In retail financial services, a digital marketing lead generation engine is built on four key components:
- Digital advertising
- Marketing automation
- A website that sells
- Referrals, ratings and reviews
Content marketing is the fuel that powers this engine, and helps the various components function in unison. Simply defined, in the financial industry, content marketing focuses on helping first and selling second, as you guide consumers through their questions and concerns towards their end goal.
Content marketing begins with the production of helpful, entertaining and educational marketing assets, including blog articles, eBooks, checklists, videos and email. Production is followed by the distribution and optimization of content assets unique to each stage in the buying journey:
Instead of trying to brand yourself as “different” or “better” than other financial institutions, there are opportunities to use content marketing to differentiate your brand by simply being more helpful than your competitors. The content marketing assets you create should position your financial institution as a consumer’s trusted and helpful guide who goes far beyond the “great rates” and “amazing service” that are so frequently promoted by everyone else.
Financial marketers may appreciate the role content plays in a digital marketing strategy, but does your CEO and CFO understand it? They may have heard “content is king” somewhere, but they aren’t sold (yet). According to Ad Age, this lack of executive buy-in is one reason marketers as a whole are spending an average of just 12% of their budgets on content marketing, while traditional advertising still gets the lion’s share. Research fielded by CU Grow found that only 9% of financial institutions have a properly funded digital marketing budget. This directly correlates with the fact that over 70% of financial institutions do not have a defined digital marketing strategy and 80% do not have a defined content marketing strategy.
Obviously, this must change. But how?
Follow the two steps below and you’ll find the courage you need to persuade your executive team to support a digital marketing strategy that provides you with the resources needed to produce content marketing assets.
Step 1. The Role and Value of Content Marketing
Before telling your CEO you want to jump head first into content marketing — e.g., starting (or restarting) a blog, or going crazy with social media — you need a solid understanding of the value content marketing can provide to your financial institution.
Conversations surrounding the value of content marketing must transcend traditional “vanity metrics” — likes, shares, follows and page views — that marketers often dwell on. The value conversation must revolve around consumers and their ever-evolving buying behaviors; the consumer must be the focal point of your digital marketing strategy.
Consumers need a helpful financial guide. In Google’s “Zero Moment of Truth” study, Google found the majority of consumers took 30-45 days (if not longer) and utilized more than eight different resources in the consideration stage of their buying journey when opening or switching checking accounts. Furthermore, Google reported mobile searches for financial terms related to mortgage, credit cards, loans and life insurance are growing 48% YoY.
However, according to a recent Facebook study in the financial industry, half of all Millennials say they feel like they have no one to turn to for financial guidance. NewsCred similarly found that 68% of Millennials do not find today’s branded communication helpful. Alternatively, consumers are five times more likely to buy when educational content comes before a direct product pitch, according to NextMedia.
Today’s consumer will inevitably transition to digital and mobile channels during the awareness and consideration stages, even if their journey might have began offline or was inspired by some sort of traditional marketing (e.g., TV, radio, print). So while other banks and credit unions continue to jam great rates, amazing service and a commoditized list of product features in people’s faces, you have the opportunity to differentiate your institution by helping first and selling second.
Improve local SEO. Google reported 71% of shoppers use search engines at least twice to help in their decision-making process, while another study found that 50% of consumers report searching exclusively online for financial products. When optimized for local search, publishing 3,000 words per month on your financial institution’s blog will give you a huge boost to reach prospective consumers through search engines. And this impact compounds over time.
Harvest contact information. To go a step further and provide consumers with additional value in their buying journey, your digital marketing strategy should cross-promote downloadable content. You offer this beefier, meatier content in exchange for a consumer’s email address — a quid pro quo value exchange. Once you acquire a prospective consumer’s email address, you can then nurture this lead with an email campaign that nurtures and guides them from consideration to conversion.
