Check out the website Only in Arkansas, and you might not guess it was created by a bank.
There’s an article on a former orphanage that was turned into a sustainable agriculture training center. You can read up on the last ferry in Arkansas or consider the important question, “Did the Frito chili pie come from Arkansas?”
What you won’t find is boasts about First Security Bank’s mobile check deposit or its trust and wealth management.
The new content marketing platform allows the family-owned bank to engage customers by talking not about interest rates, but about subjects folks might actually discuss with friends and neighbors.
In place of generic and interchangeable bank slogans, the campaign emphasizes First Security’s focus on the only state where it does its business, says Kristi Thurmon, social media manager.
“We’re from here, and we’re proud of that fact,” she says. “First Security is investing in Arkansas because we’re only in Arkansas. And for a lot of folks who live here, that’s a big reason why banking with us is better.”
Only in Arkansas partners with three groups of writers to publish stories and photos on topics such as travel, food, sports, and festivals. The bank hosts blog posts from the Arkansas Women Bloggers, received community submissions, and sponsors posts from media partners at Arkansas Times, Fayetteville Flyer, and Sporting Life Arkansas.
The bank pays these writers and media outlets to create the sponsored stories. It posts stories or excerpts on Only in Arkansas, linking to the original media posts (which also link back).
Businesses and startups are also getting attention on the site. First Security is hosting a series about companies that started out in Arkansas and have become global brands, such as Walmart and Tyson Foods. What First Security is not doing is highlighting client successes.
“There is no agenda here to promote First Security products or its customers,” Thurmon says. “The objective of OnlyInArk.com is to create an online gathering place for all things Arkansas.”
No customer promos
The site avoids writing about customers, says Bryan Jones, digital director at Eric Rob & Isaac, a Little Rock advertising, public relations, and marketing agency hired by First Security.
The bank also forbids using the stories to cozy up to businesses so that a representative could drop by and say, “See how much we appreciate you?” Jones says.
“As soon as any whiff of impropriety comes up, or manipulation, then we’d lose all value in this campaign,” he adds.
We can hear some of you out in CommunicatorLand muttering, “How on Earth did they get approval for that?” Actually, it wasn’t hard, Thurmon says.
The president himself, Reynie Rutledge, came up with the “Only in Arkansas” slogan a few years back. The purpose was to differentiate the bank from other financial institutions that have been buying up out-of-state companies since the financial crisis of 2008.
Besides, the bank had been getting great engagement when it posted about festivals and other non-money topics on social media, Thurmon says. So Rutledge was gung-ho about the new website, which launched April 21.
“He never even brought up, ‘Is this going to make anyone open an account?'” Thurmon says. “He understands branding. … He’s totally behind this brand strategy.”
No more tweets about savings accounts
Initial costs were pretty much limited to building the website, because the bank could redirect money that had been going to banner ads on media sites.
The stories give First Security something to discuss on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. Readers tend to tune it out if all the bank does is talk about itself, Thurmon says. Beside, banks are a highly regulated industry and are limited by the feds in what they can say.
“There are so many disclosures that you have to do in advertising right now, that you really can’t have a 140-word message about a savings account anymore,” Thurmon says. “It’s just not possible. So I have to find other things to talk about to engage our customers.”
In the first few weeks, visitor numbers have been modest. The site has been seeing just under 300 unique visitors a day, and page views average 3.45 per visitor. Analytics were hurt when First Security dropped all Facebook promotions a week after the launch because a tornado hit in the state.
As for editorial oversight, the bank grants its partners broad latitude in what they cover. It tells them not to write about sex, religion, violence, crime, bad business practices, or discrimination. Otherwise, it figures the publishers and writers know their audience better than First Security does.
“This is what they do for a living,” Jones says. “It would be wrong for us to interject and say, ‘Oh, we think you should go with this angle,’ or, ‘We think you should go work on that a little more.’ They know their craft.”
Try selling that idea to your VP of marketing.