Banking trust with content

Fintech robo-advisers have a problem: How to get target consumers to trust tech the way they would people IRL.

BY Adam Wren
Senior Editor, Imagination

When Joe Ziemer first worked at the intersection of content marketing and financial services, he was a 12-year-old Indianapolis kid obsessed with Nike. He even owned three stock shares, a Christmas present he’d begged for earlier in elementary school. All he wanted out of life was to meet the company’s iconic co-founder, Phil Knight. So he did what any marketer-in-the-making would do. He crafted quality content highlighting his unique value differentiator and included a killer call to action that nailed his KPI: an invitation to the company’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters.

In a letter to Knight, Ziemer identified himself as “the youngest Nike shareholder” and mentioned that he’d be in town soon, accompanying his father on a business trip. He wondered: Could he get a tour of the place?

The enterprising tween received a letter back from Knight, who informed Ziemer he would be traveling but promised the dreamt-of invitation. And so, Ziemer soon found himself in Beaverton, escorted by Knight’s chief of staff. He landed a chance to sit in Knight’s chair, swing by Michael Jordan’s office and visit the employee store.

Decades later, Ziemer again put persistence and ingenuity to work trying to solve one of his current company’s top challenges.

Now a vice president of marketing at Betterment, the largest U.S. independent online financial adviser, Ziemer was again working at the intersection of content and fintech. But soon after joining the New York City-based company in 2012, he realized Betterment’s content outreach was falling flat with its target audience. His challenge? Convincing consumers to trust a robo-adviser with their money.

“Historically, people view your adviser as someone who kind of educates you and shares information and guidance through the traditional human experience,” Ziemer says.

How does an online financial tech company replace the intimacy of sitting down once a year over coffee to talk retirement strategies with a trusted, graying, golf-playing financial adviser?

“We have to think about how can we relate and communicate and educate our clients about something as personal as money online,” says Ziemer. “The one way we can reach all of our clients in a cost-effective manner is content.”

How does an online financial tech company replace the intimacy of sitting down once a year over coffee to talk retirement strategies with a trusted, graying, golf-playing financial adviser?


Ziemer realized the content he had been commissioning didn’t seem to land well with his target audience. Neither was the content he was posting via native advertising platforms, which weren’t bringing in qualified traffic. “A lot of people get caught up in vanity metrics,” he explains. But “if you’re driving unqualified traffic, it just doesn’t matter.”

What to do? Ziemer recalibrated Betterment’s entire approach to content. It was time to beef up expertise in the company’s POV pieces and change the mix of internal, agency and freelance assignments.

“We used to treat a lot of the content the same … from a staffing perspective,” Ziemer says. “Sometimes we attempted to rely on freelance writers for some of our more internal-focused pieces. Some of our content is more evergreen focused, and those can be written by a wide range of people. But then we have content that is Betterment-specific: our specific view on something. We were trying to force-feed those pieces to freelancers, and that became hard.”

Betterment turned away from freelancers in favor of a hybrid approach: work with a boutique content agency knowledgeable about its audience goals, paired with an internal team of content marketers with subject matter expertise. Ziemer also abandoned native ad platforms for targeted, key pieces of content with customized distribution.

Today, Ziemer steers content strategy with a customer-relationship-management-guided mix that includes monthly newsletters, targeted content pieces and whitepapers driven by customer insights. “A major driver of what type of content we do comes from our customer support—what trends are we seeing in inquiries from customers, and how can we develop content to answer a lot of those questions in a thoughtful and detailed way?” Ziemer says.

One of the company’s key differentiators: using stunning data visualization to show how each client’s risk may change over time with different saving strategies.

The bottom-line results?

Ziemer’s solutions to Betterment’s early content marketing “mistake” helped fuel the company’s growth. Betterment today has more than $10 billion in assets under management—in less than eight years.

“People might first view Betterment as an impersonal experience, because it’s so high-tech,” Ziemer says. “Content is a way to show our expertise. It humanizes our brand.”

published: January 31, 2019

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