Content Marketing For Banks

A recent American Banker article states (with the name of the bank anonymized because I’m a wuss and don’t want to be seen as picking on the bank):

“Big National Bank in Big City is launching a new online magazine with a goal of driving more traffic to its website. ‘We’re tapping into the growing trend toward trusted sources for news and information and doing it in a way that will drive new and more frequent visits to our public site,’ said an executive vice president at the bank.”

My take: If you don’t see anything wrong with this, you haven’t sufficiently thought through your organization’s content marketing strategy.

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What’s wrong with what the bank is doing? For starters, having a goal of “driving more traffic to its website.”

If you’re Amazon, and you sell lots of things on your site, then driving people to your site is a worthwhile goal. If you’re an online magazine, and the rate you charge advertisers goes up based on your website traffic, then driving people to your website is a worthwhile goal.

But for a bank, why is driving site traffic a good thing? Are people really going to open more checking or savings account because they visit the site more often? Are they really going to deposit more money, or put more money in an investment account, because they visit the site more often?

You’re going to have a tough time proving that the answer to those last two questions is “yes.” You might have data that shows that customers who visit your site more often own more products and have higher balances–but that doesn’t prove that visiting the site more often caused the product behavior.

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Here’s another part of the article:

“The digital publication will feature branded editorial content, including promotions for the bank’s events, market data, personal finance tips and lifestyle stories on style and health.”

Does “branded” content mean it’s original content? If so, I can only imagine how much the bank will have to spend to develop original content regarding market data, personal finance tips, and lifestyle stories. All for what? Driving people to their website. The ROI on this investment–if indeed, the content is original and fresh for the publication–seems pretty shaky to me.

It also seems to me to be a big bet–even if the content is fresh and original–that the content will be truly be better and different than the hundreds (if not thousands) of other sources of financial content regarding personal finance and market data.

And I trust that the bank did its homework and confirmed that its customers really want lifestyle stories on style and health from the bank. I’d find that hard to believe, but hey, it’s possible.

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Bottom line: I can’t help but conclude that the bank in question–and, in all likelihood, plenty of other banks, as well–hasn’t figured out if content is simply fodder to engage customers that leads them to do something else (whether it’s visiting the website or some other truly desirable behavior), or if the content is valuable in and of itself.

All content is not created equally. Some content is effective at leading the audience to take action. Other forms of content, however, is valuable to the audience in and of itself. That is, just producing or distributing the content provides value to a customer or prospect.

Unique content can fulfill the latter role, but isn’t guaranteed to. Re-purposed, re-branded content might support the former role (i.e., driving desirable behavior), but isn’t guaranteed to. Not figuring out which content marketing strategy you want to pursue is guaranteed to do one thing, however: Cause you to fall short of your marketing goals.

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People read Wired or Quartz or whatever they read because they like the content–and because they can’t find that type of content, and that quality of content anywhere else. In other words, the content from those publications is valuable in and of itself. The content from these publications isn’t designed to produce residual behavior.

In the financial services space, there’s no shortage of content available. For the bank described in the AB article to develop some new and different is a huge task. Why not simply curate the overwhelming volume of content already out there for well-defined customer segments within the bank (because not all content will be seen as equally valuable to all segments)?

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7 thoughts on “Content Marketing For Banks

  1. I like your perspective on content value, Ron. Your post “Big Changes in Snarketingville” contained a question along the lines of “Who cares whether I write this blog.” I care. And your posts usually offer a valuable takeaway even though my field is marcomm for the contract furniture industry. Thanks for providing your readers with valuable “content” and please do carry on.

  2. Ron, I certainly agree that there is an abundance of great content out there and much of it can be repurposed to get visitors to your site and then driven to actionable web pages to further the journey through the sales funnel. Content Marketing, like the slew of other marketing tools, still needs to be part of a broader, coordinated effort where marketing works closely with the data team and the sales team to make sense of what the customer is telling them through their actions and to find the best way to follow-up with them in the manner the best suites them, at a time when they are ready for action. Certainly this is not an exact science, but the better job you do in interpreting data, testing some more and applying sensible responses, the better your chances will be to build solid banking relationships.

  3. Where do I begin?

    This is a symptom of traditionally trained marketers wading into digital marketing territory without a proper perspective. We can also validate this irrational behavior from our State of Digital Marketing Report that found 75% of banks/credit unions are doing some form of content marketing. But out of that 75%, only 30% have a content marketing plan in place. This is could be a case of the blind leading the blind.

    If I were to guess how this went down, it most likely started by someone on the board or executive management team going to a conference and hearing about how awesome content marketing is. Then it got put on the strategic marketing plan as a checklist item. And then it was executed without any foresight or proper planning of how their content marketing “strategy” would impact the bottom line.

    Look… we have been doing content marketing for the last 10 years in various capacities as it continues to evolve. Content marketing is hard. It takes a lot of work and planning to get it right. And finally, within the last two years we are starting to figure out how to quantify content to the bottom line.

    When we do content marketing assessments and find banks and credit unions are using it to “generate more traffic and clicks” as a KPI we know the whole system is flawed. If you want to “generate more traffic”, you can pay me a $1,000 and I will have my two year old click on your site all day long. And at the end of the month you will have a nice report showing an increase in traffic an clicks and can validate your content marketing efforts to hitting your KPI goals.

    On the other hand, for banks and credit unions who want to really move the needle with content marketing as part of a broader digital marketing strategy, look beyond vanity metrics like views, visits and clicks. I challenge you to start tracking leads and conversions back to your content efforts.

    Content marketing will be the buzz word for the next two years like social media was for the past few. But don’t buy the hype. Content marketing is becoming a crowded and bloated space with so much bullshit being published it is becoming harder to create “relevant content.”

    Now I am not saying content marketing can’t have a positive impact on the bottom line because it can and we have seen this happen many times. But to find success requires more than posting blog posts or articles for the purpose of “driving more traffic to a website.”

    1. Thanks for weighing in. Was hoping you would. Your comments are spot on. You bring up a question I hadn’t thought of: Regarding the bank in the article, how did this whole thing about a “digital publication” come up in the first place?

      I would quibble with you a bit here. The bank in question is pretty big–I don’t think anybody from the exec team “went to some conference” and heard about content marketing. And I’d bet that nobody on the board of directors ever talks to anybody in marketing. I’m guessing this was a CMO-driven effort.

  4. @James – Awesome comment. I concur regarding this quote of yours: “I challenge you to start tracking leads and conversions back to your content efforts.” Tracking the impact of content marketing on leads and conversions is hard and can be done. Value can be created from content marketing. It is a great tool for commercial and business banking.

    I’m glad Ron tackled this topic in his unique way.

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