By Manya Chylinski published October 27, 2011 Est Read Time: 7 min

Are Financial Services Companies Wise Investors in Content Marketing?

To most consumers, financial services companies are a bit like cars — we want them to work but we don’t want to know too much about what’s happening under the hood. Just as almost no one reads the manual that comes with the car unless something goes wrong, we definitely don’t want to spend a lot of time reading dense, dry copy about how a bank manages its cash, the vagaries of the bond market, or the technical side of financial instruments.

Unfortunately, marketing content in financial services has, for the most part, reinforced the interpretation that the industry is staid and a bit boring, a necessary evil. To be a little hipper and thus a little more engaging to the consumer, most financial services companies could benefit from a content revolution of educational and relevant content targeted to the consumer’s needs and interest level in an appealing format.

To connect with customers, there are a few truisms of content marketing that are even truer for financial services companies:

  • Use plain English and not industry jargon
  • Focus on what the consumer needs and how you can help them — not on what your company can do
  • Create compelling content using analogies, stories, or other devices to make the topics come alive
  • Personalize the information for individual situations when appropriate

There are also a few issues unique to financial services to be considered when creating content:

  • The industry has strict compliance regulations to contend with. Sharing as much useful information as possible within these constraints will be rewarded by educated consumers who know they can turn to a particular company for guidance.
  • Purchase of a financial product or service is rarely an impulse buy. Most consumers do a lot of research before doing things like applying for a home loan, switching banks, signing up for a new credit card, or investing in a particular stock or mutual fund.

Here are three examples of financial services companies that make information available to their customers. It’s a mixed bag of content and style, and evidence exists that there is a lot of room for improvement in content marketing in this industry.

Mint.com

This website started out as tool to help people understand and do more with their money, so it has a leg up on many other financial services sites. Mint Life, linked to/from the Education  section of Mint.com, is where most of the content (versus the tools) resides.

The format is a visually attractive three-column blog format, and Mint isn’t afraid to use color and graphics. The page has space for recent tweets, articles, and links to the Mint Life Guides and its popular Facebook page. As evidenced by Mint’s social media presence, it does a good job of engaging the customers. In addition to connecting with customers through those channels, there’s a link on the Mint Life home page for customers to suggest story ideas, ask questions, or offer suggestions.

  • Twitter: more than 184,000 followers
  • Facebook: more than 125,000 fans

Articles are readable and relevant, creatively addressing topics that run the gamut of personal finance concerns: Foodie Vacations on the Cheap, 5 Incredibly Stupid Things Consumers Do Online, or Choosing a Broker (a compelling infographic).

This site has an advantage over more traditional financial services companies because Mint.com started out as an Internet site designed to help consumers with educational content and provide them with tools to help them manage money. It continues to evolve with the times and remains relevant with its target audience; for example, it has a free mobile app to help customers keep track of their finances while they are on the go.

Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank’s Money Help suffers a bit from being part of the website of a traditional bank. The home page of this section states, “MoneyHelp is an easy-to-use online resource offering smart solutions, interactive tools and resources to help you gain control of your finances and give you peace of mind for the future.”

Unfortunately, the site is not easy to use. Navigation of the site is not intuitive, and it takes many clicks to drill down to a lot of the information. You have to really want to find the information and work to get it. There is a left navigation bar with five topics, which doesn’t seem to match up to the seven sections highlighted in the center of the page.

For example, the topic Budgeting on the left navigation bar links to a page titled Budgeting: Take Control of Your Money, with a number of subsections and links. Budget Planner, linked to/from a graphic in the center of the page, links users to the MoneyHelp Budget Planner tool. A link for the Budget Planner is also hidden among the subtopics on the Budgeting page. Why the two different navigation choices from the main page without an explanation of the differences or why a customer should choose one or the other?

The bank’s social media presence is not strong enough to truly engage customers in an ongoing conversation. It does not have a blog, but it appears the company has put its social media efforts into a Facebook page as that content is updated (often with company tweets).

  • Twitter: 1,144 followers
  • Facebook: 18,622 followers

For consumers looking for up-to-date content and engagement by the company, it’s a good thing that the Facebook and Twitter pages are updated because a lot of the other content on that MoneyHelp page is static and dated. Two articles chosen at random —Your 5-Minute Guide to Protecting Your Identity and Your 5-Minute Guide to Sudden Singlehood — were both taken from MSN Money.com in 2008. Much of that kind of information is evergreen. However, because it hasn’t been updated consumers may question the effort the bank puts into any of its content marketing and feel that the bank isn’t interested in being up-to-date or accurate.

Because this is the website of a bank that has been around long before the Internet made customer engagement a requirement, it seems it is struggling to create and make available useful and relevant educational content. The efforts on Facebook and Twitter are helpful to connect with customers, but there is a lot of room for improvement in this website’s content marketing and management efforts.

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade got its start in business in 1975 and launched eBroker online in 1996. It has evolved as many financial services companies have and makes an effort to include a small amount of educational content for its customers via its Knowledge Center.  Despite an early foray into the online world,  TD Ameitrade  has fallen victim to some of the same issues that traditional financial services companies struggle with.

The company reserves the bulk of its content exclusively for its own customers. It states on the Knowledge Center home page, “As a client, you’ll have access to educational offerings, like the sampling below…” There is nothing wrong with having content behind a gate and offering exclusive access to it. However, in this case, by not having much educational content available freely to potential customers, TD Ameritrade limits its appeal and relevance to most consumers.

On the plus side, the company makes content available in a few different formats. On the minus side, the sections listed on the Knowledge Center home page do not all have content in them. In fact, the content listed on the Levels tab is all  that is available to non-customers. Workshops are exclusively for customers; so the tab is simply an explanation of what a reader, as a non-customer, cannot access. This content is not the cream of the crop, either. None of the six webcasts worked when I tested them (on Firefox and Safari).

If the purpose of content marketing is to educate and inform both customers and prospects, TD Ameritrade has lost an opportunity here by limiting access and making it clear that the public only gets access to a small subset of what it has available.

Though it has a Twitter account, this brokerage company effectively does not have a social media presence, and it does not make an effort to engage customers and prospects in an ongoing conversation. There is no blog or Facebook page, and while it does have a Twitter page, there is no link to it from the website.

  • Twitter: 1,648 followers

This site could benefit from more active social media efforts and more content designed to educate consumers about finance and managing money. TD Ameritrade might wish to bring its content marketing efforts up to date and up to the high standards that consumers have come to expect when looking for educational content.

What do you think about these examples of financial services companies’ content marketing attempts? What do you think works best in this arena? Where do you see room for improvement?

Author: Manya Chylinski

Manya Chylinski is a marketing consultant and writer helping B2B companies create compelling content and share thought leadership and success stories. Founder of Alley424 Communications, Manya has experience in a variety of industries including technology, higher education, financial services, government, and consulting.

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