Defining Content Marketing

Richard Nolan

Operations Director

The Financial Services Forum

It’s generally accepted that well-thought-out content marketing can deepen engagement with customers to ultimately drive value to the bottom line. But with a growing avalanche of content seeking increasingly time-poor audiences, what are the critical factors for success in effective content marketing? Forum Members are asked for their thoughts on what is meant by content marketing and how to ensure it can be executed effectively. They also offer their opinion on where they believe content marketing will be in five years.
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Only create content that fulfils a need. You can identify your audience needs using surveys, by logging search engine behaviour and by interrogating site stats. Then all you need do is directly address that need with your content. You can provide context for the issue or offer a solution, while presenting a distinct point of view.
Don’t forget the art of storytelling. Make your content digestible and delightful. Think about look and feel, level of interactivity and emotional appeal. Video is emerging as the best format for this. Where possible, use your customers to tell your brand story. It’s easier to identify with individuals than businesses.
Optimise. Desktop sales are in decline; multiscreen and tablet consumption are on the rise. Don’t devalue your brand by not being platform-ready.
Don’t just broadcast – interact. Allow for user comments, ratings and easy distribution via social media sharing. This will drive advocacy through a peer network and relieve pressure on your marketing department.
The future? While advertising will continue to play an important awareness role, no digital marketing strategy will be able to ignore the need for original content (namely video), with only the cream of productions rising to the top.
MIKE OVERTHROW, Digital Marketing Specialist, Ecclesiastical
Creating standout content will continue to get tougher as more brands shift spend to content marketing. In the B2B space, useful, interesting and entertaining content will continue to do well, but only where there’s as much – if not more – focus on seeding and promoting the content as on the content itself.
And that’s where the content revolution appears to go full circle and just become plain old marketing again. But content marketing isn’t ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. Because of it, organisations are being far more open in sharing their knowledge and expertise than ever before. Newcomers have used it to rattle traditional markets quickly by providing the information consumers are looking for and, to survive, established players need to embrace this new era of ‘free’ expertise.
PAUL DAS, Founder and Managing Director, ProFundCom
Content marketing from financial institutions has to be factual and compliant as well as provide something useful to the reader and to your organisation. This is ‘soft-touch marketing’, in that it’s not directly seeking a sale, so tracking what the reader does with the content – how long they spend reading it, what links they click on, etc. – is vital to derive value. For that, you need profiling tools and advanced engagement analytics, which let you track interests and then send targeted, content-driven marketing materials.
In my view, the best type of content marketing is ‘thought leadership’, i.e. expert views on pertinent topics. This makes communications less self-serving and builds trust in the mind of the reader, which is vital for any financial institution.
JULIAN HYND, Director Retail, NS&I
At NS&I, our unique business model means that at times we are actively driving sales, but at other times we are trying not to attract new business. During periods when we are not looking to sell, we have to avoid traditional, through the line marketing communications, as these can’t help but drive sales. An unfortunate consequence is that brand recognition and consideration falls during these quiet times. For us, content marketing is a critical tool, as it enables us to maintain an ‘always-on’ presence and engagement with our existing customers, without necessarily driving new business. Of course, when we want the new business, the ‘always-on’ engagement means that our conventional campaign activity is more responsive and cost-effective.
MICHAEL GAUGHAN, Founder and Chief Executive, FWD Group
Success lies in communicating with your audience, not talking at them. You must engage your target market and provide information they can rapidly relate to. In tomorrow’s world, the first few words will clinch attention, and if it’s not immediately clear why your content is relevant, you’ve missed your mark. The next step is all about achieving a connection; position yourself as the first, best or most informed authority in the space. Finally, distribute your message in the right places. The winners will be those that spend time researching what sites their audience (individually) visit and which social platforms they use. Looking ahead, we’re moving away from blogs and articles. Infographics are still underused to disseminate snapshot figures and gifs are better shared than longer videos. Future-proofing your message will be less about amending the content and more about changing the way it is delivered.
ALAN THORPE, Managing Director, ConversationGlue
In August 2014, Nissan announced that trips to car dealers before buying a car have fallen from 7 to an average of just 1.5. Consumers now turn up to buy, not research.
You and I do our own research to find products and services that are right for us. We plug ‘how, which, why, where’ questions into search engines and social media. And these reward content that responds to our demands.
Successful brands now have to think beyond feature- and offer-led marketing. That requires real – not pretend – orientation around the likes, needs and channel choices of valuable consumer segments. Social media listening, data and analysis are the means.
