The Strategic Role of Content Marketing

By Mark Gibson

There is much discussion about the need to create and curate content for bank websites and social media platforms. Most sites are crammed with posts about local donations, financial wellness, charity events, and bank activities. Many marketing departments spend a significant chunk of their time on these activities.

Econsultancy’s 2018 Digital Trends report found that the top strategic priority for surveyed organizations was content and experience management—with 45% of respondents placing it among their top three digital priorities for 2018.

But how does this buzz of activity ladder back to the bank’s strategy—and at least as importantly—how does it translate into meaningful results for the organization?

The current situation.

Content marketing is all the rage right now, and there are many good reasons why:

  • First, many consumers and business owners are increasingly distrustful of traditional advertising. They believe that speaking with their peers or reading reviews provides a more objective view of an organization than listening to what the firm says about itself in advertising.
  • Second, content marketing addresses the desire to understand the “buyer’s journey” and provide just the right information at the right time to move the consumer through the learning and buying process.
  • Finally, content marketing plays into the trend of consumers using more digital and social media and reducing their reliance on traditional media.

As a result of these three powerful forces, bank marketers are jumping in with both feet—recruiting or partnering with writers and journalists to establish editorial calendars and creating voluminous content to “feed the beast.”

And, unlike a seasonal advertising campaign, “the beast” needs to be fed daily, which becomes a herculean task, especially for community banks with tiny marketing teams.

The question remains: is all this effort worth it?

Tactic in search of a strategy?

The concern among many senior executives is that this flurry of activity, and the cost associated with it, is at best being done to rack up clicks, likes and followers. And at worst, it’s being done with no underlying strategy or desired outcome at all.

In either case, utilization of a content strategy needs to be connected to account acquisition and loyalty efforts that directly impact the bottom line in order for it to be successful and sustainable in the long run.

Given the pressure to perform on one hand and limited resources on the other hand, what is a bank marketing team to do?

There are two actions that are imperative to get your content marketing program on the right track:

  1. Be sure your content marketing program is linked to your corporate strategy and customer acquisition and retention goals.
  2. Evaluate content marketing side-by-side with other marketing tactics to ensure these assets are aligned and that the right tool is being deployed for the right job.

Begin with the end in mind.

Content marketing can be a powerful tool to accomplish a bank’s strategic objective, but only if the two are harnessed together effectively. This process begins by clearly articulating what those corporate strategies are, and gaining agreement with senior management on what Marketing’s role should be in supporting them.

Beyond this strategic alignment, it’s worth a conversation to clarify what the bank’s primary goals are associated with those strategies. It’s also helpful to drill down as far as you can to help inform your marketing activities.

Here’s an example:  Your bank’s strategy may be to become the “best business bank in town” and the goal may be to become the third largest commercial lender in your town by 2020. To be successful with this strategy, the business banking group has determined that their primary targets are manufacturers, retailers, and professional services firms for CRE and C&I loans and cash management services.

Why is this so important? Imagine the executives in our example bank have agreed on the goal, strategy, and target market we just described—yet the marketing department is spending its time and money focusing on millennials, providing financial literacy content, webinars, and seminars. With no content aimed at business owners, there is a clear disconnect between corporate strategy and the bank’s content marketing and communications plan.

Hopefully, this example illustrates that linking your content marketing to your bank’s strategy is critical, both to help accomplish that strategy, and also to gain support of senior management and the front line.

The right tool in the toolbox?

Even if your content marketing program is linked to your corporate strategy, it can still fail or waste significant resources. The second hurdle or test is to make sure content marketing is the best tool for the job.

First, define the job. What are you trying to accomplish?

Returning to our example bank, it is trying to reach manufacturers and build awareness of their organization as a C&I lender.

The next step is to understand the buyers’ journey to determine what media the customers consume. In this hypothetical case, the bank discovers that manufacturers in their area read trade publications and travel to a regional trade conference once a year. They also uncover that, when researching banking options, these business owners speak with their accountants, lawyers, and fellow business owners for recommendations and referrals.

In this case, a native ad content partnership with the trade publication may be a good tactic. Additionally if the target prospect is relying heavily on third parties—their accountant, for example—content marketing should be aimed at accountants rather than the business owners themselves.

This example illuminates how content marketing may or may not be the best tool or marketing medium to accomplish certain bank goals, and that content marketing is most effective when created for a specific purpose and target market.

Before embarking on the creation of more content marketing, think about these questions.

Then determine the most appropriate media to use for each bank goal and target segment.

  • Who specifically are you trying to target for this campaign or goal (male/female; consumer/business owner; etc.)?
  • What do you know about their media habits and digital and social media usage?
  • What do you know about their buyer’s journey or path to purchase for the financial services category? Specifically, what information or “content” do they already use to educate themselves about the category and providers? What third parties do they rely on?
  • Can content be used as part of a broader campaign to educate your target(s) and position your institution as a relevant and credible provider?
  • Given their media habits and buyer’s journeys, would digital content (social, email, blog post, infographic, webinar, ebook, etc.) or more traditional content (native advertising, media partnership, article, seminar, etc.) reach your target segment(s) more successfully?
  • What other media should reinforce content to move the prospect through each stage of the buyer’s journey?

Content is king!

It’s undeniable that, as traditional advertising becomes less trusted, content marketing will continue to gain prominence. If you make the effort to link your content marketing initiative to your corporate strategy and take advantage of your customer’s buyer’s journey and media habits, your content marketing program should deliver meaningful results to your institution’s bottom line. And that should make both your marketing team and senior management more “content.”

Mark Gibson is senior consultant at Capital Performance Group, a strategic consulting firm that provides advisory, planning, analytic, and project management services to the financial services industry. Email: [email protected]. LinkedIn.