Branded Content From Banks And Credit Unions

In a paper titled Identity and Opinion: A Randomized Experiment, researchers wrote:

“Content and identity are inextricably linked in social media. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Reddit, Netflix and Amazon all provide identity cues that affect users’ link formation decisions and choices about who to follow for the best content. [This] raises an interesting question: To what extent are opinions about content influenced by features of the content itself or the identity of the user associated with the content? [The results of] a large scale field experiment show that identity effects exist and vary with a content producer’s reputation, activity level and reciprocity with the viewer.”

My take: This research has important implications for banks and credit unions deploying content marketing strategies.


In a previous post here titled Content Marketing For Banks, I wrote about one bank’s efforts to pursue a content marketing strategy.

According to an article in American Banker, a rather large bank “is launching a new online magazine with a goal of driving more traffic to its website.” According to an EVP at the bank, “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.”

The article went on to say:

“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.”

I had some issues with the goal of driving site traffic, and questioned whether or not the bank really thought through what kind of content would truly be effective in producing business benefits. But the academic research cited above raises another important question for banks and credit unions to consider: What, exactly, is “branded content”?


The AB article’s description of the bank’s efforts implies that the bank will be producing and distributing content under the aegis of the bank’s brand. What the academic research implies, however, is that consumers’ perceptions of the content will be influenced by the strength of the bank’s brand. In other words, content itself can have a brand–a brand that is shaped not just by the objective quality of the content, but by the brand of the producer of the content.

Yet, it seems likely to me that the bank in the AB article–as well as other banks and credit unions deploying content marketing strategies–is expecting that producing content will enhance the organization’s brand.


The research cited implies–if not outright indicates–that this is a multi-step process. Perceptions of content quality are influenced by the producer’s reputation (and degree of interactivity). But that reputation had to be built somehow, presumably by producing high quality content. The key questions–unanswered in the research study–are:

  • What was it about the reputable content producers’ content that led to the strong reputation?
  • What “level of activity”–i.e., frequency and duration–is required to develop a strong reputation?


Bottom line: A half-assed approach to content marketing is a prescription for failure.

Half-assed from two perspectives: First, from the perspective of content production. It seems very unlikely to me that the brand development that can occur from content development and distribution won’t happen after a month, and might even take years (hell, it’s taken me 8 years and 950+ posts to get Snarketing where it is).

But half-assed from another perspective: An institution that doesn’t create and nurture an overall brand image consistent with one that relies on content marketing, and consistent with the content produced, isn’t going to get the full bang for the buck from its content marketing efforts.

The big “aha” here is that banks and credit unions that turn to content marketing to enhance the brand must recognize the fact that the strength of the brand influences consumers’ perceptions of the content.

And sorry, folks, but anybody promising to show you “best practices” in financial services content marketing is probably only showing you interesting pieces of content–and not showing you how non-content related branding efforts setup, created, and/or reinforced the content marketing strategies.


6 thoughts on “Branded Content From Banks And Credit Unions

    1. Yeah, I guess…but did they really consider what they were doing as “marketing” or just “member communications”? Was there an explicit goal to use the content to drive people into the branches?

  1. “A half-assed approach to content marketing is a prescription for failure.” That’s true for anything… not just content marketing. But I digress…

    I agree with your assessment that content marketing relies on a bank or credit unions overall brand. Content marketing won’t save the brand. But if it is a strong brand, it can for sure enhance it.

    However, in regards to branded content, buying pre-packaged content from a company won’t do much for your bank/CU. I don’t care how strong the brand is. Odds are you are wasting your time and money. I know of at least a half-dozen providers out there who for a fee per month will give you X blog posts, X newsletter articles, X videos, etc. And they will even put your brand on the content for you. But that’s not branded content. And it surely is not helping to build your brand or impact the bottom line.

    We even piloted a program like this a few years ago and killed it because of lack of impact it had for the FI level. For sure we could have made some good money off of it but for what? A couple more page views and clicks for the FI? That’s not success as you stated today and yesterday.

    To your point about the time it takes to create branded content you are spot on. To put some context out there for banks/CUs looking at content. With the strategy we recommended, plan to put in 40-80 hours to create and distribute content around a single focused subject like buying a home. This time includes planning, research, production and distribution of a downloadable consumer guidebook, checklist, webinar, landing pages, nurture emails and consumer journey mapping. Notice this is much more than just a blog post here or there about some unrelated subject matter.

    I believe it is important for banks and credit unions to approach content marketing as “life” and not as a quarterly or yearly project. At a minimum, I believe an 18 month commitment is needed for content marketing to stick and start moving the needle.

    Are there opportunities available out there for banks/CUs to using branded content marketing to grow? For sure. These three great examples that come to my mind in the FI space are:

    AMEX Open Forum
    Eli Lilly FCU
    Young & Free Programs

    1. First off, my use of the term “half-assed” was more of an attempt to convey the dual nature of the challenge (i.e, two halves of the equation).

      Second, I stand corrected: Y&F is definitely a great “best practice” example. But really what it’s a great example of is marketing–not just “content” marketing.

  2. James Robert and Ron, no argument on either of your points. I just have a sense that a great majority of the FIs that will do content marketing are just recycling the same things that were done in newsletters in the past and saying “we’re doing content marketing!”. Then when results aren’t what they expect, the “next best thing” will come along to try.

    I don’t care what terminology you use, James Robert hits it on the nose – if it does not produce a POSITIVE impact on the FI, why are you doing it? It’s automatically impacting the FI…because it’s costing you resources (time and money), I would hope you’re expecting to see some value out of investing those resources.

    Happy Holidays fellas –

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