And if a brand doesn’t answer consumers’ questions? Then, in five years it will probably be bust.
ALAN THOMPSON, Founder, Haystack
If we accept that content marketing has become a main pillar of a brand’s communication profile, there is still a long road ahead for most marketing teams to adapt their structure, focus and skill set to be really effective at it.
This challenge is compounded by the absolute need to be seen in the right place, at the right time. Tablets and mobiles have now overtaken laptops and desktops for internet access – 52% of instances – and the gap is growing fast. And apps, not browsers, are now the main internet access gateway, used on 86% of occasions.
In five years’ time, the balance between content creation and channel selection will be more demanding. I bet that 80% of the content being produced today will be redundant, whereas the channels will have multiplied. Companies need to decide whether content marketing is a valuable and valued route to engage with their audience, or an expensive way to connect with a consumer who is increasingly interested in other things.
ANNE-MARIE McCONNON, Marketing Director, BNY Mellon Investment Management – EMEA
Content marketing has been around forever – all that’s really changed is that we’ve found a name for it. For content marketing to work, you need to create content that your audience actually wants to read, not what you want to push from a corporate or product perspective. This sounds simple but it isn’t – it takes real discipline not to talk about yourself or your company. Then you have to get that content into the hands of the right customer/client and understand if it was valued by measuring whether it had an impact or changed behaviour. What’s the future? Competition to gain people’s attention will increase, so determining the key metrics around content will become more important. I also think we will create more content for multiple mediums and start to experiment more with new mediums.
IAN EWART, Global Head of Products, Services and Marketing, Coutts & Co
For me, useful content is at the core of marketing communications – it’s often said that ‘content is king’ and, for marketing to do its job, it must above all be relevant. Engaging content goes to the heart of relevance. It is essential that marketers and communicators develop the reflex to generate, own and curate engrossing content, not for its own sake but as a means to drive client behaviour.
Deliver information that makes your buyer more aware and better informed – this is a consistent insight from all our research. The essence of content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistently valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty. As consumers become more discerning, they are increasingly adept at ‘screening out’ less relevant content, across all media.
Content marketing should be driven by the steady creation and distribution of valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. And it’s this last point that is often forgotten. It can’t just be about content – the content must instigate action to achieve its marketing objectives.
Making best use of engrossing content happens when it is integrated into an overall marketing strategy and when it focuses on owning media, not ‘renting’ it for advertising.
It’s not a case of other forms of marketing versus content marketing. Content marketing is the opportunity across channels to engage in a relevant way to attract and retain customers by consistently creating valuable content with the aim of driving client behaviour.
Essentially, it’s the art of communicating with your clients and prospects without selling, sometimes also referred to as ‘non-interruption marketing’.
JULIAN WELLS, Director, Whitecap Consulting
Content marketing is the new name for thought leadership. So, what’s new? Well, the thing that has changed today is that there are now so many ways to create, publish and share content that you don’t actually need to be a thought leader to get involved in content marketing. I recently read that 56% of UK businesses don’t have a defined content marketing strategy. That means that 44% do, which is a lot of content.
As businesses continue to engage with content creation activity it will be interesting to see just how much of it actually hits the mark with the intended audiences. Whatever happens, I feel sure that the old adage ‘quality over quantity’ will hold true.
LUCIAN CAMP, Founder, Lucian Camp Consulting
Where will content marketing be in five years’ time? Well, it all depends what you mean. If ‘content marketing’ means having something worthwhile to say, and saying it in a way that’s interesting, succinct and distinctive, then I hope it’ll have gone from strength to strength and come to dominate the marketing communications landscape. If, however, it means – as I do rather fear – churning out reams of boring, generic, verbose rubbish that’s of no interest to anyone except the people who wrote it (and very likely not even them), well, the only place on the landscape I’d want to find that sort of stuff would be the garbage dump.
RENÉ TEUWEN, Founding Partner, TeuwenSchouten
Content marketing will become increasingly important as long as the content is relevant to the receiver. The critical factors for success will be knowing what content is relevant at any specific moment and when the recipient should receive it. There will be a growing need for highly developed customer relationship management.
Content can also be a very sensitive matter if used content incorrectly or based on the wrong assumptions. For example, an individual buys a book about football in general; he is Manchester United fan, while the editor of the book supports Arsenal. If you assume that the Manchester fan is interested in the editor’s other work, you may send them content about Arsenal, which could result in irritation. So, the wrong content can annoy.
