Reaching your audience in the Digital Age means “having a conversation,” not forcing one-sided messages in consumers’ faces. It means delivering responsive, relevant, timely interactions on the their schedule. Today, marketing dollars have the most impact when you offer something of value, and engage your audience consistently.
This is the overarching message in a pair of content marketing guides LinkedIn built specifically for the financial industry. In the guides, LinkedIn gathered the perspectives of leading social and content marketers, including many trailblazers in the financial sector who share best practices and address the legal/compliance challenges you face. The guides offer marketers a road map to steer their financial institution to an always-on social strategy — one that also supports the ability to respond in real-time.
There should be no debate — content marketing is important. It should be a cornerstone of any financial institution’s digital strategy. In fact, it’s impossible to talk about marketing in social channels without also talking about a content strategy. But content marketing differs significantly from marketing in more traditional media like TV and print, starting with the fundamental objectives.
“Marketers need to be where customers are, and engage at the speed of the customer. This means social, mobile, and real-time.”
— Clara Shih, Hearsay Social
In the old days, companies led the conversations about their brands. Wendy’s had the beef and Charmin was “squeezable.” Today, most successful brands accept that the audience is in control. Rather than reaching out to customers with static, tightly-controlled, brand-defined campaigns, marketers look to their target audience for guidance. What do they care about at this moment? How do they wish to interact?
Shane Snow, Chief Creative Officer at Contently, says it’s about giving first and attracting customers, rather than chasing them. “It means that instead of thinking in terms of campaigns, stunts, or short-term initiatives, you consistently aim to build and retain your audience on an ongoing basis,” explains Snow. “More like regular exercise than a shot in the arm.”
“Content marketing in general, is about building relationships with potential and existing customers, cultivating advocates who will spread your message and brand,” Snow continues. “It’s about building an audience — which is an asset — that gives you permission to market to them.”
‘Always On’ vs. ‘Real Time’
LinkedIn is keen to distinguish between two differing flavors of content marketing: “always-on” vs. “real-time.” To be effective, LinkedIn says you need both — a steady, on-going presence and the ability to respond to real-time events. For instance, you might take an “always-on” approach to financial education in social channels, as you produce and distribute materials according to a more predictable plan. But you also need the freedom and flexibility to pivot, according to LinkedIn, otherwise you won’t be able to capitalize on “real-time” opportunities.
What if there is a major news event you can leverage for marketing purposes? What if someone attacks your institution on Facebook? How can you exploit the latest meme or #hashtag in relevant ways?
Responding in these situations will require a greater degree of latitude. Does that mean throwing editorial calendars out the window? No, says LinkedIn. But embracing real-time opportunities can pose some unique challenges for financial marketers. Relevance has a deadline, and the public doesn’t care that lawyers need weeks to review content before it’s published.
For many financial marketers, the prospect that “real-time” becomes “yesterday-time” after legal and compliance gets involved makes most of them want to give up on the whole idea. Nevertheless, financial marketers must learn to strike a balance between their planned and real-time content.
“The biggest challenges are timing and relevancy,” says Johan Hillebrand, Head of Content Management at investment firm Robeco. “If we see a development that is relevant to our clients, we want to get the opinion of specialists. But then you have to get approval from compliance. Before you know it, time is not on your side anymore. So we try to be as quick as possible without skipping vital steps. We tend to plan our content at least a couple of months in advance, but we also leave space in our calendar for addressing ‘on-the-day’ topical issues that come up.”
Using Content to Fuel the Sales Funnel
If you show that clients and prospects are liking, commenting, forwarding and downloading your content, then its relevancy becomes undeniable.”
— Johan Hillebrand, Robeco
LinkedIn has developed a simple model for financial marketers showing where content marketing fits in the customer journey and how it fuels your sales funnel. In this model, there are three different types of content marketing messages, each suited to a specific stage in the buying journey:
Phase 1: Reach — The items on the menu in this category include research, thought leadership essays, white papers, blog posts and online videos. You can easily plan most of it, and even reuse successful pieces, but they should always feel fresh—not canned.
