This much everyone knows: Content marketing remains effective. But here goes the ongoing mystery to solve, exacerbated by the never-ending flow of audio, video, blogs and news: Which venue and tone work best for particular audiences?
Assuming you’ve got that one figured out, experts say there’s one more major, bottom-line question to answer: Do you have the right metrics to determine whether there’s enough business bang for the marketing buck?
“New FinTech companies such as Betterment and Wealthfront are almost disrupting the space by producing educational content,” says Don Kransteuber, head of digital activation and content marketing at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis.
Given that consumer-friendly FinTech stance, “it makes it more important that banks not lose sight of producing great content that resonates with the audience,” Kransteuber says. “If content marketing is done right, we can communicate that our bank is more of a trusted friend to a customer—which makes them come back time and time again.”
Who-to meets how-to: Outsourced content, in-house expertise
Most of U.S. Bank’s business lines outsource content marketing, but the content is driven by internal subject-matter experts, such as small business bankers producing content for small business owners, Kransteuber says. Subject matter typically results in “how-to” articles, such as step-by-step guides for first-time homebuyers, or videos targeted especially for millennials who grew up watching YouTube.
The bank also uses infographics to communicate an abundance of data points. For example, U.S. Bank has produced an infographic for home equity line of credit products that shows how much a home’s value can jump if people complete home improvement projects such as a kitchen remodel.
Speaking of which, banks driven by a sales agenda may want to consider some remodeling of their own.
“The type of content marketing that does not work is content that is pitching or selling products to consumers in a very salesman-type way, and not producing truly helpful and educational support,” Kransteuber says. “Customers can sniff that out instantly and that content can cause high bounce rates very quickly.”
Early next year U.S. Bank will consolidate its content marketing microsites into a single repository. This hub will integrate links to this website onto product pages on the main bank website in ways that aren’t too distracting.
Tracking actions to determine return on investment is critical, he says. But valuable actions of value must mean more than just consumers buying products. It could translate to lead forms generated when customers follow up on articles and subscribe to newsletters.
Consumers: Not content with impersonal content
While content marketing should vary depending on the audience, in general people expect stories written specifically for them, available in real-time, says Tony D’Angelo, director of brand partnerships at Skyword, a Boston-based content marketing technology and services company.
“Financial institutions such as KeyBank have created content destinations that cater to the interest and needs of consumers, entrepreneurs, and business owners.” D’Angelo says. “KeyBank’s Thrive is addressing topics to help people make better financial decisions and live better.”
D’Angelo has found that the best stories—whether on how to navigate the health care system or get a small business launched—elicit empathy and help a person “gain peace of mind, entertain, or address a need on an emotional level,” he says. Some of the best topics come from consumers themselves and through consumer research.
If banks want to capitalize on the authority of their main site, they can publish their content as a subdomain. But many of Skyword’s clients publish on a microsite if they want to reach a new market or have different branding and objectives.
“There is nothing stopping a bank from creating its own content destination,” D’Angelo says. “This can serve as a source of valuable information and help the bank become a trusted authority. Once establishing this trust, the bank can begin to introduce relevant offerings based on the visitors’ interests and behaviors.”
As banks begin to monetize the destination, it gains the same traction as an expensive campaign—“reducing, if not eliminating, the need to buy expensive media,” D’Angelo contends.
Alice Bredin, president of Bredin Inc., a content marketing agency in Somerville, Mass., believes banks should focus on actionable advice that helps people solve pressing problems. Content that includes research is a plus; Bredin’s firm finds that content with survey data rates more positively and attracts more attention.
“You can do a small survey to gather some relevant and interesting data points and then build content around it,” Bredin says. “Using internal experts—such as product managers, your chief economist or others—is also a proven means of establishing expertise and communicating commitment to customers.”
A bank can achieve its marketing objectives by linking content to product and service information, she says. Brand managers and business bankers should also have advisory content on hand, which can help them develop stronger relationships with prospects and customers.
To get the most out of their content marketing, banks need to pinpoint their target audiences and identify their “pain points.” That means prioritizing content objectives—such as lead generation, brand elevation, nurturing and cross selling—to help them more wisely choose content types. Then, they must determine the best ways to distribute content to prospects and targets—and above all, make sure content is on target and actionable.
How C-suite it is: Decisive plays for decision makers
When banks attempt to target top-line business executives, they face walls of noise and insulation far greater than at the consumer level.
“Let’s say a bank CEO is trying to find executives at companies who are willing to switch banks,” says Dan Foley, co-founder and chief executive of Tailored Ink, a New York City-based content marketing firm. “We help them target potential businesses, find the decision makers and then send thought leader messages to those people about banking, with ‘gentle mention’ about switching banks.”
But such messaging works best if the bank expert’s LinkedIn profile is written in a compelling way, he says. The most important thing: Deliver a coherent message focused on some tangible goal the person has for the organization.
“A real turnoff is being prideful and ‘braggadocious’ in a profile,” Foley says. “If you can’t make yourself sound human, approachable and likable, most people will shy away.”
In all cases, the same can be said of the content itself.
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Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than two decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in banking topics.