A recent article at Tearsheet briefly discusses the content marketing strategy for the online lending platform Bond Street. Content marketing is not something I hear people in the fintech industry talking about much, but they should. In this post, I’m going to discuss what content marketing is, why it’s important for online lenders in particular and fintech firms in general, and get into specific types of content marketing that fintech companies can use to build their brands. In this discussion, I’ll also pinpoint Bond Street’s content marketing strategy and tell why certain tactics they’ve adopted are important for fintech brands.
Ready? Here we go.
What Is Content Marketing?
A simple Google search for “What is content marketing” prompts Google to provide its dictionary-like definition right out of the box. Here’s Google’s definition of content marketing:
a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.
I like that. But investigating further, there are some reputable marketing firms that have their own definitions. Here’s one from the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
A bit too technical for my taste, but accurate. I prefer the more conversational Google definition. Here’s one from Marketo:
Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage an audience, while also promoting the brand itself.
Oh, and let’s check out what Wikipedia has to say.
Content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online.
Interestingly, Wikipedia defines content marketing as creating, publishing, and distributing content for a targeted audience online, yet, in the history section of the Wikipedia page for the content marketing entry, they go back as far as 1895 to illustrate where the concept comes from. However, the term “content marketing” didn’t come into use until some time in the 1990s–Wikipedia says 1996, but does anyone really consider Wikipedia a wholly credible source?
Okay, rhetorical questions aside, let’s consider that each of these definitions has some element of truth in them. What is content marketing? In a nutshell, I’d say it’s any type of marketing that is essentially based on the creating, publishing, and distribution of content in any form. That can be online or offline, though it typically is in reference to online content. I like the Google definition because it mentions that content marketing is not necessarily about explicitly promoting a brand. While the Marketo definition mentions brand promotion as a key ingredient, that simply shows that definitions can vary. My own take is this: While content marketing does inherently promote a brand, it is not done for the purpose of directly promoting a brand. This is a nuance that is important and a very fine distinction that simply means promotion is not always a blatant activity. It can occur by pursuing other goals and achieving other means.
Here’s what I mean. P.T. Barnum was a consummate showman and promotional expert. Everything he did was blatant promotion. Brand positioning, however, does not have to be that blatant. It can be subtle and still be effective, and that’s where content marketing comes in.
Why Content Marketing is Important for Online Lenders and Other Fintech Companies
It’s difficult to conduct business today without having some kind of online presence. That’s just as true of lemonade stands as it is for online lenders. One of the great ironies of the online lending space is that so many platforms use traditional marketing channels. If you conduct business online, you should seriously consider online marketing channels.
The question any business has to answer (and it’s no different for fintech companies) is, Which marketing channels will be most effective in reaching my target audience? The answer to that question depends on many variables, but one of the most important considerations is where you can find your target audience.
If you sell lemonade, you’ll be hard pressed to sell a cup in the middle of winter in the northern U.S. states. You might be better off selling hot chocolate. But in the middle of summer in the south, you can sell cool glasses of lemonade to every passerby with the right marketing. If you want to sell a lot of it, go to a busy street corner, or a park. The key indicator is, where do people who want and need lemonade hang out? Who wants it? And at what price? These are the questions you should ask. Once you have those questions answered, then you talk about your marketing plan.
There’s no question that the customers of online lenders are online. Even if all you provide for your customers through your online channel is an application, borrowers have to go to your website to get that application. They have to go online. But where were they before they got online to apply for that loan?
There’s a good chance they were hanging out at Facebook or Snapchat. They may even have been watching a Netflix movie. Or perhaps they were shopping at Amazon. Maybe they conducted a Google search for “Where can I borrow $1,000 online?” If that is the case, then you want to be the one to answer that question for them in Google. You want to be the top search result. And if the borrower was chatting it up with friends on Facebook and didn’t realize they wanted a loan, you could persuade them of that need simply by putting the right offer in front of them. Any way you look at it, you have to get your brand in front of the customer. Content marketing is one way to do that.
So, what types of content can fintech companies use? That, again, depends a great deal on who your audience is and where they hang out. If you provide small business loans, you’re more likely to find an audience at LinkedIn than Tumblr. If you provide payday or auto loans, Facebook and Instagram are likely the places your audience is hanging out. But that doesn’t say what content will appeal to them.
