For businesses operating in complex markets such as financial services or telecoms, gaining the confidence of an increasingly cynical public is getting harder. YouGov’s Public Trust in Banking report, published last year, revealed that five years after the credit crisis banks are still seen as greedy and untrustworthy.

The importance of having an effective content marketing strategy to address these shortcomings is backed by new research from content platform NewsCred, which shows that if a brand gets this right the reward is likely be increased sales and loyalty. It is something brands need to address quickly, given that data from the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) shows most plan to increase their use of content marketing in the next six months (see charts, below).

What type of content marketing do you usually use
How will content marketing use change at your company
Source: PRCA

Unfortunately, just 20 per cent of people think that their bank actually writes or posts interesting articles on financial matters, missing an open goal, according to NewsCred’s survey.

Yet the study of 1,001 UK adults, conducted online and by email by Redshift Research in August, finds that more than half trust a bank more when it offers them helpful, useful content. Some 58 per cent say that personal finance articles aid their decision making, 57 per cent say content from a bank improves their understanding of which financial products are the most beneficial and 31 per cent have signed up to new products and services based on useful content from their bank.

Nationwide senior digital marketing manager Alex Bennett is aware of the importance of content marketing in building and maintaining trust and has developed a calendar of content designed to meet customers’ needs throughout the year.

“We are providing people with content that equips them with the tools to make their own financial decisions and the most of their money,” he says. “The majority of our content [does not recommend a particular provider]. A good example of this is our First Time Buyers Guide to Mortgages, which includes products that Nationwide doesn’t offer.”

Getting the right people to write the content is also crucial to credibility. Like other financial services companies, Nationwide employs external journalists with specific subject experience. “By ensuring the content isn’t pushy and sales-focused you are in the best position to be seen as a trusted financial services brand,” says Bennett.

NewsCred international vice-president, Kayvan Salmanpour says banks can struggle in this area for a number of reasons. “They need a better editorial strategy to avoid pushing their own products, and there is often a lot of red tape. They have to navigate strict compliance issues, which means it can be difficult to connect with consumers in real time. Banks should empower their relationship managers so they can publish content quickly and communicate with customers directly.”

As two success stories he cites Barclay’s Digital Eagles programme and Santander’s use of licensed content for its ‘Successful Modern Entrepreneurship’ campaign last year in partnership with The Times. It provided SMEs with helpful tips, news and case studies.

Increasingly it is the PR department which is taking ownership of content; whether it is social media, blogs, opinion pieces and articles, case studies on websites, e-newsletters, white papers, infographics, webinars, webcasts or microsites.

Cash Converters
Cash Converters uses editorial to familiarise people with its service

This is confirmed by research commissioned by the PRCA and conducted by YouGov, which says that 72 per cent of in-house PR teams and 89 per cent of agencies plan to ramp up their content marketing activity in 2015, even if it isn’t obvious where the money will come from to pay for it.

The survey of 195 PR and marketing industry professionals in July and August shows that 91 per cent view content marketing as a way to engage with customers and prospects, yet 64 per cent say there is no separate budget stream.

Tanya Hughes, who leads the PRCA’s content marketing working party and is also president of SERMO Communications, says changes in consumer behaviour and concerns about trust present a need for strategic thinking in the content marketing discipline.

“Content is only as good as the people producing it,” she says. “A brilliant idea can come from any marketing discipline so there has to be collaboration between PR and other marketing functions so these tactics link to sales, marketing and brand-building objectives.”

Insurance is another industry where content skills can build consumer trust. Lee Noon, head of digital marketing at LV=, works with content agency Axonn Media to generate topical blogs, features and insurance guides. After the Government’s last budget it produced videos featuring LV= experts talking about the changes to retirement rules – but there was no sales message.

“Our strategy doesn’t start with ‘what’s the best feature of a product that we want to sell?’, it begins with a review of who we’re trying to connect with and what content they’re interested in. These topics will support our business objectives,” says Noon.

He adds: “We understand what motivates our customers. For example, we reference ‘protect your family’ or ‘protect your mortgage’ instead of talking about our internal product names. This gives customers an emotional tie-in when they are considering which products they need.”

What consumers think of their banks content marketing
Source: NewsCred

Any brand associated with money must build consumer confidence, especially when it is involved in a relatively new market. Well-known former City fund manager Nicola Horlick is now CEO of crowdfunding business Money & Co, which has devised a content-led marketing strategy with digital agency MBA.

“A lot of brands assume their audience has financial knowledge but many businesses are talking about subjects people do not understand,” she says. “There is a group of people who want to save and invest but need guidance.”

The news and blogs produced with MBA talk about backing businesses through crowdfunding and subsequently drive traffic to the Money & Co website. Horlick believes that delivering informative content encourages people to return to a brand time and again. “You will only be trusted in a complex market if people clearly understand what you stand for. In our case they need to be told in an engaging way how the lending process works.”

MBA has created an online treasure hunt where players search across partner websites. The treasure hunt runs over five days in October with a series of ‘mini-hunts’ with smaller prizes, culminating on the fifth day with a grand prize of £10,000.

