positioning.
Common content marketing channels consist of:
- Corporate website
- Email marketing
- Landing page
- Social media
5. Creation: Curating the Right Content
After developing the hubs and social media channels, the content marketing team needs to create new content based on the needs analysis provided by the curation process. The content should answer common questions from consumers and present valuable information that directly addresses their needs. New content types might include articles, stories, photos, statistics, graphics and videos. Content will be primarily in a digital format, developed to be available online, so it can drive to more information and be shared easily. Content marketing also supports ongoing SEO efforts as visitors are often looking online for content to help them with financial decisions and life stages, from an eBook on getting out of debt, to a checklist on how to save for college.
Content creation should be a coordinated effort between your institution’s in-house marketing team and your integrated marketing agency. The content must be polished, professional and relevant to build credibility with your audience.
Creating new content requires expert writing, designing, developing, filming and editing skills. Next-level content marketing relies heavily on a journalistic style of detailed storytelling to cut through the clutter. Writing pieces that read like stories captivates your audiences, raising awareness of your brand and creating an indelible impression that’s invaluable the next time they are, for example, looking to open up a new checking account.
Differentiating your brand and its offerings is critical to content marketing effectiveness because a common financial consumer perception is that all financial institutions say the same thing. Banks and credit unions that stand out with a strong and distinct value proposition extend this messaging through strategic content marketing. Original content with a local flair adds to the personalized feel for your audience. People need to feel like your bank or credit union truly understands their unique needs and particular situation.
Per Business2Community research, marketers will be looking to heighten trust signals, quality and value during 2014 by providing exclusives such as articles, offers, and videos to only a privileged few. Customized, specific content appeals to the customer or member more than generic, widely available information.
The educational component of financial content marketing cannot be overstated. Relying on financial consumer data analysis, financial marketers need to uncover questions and craft the correct answers for the audience. The content needs to draw people to the financial institution to learn more. The content must always keep the audience in mind, providing useful information that positions the institution as a valuable resource. This is how the financial institution fosters trust with people, leading to positive word of mouth and adoption of new products and services.
Here is a list of some of the most effective types of content marketing:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Email newsletters
- How-to guides
- Image-based posts
- Interactive tools
- Mobile applications
- News articles
- Press releases
- Research reports
- White papers
6. Conversion: Closing the Deal
If you play your cards right, your institution will deploy content to develop relationships with people that can turn into leads and sales. The content marketing methodology described above seeks to educate with content, build up trust and only then sells your institution’s services. Both banks and credit unions share similar business goals of consumer acquisition and retention, as well as an increase in deposits. Content marketing aligns with these business goals, helping to establish credibility so your institution is top of mind when people make a financial purchasing decision. In fact, B2B Marketing Insider states 87% of buyers say online content has a major or moderate impact on vendor preference and selection.
While the content will turn financial consumers off if it is too self-promotional, financial marketers must remember to always include a clear call to action on every piece of content. The call to action should match the touch point along the sales funnel, leading people logically along the brand journey – piece by piece – before suggesting, for example, “Open a new savings account today.”
Because it costs less to retain an existing account than it does to find a new one, your institution should rely on content marketing to continually assist your consumers. Content marketing can contribute greatly to your institution’s online reputation, allowing you to control the conversation. The great content marketing team will work to enhance credibility through thought leadership while winning over dissatisfied customers by addressing complaints head-on. The constant, helpful flow of valuable content keeps existing audiences happy while attracting new patrons.
Converting content marketing into revenue for a financial institution is a careful process. It requires a coordinated effort by the financial marketer to create, implement and analyze the content. The content marketing strategy sets up the content that produces the results, which are found in the statistical reporting of the online hub. Leads leave a trail of behavioral data throughout the site or blog, clicking content, downloading information and submitting forms. The financial marketer works with the content marketing team to leverage tools, such as a marketing automation platform (MAP) and a customer relationship management system (CRM), to make tracking, engaging and closing leads easier for the institution. The qualified lead is shared with a designated sales team for appropriate follow-up.
Key performance indicators of content marketing conversion include:
- Behavioral analysis
- Content source popularity
- Site analytics
- Social media metrics
The Bottom Line
Successful content marketing requires educational information that shows people how to improve their lives with products and services from an institution. Content marketing is not about the hard sell. It’s about educating financial audiences about fiscal responsibility and earning trust. Content marketing delivers timely and relevant information to financial consumers in the format they want, when they want it and how they want it delivered. It makes the institution more searchable – and more trusted. The value of content marketing extends far beyond hit-or-miss traditional marketing because it leaves a lasting, continually accessible impression on financial consumers. The financial marketer uses content marketing to make connections that eventually turn into profit for the financial institution.
Chris Rinaldi is a Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT that has built hundreds of bank and credit union websites. To discuss your digital strategy needs with ZAG, call 860.633.4818 or send an email.