DAVID HAMILTON, Commercial Director, Dog Digital
Sadly, content marketing has swiftly, and unfairly, become a buzzword bingo triple pointer. The ability to raise eyebrows and trigger exasperated sighs is, however, undeserved since content marketing (when done well) is a hugely effective method of deepening engagement. This happens through the integration of multiple disciplines (digital and non-digital), content types and platforms, with the focus on realistic and shared measures of success.
Too often, however, activity simply lacks a good, old-fashioned narrative (the glue) to hold content together and consistently tell a story over a defined period of time. Instead, we often see incongruent films, posts, articles and blogs bundled together and badged as content marketing, with inevitably poor results.
In five years’ time, as five years ago, content marketing will be with us – but storytelling may well have a shiny new tag.
PETER NOONE, Founder, Peter Noone Communications
Financial services must be more client-focused, not product-focused. Explain what it does, not what it makes. Content marketing achieves this better than other marketing.
JULIE IRWIN, Managing Director, Charterhouse Research
The financial services sector is uniquely positioned to take advantage of content marketing. Finance is at the heart of everything consumers and business do, and they are eager for quality content that provides help and guidance on financial issues.
To succeed and cut through, content must be properly aligned with customer needs and be genuinely helpful without reference to the company’s products and services. To maximise impact, content should be well written and designed, regular, made available across a range of media and shareable.
Content marketing is already a significant part of the marketing and communications mix in B2B markets and usage in B2C markets is growing rapidly. In five years’ time, content marketing will be a core discipline and, as such, referred to simply as marketing.
ALASTAIR WALDRON, Partner, Fundamentals
To plunder Lord Leverhulme’s famous phrase, 90% of content marketing is wasted. The expression ‘content marketing’ may be snappy, but suggests we are launching an avalanche of content seeking an audience. This may be easy and cheap, but it will always be hit and miss.
I prefer to talk about ‘engagement marketing’. If you start with a deep understanding of the people you want to reach and talk to them about the things that they are interested in, offering something of value, you will be successful.
It’s not the easy option, but I believe it’s worth the effort. In five years’ time, this is where companies will have to be. Our 10-point checklist will help companies get there.
PETE MARKEY, Chief Marketing Officer, Post Office
Great content marketing works hard to make audiences’ lives easier and encourages them to interact with the brand, changing behaviour and ultimately driving benefit to the business’s bottom line. Credibility is key, as it’s vital that audiences trust what they are consuming. Differentiation is key – it’s important to create content that stands for something, with a clear brand point of view. Ensuring that the content has the consumer’s interests in mind – and not just those of the brand – is also key.
In the next five years, technology will also enable brands to create content that is super-personalised and targeted to an individual – what have they previously done that tells us what we think they will be interested in or need? Moving forwards, ‘one size fits all’ simply won’t do.
KEITH BROOKBANK, Director, Linstock Communications
Supermarkets know when you’re going to buy ice cream – and they know it before you do. By crunching big data gleaned from loyalty card schemes, supermarkets remove the guesswork, allowing them to deliver the right goods at the right time.
Knowing the audience is also paramount to delivering delicious content. Effective communication means producing insightful, delightful content that you know will interest your audience right now, and which gets delivered in engaging formats and arrives via channels you know they use frequently. Sticking good stuff out there is not enough.
Learning from retail – how they harness behavioural information and, latterly, big data – is key to successful content-driven communications now and in the future. When it comes to audience understanding, ‘Every Little Helps’.
MARK HOLLYOAKE, Director, Customer Attuned
Your financial services content needs to stand out to be heard in a noisy marketplace. Clearly link to customer need – made accessible and engaging by the use of inventive and easy to access visuals and channels. Use examples that bring the product to life and explore some of the detail. Focus on rebuilding trust and engagement with your customer. You need to demonstrate that you are listening, adapting and taking into account what customers are saying – not easy when handling products and the detail required around them. Create competitive advantage by linking it to how you are focused on trust, fairness and improving the lot of your customers. Doesn’t take long to see who is and who isn’t doing this.
Beware: if you pursue this approach, you have to be 120% certain it can be delivered.
IAN HENDERSON, Executive Creative Director, AML Group
It’s still about ideas. Connecting audiences with your firm’s collective brain should be the goal of knowledge businesses. Insights and experience are mostly what they’re buying; it’s what gives you value and difference, and it gives them a reason to choose.
