When it comes to breaking through the noise and effectively engaging your customers, data is king. And for banks, especially, the information gleaned is incredibly valuable—allowing you to drive more effective decisions, and making it possible to highly personalize and target your marketing efforts.
You know this. But what are you truly doing with that data to help impact your customers’ lives?
A recent Accenture survey of 33,000 financial services customers found that “Customers know data’s value and will trade it—for a return. They are willing to exchange personal data for new, customized benefits. Providers [read: banks and financial institutions, too] offering real value for data can earn increased trust and loyalty”—with 63% of people surveyed who say that sharing data should deliver personalized products and services advice.
No Virginia, there is no content Santa Claus
The fact that your customers want and expect competitive rates, quality service, and secure data should be viewed as table stakes. But to succeed—to set your organization apart, and attract new and younger customers (Gen Z comprises 32% and Millennials 31.5 % of the global population)—you need to make sure that interactions with your bank don’t leave your customers wondering “Why, oh why, does it have to be so hard?”
As we discussed in our recent white paper, Ice Cream or Otherwise; how (the right) personalization could be the inevitable future of everything,“customers, citizens, fans, or patients—by and large, people in modernity—are looking for ongoing, value-based, voluntary relationships that deliver tailored brand experiences, big and small.” And they want those tailored experiences to be easy, so easy in fact that they may not even have to think about it — so they can do things. (To be clear, easy doesn’t mean cold, or thoughtless, or utilitarian. Easy means curated, well-thought out, frictionless, and beautiful.)
I find that most organizations that I encounter understand this and are addressing these needs at some level, but (and it’s a big "but" here) there is an often overlooked, yet critical component of delivering that tailored experience—and it's content.
[Content. AKA how your institution communicates the information that helps your customers in their quest to “get $#*t done”.]
Yes, yes. Tools are important and provide the technological ability to personalize an experience for your customers. And the data that that tool can provide or leverage—yes, also incredibly valuable. And yep, we need process and people too, and it all needs to be enveloped in a strong strategy. But personalization is almost always discussed without content even being considered. And I call this...magical thinking. Magical, because organizations large and small, from banking to non-profits, think that their content will either create itself, or somehow morph into content that addresses specific audience needs—like alchemy or spontaneous combustion.
I’m here to tell you, though, that—sadly, Virginia, there is no content Santa Claus, there are no magical content elves toiling away at the North Pole neatly wrapped into your website or app. Successfully creating content for your audiences’ personalization experiences, which includes information, videos, calculators, quizzes, and messaging—takes work. And lots of it.
More toddler-watching-Sesame-Street, Less you-watching-Schitt’s-Creek
So...where to begin?
Before we even begin discussing segmentation, remember this: your comms-and-content strategy is one of your strongest brand experience and engagement tools.
Your customers don’t care at all which department in your organization created the content. They don’t differentiate between their web experience and the direct mailer they receive, or from the social media post that pops up in their feed and the 30-second ad spot they catch on TV. They don’t care that that one touchpoint is handled by Marketing, another by Brand, and another by an outside agency partner. It’s always just Wells Fargo, or SunTrust, or SoFi, or the Fed.
Your customers don’t engage with your content the same way they binge watch the newest season of Schitt’s Creek.
It’s not a deep dive, and it’s not a linear experience.
Instead, it’s more akin to how your toddler watches Sesame Street with your phone—on YouTube—in quick, short, toddler-like-dips: from Elmo clip, to Elmo clip, to Will.I.Am and the entire Sesame Street cast singing “What I Am”, then over to a random Baby Shark video, then to three minutes of Paw Patrol, and finally back to Elmo mid-clip.
Your customers have a lot more to do compared to the average toddler, and a lot less time to do it in. Because of this, those customers NEED a personalized experience. And not only do they need a personalized experience, they want one that is consistent, looks and feels like your brand, is additive, and helps them along wherever they may be in their journey.
To accomplish this, you may have to (gulp) bring people around the table who haven’t all aligned before, so that you can start working toward developing a cohesive non-linear conversation with your audience and each of the segments. The goal: define a continuous narrative of content and share it in a way that is truly meaningful to your audiences and what they want to accomplish.
Let’s talk about segmentation
Once you have everyone around the same table (virtual or otherwise), you have to agree on whom you are talking to via segmentation (and defining a set of parameters around each). As with healthcare, banking has many different constituencies including:
Personal banking customers
Commercial banking customers
Associations and NGOs
Other financial institutions
Within each audience segment are sub-segments that share similar needs, values, or characteristics. Once you identify these sub-segments, you can begin to understand each through targeted user research and testing. This data (the same data that’s King) will lay the foundation in creating content for each segment—truly meeting them where they are.
Creating flexible consistency
Each audience segment doesn’t need the same message, but the personalized content they receive does need to feel like it’s coming from the same place.
Messaging architecture is a framework that can help you create a system —allowing you to do just that. Identify your organization’s core messages, then nuance for each audience, then the topics within a segment’s messages—so that all your content maps together.
Born out of the messaging architecture should be a tagging system. This tagging system, aligned with the overall architecture, provides a way to associate specific content to audience segments and sub-segments.
Grammar rules required
In addition to a centralized messaging architecture, a set of content guidelines can help achieve consistency across a personalized experience. Everything from whether or not your writers will adhere to AP Style or Chicago Style—will help them know how to handle everything from headlines to abbreviations. Of course, it’s not necessary to adhere to a press style guide, and you can create your own guidelines, but the key to success is really having a language system that everyone orients around.
[Word of caution: Once you begin creating these guidelines, I promise you will learn that more people have strong feelings about the Oxford comma and how many spaces are between sentences (one, obvi) than you would have ever imagined. Ever.]
Write, measure, iterate, improve...repeat
And now (deepest of breaths) we can finally write! Copywriting is an execution of a strategy, so if you were to have your team of copywriters create content before tackling all of the above, it wouldn’t be nearly as impactful or useful—to your organization or your customers—as it could be, not only delivering a fractured brand experience but making you less likely to address their needs—in the way they want or need you to.
Writing is actually the starting line, not the finish line. It’s important to gather insights and analytics, repeat what is resonating, and improve on what isn’t.
You and your team are not your audience, no matter how hard you try to put yourselves in their shoes. And that’s okay. Lean into the insights you gather from behavioral analytics—and improve accordingly—rinse, Elmo, repeat.
The work is 99% invisible
As designer Roman Mars popularized in his radio show (by the same name), if done right, 99% of design is invisible. And the same holds true for content. If we do this right, your audience will have a personalized, simple, frictionless content experience that feels like it was designed just for them. It will leave them saying, “That was easy.”
And they don’t need to know about all the hard work we talked about above. That can stay between us ;). Because, the best content strategists recognize that a large part of their responsibility is to do all of the thinking, so the customer can get on with their lives.