When it comes to choosing the right kind of content, there’s no fail-safe method that works every time. It’s not entirely guess work, but it’s not an exact science either. Some experimentation is in order, but, like investing in the stock market, you have to measure and weigh the risks against potential gains. Calculated risks are more likely to produce positive returns than willy-nilly guesstimates. The key is in understanding your audience and knowing where to find them. That’s where you begin any marketing campaign. The value of content marketing, however, is that you can reach your target audience quicker and more enticingly by drawing them to you rather than putting on some circus act.
A Look at Bond Street’s Content Marketing Channels
Content marketing is a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.
The Tearsheet article I mentioned in the first paragraph above briefly mentions four distinct content marketing channels Bond Street uses to build its brand online. These include:
- A blog that profiles its small business borrowers
- An online magazine that features New York independent business owners
- A podcast called The Nitty Gritty
- And a separate section of its website that provides resources specifically for women small business owners
Additionally, Bond Street manages its marketing budget by partnering with other businesses, but that is less about content marketing than simply good business sense. A look at the Bond Street website shows that the company has branded social media accounts at Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. That’s a very good good move, in my opinion.
So let’s talk about each of these content marketing channels and how they may benefit Bond Street as they seek to reach out to their target market:
- The Bond Street blog – I love this resource. It’s obvious that Bond Street has invested in their blog. Right away, I notice a distinct look. While appended to the back end of the Bond Street website, the blog has its own design, its own unique look and feel. That tells me that it’s a resource they value highly and expect to use as a branding tool.
Titled “Bond Street | Small Business Blog,” its navigational title is Stories. That’s important because the Bond Street blog truly is a resource full of powerful small business stories. Its purpose is to tell the stories of the Bond Street customers, and it does this well.
Other categories of the blog include Resources, Profiles, Marketing, and Management.
If you scroll down on the home page of the blog, you can read a brief history of lending, a guide to financial ratios, a content piece about music, recommended books for small business entrepreneurs, and more. It’s clear that the Bond Street blog is intended to be an essential resource for small business owners and to be of help to them in building their businesses. This is the essence of content marketing–be helpful to others by telling their stories rather than yours. In a nutshell, be other-focused, not self-centered. Bond Street hits this nail on the head.
- For New York – For New York is Bond Street’s online zine focused on telling the stories of New York small business owners. I love this!
The only downside to this fabulous piece of online branding is the peach background behind the stories. I don’t find that attractive, but I love the effort put into the stories, and even more, I love the branding of the magazine itself that soft sells the Bond Street brand.
Publishing an online brand magazine is one of the best ways to make use of content marketing. There are all sorts of ways to make this work depending on your brand. For some ideas, read my post “5 Classy Online Brand Magazines.” For more thoughts on why you should consider yourself an online publisher, be sure to read “Content Marketing Versus Content Publishing.”
If the Bond Street blog hit the nail on the head, their online brand magazine drove it into the wall.
- The Nitty Gritty – Podcasting has been around a long time, but sometimes it takes awhile for good ideas to pick up speed. Lately, podcasting has become an upward trend in content marketing. It’s an idea whose time has come, and Bond Street has jumped on board the bandwagon. Kudos to this online lender for doing so.
Notice that each content marketing effort Bond Street has adopted has its own branding. There’s the Small Business Blog with its focus on stories, the For New York branded zine, and The Nitty Gritty podcast. Isn’t it amazing just how effective one small branding element can make? No use asking, “What’s in a name?” This name lives up to itself. Each podcast features the CEO/co-founder of Bond Street David Haber interviewing a small business owner. I don’t know what else to say. This is content marketing at its finest.
To be effective at marketing through podcast content, you don’t have to own or produce the podcast yourself. You can also be a guest on a podcast that someone else hosts. For more information on how to make this work for your fintech brand, contact me and we can put together a plan to get you featured on podcasts that target your audience.
- Resources for Women – If you have a particular segment of your demographic that is strong, then it may be a good idea to focus some part of your content marketing efforts toward that demographic–especially if they have unique needs. In this case, Bond Street offers resources for women small business owners.
This is another smart move on Bond Street’s part. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, there are 9.1 million businesses owned by women in the U.S. That’s a demographic no lender that caters to small businesses wants to ignore.
Finally, I want to make mention of Bond Street’s social media accounts. Their Instagram is highly visual and dedicated to telling the stories of independent small business owners, and they make liberal use of effective hashtags. Their Twitter stream proudly supports independent businesses and links back to For New York in the profile description. Again, it is highly visual and promotes the small businesses the company writes about in its branded magazine. The Bond Street Facebook page is another visual representation of the motif about small businesses. Each one of these social media accounts is branded with the Bond Street logo and colors to make them recognizable to the company’s target audience.
