When it comes to technology, banks haven’t exactly been on the bleeding edge of innovation.
In fact, with little exception (we’ll talk about a few norm-breakers below), most banks have been notoriously slow to offer anything more than the same old direct marketing techniques they’ve used for decades.
Consumer demands, however, are forcing banks to either get with the picture or go out of business.
How will banks attract new business in this environment? How will they solidify new connections with customers in a situation in which 25% of Americans have lost trust in traditional banking institutions?
One way banks can step up is in the realm of content marketing.
Content Marketing to the Rescue?
Consider the typical bank's standard objectives:
- Deepen relationships and increase products-per-household
- Acquire new customers or members
- Retain old members
- Increase business banking relationships
- Build the brand
Content marketing helps to achieve each one of these.
There are a number of answers to that question, but for our purposes, we'll choose one specific angle to look at: education.
Fundamentally, people want to learn things from you that will help them succeed in life. If you can show a 25-year-old how to automate his retirement savings, she’ll trust you enough to do business with you.
Consider a few examples:
- Liberty Mutual recently teamed up with Amazon and HowStuffWorks to create educational toolkits that cover a range of personal finance and insurance related questions.
- Bank of America partnered with Khan Academy to offer a suite of educational resources in personal finance. The depth of content they’ve developed is enough to give potential customers a lifetime worth of solid financial training.
In addition to offering a valuable service to their current and potential customers, Liberty Mutual and Bank of America have used these platforms to develop reams of high-quality content designed to do one main thing—attract and win new business.
But, how can a smaller institution keep up and develop? How can the little guy hope to compete with the resourcing and institutional credibility lying behind these powerhouse partnerships?
In a previous post [link to my personalization post when its up], I discussed the general consumer trend towards increased personalization in financial services.
Driven by developments in financial technology, a significant portion of customers are looking for bespoke, unbundled solutions tailored to serve their specific needs instead of the ‘one-stop-shop' that used to be the community bank.
Banks, however, are having trouble keeping up with the intense demand for one-on-one attention. In fact, only 31% of them would agree that their financial institution truly understands their needs.
In the main, banks have not done much to utilize technology to close the personalization gap.
But, user-generated content offers a hybrid of technological and non-technological means of scratching the same itch—all the while providing a similar educational service as the examples I mentioned above.
Here are some of the distinct benefits of UGC:
- Educational Material – UGC allows customers to tell stories and share their own experience. When paired with in-house content production, it can provide vital human context for some of your bank’s more ‘boilerplate’ advice.
- Personal Attention – In a digital community setting, it encourages customers to communicate directly with one another and offer personal advice depending on unique situations.
- Sustainable Content Production – Most importantly, a well-tuned UGC machine can crank out tons of high-quality content with a minimum of input from your bank’s (paid) marketing staff.
Still, there's one more benefit that just might trump each of these…
Proving Authenticity to Millennials
Perhaps the most crucial benefits of UGC isn't strictly tangible. As millennials continue to age and earn (literally) their own share of the financial sector’s attention, marketing to them has only gotten to be more important.
The key to attracting this burgeoning market segment is authenticity. More than just a buzz word, authenticity describes the ethos that pervades millennial expectations in the marketplace.
By definition, authenticity can’t be manufactured. Nor can you self-identify as an ‘authentic bank.’ Instead, you need to tell your story—and the stories of your customers—honestly and compellingly
UGC does that for you.
Plain and simple, user-generated content is user-trusted content. One customer’s success story with your bank is worth more to a millennial customer than one hundred of your slickest direct marketing advances.
If you want a concrete example, check out Santander’s recent ad campaign developed with user-generated video clips. Their goal was to tap into the authentic feel of personal clips vs. professional shots. So far, it appears to be working quite well.
Re-orienting your content machine to make use of UGC means relinquishing, to some extent, your control over branding and messaging. For a financial service provider whose goal is to protect and promote the financial security of its customers, the stakes are just too high to turn over any semblance of control… or so it would seem.
