Branded Content From Banks And Credit Unions

In a paper titled Identity and Opinion: A Randomized Experiment, researchers wrote:

“Content and identity are inextricably linked in social media. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Reddit, Netflix and Amazon all provide identity cues that affect users’ link formation decisions and choices about who to follow for the best content. [This] raises an interesting question: To what extent are opinions about content influenced by features of the content itself or the identity of the user associated with the content? [The results of] a large scale field experiment show that identity effects exist and vary with a content producer’s reputation, activity level and reciprocity with the viewer.”

My take: This research has important implications for banks and credit unions deploying content marketing strategies.

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In a previous post here titled Content Marketing For Banks, I wrote about one bank’s efforts to pursue a content marketing strategy.

According to an article in American Banker, a rather large bank “is launching a new online magazine with a goal of driving more traffic to its website.” According to an EVP at the bank, “we’re tapping into the growing trend toward trusted sources for news and information and doing it in a way that will drive new and more frequent visits to our public site.”

The article went on to say:

“The digital publication will feature branded editorial content, including promotions for the bank’s events, market data, personal finance tips and lifestyle stories on style and health.”

I had some issues with the goal of driving site traffic, and questioned whether or not the bank really thought through what kind of content would truly be effective in producing business benefits. But the academic research cited above raises another important question for banks and credit unions to consider: What, exactly, is “branded content”?

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The AB article’s description of the bank’s efforts implies that the bank will be producing and distributing content under the aegis of the bank’s brand. What the academic research implies, however, is that consumers’ perceptions of the content will be influenced by the strength of the bank’s brand. In other words, content itself can have a brand–a brand that is shaped not just by the objective quality of the content, but by the brand of the producer of the content.

Yet, it seems likely to me that the bank in the AB article–as well as other banks and credit unions deploying content marketing strategies–is expecting that producing content will enhance the organization’s brand.

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The research cited implies–if not outright indicates–that this is a multi-step process. Perceptions of content quality are influenced by the producer’s reputation (and degree of interactivity). But that reputation had to be built somehow, presumably by producing high quality content. The key questions–unanswered in the research study–are:

  • What was it about the reputable content producers’ content that led to the strong reputation?
  • What “level of activity”–i.e., frequency and duration–is required to develop a strong reputation?

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Bottom line: A half-assed approach to content marketing is a prescription for failure.

Half-assed from two perspectives: First, from the perspective of content production. It seems very unlikely to me that the brand development that can occur from content development and distribution won’t happen after a month, and might even take years (hell, it’s taken me 8 years and 950+ posts to get Snarketing where it is).

But half-assed from another perspective: An institution that doesn’t create and nurture an overall brand image consistent with one that relies on content marketing, and consistent with the content produced, isn’t going to get the full bang for the buck from its content marketing efforts.

The big “aha” here is that banks and credit unions that turn to content marketing to enhance the brand must recognize the fact that the strength of the brand influences consumers’ perceptions of the content.

And sorry, folks, but anybody promising to show you “best practices” in financial services content marketing is probably only showing you interesting pieces of content–and not showing you how non-content related branding efforts setup, created, and/or reinforced the content marketing strategies.

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