Content marketing should be perfect for that. But all too often it isn’t. When so much of it is undistinguished, undifferentiated and even unbranded, what’s the point? It becomes a tsunami of stuff, useless to both originator and audience.
The answer (as usual) is a creative idea: a clear thread running from the point of impact (so your content gets noticed), linking multiple channels to engagement (so it gets remembered, even shared).
That’s why firms are turning to creative agencies (like ours) for simple ideas about complicated – but highly valuable – content.
CHRIS DANE, Marketing Communications Manager, Consensus Research
If content marketing isn’t already mainstream marketing, it will be soon. Sharing genuinely useful material is a great way for financial organisations to enhance their brand reputation.
But it’s always a challenge to stand out from the crowd. If the content isn’t professional, and if it’s not relevant, then it’s junk. We’ll see greater focus on sharing content that reinforces a consistent and open brand personality, as opposed to lots of quite interesting ‘stuff’.
That’s not easy to do, so organisations will have to prioritise the writing, production and creation of quality content. That’s some commitment, so more sophisticated and actionable metrics will be developed to better set the direction and demonstrate a positive return on investment.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, Research Account Manager – Financial Services, Harris Interactive
The success of content marketing is usually measured by client behaviour in the form of open rates, click-throughs and total time spent viewing content. The use of market research to really understand why the consumer has clicked, read or responded to your specific content is critical, and often overlooked, within the complex and regulated financial services market. Understanding why they have reacted as they have helps to tailor future content strategy and feeds into the mapping out of customers’ journeys.
In the next five years, content marketing will become more tailored. Successful brands will blend behavioural data with stated customer preferences to deliver more engaging and relevant content – at the right time and place – not forgetting that content marketing is about building stronger relationships and delivering increased revenue. Otherwise, why do it?
ASIF CHAUDHRY, independent commercial marketer
In an information-rich, ‘always-on’ world, the need for content to be engaging and deliver relevance is ever more crucial. As the selection of delivery channels evolves – whether it’s 140 characters or a dedicated space in the cloud – content still remains king. In the new digital world of information communications technology (ICT), the buzzword will be ‘connectivity’. For marketers, this means that brands need to be authentic and transparent, listening and responding to the voices of their audience and influencers at a pace that must be in line with the speed that technology offers. We will see a more interactive two-way dialogue and engagement experience that uses data insights to personalise messages, so that we are viewed as more than good storytellers.
At FamilyProtect, we believe that content needs to be at the forefront of our digital strategy. It is the hook to capture the interest of our target audience.
In our product category, content is key for two reasons. Firstly, it helps FamilyProtect to educate and raise awareness among the European population about the importance of protection insurance. Secondly, it supports our SEO strategy. The priorities come exactly in that order.
We think about the users who read the content and the engagement we want to have with prospects. Then we propose innovative and original content: protection cover simulators, product presentations, videos and articles written by professional journalists. We think the content needs to be embedded in a clear, multilingual-website value proposition. It also needs to be part of a one-to-one customer journey, reflecting user profile and behaviour where we move prospects to purchasers.
‘Content marketing’ has become the ultimate buzz-phrase. The rationale is that it helps to build brand affinity and communicate a business’s offering to its customers. Knowing what your audience wants and keeping content relevant drives successful engagement. Consumers expect businesses to demonstrate an understanding of their needs and appeal to their values – for the financial services sector especially this is what content marketing must focus on.
With big technology players increasingly moving in on the financial services space, companies will need to keep up to speed with digital trends and innovations in technology. Using these for effective content marketing, and to enhance the customer experience, is not only a way of reaching those all-important next generation consumers, but is also integral to staying relevant to existing customers.
MIKE HEPBURN, Content Marketing Director, Jaywing
In the last 12 months, ‘content marketing’ has moved from being a corporate buzz-phrase to a business imperative. This is because it has been proven to work. A plethora of research findings show that companies that blog receive more unique users and more business leads than companies that don’t. So, how do you get noticed in the blizzard of content? Only content that meets your audience’s needs/desires in the format they want will cut through – make sure you’ve done your analysis and are clear on what those things are. Over the next few years expect content marketing to adapt to the growing demand for video, and for your audience to consume your content via mobile/tablet.
PAUL WREFORD-BROWN, Digital Director, Embrace
Write entertaining and interesting content – at the very least, it should be useful. Ask questions and focus on why you are doing it. Is the content you put out for the purpose of connecting with your audience? Getting it shared? Demonstrating your expertise? Building awareness of your brand and supporting SEO?