To foreclose on the promise of UGC would be premature. Banks of all sizes can (and do) navigate potential obstacles to make the most of all that UGC has to offer.
Here are a few of those obstacles with some advice for overcoming them.
Nothing keeps financial service providers up at night quite like the specter of government regulation. Compliance officers rightly spend countless hours grinding to keep up with the ever-changing body of regulation that governs the finance industry.
While financial providers who regularly deal with online transactions have come to grips with compliance protocols like PCI DSS and GDPR, there is a host of regulations which threaten to complicate any sort of user-driven content generation scheme.
To help financial providers get a handle on the regulatory implications of their social media usage, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) released guidance in 2013.
Here is a small sample of federal laws that the FFIEC warns about:
- Truth in Savings Act
- Equal Credit Opportunity Act
- Truth in Lending Act
- Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA)
- Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- FDIC/NCUA Logo Display Rules
If you're a bank, then you're justifiedly worried about customers generating content or doling out advice on your platform that somehow runs you afoul of any of these laws.
That's a pressing concern, but not a fatal one. Consider these three ways to keep yourself on the right side of the law with UGC:
- Invest in Expertise – Don't trust a blog post for legal advice. Hire compliance officers and in-house counsel who've personally applied themselves to financial regulation in the age of social media.
- Connect Compliance Officers and Community Managers – Have your compliance officers regularly audit online communication and train community managers to identify potentially troublesome content.
- Enforce Strict Community Guidelines – Develop clear guidelines designed to show users what exactly is allowed and what’s not. Make it clear that content which violates these guidelines will be strictly moderated.
With the right level of internal training and a proactive team of community managers, you can run a successful UGC campaign without opening your institution up to legal liability.
Disintermediation (Diluted Branding)
Another potential objection to using UGC has to do with branding. The fear is that users will either fail to tell your bank's story or tell a different one altogether.
The fear is understandable, but given the fact that 92% more likely to trust their peers than brands themselves, it might tempt banks to let their fear rob them of an incredible opportunity to get their message across.
The best way to sidestep the disintermediation concern is to either maintain tight control of your social media UGC campaign or develop a self-hosted solution. The latter, especially, will allow your institution to keep its brand image front and center.
The remaining objection I want to look at has to do with the actual quality of content that gets produced by the users.
If I had to guess, I’d say you’re worried about something like this happening:
- You run a UGC campaign asking customers to share their #1 financial tip in 140 characters or less using your bank’s hashtag, and a few of those tips end up suggesting ridiculously foolish behavior.
- You host an online forum in which one of your most vocal users offers fellow users advice that rubs against the grain of your own institution's vision or philosophy.
- In either of the scenarios above, you encounter users offering tax and/or legal advice which they are not professionally licensed to give. You’re worried about your own liability in hosting that content.
Again, I get it. No banking institution wants to turn their content loose to a pack of unknown, unproven financial geeks on the internet.
That’s not, however, how a well-run UGC campaign works. Banks can maintain the quality of content associated with their brand by focusing on three things:
- Content Delimitation – Make it clear exactly what you’re looking for. Accept only content that meets your strict guidelines and fits in with your brand vision and banking philosophy. Set a high standard and stick to it.
- Active Moderation – Reject and/or delete content that falls below your standards. Don’t be a snob, but make it clear that your campaign will only use the highest quality material. But, don't just focus on the stick; give your audience enough of a carrot to keep producing content that meets your high standards.
- Qualified, Trained Advocacy – Load your community with super-users who know their stuff and get what your brand is trying to do. Incentivize them to advocate on your behalf and equip them with the tools they need to do that well.
In sum, user-generated content is a trend in marketing that simply isn’t going away. Brands of all kinds are benefiting in huge ways from allowing their users to take over their content development burden. Isn’t it time your financial institution joined them?