You can’t be pushy. The old days of interruptive marketing are over. In the past, marketers used to push one message out to many people through different broadcast marketing channels. But now, TV ads can be easily skipped with a DVR. And radio ads are a thing of the past thanks to services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music. There can still be a time and place for traditional media channels — particularly when focusing on the awareness stage of the buying journey — but “push marketing” isn’t what your content strategy is about. Instead of pushing one message out to the masses, content marketing pulls consumers in by providing helpful resources, timed to perfectly coincide with those moments when a consumer has a question or concern along the various stages in their buying journey.
Many financial institutions are missing out on growth opportunities with their digital ad buys by mistakenly using traditional broadcast marketing tactics and promoting a direct product offer to the masses. Instead, you can increase the effectiveness of both your digital display and retargeting campaigns by focusing on helpful content that provides relevant value to consumers. You’re trying to intercept them with educational material while they are still in the early stages of their buying journey.
Lower your cost per lead. According to HubSpot, inbound marketing (that is, content strategies combined with marketing automation processes) consistently delivers a cost per lead dramatically lower than outbound. Respondents in their study who spent more than 50% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing channels reported a significantly lower cost per lead than those who spent 50% or more of their budgets on traditional outbound marketing channels.
Considering the average cost of acquisition often hover between $400 and $450 per new account, content marketing assets can help drive this number down and increase simply by increasing the number of leads you generate.
The gift that keeps on giving. Traditional financial services marketing is built around quarterly marketing campaigns. Many marketers operate this way because it is the way it has always been done. And once these traditional campaigns have run their course, the marketing collateral used in them for TV, print, radio and branch channels becomes a sunk cost.
Alternatively, content marketing gives your financial institution a digital marketing asset, like a blog article, downloadable consumer guide, or email nurture workflow, that increases in value as these assets are utilized by more and more consumers over time transitioning through the different stages of their buying journey.
Step 2. Tell a Story That Sells
Once you have a solid understanding of the strategic role and value content marketing provides, now you can get other key executive stakeholders onboard from your marketing, sales, operations, finance and IT departments.
After helping dozens of financial institutions through this process, we have perfected an approach you can use yourself. It all starts with education. You have to help your fellow executives overcome their fears of the unknown, change and failure; it’s nothing more than an exercise in change management. Here are some tips:
Put yourself in their shoes. Make your content marketing pitch all about your key stakeholders and you will build your case more quickly. You can use the movie Moneyball to help build your narrative pitch.
Allay their concerns. Many of today’s seasoned financial executives understand the marketplace is changing and are looking for someone to calm their fears. You must stress the need to evolve the current marketing model beyond branches and broadcast, and show them how you will do this with a digital marketing strategy fueled by content marketing assets.
Be a helpful guide. Without Obi-wan, there is no Luke and there is no Star Wars. Without Mr. Miyagi, there is no Daniel and there is no Karate Kid. And without you, there is no one to help your financial institution transform and grow with a digital, content-driven strategy. This is your role.
Paint them a picture. Show how content marketing will work and what success looks like with hard metrics, like leads acquired for loans and new accounts. Remember, financial executives will care less about soft vanity metrics. Keep the conversation focused on the impact content marketing will have on your bottom line.
Set and communicate realistic expectations. Content marketing is a process within the five different stages of consumers’ digital journey. It is not a one-time project or campaign. Your content marketing assets will be built continuously, then optimized and refined over time — based on hard data.
It can take time to do it right. If you’re starting from scratch, it could take 12-18 months to properly build and optimize a digital marketing lead generation engine built around content. While you may get some pushback with this timeframe, you can offer a six month pilot program as a compromise to show some quick wins to gain additional internal buy-in and support. Also remind key stakeholders you are building long term digital marketing assets that will increase in value overtime as opposed to running traditional marketing campaigns that have a short shelf life.
James Robert Lay is the CEO of CU Grow and since 2002, he has helped guide over 420 financial institutions around the world, including Italy’s largest bank, on a mission to simplify digital marketing, so banks and credit unions will grow through training, planning, and implementation. He has spoken at over 120 industry events and is often quoted in many industry publications including US News and World Report, The Financial Brand, American Banker, The Digital Banking Report, CU Times, CU Journal, NerdWallet, Credit Union Magazine, CUES Magazine, Independent Banker Magazine and CO-OP THINK Magazine.