How Bank Marketers Create Content That Cuts Through the Clutter

Content marketing comes in many forms, but if banks and credit unions don't produce quality articles, podcasts, videos, and posts they won't reach consumers. A key point is knowing who you want to reach with what message. A radical thought: Put your best content behind a 'paywall.' Experts from Citi, BofA and Chase share key lessons.

Jennifer Breithaupt, Global Consumer CMO for Citigroup, was speaking not only for herself but for financial marketers everywhere when she told an interviewer that one of her greatest frustrations is simply punching through the noise of modern life.

“It’s so hard, when people are tuning out, to keep their attention,” says Breithaupt. “That’s not unique to me. It’s a key marketing challenge. People are turning away. You’ve got a split second, only a moment, so how do you capture their attention and hopefully get them to do something with you?”

The growth in volume of messages out there defies verbs and adjectives. When people multitask their media — using their phone screens while watching other screens — the chances of a marketing message getting through is smaller.

Breithaupt says this tempts marketers to think that if they can possibly attract a consumer’s eyes and ears, then it is essential to stuff that slice of attention with everything about the brand.

Wrong, Breithaupt says, explaining that she tells her people that they must pick the most important message and stick to that — only that.

“Consumers will probably turn away if you try to get in everything,” she warns.

“You’ve got a split second, only a moment, so how do you capture consumers’ attention and hopefully get them to do something with you?”
— Jennifer Breithaupt, Citigroup

The idea of cramming in too much is reminiscent of the sci-fi satire film “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future.” The 1985 movie envisioned a time when attention spans were so short that a TV network invented “blipverts” — high-speed, concentrated, high-intensity messages.  Unfortunately, they made some people’s heads explode, literally.

A much-quoted statistic out there is that American’s attention span lasts all of eight seconds. But blogger Andrew Littlefield questions this supposed fact. “Think about it,” he writes. “If our attention span is really eight seconds, how are Netflix binges a thing?”

With content marketing, much of it delivered via the web, becoming a major aspect of bank and credit union marketing, this is no academic question. In conference presentations, Breithaupt and other big bank marketers have discussed the changing goals, channels and sourcing of marketing content.

Why JPMorgan Chase Is Rebooting Content Marketing

Kristin Lemkau, Chief Marketing Officer at JPMorgan Chase, admits she has made some major mistakes in adopting content marketing, but says financial institutions overall frequently get it wrong.

“In the banking space, there’s a lot of parental, naggy stuff that says that if you just saved — you dummy — everything would be okay. People know it’s just not that easy.”
— Kristin Lemkau, JPMorgan Chase

“In the banking space, there’s a lot of parental, naggy stuff that says that if you just saved — you dummy — everything would be okay,” says Lemkau. “And people know it’s just not that easy.”

But Lemkau, speaking at a content marketing conference, says she waded into content marketing in a big way a couple of years ago and has learned some important lessons.

She started out in the belief that content marketing should build the bank’s brand, rather than directly sell, and that this more-subtle approach could outdo Chase’s extensive direct response operations.

“Both of those things did not prove to be true in the way that I thought,” says Lemkau. In fact, only a handful of content marketing efforts produced satisfactory sales. Lemkau says one was the bank’s “Kneading Dough” series of interviews with sports stars ranging from basketball’s LeBron James to skiing’s Lindsey Vonn, that explored their stories of learning about money. Another was content built out of an ad featuring tennis star Serena Williams.

“I took a lot of heat internally over that because people felt we weren’t selling product,” says Lemkau. “But we had an athlete, we had a moment, and we had an insight about realistic motherhood, not sitcom motherhood or idealized motherhood. That seemed to capture some cultural imagination.”

But for the most part, “while those were effective, there was a whole lot of stuff that wasn’t,” says Lemkau.

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‘Take My Money’ is Hard to Top

One challenge for Chase’s content marketing was that the megabank has a very effective direct response effort that can be hard to beat just on sales tallies.

“When you offer consumers $200 to open a checking account and you target that audience well, that works,” Lemkau explains. “It’s like free beer.” The cause and effect is easy to see, much moreso than for long-form content.

