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Holly Hughes Aug 29, 2016

How committing to content connects with customers

Why is it more essential than ever for banks to develop a content marketing program? There are a number of great reasons. First, it can showcase your strengths in thought leadership by revealing your expertise. Second, content marketing attracts organic search results and boosts traffic to your website, especially when you feature original, lively content.  And so follows the third point: It builds awareness of your brand and generates leads.

But the most important reason of all is that content marketing programs build long-term relationships with your current customers—and connects you with prospective ones. Your efforts to inform, educate and even entertain have a compelling ROI:  In rising above the internet’s noise floor of ceaseless media, first-class content compels customers to see you as a trusted source. No longer is it just about your product or service.

Unlike direct-response or traditional advertising that asks for the order, content marketing demands far less from customers—and offers far more.  Simply put: In-your-face advertising is a one-way street, while content marketing starts a conversation. If done right, a transaction might result. But in the content market paradigm, it’s a destination. To get there, banking customers are invited to learn about a wide range of subjects from retirement planning to community involvement, or listen to the colorful views of your resident industry experts. 

But your best business content must go beyond verbal or visual window dressing. It must tell a story. Your customers are wired to be receptive to compelling stories, an appetite that goes back to childhood. And in the adult world, several banks excel at the discipline through a variety of channels.

  • JPMorgan Chase is an outstanding example of a storytelling-driven bank brand.  Chase.com serves up a blend of written, video and infographic content that humanizes its financial services brand. The stories aren’t necessarily about Chase or its customers, either. For example, Chase produced an in-depth, five-part series on the revitalization of an economically distressed neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s one of the many communities that the bank supports.
  • Chicago’s BMO Harris makes smart use its Twitter channel to reach audiences by sharing tips, stories and expertise. Its chief investment strategist Tweets about interest rate trends or the anticipated direction of oil prices, for example. You even can find Tweets about how to use coupons to save on your grocery bills or seven ways to make your next vacation more affordable.
  • Oregon-based Umqua Bank builds community relations with live content in the form of its continuing speaker series called “The Bank Catalyst Series.” It features leaders from local organizations taking unconventional routes to success. If you can’t make the event, you can watch a recording of it on YouTube.

Here’s the heart of the matter:  Banks have fascinating tales to tell and those stories capture emotion. But the trick is always to think about irresistible content that draws in potential customers. Have you extended financing to a struggling small business that went on to entrepreneurial success? Or have you written about a 30-year mortgage for a young couple who’d saved for years to move back to the neighborhood where they grew up? Can you trace the financial journey of your longest running customers, whom you’ve served from their first retirement investments to retirement itself?

In many cases, banks go to heroic lengths to foster a successful relationship with consumers and businesses. Yet banks rarely share these great stories. I realize content can sometimes get watered down as it winds its way through multiple layers of approval with survival often hinging on the gauntlet of legal and compliance. But bank marketers should fight for their good stories. You owe it to your audiences—and audiences are hungry to get them from you.

Here are three key steps to launching a content marketing program:

  1. Craft a content strategy. It should be documented so that everyone understands the purpose and goals of the program. Better yet, establish an editorial mission statement that serves as your compass when creating content. The statement will help you focus on your audiences and the type and tone of content that will engage them.
  2. Build a content team or hire an agency. Your bank is unique, so you may prefer an in-house team. For starters, you’ll need a writer(s), a content strategist and a social media or community manager to build your channels and find new ways to share your content. Other options include hiring an agency with expertise in content marketing, or finding first-rate independent contractors via channels such LinkedIn or trusted sources.
  3. Make the investment. A survey of business-to-consumer companies by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs found that 32 percent of total marketing budgets for 2016 are being designated for content marketing. That’s up from 25 percent of the total marketing budget in 2015. A 2015 study by IBM and the CMO Club found that content marketing is the largest single marketing budget allocation. At 13.3 percent, content marketing was followed by traditional print advertising at 11.5 percent and online advertising at 11.1 percent. That marks a sea change in how banks reach potential customers.  Creating the content isn’t enough.  You need to go that extra mile and invest marketing resources to get your content seen and heard.
In short, content marketing creates a deep and lasting relationship—but it takes time. Your return on investment won’t be immediate. That said, think of it much like a portfolio: What you consistently invest over time compounds interest—of your audience—and builds wealth—for your bank. 

Ms. Hughes is chief marketing officer at BAI. She can be reached at hhughes@bai.org and on Twitter at @hollyjhughes.

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