Modern Marketing

Finance brands have a content ‘sameness’ problem

  • Content marketing is a must-have for financial brands, but across companies, a similar look and feel is taking hold
  • Companies are setting themselves apart through in-house content studios, influencer campaigns, and live outreach events

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Finance brands have a content ‘sameness’ problem

Vaibhav Khullar, a London-based banking technology startup founder, noticed that digital ads alone wouldn’t generate a big enough bump in business. Six months ago, he decided that content, or branded stories, could be the answer.

“We started off with paid advertising, but online ads aren’t good for the market we’re working in,” said Khullar, the founder of six-year-old OSREC Financial, whose clients are mostly banks and hedge funds. “People who are tech savvy aren’t going to be as influenced by online ads as a high-quality article that’s shared around — it could be an article talking about things that might address an existing problem.”

In finance, content marketing has become a must-have to keep customers and attract new ones. But it’s a cluttered market. It’s tough for a company to distinguish its voice from others presenting the same topic in a similar format or style. For example, the “news and stories” section of Chase’s website features the headline “7 essential rules of saving“; Bank of America’s “Better Money Habits” offers “7 steps to stay financially fit” and Capital One weighs in on “7 ways to enjoy your wedding season without crushing your wallet.” The similarity in look, feel and presentation can make branded articles seem less authentic.

“You’re generally going into a marketplace where everyone is just shouting,” said Khullar. “It’s eventually going to be a mess of noise, and there’s going to be nothing coherent to be heard.”

Across industries, branded content is part of lead generation strategies. Nearly every brand is a publisher churning out newsy content for clients and would-be customers. Eighty-six percent of business-to-consumer brands polled by the Content Marketing Institute used some form of content marketing. In the financial sector, its takeoff is more recent, with significant growth over the last three years, according to Ted Birkhahn, partner and president of New York-based marketing consultancy Peppercomm.

Banks and startups are using content to build a human connection with customers to ward off the distrust many of them have with financial companies.

“They use content to have a greater impact on the target audiences — educating audiences about what the brand stands for, and why the audience should do business with it,” Birkhahn said.

The sea of sameness
The jury is out on whether content marketing has been effective for finance brands trying to build brand recall. That’s because people who get news via social media are more likely to remember the platform they got the information from rather than the specific media outlet that published the story.

Only 47 percent of people can correctly identify the news organizations that publish the stories they read on social media, according to a July study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. However, 67 percent of people indicated they could recall accessing stories from social media and of them, 70 percent them could trace a story back to their Facebook feed and 60 percent to Twitter.

“I don’t know how well [content marketing] differentiates a brand,” said Jereme Mongeon, group director of content strategy at ad agency Huge. “People consume tons of content all day long, and you don’t always associate that with the brands that publish it; we’ve all had the experience ‘I’ve read this great thing but I don’t remember from where.'” 

Financial brands are realizing that to be successful, content marketing needs to evolve beyond a daily listicle or how-to guide; it needs to add value and serve the needs of the target customers.

“We see a saturated market of ‘tips and tricks,’ ‘five things you need to know about,’” Jeff Baker, director of digital marketing strategy for content marketing agency Brafton, recently told Tearsheet. “People want to read in-depth pieces of actual use cases of things that worked and things that didn’t.”

Looking and acting like publishers
Building great brand stories is only part of the battle. Growing brand recognition is often as much about the look of the page — the choice of colors, font and images — as the content itself.

Investment startup Wealthsimple’s online magazine includes profiles of famous people describing their struggles with money, a “how to” section, data and financial etiquette; it emulates the look and feel of a coffee table magazine, with no stock photos, hand-drawn illustrations and quality photos — which is a tactic to get readers to associate the look with the brand, according to executive creative director Devin Friedman.

“Everyone comes into content sideways and not through the front door,” said Friedman, who used to be an editorial director at GQ. “Visually we tend to have more humanity in what we do. Stock photos are boring.”

Wealthsimple develops its content in-house, and works with an illustrator.

Wealthsimple magazine

Old-guard financial companies are also working on distinctive branded content experiences. John Hancock launched robo-adviser Twine in November and is getting ready to launch a content hub that will stand apart from the traditional John Hancock brand.

“For Twine, we are trying to stay true to our brand and colors, and make it break through with imagery, and smart visuals are one way to present what we’re offering in a simple and upfront way,” said Lindsay Sutton, assistant vice president and digital strategy lead at John Hancock.

The success of a branded content shop to some extent depends on its autonomy from the mother ship. The idea is to view them as creative labs rather than lead generation factories focused on the bottom line. Offering them some degree of independence gives content creators the license to experiment.

“There should be some kind of separateness from the content marketing teams and those that push product,” said customer experience analyst Blake Morgan. “That group should be protected from having to show some kind of return on investment — a good magazine creates goodwill for the reader.”

BankMobile’s Ash Exantus

Adding a human touch
Three-year old digital-only BankMobile, launched content marketing site “Paradigm Money” earlier this month. Over the next few months, it plans on holding events at universities in its network to promote the site. BankMobile’s financial planning coach Ash Exantus will be speaking to students about financial literacy, and the bank will invite students to contribute articles.

“If we go the traditional route, we’re going to get drowned out,” said Exantus. “If we can make that human connection, feel and touch, and [students] can connect with us, they start trusting the brand and become ambassadors, and that’s when the social aspect comes about.”

Adding the voices of employees or influencers to a content marketing site can help differentiate the brand voice. Content from employees and in-house experts can personalize the company’s message and help build a following on social media.

“If you can relate humans to brands, you can build that credibility and expertise, and that can be a really powerful thing,” said Mongeon.

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