The obvious mantra is to think and behave like a publisher. As with everything, planning and good discipline are essential. Producing good quality, ‘evergreen’ content that will continue to drive visitors months and even years after it’s first published will certainly be rewarded.
Five years’ time? The million-dollar question. What’s certain is that digital natives, who will be key customers, will be more able to consume bite-sized fragments across multiple platforms. New challenges to embrace!
RICHARD LEWIS, Marketing Cloud Consultant, Oracle Marketing Cloud
We often hear about the importance of understanding the customer to succeed in content marketing, and that will always apply. It is unlikely you will ever actually be your customer, however, so as marketers we should stop presenting ourselves as ‘in the trenches’; it’s about writing with an understanding of the customers’ pains, with a nod to their terminology and culture. In addition, successful businesses acknowledge that content marketing is an accelerator: it improves the performance of adjacent functions like press relations, social media and, most importantly, demand generation, and all should factor into the way performance is measured. Content marketing is just warming up – and as it becomes more sophisticated I think we will mature in how we measure success.
RUPERT HODSON, Founding Director, dianomi
Financial content is emerging as a critical driver of both revenue and reputation as financial brands aim to position themselves as thought leaders.
With brands spending significant effort and budget on content creation, it is key that this content is discovered and doesn’t go to waste.
There are a growing number of content discovery platforms in the market, with Google and Yahoo! both making a move into the space. While the options for content discovery are increasing, our view at dianomi is that content discovery is most successful when contextually relevant. We see time and time again that placing links to content alongside contextually relevant articles leads to higher click-through rates and higher engagement on site.
This will be as relevant in five years’ time as it is now.
PROFESSOR MERLIN STONE, Director, WCL Customer Management
Financial services content must be special, combining clear and compliant explanation of rewards and risks with words and images that make you stand out from the competitive crowd. It’s hard to do with product details; it’s easier with good customer case studies. But content is not just about products or customers. It also covers what you do to make the world, which includes your customers, a better place. Look at bank Facebook pages. It’s not hard to see which lead with positive content and which are on the back foot, reacting to moans from difficult customers. Nuff said.
In the content-crowded world of investment management, too much ‘thought leadership’ is just consensus views dressed up in contrarian clothes. And too many pieces rely on slick graphics to mask bland content. So, the first challenge for financial writers like us is to tease out fund managers’ boldest ideas – the really incisive stuff that makes them different. We need to strip this down to ensure clarity and focus. The final step is to make the language sing.
In the coming years, we’ll see wider use of animation and infographics in content delivered across the media spectrum. With dazzling visuals increasingly the norm, we writers will need to express clear thoughts in the clearest language to hit the mark.
The key to successful content marketing has not changed. Deliver content that is interesting and relevant to the audience whose attention you want to capture. Technology advances have however dramatically increased the competition for an individual’s time and shaped the expectation of how content is presented to them.
Information flow is constant and instantaneous, good content strategy informed by the very latest market news. Delivery is to time poor audiences and look for concise, well written and visually well presented information that can be quickly digested and shared. Looking to the future there will be increasing pressure to deliver ever more highly personalised content through dynamic delivery based on fast and complex rules engines linked to both an individuals attributes and also historical multi channel behaviour.
There’s little doubt that the new high street for financial services is digital. In our view, five rules for content development help you to make your shop window stand out.
Firstly, address your audience’s needs. Be sure you write relevant content that relates to clients’ financial needs and objectives. Secondly, become a ‘thought leader’. Leverage your intellectual capital. Have fresh ideas and opinions. Third, plan strategically. Have a campaign plan. Next, identify your experts and find internal and external people with knowledge and creativity. Finally, integrate content into your brand. Use content to communicate your brand.
With internet financial services growing fast, in five years’ time the power of high-quality online content in engaging customers will be widely accepted.
Content is a key tool to help our customers make the most of their money – it empowers them to make the right decisions.
Successful content marketing means creating and delivering the right message at the right time – it’s vital to know your audience, and tailor what you say and how you say it to who and where they are.
A silver-surfer reading email at a desk needs help delivered in a different format to a millennial browsing Twitter on their commute.
As creators of content, we must be platform-agnostic in order to be future-proof. We don’t mind how or when our customers interact – but to be relevant in five years’ time, we must be brilliant wherever they see us.

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