One reason that content marketing wasn’t always effective was widespread use of it simply as part of the bank’s arsenal. “Content marketing became an extension of many campaigns as a lever to pull ‘just because’,” Lemkau admits. Ideally content marketing should clarify and educate, making a case for something a bank does. But this technique was being thrown at such marketing tasks as pushing cash-back credit cards — and consumers pretty much already get the point of these.

“So, overall,” says Lemkau, in spite of the few popular efforts like the sports and money interviews, “content marketing wasn’t worth the calories burned on it.”

Then a way to reboot content marketing arose.

( Read More: How Financial Marketers Can Lift Engagement with Experiential Content )

Why Not Implement a Paywall for Banking Content?

Lemkau says she has noticed a growing trend among web publishers to put their best content behind a paywall. Some material is freely available; some is partly available, almost as a teaser; and the information people crave the most requires a paid subscription or some level of registration.

Why couldn’t a financial institution use a similar strategy? she thought.

Then Lemkau had a sort of epiphany: What Chase sells, ultimately, is helping people make the most of their money. So, the insights from Chase that the bank had been giving away really represented part of the benefit of using Chase products and services.

So Lemkau concluded that she had an audience that could benefit from exclusive content only available to bank customers. “We have 65 million households and 50 million of them are on our digital channels every day,” Lemkau explains. “So I’m not just competing with Capital One. Now I’m competing with Facebook too.”

The reboot is a “work in progress,” according to Lemkau, but she’s already formed some conclusions. One is that most quality content should be produced by outside suppliers. Beyond getting a fresh perspective, she says, it’s important to have more independence in viewpoint from outside authors rather than staffers writing to get their copy past the boss, catering to their preferences. Another conclusion: Outsiders better track broad cultural trends, with an independent lens. Quality content needs to plug into that.

And from the viewpoint of cost, outsiders can make more sense. If she wants travel-oriented material, she explains, why not engage professionals instead of paying bank staff “to go do things in Bali”?

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Data Drives Content Marketing Strategy at BofA

“If you build it they will come” may have worked in Field of Dreams, but for financial services content marketing it helps to know a good deal about the people you hope will consume your content.

“Data matters and we are very audience-focused,” says John von Brachel, Senior Vice President and Content Marketing Executive at Bank of America. He told an industry conference that data is tapped both before and after content marketing is produced.

“What keeps me up at night is how my team is connecting to our customers on a personal level.”
— John von Brachel, Bank of America

“It informs all of our channel delivery planning, which is weekly, and it informs all of our campaign management, at the front and back ends,” says von Brachel. “I really love that my team has embraced data. What keeps me up at night, though, is how my team is connecting to our customers on a personal level.” He says he is always concerned about the bank’s content marketing being appropriately and correctly personalized.

Beyond data, taking advantage of opportunities for von Brachel’s content producers to really understand individual consumer segments is important. One of the bank’s ongoing efforts is its “Better Money Habits,” a website and other efforts produced in cooperation with the Khan Academy. The program is aimed at Millennial consumers.

One element has been the “Camp Better Money Habits” weekend retreat, where 50 consumers making less than $50,000 a year are brought to hear lectures on personal finance and to speak about their own experiences.

“My team was down there to capture all of these great videos of those kids that have informed us for Better Money Habits,” says von Brachel.

More and more, von Brachel says, BofA is connecting with consumers as well as business customers through voice and audio. Podcasting is a growing channel for the bank, with multiple programs. One is “That Made All the Difference,” produced in cooperation with The New York Times, which focuses on a turning point in the career of journalists, entrepreneurs and more. One program featured Ken Burns’ recollections of a conversation with his father that set him on the road to being a filmmaker. (The bank sponsors Burns’ documentaries.)

Using data to make sure such efforts continue to please and inform people is key.

“We want to continue to connect with customers through interesting storytelling,” says von Brachel.

The content executive spent years in journalism prior to entering content marketing, and he likes reality checks.

“I tell my teams, share what you are doing with your families,” he says. “If you feel good about that, it means we are winning.”

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