Content-based marketing helps banks gain inside track

Community bank customers expect to be treated as individuals, not statistics. At the same time, marketing to customers “subjectively through personal stories instead of numbers clearly presents our dedication to our community,” explained Kristi Poling, marketing and creative services manager at Minnesota Lakes Bank, Delano, and its sister institution, Grand Rapids State Bank in Grand Rapids, Minn. “We’re only going to see more content marketing in the future of the financial industry, so the quicker we can become comfortable with the concept, the better.”

Content marketing is both a strategic business initiative and the statement your marketing strategy makes, which is critical to the business it represents — namely financial products and services. Content marketing can be a key tool to use in establishing your bank’s brand in the minds of current or potential customers — keeping them engaged and coming back for more.

Embracing a new strategy

When a bank is present on the social media channels of its customers, or even its employees, its advertisements feel like personalized outreach, Poling said.

Recently, Poling’s banks began internal contests to entice employees to share the videos they’d created featuring customer testimonials on their own personal Facebook pages. Called “My Community, My Bank,” the campaign focuses on the strong presence each bank has on its community, and that story is told by the bank’s staff and its customers, both business and retail.

“Our marketing team aimed to create a highly focused social media campaign,” Poling said. “We wanted to utilize the audience we have on our social media channels and move those testimonials through our employees to their friends and followers.”

Throughout the campaign, the bank picked a staff winner each month. The winner was the person who had been most active on the bank’s social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) via likes, shares, tweets and retweets that month. The bank rewarded the winner with an exclusive clothing item.

Kristi Poling

“We had two main goals with our internal social media contest: fully engage our staff in our marketing campaign and expand our social media presence by increasing our follower count as a whole,” Poling said. “It’s proven to be a highly effective strategy as we have watched our digital audience engagement and reach increase exponentially throughout the past few months.”

This type of content marketing campaign is effective because it makes the bank relatable. As Poling explained, community members and potential customers see the bank’s values represented in the words of friends, neighbors, and local business owners—people they may already know and trust.

“Consumer behaviors are changing as people are turning to their social media channels for feedback from their friends and other contacts before making a decision on where they conduct business or purchase products and services,” Poling said.

Content that educates

Historically, in the banking industry, content marketing took the form of first-time home buying seminars or banking education presentations in schools.

Lauren Bernstein, senior vice president of financial education at Everfi, says that increasingly, financial institutions are turning to financial education as a content marketing tool that both educates consumers and attracts new business.

According to a recent Everfi study, 89 percent of marketers at financial institutions say that financial education already plays a role in their marketing strategy, and more than half of them say that they plan to increase spending on financial education next year.

“We see that financial education ‘pulls double duty’ for content marketers,” Bernstein said.

First, financial education serves as a content marketing tool that significantly outperforms other kinds of advertising, marketing and product promotions. “In fact, consumers who complete online education programs are 29 times more likely to buy the sponsor’s products, and 94 percent report a more favorable perception of the sponsor’s brand,” Bernstein said.

Lauren Bernstein

Secondly, financial education serves as a means of establishing trust and credibility in the financial institution as a thought leader. “By pairing financial education and marketing initiatives, banks can attract new account holders, build loyalty, improve retention, promote products and services, and enjoy a more engaged and better-informed consumer base,” Bernstein said. The final result is a win-win for financial institutions: Helping consumers become more responsible and engaged, while also building their own business and brand.

“With the advent of the internet and consumer search, large banks were the first to understand that creating content around key terms and questions consumers had would drive site traffic, engagement and sales,” said Mary Ellen Georgas-Tellefsen, managing director of Capital Performance Group, and head of CPG’s marketing practice area. “Since those early days, banks of all sizes have embraced content marketing as a key tool to provide value to customers, help educate customers and prospects on financial options and decision-making, and attract prospects with financial expertise.”

Today, CPG sees banks of all sizes providing articles, tools and content, related not only to products, but also to life events and helping people improve their financial lives. As Georgas-Tellefsen explained, when a financial institution has targeted their key customer segments, they can tailor content marketing to these segments and provide a deeper, richer level of content and education.

“Commerce Bank in St. Louis redesigned its website around content and articles related to life stages, life events and product needs,” Georgas-Tellefsen said. “This gives the user the ability to easily search the site for what they need and how they need it when they arrive at commercebank.com.”