All in all, I’d give Bond Street a big A in branded online publishing. They’re doing content marketing right.
How FinTech Firms Can Implement Effective Content Marketing Campaigns
As mentioned earlier, the first question you should ask is, Where does my target audience hang out? No use setting up a Twitter account if your audience isn’t on Twitter.
Another thing you want to know is what kind of messaging your audience finds most appealing. Are they easily persuaded by video content? If so, a YouTube channel might help you promote your brand effectively. If your target audience are top executives in technology businesses that cater to other businesses, then white papers and case studies are more likely to be persuasive. To key is to understand that there is no single path to content marketing Nirvana, no one path that will work for every company. The content marketing you perform should be tailored to your company.
That said, here are some types of content marketing you should consider. Each of these content marketing types are designed to make you an authority in your niche, not just another company that sells machine learning widgets.
- Branded blog – Like Bond Street’s blog, your branded fintech blog should appeal to your target audience with well-written authoritative blog posts that provide some kind of value to the reader. Forget chasing keywords. What you want is a blog to speaks the language of your target audience, provides them with information that will help better their lives, and is easily searchable.
- Articles – Not all content needs to be online. When it comes to articles, trade journal articles can be just as effective as articles you post at high-traffic websites within your niche. If you’re in the alternative lending space, you might consider submitting an article to Lending-Times. You can find submission guidelines here (Dislcosure: I’m the editor of the Lending-Times Daily Digest). The key is to put articles in front of your audience, and these articles should position you as an expert in your niche by providing value to readers.
- Email content – Email content comes in many different forms. It can be a short email blast that introduces prospects to your brand to an autoresponder series that teaches subscribers something that will improve their lives to an email magazine or newsletter. It should position you as an authority.
- Books/e-books – How many times have you read a book by someone you thought was nobody special? Chance are, if you read business books, you read them because you recognize the authors as authorities in their subjects, or you at least acknowledge that the subject matter in the book is worth knowing. In that case, you hope the author has something substantive to say, and if they do, you’ll believe that they do because they are an authority in that subject. Book authors are authority figures. If you know a topic well, you should consider writing a book about it.
- White papers – White papers are long authoritative articles that discuss a single topic in detail in an objective manner while positioning your brand as one worth listening to. They are perfect for a B2B audience.
- Special reports – In the B2C world, special reports can accomplish the same purpose as white papers.
- Case studies – Case studies are testimonials on steroids. Rather than being written by the subject herself, a case study is written by a third party, an objective person who interviews the subject and tells how they solved a problem or achieved success with your product or service.
- Podcast content – Podcast content often exists in the form of and interview. A highly respected person in a niche interviews the subject by phone or Skype, then prepares the audio file for publication online. They can range in length from 15 minutes to an hour. Another format is the panel format where a moderator conducts a discussion with several panelists. Single-performer podcasts are simply one person talking about a topic, maybe teaching a lesson or a course, or addressing a current problem. They can be very effective with audiences that aren’t heavy readers.
- Video content – Videos can be full-scale productions or simple presentations, but they can be very effective for visual learners.
- Infographics – Infographics are graphic depictions of content heavy in data and statistics. They can be highly effective in presenting information that might be dull otherwise.
- Presentations – Slideshare is like PowerPoint but for online presentations. You can take an article and re-purpose it as a slideshow. Or you can make your slideshow the original presentation. They are a great way to push content out to your audience in a way that allows the audience to brush up on a topic quickly without getting into too much detail.
- Online brand magazine – A branded online magazine is the Granddaddy of content marketing. With your own magazine, you can take submissions from freelance writers and niche industry insiders, provide the latest news and current events regarding your specific branch of fintech, and entertain readers while you educate them on important financial topics. Besides Bond Street, non-prime online lender Elevate Credit recently announced its own branded online magazine, Good Vibes. I’d love to see a real estate crowdfunding platform introduce its own branded online magazine. Other sub-niches such as mortgage tech, auto lending, and mobile banking could benefit from a branded online magazine, as well.
These are just a handful of types of content that any company can use to position itself as an authority online. You may not want to pursue all of these, but you can start with two or three and add others as you begin to see results. Content marketing doesn’t need to be your only marketing channel, but it can complement other marketing channels, even traditional ones, quite well.
Are you ready to boost your authority? Looking for ways to expand your reach and deliver the best content for your niche audience? Download my free report, “7 Types of Authority Content“. Learn the seven types of content that will keep your audience coming back for more and instantly make you an authority they can rely on.