Banking on Customer-Friendly Content

CMO Spotlight: Suzanne Copeland, Sterling National Bank

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Suzanne Copeland.
Suzanne Copeland. Credit: Sterling National Bank
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People love to use the adage "work smarter, not harder" these days. It implies that the quality of one's work has outmaneuvered the hours normally spent on it, sparing unnecessary time and energy. Indeed, it's one goal of the modern workforce. Try applying this to marketing, however, and the phrase comes up short. For example, quality has always been a must in content marketing. But any marketer knows that quantity is tantamount to awareness, as study after study shows that a customer almost always intercepts a message multiple times before making a purchase.

So the question becomes: how do we take high-quality content and make it multiply? Suzanne Copeland, CMO of Sterling National Bank, explains the math that expanded her own department's content marketing efforts.

First, differentiate

In banking, brand differentiation can be difficult. As a commodity marketplace, many companies offer parallel services and often refer to customer care as a point of difference. "Everybody tells you that their customer relationship is better," Copeland says. "It's kind of hard to really tease that out to some specifics that explain exactly how you're better."

At Sterling, Copeland says that the business model is perhaps the strongest driver of differentiation. The company's dedicated teams give their key target -- commercial middle-market clients -- a one-stop shop for personal financial assistance. How does the company communicate this difference? "One of the things that we did early on is to initiate a content marketing strategy," says Copeland, "and I think that is a really effective way to engage with this audience."

From direct to digital

Every month, Sterling publishes Connect Magazine, a direct mail publication that celebrates a client's business with a cover story and a nod to Sterling's contribution. "It's a great value to them," says Copeland. Besides honoring and promoting the client, the article often brings the Sterling brand inside the physical business, as Sterling sends each its framed cover story. "They display those in their main conference rooms," she says. "Those are not hidden away in the copier room."

Additionally, in a world focused on digital, "zigging" to print instead of "zagging" towards pixels helps the company further stand out to prospects. "I still get feedback that ... instead of being overwhelmed and throwing it away, that it's sort of a novelty, especially if it is a quality piece. Connect is a beautifully produced magazine," says Copeland. "This is a small magazine, but it's something that you would stop and take a few minutes to look at."

Making it multiply

Copeland and her team ensure that their content also enjoys the benefits of digital to company and customer alike. "We are taking all the content from the publication and putting it on our new website and making it searchable," Copeland says. "This means we have a huge database of information for businesses on how to run their business better."

Now comes the tricky part: knowing where and when else to deploy content so that Sterling, well, works smarter. Today's channel proliferation is one side of this challenge. "It's dizzying," says Copeland, "especially as we try to make the marketing function as efficient as possible, spend the fewest number of dollars, and have them go to the exact perfect ways to get the exact results we want." She adds: "And with more choices, that makes it much more difficult."

Copeland and her team also face the challenge of working with salespeople who become specialists in their client fields and ensuring that messaging and funnels can at once remain personalized and on-brand. "We have a lot of different sales people with a very specific approach," says Copeland. "So, for us, the challenge is … how do you create some level of consistency and some configurability so that you can address vertical markets, but not be spending a lot of money and … hours of labor to execute it?"

To alleviate this strain, Copeland looks to unify programs for the sales force when possible. "I try to think about things holistically," she says. "I look for a common thread between … requests, with the goal of building a program that they can configure for their use." Complex direct marketing programs are often the product of this kind of problem solving. "I just apply that same thinking even to sales collateral and to digital channel and to anything else that we might do to support our sales force in acquiring and engaging clients," she says.

In terms of creating a cache of high-quality content that's both differentiating and relevant to the customer, it's important to avoid a strategy of one-offs, says Copeland. No matter the channel, efficiency comes from creating meaningful content, and then repurposing it. As Copeland puts it: "You know, build it once, deploy it in many, many different ways."