Complexity is the enemy of engagement

A few months ago, I helped a major advisory client to describe what they thought was wrong with the banking industry – and what it might do to save itself. At the core of the diagnosis is a culture of complexity. That culture, all too often, is brutally evident in the way banks communicate.

Part of the problem is that until the banks dial back on the complexity of their products and services, it will remain hard to create engaging content. In the bank benchmarking report project, one financial services expert explained to us:

“Bluntly, banks made more money when markets weren’t efficient or when complex products were hard to understand. There has been a reassessment… with many UK banks making a public commitment to move away from opaque markets.”

Simple products and services lend themselves to simple, universally engaging content. As the late lamented boss of Santander, Emilio Botin, put it in 2008, “If you don’t fully understand an instrument, don’t buy it. If you would not buy a specific product for yourself, don’t try to sell it. If you do not know your customers very well, don’t lend them any money.” (That quote is a reminder that if you have a great leader, great content will usually follow.)

Stick to those principals, and instead of confusing content riddled with muddled and fragmented narratives, you’ll find it hard not to deliver stories in which customers recognise themselves – and develop the confidence to work with you.

One bank that has tried to stick to that principal (although far from immune to the challenges of banking culture and complexity, it at least didn’t require a government bailout after 2008) is HSBC. A quick glance at its News & Insight pages shows that it wants to create clarity for customers and explain its world to then simply and transparently. (Note how effectively it uses its own experts to create a sense of being open and approachable.)

Only today, I stumbled onto its business Knowledge Centre and discovered a clear, concise, but detailed and practical guide to negotiating with suppliers. That kind of content not only works by engaging customers around your core brand – it also raises their confidence in undertaking activities that will, ultimately, be revenue opportunities for the bank.

Return on investment potential and a demonstration of strong corporate culture at a time when banks need to regain trust? That’s what content marketing is all about.

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