Content Down Under: Aussie Bank ANZ Kicks Back and Lets Content Propel Its Marketing

Australians are known for being a little more extreme than the rest of us dullards: They have the most intense sunshine, the wildest wilderness, the weirdest of food pastes, not to mention the world’s most adorable marsupials. But what about the global financial service industry’s most unique take on content marketing? Well, of course they do (otherwise this lede wouldn’t work). How else would they take on content marketing down under if not in stark contrast to the rest of the world?

While most of today’s financial services content focuses on accessibility with a lifestyle feel aiming to educate consumers about their money, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited, also known as ANZ, boldly produces financial content that is downright wonkish. Think economic trend pieces on Indonesia and Myanmar, or a heady debate about the biggest global economic stress points of 2015. And while these pieces may not be generating thousands of social shares from the general public, they’re accomplishing exactly what ANZ’s new blog BlueNotes set out to do when it launched last year: engage policymakers, academics, and shareholders.

(Full disclosure: ANZ is a Contently client.)

Successfully honing in on that target is one of the main reasons Australia’s 2014 BEfest Awards named BlueNotes “Brand Site of the Year” before it had even been live for a full 12 months. Managing Editor Andrew Cornell attributed the win to the site’s “new form of quality journalism” that is trustworthy enough to be republished and cited in traditional media outlets.

Even though ANZ has won awards and reached a high-value audience in a short timeframe, polishing their approach still took trial and error.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” says Paul Edwards, group general manager of corporate communications for ANZ. “Traditionally, we tried to reach our audience though media relationships and traditional publications. One of the issues with media relations is you never really understand who you’ve reached.”

With such a specific audience in mind, not knowing who’s listening or reading can be a huge roadblock, one ANZ solved by establishing an owned media property in BlueNotes that gave them the freedom to build personal relationships with readers on their own turf.

A Thoughtful approach to thought leadership

Audience ambiguity is no longer an issue for ANZ. With BlueNotes, the brand knew exactly who they wanted to reach. In some ways, they’d been building this audience for years, sending executives to meet with members of their three key demographics. Thanks to those previous efforts, ANZ had already built up a sizable, well-targeted social media following. On Twitter, they had 50,000 followers, and on LinkedIn, they had 164,000 followers. ANZ just had to decide how to then engage them.

“BlueNotes is really the child of our social media strategy,” Edwards says. “To have an effective social media strategy, we had to have a great content strategy to run alongside that. BlueNotes is the content engine for social engagement.”

The challenge then became developing the right content to feed those social channels in such a way that allowed ANZ to stimulate an audience of rather sophisticated financial minds.

“The opportunity, from our point of view, was to not just broadcast our point of view to that audience,” Edwards adds, “but to build a conversation and to use that to deepen our relationship with those people.”

With such a specific, well-educated following, thought leadership became the angle of choice for the blog. Content pillars include the economy, technology and innovation, business and finance, leadership, sustainability and inclusion, and “The Asian Century,” which covers the economic rise of Asian countries.

All of these pillars fall under the fitting tagline “Connecting News and Insights,” which is at the heart of what ANZ hopes to deliver to its audience. For example, a recent article authored by two ANZ economists featuring internal research shows Australia’s major project spend is in decline and what that means for the nation. Other stories focus more on global financial news, like “A Slow Start No Surprise for Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect,” or on general insights on financial topics, such as “Philanthropy Isn’t Just for the Wealthy.”

Conquering with quality

When engaging such an educated audience, the bar for quality is inherently high. From the very beginning, ANZ knew BlueNotes needed seasoned professionals and editorial transparency to succeed. This includes contributions from company executives and chief economists, who bring a level of expertise to each article or video, as well as established journalists.

“One thing we did well was hire a very respected senior journalist to run BlueNotes, which immediately gave us enormous credibility,” Edwards explains, “and then not publishing stuff that seemed to be too self-serving. We try to put everything through that filter so we aren’t publishing stuff that is just corporate PR.”

In “Financial Services Still Has a Gender Problem,” for example, one writer analyzes the hot-button issue of gender equality in finance without trying to claim the company is above reproach. The story simply explores the results of a study while leaving room for a commenter to mention ANZ could do better on the issue themselves.

For many financial services companies, the legal labyrinth of compliance departments can water down content, compromising its quality, relevance, and journalistic integrity. But because of BlueNotes’ thought-leadership focus, rather than a consumer marketing focus, ANZ was able to avoid some common obstacles that get in the way of successful publishing.

As Edwards says: “Every piece of content has to be signed off by me, but unless there is particular reason to, we don’t run anything by compliance or legal. That gives us flexibility, but also a big responsibility.”

Thus far, that process has served ANZ extremely well, coloring BlueNotes with polish, professionalism, and relevance, three common traits for just about every premium publisher.

If there’s such a thing as proof of quality, it could be buy-in from established financial media outlets, such as The Australian Financial Review. After ANZ CEO Mike Smith’s recent trip to Europe and Asia, BlueNotes created an eight-minute video of Smith explaining why the Reserve Bank of Australia should resist cutting interest rates, based on the global economic insights he’d gathered during his meetings. Before distributing it themselves, they offered it as an exclusive to The Australian Financial Review.

“And that’s the kind of page one read that is our content, that we’ve got complete control of,” Edwards says. “It’s completely changed the way we interact with the media and have positioned our executives as thought leaders.”

Taking an Australian strategy global

With 75 percent of BlueNote’s readership based in Australia, there’s plenty of room to grow—and that’s exactly what ANZ plans to do next. Developing content for their niche audience on the blog has proven to be so successful that the brand is now developing more publications to reach new audiences. For the financial firm from Down Under, these new media properties could potentially target female executives, small businesses, and corporate clients.

Yet even as they explore launching trade pubs, ANZ is still very committed to growing its core audience on BlueNotes. The brand’s next focus is New Zealand, where ANZ has the largest presence of any bank. After that, the next stop is a big one: Asia. ANZ already has locations in more than 20 Asian countries, and BlueNotes has channels for content focused on North Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and Greater China, some of which is translated into simplified or traditional Chinese.

“More content for different geographies is what we’re focused on,” Edwards says. “But we’re pretty happy with what we’ve done so far.”

By committing to building a owned audience with high quality content and a focus on sharp thought leadership, ANZ has positioned itself nicely for long-term growth regardless of where it tries to expand. Their unorthodox decision to focus on niche demographics may not look like the strategy you’d expect from a financial services company, but it allowed them to have a clear plan for their content from day one. After all, being an outlier is kind of Australia’s thing.

​This piece was adapted from the Contently e-book, “On the Money: How 5 Finance Brands Built an Audience By Investing in Content.” Download it below. 

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