Content marketing techniques

Changing technology and demographics have delivered seismic shifts in the rules of engagement, and it’s a challenging yet exciting time now for content marketers. As Bernstein explained, financial institutions need to understand how to remain relevant and avoid becoming irrelevant.

Bernstein and her team at Everfi said effective content marketers understand:

Consumers dictate the rules of engagement. Technology has delivered a dialogue between the content marketer and the consumer. “Winning the loyalty of today’s customers requires that marketers are listening, and using that intelligence to create relevant products and better serve their customers,” Bernstein said.

Consumers demand personalized and real-time content. Consumers are accessing services in new ways and looking for institutions that hear them and deliver a personalized, real-time, thoughtful experience. As Bernstein explained, according to a recent Epsilon study, 89 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a financial institution that offers personalized experiences.

“Content marketers therefore must know and understand their consumers’ needs, concerns, and goals, and deliver tailored messages that engage their audiences with the right content at the right time,” Bernstein said.

Technology is a prerequisite. Technology powers almost every aspect of consumers’ lives, from their relationships, to their homes, and most certainly to their banking institutions. “Gartner estimates that by 2020, consumers will manage 85 percent of their banking relationship with no human interaction. Nielsen data shows that millennials spend more time on their mobile devices than they do with radio, television and TV-connected devices and a study by Qualtrics and Accel found that 42 percent of millennials don’t go longer than five hours before checking their social feeds,” Bernstein said. Financial institutions must be prepared to market to, educate, and serve their customers through their smartphones and social media channels.

Furthermore, for effective financial content marketing, financial institutions need to know their customers and target segments. Once a bank knows whom it is targeting — and perhaps identifying target segment personas — creating and providing content specific to the target segment’s needs becomes relatively easy.

“Financial services content needs to focus on providing either educational info or addressing a specific need,” Georgas-Tellefsen said. “Many financial services companies focus on merely touting their value proposition without a focus on a customer segment’s needs or education.”

Paul Mooney, director of user experience at Extractable, agreed. “Banks that listen to their customers will develop not only content, but new companion products to bridge the gap from knowledge to action,” he said.

When utilizing content marketing, it’s important to see what works, and be ready to pivot based on the analytics. This may involve changing an organization’s editorial workflow to be more responsive to real-time data.

“Videos such as online webinars can be effective for financial education content,” Mooney said. “You can also take the same piece of content and repurpose it for different formats and attention spans, from short snackable pieces to longer in-depth articles.”

Tiffany Bietler

Tiffany Beitler, marketing lead at Cooks Bay Marketing, said visually heavy content marketing is paramount. “Infographics are great because the information is easier to digest and videos are becoming extremely popular,” Beitler said. “My advice is to put the content on a bank’s website and then share the link — you want people on your website so that they’re more inclined to look at your products and services or apply online.”

Bernstein at Everfi, said key financial content marketing strategies include:

Investing in mobile. Consumers and small businesses are buying, selling, connecting, and transacting through their phones in increasing numbers every year. Having a mobile-first or responsive approach in digital content is crucial.

Driving engagement and interactivity. Ensure that your content provides a meaningful, engaging experience for the user. Give your audience something to do — click, view, listen, answer, ask, “like” and comment.

Getting personal. Your content must be personalized for customers and this doesn’t just mean putting a customer’s name at the top of an email. To get truly personal means ensuring that the content meets the unique needs, timing and goals of your customer.

Educating. In addition to relevance, financial marketing content should offer real value. Often, this value comes in the form of education. Teaching your audience can be as simple as sharing your expertise through a blog or white paper, or as sophisticated as leveraging more interactive ways: through a webinar, a video, or an online or mobile learning application.

Marketing targeted, relevant products. Strong content can help you market relevant products to willing customers. “For example, learners seeking — or completing — online lessons about mortgages or credit scores are more likely to engage with additional marketing that targets them with specific loan offers,” Bernstein said. And their education has not only revealed what they may be interested in, but it can also help them interact with those products in a more sophisticated, educated manner. They will become better customers.

“We’ve always known content is important to help demonstrate a financial institution’s value proposition. As we look forward we see that content data will become more segmented and individual-specific and will be mined to produce personalized and customized communication and offers for consumers,” Georgas-Tellefsen said. “Future content will also go from being static to more interactive. Be it tools, calculators, videos or something else, consumers want and like an interactive experience that not only educates and informs, but is fun in the process.”