Content marketing works. That’s a fact almost no serious digital marketer can dispute.
According to data from the ninth annual B2B Content Marketing Trends Report produced by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs, seven in ten content marketers say their organization’s content is more successful than it was a year ago, and 27% rate their content’s overall impact as “extremely” or “very” successful.
And yet nearly a decade after the content marketing revolution first started, financial marketers are still struggling to keep pace with new trends and best practices in content creation — from text and video to infographics and polls. For instance, banks and credit unions wrestle with some fundamental questions. Can they produce helpful information with light marketing messages that gently hint at certain financial products and services? Or should they publish financial wellness materials that are purely educational? Where is the line between smart content marketing and thinly-veiled product promotions?
In the CMI/MarketingProfs survey, nine out of ten top-performing content marketers say they prioritize the audience’s informational needs over the their sales/promotional message. That compares with 56% of the least successful content marketers.
CMI’s Research Director Lisa Murton Beets, tells The Financial Brand that “connecting” will be a key theme for 2019 — using empathy to better relate to your target audience as individuals.
“Marketers are trending toward more awareness of the importance of the audience as human beings,” she explains.
Marketing consultant Michael Brenner agrees. He stresses the need for- and power of empathy in content marketing. Brenner, who is CEO of Marketing Insider Group, says that it’s natural for company executives to want to talk glowingly about “why we’re great” and “how awesome our products are.” But that has little to do with what consumers are interested in.
“Empathy is the counter-intuitive secret to success in content marketing.”
— Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
“Empathy is the counterintuitive secret to success in content marketing,” says Brenner. He urges everyone to redefine marketing’s role to be based on empathy — caring about people — instead of bloviating all the time with tweets, blogs, and ads saying how great their organization is.
That may sound a little too touchy-feely for some executives. But Brenner cites examples that prove his point. For instance, Capgemini saw a $24 million sales bump after the consulting firm adopted a customer-first content marketing strategy.
The Best Financial Marketers Overcome Content Challenges
Many marketers face numerous hurdles that must be overcome before content marketing can reach its full potential. When Brandpoint surveyed more than 400 marketing professionals at banks, credit unions, and other financial services companies about the content marketing challenges they face, nearly two out of five said they lacked the resources to generate quality content. An equal number said they didn’t know how to measure its effectiveness. One third don’t allocate enough budget, don’t have a strategy, and lack support from leadership.
The ability to overcome these challenges is — to a large extent — what separates the winners from the losers, according to the CMI/MarketingProfs study. The most effective content marketers have a documented strategy, supported with the right martech tools, and can measure the ROI of their efforts.
Regarding the ROI challenge, Brenner says that Marketo and other marketing automation platforms offer tools that allow financial marketers to attribute new customers, or even individual “touches” to particular programs across the institution. He maintains that search is the largest driver of value for any institution and that content marketing is — or at least should be — answering questions that consumers are asking in search engines like Google — “How do I save for a child’s college education?”
“You want to be the answer to their questions,” he says, which requires that the institution define the category of its solution accordingly.
( Read More: 5 Tips to Get Your Content Marketing Strategy Right )
What Content Works Best?
For their content marketing study, CMI and MarketingProfs organized types of content into six broad categories, asking content marketers to compare their use of each versus a year ago. Nearly two-thirds have increased their usage of audio+visual content like YouTube videos, and the majority are ramping up publishing efforts with written material in digital channels.
CMI’s Murton Beets cautions not to assume content categories with smaller increases aren’t valuable. “A podcast or a print magazine may be a great opportunity depending on your audience and resources,” she says.
A separate CMI study asked marketers to rate the effectiveness of different types of marketing content in the early, middle and late stages of the buyer’s journey. Blog posts/articles scored highest for raising awareness, white papers for building consideration, and case studies for evaluation leading to purchase.
|Which types of content are most effective (by buyer stage)|
|Type of Content||Early Stage
Source: CMI/Marketing Profs
CenterState Bank, a large Florida community bank, uses content marketing extensively for its commercial banking business. The bank’s Chief Strategy Officer Chris Nichols says that many banks stumble as they make their marketing try to do too much without clear objectives. “Some marketing efforts should be designed to generate leads (lead gen) while others should be focused on moving existing sales leads (a qualified lead) or marketing leads (unqualified) through the sales funnel to convert them into loans, deposits or fees,” he explains.
The bank’s analysis found that long-form content like eBooks and white papers represent one of most effective ways to generate business leads, but are less effective at conversions. Webinars, such as on tax reform or rising rates, are the second best source for lead gen, and about equally good for conversion. Email drip campaigns, often overlooked in banking, help move prospects to the next stage of the sales process, according to Nichols.
Case studies about how a local business used a loan to expand, etc., are “lead-gen gold,” says Nichols.
( Read More: 7 Keys To Unlock Killer Content in Financial Marketing )
Use Personas To Tell Stories
The use of “personas” — representations of ideal customers based on research and data about real customers — help financial marketers develop the right content. CMI/MarketingProfs found, however, that only 42% of marketers actually talk with customers to understand their needs, compared with almost three quarters who rely on website analytics and sales-team feedback to inform their content.
“What if we started with customer needs at the center of the story when developing content-marketing personas instead of the company product/service?” asks CMI’s Chief Strategy Advisor Robert Rose.
Michael Brenner likes the idea of having senior marketers be the “Chief Storyteller.” In that role, the marketer can work to replace company-focused content and campaigns with a storytelling mentality. His advice to “build a team of storytellers and have the entire company see marketing as a strategic asset.”
To begin that process, build a platform to identify the expertise in your financial institution that consumers might be interested in. Marketers will need to encourage and support these “authors, sharers, and storytellers.” This employee engagement, or “activation” is a big trend today, says Brenner. “The next stage after digital transformation and customer centricity is employee activation,” he says.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Content?
The biggest increase in content marketing spending over the last 12 months was “content creation,” by a large margin (56% compared to 37% for the second biggest increase, staff), according to the CMI/MarketingProfs research.
Lisa Beets notes that some experts have recommended “throwing a ton of content out there to build search results.” She doesn’t agree. Neither does Cornerstone Advisors’ Research Director Ron Shevlin, who opined against the practice in a Snarketing post: “In my experience … a single piece of really good content can do more to drive bottom-line results than cranking out a ton of content — even if the content is good.”
“For many marketers, the default response to a decline in views is to create more fresh, relevant content,” says Uberflip in a report. “But this isn’t actually the best course of action. Every year marketers spend a substantial amount of time planning and publishing new content, but their existing content is perfectly capable of getting more views.”
The content marketing platform company demonstrated in the report how by putting a blog post into a new stream and exposing it to new audiences, viewership can be substantially increased.
Redirecting existing content makes a lot of sense, but new content creation — whether blogs, polls, quizzes, videos, or webinars — will continue to increase. If financial marketers keep consumers’ needs and interests at the forefront of their strategy, the benefits in terms of brand awareness, traffic, leads, and sales will follow.