Phase 2: Nurture — In this bucket, you can put brand campaigns, corporate events, offers, PR, and other brand- focused content. But to position it for success, think “less marketing, more value.”
Phase 3: Acquire — Potential customers trust the recommendations and reviews of existing customers more than other type of content. That’s why this bucket includes case studies, advocacy programs, and testimonial tools that make it easy for customers to contribute and share reviews, ratings and other similar brand stories.
To prove how your content marketing strategy fills your sales pipe, LinkedIn says you’ll have to establish measurements and metrics that align with the objectives unique to each phase outlined above.
- ‘Reach’ Metrics — Brand awareness and user engagement metrics: page views, shares, return visits, and time spent.
- ‘Nurture’ Metrics — Sharing of contact information, unsolicited return visits, event attendance, quality generated leads, meetings scheduled.
- ‘Acquire’ Metrics — Purchase or renewal, customer evangelists, empowerment of brand advocates, deepening of customer relationships.
As Shane Snow at Contently explains, you will likely use different criteria to evaluate your success — and areas of weakness — in the content marketing journey. “Stories lead to engagement (which you can measure in terms of attention time), engagement leads to relationships (which you can measure in terms of subscriptions to receive more content), and relationships lead to sales (which you should measure in terms of conversions and ROI).”
Tips for Building Your Strategy
LinkedIn offers the following tips and insights to financial marketers looking to fully leverage their content marketing efforts in social channels.
Listen. Before you go to the trouble of creating content around a real-time event, use social listening technologies to help you understand what topics catch the attention of your audience. Creating effective content starts with listening to find out what your audience cares about.
Build your strategy to accommodate real-time marketing.
Inject fluidity and flexibility into your editorial calendar and content processes. Clara Shih at Hearsay Social says you should plan for real-time by blocking off time on your editorial calendar and giving your content and compliance staff time each day to devote to up-to-the-minute developments and engagement opportunities.” And Monu Kalsi, VP/Head of Digital Marketing at Zurich North America, says you should establish “guard rails” for the brand and run through some sample scenarios to help all parties involved understand when a brand should engage and when they shouldn’t.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Whether it’s a global financial meltdown or negative press, your brand has a better chance of weathering a crisis if a previously established process kicks in immediately. Amy McIlwain, an expert on social media in the financial industry, suggests creating a database of potential scenario responses. “It’s especially important in these cases that your social media team doesn’t sit in a silo,” she says. McIlwain suggests sitting down with your legal team and creating a database of potential scenario responses.
Educate and inspire. Anne-Marie Kline, former SVP of social and digital at Digitas says content marketing is largely about “living in the education space… but education that inspires.” To inspire your audience, she says, don’t think in terms of products, such as checking accounts or credit cards. Instead, think about how you can help people gain financial independence, invest for the future or start their own small business off on the right foot.
Work with compliance. The core of every successful content/social media strategy is a respectful and collaborative partnership between legal and marketing, where both parties take ownership and pride in creating great content. Jennifer Grazel, Global Head of Category Development/Financial Services at LinkedIn, says that back when she was at Citi, she shared her marketing plan and calendar with legal at the beginning of each quarter, and treated them as a stakeholder in their go-to-market plan. And Jenny Cronin, Former Editor in Chief at Personal Capital, offers this tip: “Don’t submit content that you know won’t be compliant. If you, as a content creator and distributor, can earn the respect of compliance, you can also earn the right to push the envelope from time to time.”
Anticipate. Instead of jumping right into responding to news events, start by anticipating them. As you plan your calendar, identify potential events that might spark the interest of your audience. (For instance, you know when the Super Bowl will be played, and that one of two teams will be the winner.) Anticipatory content makes sense for financial firms because it allows them to get ahead of the game on legal approvals,
Be human and find your voice.Jill Sherman, SVP of Social & Engagement Strategy at DigitasLBi, says canned statements and recycled messages lifted from corporate boilerplates and annual reports may be met with criticism in the social media space. “There is no comparable medium that is as intimate as social media. Message and tone must match the channel and context,” she says.