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Content marketing beyond the website

After banks shifted marketing online, they populated their sites with financial advice, success stories of small businesses and tools to calculate useful information from car payments to accounts receivable turnover. The more engaging the content, the more often viewers applied for credit cards and loans.

Now, financial institutions such as Wells Fargo & Co., Capital One and Regions Bank are building upon that success. They’re putting their content to work beyond their public websites, for example, marketing it through their bankers and seminars for business owners, professionals and even college athletes.

Wells Fargo Private Bank replaced a print magazine with a digital version, including links to content, for wealthy clients. Capital One’s Spark Business IQ, serving small business owners, is broadening the audience for its web content by sponsoring industry events. Similarly, Regions Bank conducted more than 60,000 seminars last year, including financial management classes for college athletes after schools had begun paying stipends to help cover their expenses.

“It’s not enough to simply send a brochure or a link to a white paper anymore,” says Lucy Carrico, head of marketing for Wells Fargo Private Bank and Abbot Downing, which provides wealth management and other services to ultra-high-net-worth clients. These Wells Fargo units produce digital newsletters, interactive PDFs, videos, blogs and articles, developing distribution strategies based on whether the target audience is large or small or even consists of a single person. This approach “empowers the frontline relationship managers to personalize and address relevant topics with specific groups of people – those with shared interests, family members or a cohort,” Carrico says.

Once they become engaged with content ranging from wedding planning to funeral costs, viewers are more likely to take the next step of opening an account, applying for a loan or setting an appointment, bankers say.

Driving to Content

At Regions Bank, the number of online applications completed after viewers had read content increased 27% last year over 2014, according to Michele Elrod, executive vice president and head of marketing. The bank publishes more than 300 articles a year on its Insights sites targeting four audiences: personal, small business, commercial and wealth. Topics range from college savings accounts to employee motivation to retirement hurdles.

All of the content is aimed at encouraging viewers to explore the sites and consider applying for loans, seek more information about treasury management services or set an appointment with a wealth advisor. “If we drive you to a landing page, our goal is to drive you to content, not just product information,” Elrod says. “It’s about giving people information so they can make the best financial decisions possible.”

Regions Bank plans to reach two new audiences with its seminars next year. Armed with the appropriate content, consumer, business and wealth bankers will lead classes to help doctors, lawyers and other professionals improve how they run their businesses and manage money. The bank will also offer continuing education classes for the same groups of professionals, according to Elrod. Afterwards, she says, “our bankers can send customized emails with links to this content and use this to help people.”

Jennifer MacCloskey, senior vice president and marketing manager for Wells Fargo’s Small Business Segment, says her bank is beefing up training for branch employees to help small business customers. “We’re having more conversations in our stores with business owners who need insight and guidance,” she says.

Content for the two-year-old Wells Fargo Works for Small Business site reflects insights from a quarterly Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey of business owners. Last year, the bank launched a business plan center to help small business owners create and update business plans that has attracted almost one million visits.

As customers increasingly view content on mobile devices, Wells Fargo’s small business unit is distributing short versions of content using Twitter and LinkedIn, with the full stories published on the bank’s website. Mobile adoption is growing by double digit percentages at Wells Fargo, surpassing 17 million active mobile customers. “We ensure that everything is mobile-optimized,” says MacCloskey.

At Spark Business IQ, 95% of content “tells the stories, experiences and learnings of real practicing business owners that we’ve interviewed,” says Sherry Roper, senior brand manager at Capital One overseeing Spark’s content and social media strategy. “We believe this approach helps make the information we share more authentic to our audience.” The unit is focusing this year on search engine optimization to drive greater awareness of Spark, she adds.

Some of this content relates to current events, such as new overtime rules from the U.S. Department of Labor, and others are based on “evergreen resources” including Spark’s national survey of business owners, according to Roper. There are also success stories from business owners and advice on selecting a business credit card.

Roper says some of this content comes from Capital One’s Spark Business Barometer national survey of small business owners. “We know from our research and our customer interactions that they’re looking for straightforward, practical education and insights and inspirations from other successful entrepreneurs,” Roper says.

Delivering content in a variety of ways – primarily digitally and interactively, coupled with print to specific audiences , achieves Wells Fargo’s goal of meeting “the client where, when and how they want to be reached,” according to Carrico. “Having relationship managers build trust with their clients and prospects strengthens their ability to build long-lasting relationships and can directly support revenue growth through the retention and growth of those relationships.”

Pushing content beyond the website also helps banks evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing beyond traditional indicators such as site traffic, time spent viewing articles, and repeat visitors. “What comes to mind is the feedback we get from the field, not so much what people are doing online,” says Elrod, of Regions Bank. For instance, bankers in the branches share links to online calculators and content with customers struggling with budgeting or saving money.

Using those digital tools, she says, “Our bankers are able to provide practical advice and guidance to make a real difference for our customers in their day-to-day lives.”

Mr. Burritt is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies based in Greensboro, N.C.