Telecoms brand O2 has similarly tried to connect with consumers through content, using its Priority initiative and YouTube how-to videos. In the last year it has collaborated with Nike, Bauer Media and The Huffington Post to produce content. The Bauer partnership, ‘Go Think Big’, gave young people tips on finding their dream job.

O2 freaks wanted
O2 takes a further leap by writing about things young people are interested in, such as getting their dream job

Will Kirkpatrick, campaigns lead at O2, says every company is talking about the importance of content. “You have to raise the bar to be noticed because we know people are spending more time researching before they buy,” he says. “They need rewarding with a useful, authentic content experience that still puts your brand at the front of their minds during the purchasing cycle.”

He says it is vital to link any activity to brand awareness goals rather than to sales objectives when measuring the ROI from content marketing. “What is the consumer sentiment around the content and how did people engage? Was the content liked and shared?”

One company that has had to deal with negative connotations around its brand is pawn broker Cash Converters UK. Chief executive David Patrick says many customers have never visited a pawn-broker before or bought a pre-owned electrical item.

“We provide information that helps people understand the services they can access, but which doesn’t push them in any one direction,” he says. “Our communications team at Remarkable Content have close relationships with industry organisations, the Association of Chief Police Officers and think tanks like Policy Exchange so we keep on top of the demand for content.”

Brands that invest in relevant content can engage with existing and potential customers even if they operate in a market where trust has been damaged or is hard to build. If funds are made available to do this properly then that engagement will also translate into loyalty and sales.

The three big challenges in content marketing

RBS Business Sense
Royal Bank of Scotland avoids mentioning its products in content, instead focusing on issues people are concerned about and acting as a helpful guide

1.Not plugging the product

Like an itch you shouldn’t scratch, it can be difficult avoiding mentioning products and services within your content, but the impact will be diluted if the content slides towards becoming native advertising. “In financial services, for instance, you should address people’s fears. What should you do if you lose your job or have negative equity?” says Andrew Hirsch, chairman of the Content Marketing Association and chief executive at John Brown Media Group, which works with Royal Bank of Scotland. “If people are educated about something they are more likely to trust the brands that are providing that information.”

2. Making the content engaging, credible and simple

Even if the content is not marketing- or sales-led, consumer cynicism can remain when people see who is providing the information. The challenge is ensuring the content is credible and taps into the audience’s needs at a particular moment. Trust is built over time.
Car brand Kia has invested in the Reevoo ratings service which mixes customer reviews with other content. “For
the car market, 95 per cent of purchasers spend a lot of time online researching before they buy. So we provide content that people want to watch, engage with and act on at every stage of the consideration funnel. This reinforces our messages around quality and reliability,” says Kia Motors UK marketing director Mark Hopkins.

3. Measurement

Measuring the impact of content marketing is tricky because it is not directly linked to sales and it is difficult to know which pieces of content or which events had the most positive effect. The best measures are how long people are spending reading and watching content, the number of return visits and the social sharing of content. You can also measure the traffic flow of visitors to product sections on a website, reduced bounce rates and subsequent quotes that are generated for potential new customers.

Case study: Money Dashboard

Smaller brands competing in complex markets are using content to raise their profile and build trust. Money Dashboard is a personal finance aggregator which lets users manage all their bank accounts and expenses through a single online platform.

“Producing informative content around money saving and personal finance lets us fight above our weight,” says marketing manager Marc Murphy.

Money Dashboard works with content creator Quill and creative agency Zag. “Our key measure is the level of engagement and how long that lasts. Do people come back to our site?” says Murphy. “The aim of the original and informative personal finance content is to increase traffic to our site and ultimately convert visitors into active users of the platform.”

To expand the reach of its content and boost engagement levels among its target audience of 25- to 42-year-olds, the company employed content discovery platform Outbrain. Carefully selected pieces of Money Dashboard content are distributed across the Outbrain network across desktop, tablet and mobile websites to readers who are most likely to be interested in it.

Case study: Willis Group

Global risk adviser, insurance and reinsurance broker Willis Group is using content marketing to raise awareness of its brand outside the insurance sector. The company, which has its headquarters in London, employs 18,000 staff in 400 offices and advises many organisations including the United Nations on risk in a changing world.

It wants to be recognised as an innovative brand so it launched the Willis Resilience Expedition to Antarctica, a project organised by content agency Captive Minds. Live video of 19-year-old Parker Liautaud skiing to the South Pole and setting a new world record was streamed to a global audience. During the trek, Parker and his team conducted scientific research exploring the impact of climate change.

“The footage from Antarctica was only part of the story,” says Nathan Hambrook-Skinner, director of communications for Willis Global. “Sitting alongside this live story-telling from Antarctica were 16 professionally produced one-hour ‘TV shows’ broadcast daily from a purpose built studio in London.”

The purpose of the online TV shows was to reach a new audience who were unfamiliar with Willis.

“They were engaging with a wide range of external subject matter experts and leading authorities on issues such as climate change, the environment and natural disasters, as well as our own specialists. They helped to reinforce Willis’s credibility as a global risk management expert,” says Hambrook-Skinner.