By Rachel Hatton, chief strategy officer at OLIVER Group

If you’re a fashion retailer or a highly-engaged consumer brand like Nike or Lego, your audience is deeply passionate and hungry for digital content. Those photos of Neymar Jr in his new boots will be viewed and shared around the globe.

Banks and financial brands, unfortunately, don’t play in that space. Their relationship with consumers is often perceived as a necessary evil, with confused people struggling to understand what those brands have to offer and what makes them different in a highly commoditised market. Worldwide, there’s a huge confidence gap between what people actually know about finances and what they should know.

Filling that gap is tricky – but it’s where financial institutions should be looking to focus their time and their content marketing campaigns. All too often, the sector (and it’s by no means alone in this) is instead generating nothing but ‘digital landfill’ – photos, videos and written content that clogs up Twitter feeds and Google pages with product information and abstract facts and figures – without providing what people actually want.

The area that the financial industry has tended to neglect is what we call ‘respond’ content –  content that genuinely answers people’s needs, like the ‘how to’ videos you can find all over YouTube. There’s a real appetite for content that can help demystify the financial arena and show people, in real and easily understandable ways, how doing A can help them manage Real-Life Situation B.

This isn’t about offering advice on specific products, it’s about giving people practical solutions to get to grips with the big financial issues they’re facing in their lives – whether that’s managing day-to-day budgets, saving for their kids to go to university or wondering if they’ll ever be able to retire.  Global financial brands need to understand how these issues – and attitudes to money – vary by market. And obviously, they need to take account of different regulatory climates.

They don’t have to do it all themselves. To provide a sense of objectivity, financial brands can harness the wisdom of the crowd (we’re often reassured if people like us are making similar decisions) or partner with charities or other organisations.

Brands also need to think about how often they interact. A constant stream of content might work for the active investor who plays the market and wants regular updates, but the homeowner who only worries about his or her insurance renewal once a year is hardly going to need the same level of contact – and the latter is the type of customer most financial businesses have in far greater quantities.

Because your content is competing against Facebook updates and cat videos, it doesn’t just need to offer utility; it also needs to be engaging and offer a clear and distinctive point of view. People find it very hard to differentiate financial services brands purely on the products and services they offer. So you need to be clear about what you stand for – for example, if you’re targeting SMEs, understand the mentality of entrepreneurs and offer them authentic stories that show them why going to your brand offers real and practical assistance.

And what’s more, don’t be like so many financial brands that are apparently afraid of using emotional hooks. Contrary to what many might think, the financial services industry is not entirely about facts and figures. Money is, in truth, a highly emotive subject that’s tied to our hopes, our dreams and our fears for the future.

Prudential, for example, understood this when it created the Day One content campaign in the US. By encouraging people to share experiences from their first day of retirement, it picked up on the nervousness and uncertainty that many people feel about retirement after a lifetime of work rather than the traditional cosy image of retirees sitting on the veranda or playing golf all day.

Finally, content marketing doesn’t take place in isolation from the rest of the customer experience. Financial brands need to be clear how their content enhances consumers’ experience of the brand, whether it’s inspiring them to take the first step to saving for their pension or demystifying their insurance claims process so they don’t have to phone the call centre. Better customer experiences lead to more profitable customers.

The simple answer, when it comes to online content, is that less is more. A few highly-targeted pieces with a relevant emotional hook, all of which offer real and useful guidance, are going to be far more valuable to potential customers than a blizzard of Facebook posts and emails. Financial institutions that understand the role of content and use it effectively are going to be able to offer both a genuine point of differentiation and a better customer experience.

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