How ING Built Europe’s ‘Best Branded Web Mag’ in Just One Year

A little more than a year ago, the Dutch bank ING Group decided it needed to change the magazine it had been giving shareholders.

The magazine, published in print and transposed to the web, was the sort of inwardly-focused corporate publication going out of fashion these days. The content was almost exclusively about ING, and the opinion pages served as a platform for the bank’s senior leaders to opine on global trends—regardless of whether those trends fell under their areas of expertise.

Instead, Head of External Communications Egmont Philips and his team chose to embrace a new format, one that put both the digital experience and the reader first. In May 2014, the company introduced ing.world, a digital quarterly magazine that broadened the editorial scope to include thoughtful analysis of the business world at large. In doing so, ING has been able to reach an audience beyond the small slice of highly-interested shareholders who used to read the old print magazine. In fact, the sleek, insightful publication now sees up to 35,000 unique visitors per issue and recently won an award for being Europe’s best branded web magazine.

“By revamping our magazine, we have attracted a completely different audience, which was our target, and the reach has been higher as well,” Philips said. “Basically, we were surprised by its success. We had hoped it would work, but we actually have had greater reach than we had aimed for.”

The new publication, published in both English and in Dutch, is structured similarly to the popular public radio program “This American Life,” as each issue has a theme that is explored from several angles.

For instance, the theme of the most recent issue of is “family,” a topic ing.world delved into with a feature story on how important family businesses are to the economy, and an interview with the Dutch psychologist Frans de Waal comparing the way humans and animals relate to their respective family members.

Each issue is released alongside ING Group’s quarterly financial results and includes both a roundup of ING news and a video interview with CEO Ralph Hamers. Philips said the magazine’s primary goal is to help its readers get ahead in their lives and in business.

By choosing broad topics and exploring them from angles that don’t always have to do with finance, ing.world is able to provide readers with content that is relevant to their interests even if they are not ING customers or lack financial literacy.

“There’s different content, and different audiences start by reading different articles,” Philips said. “It’s a bit like how a painter has a palette with different colors and blends it into one painting. That’s how we do it as well.”

From a visual standpoint, the publication relies on large photos, white space, and a clean, responsive design to pull the reader into an experience that feels somewhat shielded from the rest of the white noise of the Internet.

Each issue is crafted by two ING employees—who also have other responsibilities at the firm—and two employees from the creative agency Born05. Some of the articles are written in-house, while others are done by freelancers. ING Group’s central corporate office in Amsterdam, which publishes ing.world, works with the regional offices in the 12 countries it has retail banks to make sure the magazine does not interfere or contradict with the content each office is producing locally.

For instance, the head office is responsible for ing.world and press releases, but the company’s retail banking branch in Belgium is responsible for the print content found in its offices and online packages that educate customers about the different financial tools they will need for life milestones such as going away to college or buying a house.

When it comes to distribution, the company’s primary tools are its website and social media. In addition to the organic reach of its owned channels, ING amplifies its social distribution by asking employees and influencers featured in the magazine to share the publication from their personal accounts.

ING will also pay to seed its content in targeted LinkedIn groups that have members interested in finance. The company, at one point, tried placing banner ads for ing.world on a Dutch financial news site, but while the effort drew lots of clicks, most of the readers left the site almost immediately. This last bit is important because the bank considers attention time a crucial metric for determining the success of its content.

According to Dagmar van der Plas, an ING senior advisor who manages the publication’s distribution strategy, ing.world strives to keep its audience members on the page for at least two minutes. Otherwise, it’s unlikely the reader will have had time to absorb a typical story.

The amount of time someone spends on a piece of content is the difference between whether ING successfully engaged with the reader or merely communicated with him.

“When you communicate, you spread your message and that’s about it, but to reach a real engagement with your reader, you have to be really at the heart of what they want to hear from you,” van der Plas said. “Our profession is ‘communications,’ but I believe more in ‘engaging,’ so I would prefer to be called an ‘engagement manager’ rather than a ‘communication manager.'”

By the looks of things, ING is succeeding in developing a base of readers that do, in fact, want to engage with its content. According to its internal metrics, the publication is getting more than three times as many readers per issue as the old magazine, and an impressive 60 percent of those readers return to the magazine a second time.

In a corporate culture, it can be tough for a company to take a step back and make such a drastic overhaul to its marketing strategy. But ING is a great example of what can happen when content informs the reader rather than just promoting a company’s services. And as ING continues to build long-term relationships with consumers, it can now bank on content to drive its business forward.

Image by Deb Wenof

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