A visit to the Standard Chartered website provides an online experience that is befitting for one of the world’s leading international banking groups. It’s sharp, clean and expensive looking. In fact, it resembles dozens of other corporate websites for financial services institutions, with its black background and photographs of a smiling, ethnically diverse workforce.
But click through to its BeyondBorders blog, found in the bottom left hand corner of the home page under Reports & commentary, and something different happens. Up springs a bright page full of images, catchy headlines, infographics and videos. It looks like a digital magazine, and it flows like one. Clear and concise journalistic-style features link to related stories in a way that helps its audience engage with content at whatever depth they choose.
You know it’s Standard Chartered because of the small logo at the top. But you’d quickly forget from the tone of the articles. This is about providing market insights – not selling the bank, at least not overtly.
Heidi Amsinck, Standard Chartered’s head of content and publishing, and editor of BeyondBorders, describes it as ‘very new and experimental’.
She says: ‘We’ve been sharing our insights for many years – that’s what corporate comms is all about. But digitisation allows us to speak directly to our audience. We wanted to see if we could create something that looks quite different to other banks and even to our own corporate website. We wanted to engage in a new way with our audience.’
Although the bank had a blog before, it was a typically corporate nondescript affair. BeyondBorders is designed to be more impactful, easy to navigate and share, and responsive so that people can access it via any device. ‘We also wanted it to look more like a news publication that we could curate in order of importance rather than just date order,’ says Amsinck.
BeyondBorders has to serve many audiences, including clients, both current and prospective, influential bloggers, journalists, government regulators and 90,000 employees, who use the site to give context to their work and help them engage with clients. The content, therefore, has to reflect diverse needs. It means avoiding articles that are too technical or narrow in focus, and also being selective – not attempting to address everything and anything.
The site clearly signposts four themes: economic trends, financial innovation, people and prosperity, and trade flows. One of the most popular articles in recent weeks comes under the innovation heading. Entitled Adoption, not innovation, is the key to technology success, the blog, which is written by Standard Chartered’s head of economic research, is accompanied by a short film, and also links to other related blogs and articles. Amsinck says the team often links to external sources, for example the BBC, where there may be a longer piece to read. She feels the ideal blog length for BeyondBorders is around 400-500 words, believing readers don’t engage with pieces that are much longer.
There is also the ability for readers to comment. ‘It’s a change in mind-set,’ says Amsinck. ‘This isn’t just about putting communication out without giving people the opportunity to respond and ask questions. We do pre-screen comments, because we get a lot of spam, but if somebody asks us as question then we make it our business to answer it.One reader wanted to know what an economist had based his conclusions on, and we went back to the author directly. You can’t just leave the comments unattended. This is a culture change. It is a challenge for organisations because it is a new way of thinking. We need to provide responses super quick.’
Resourcing this broad remit is an inevitable challenge. There are just four people in the content and publishing team, which sits within external communications, and is responsible for producing BeyondBorders. But they also have other responsibilities, such as producing Standard Chartered’s annual and half year reports, generating content, including two or more original reports or surveys a year, and managing the social media channels, predominantly Twitter.
The reports, says Amsinck, are about ‘us going out and getting insights’. For example, last year the team conducted a survey of 5,000 consumers in emerging markets, asking them what they liked to spend their money on. ‘This site is not about us but about what we know about our markets,’ she adds. ‘What do our readers need to know? What do they need to use? We are turning old press releases into content, but you have to tweak them. It is not about promoting Standard Chartered. We launched a mobile wallet in one of our markets. It is not that that is uninteresting, but for our readers it is the mobile trend that is interesting. We are turning the humble press releases into real stories.’ The budget for BeyondBorders is limited, which meant that the team developed the site cheaply using a ‘very flexible’ Wordpress platform.
The problem for Amsinck is not finding stories – the site currently lists 36 authors from across the business, and many others have expressed an interest in contributing – but in making those stories accessible. ‘We’re getting into the groove,’ she admits. ‘You’ve got to edit content so that it has the right style, which means removing technical jargon and promotional articles. Also, if you’re an expert, you may not necessarily be a writer. But people are becoming more savvy about what constitutes readable content.’
It helps too that they approach content in a ‘channel agnostic’ way. Nothing is created purely for BeyondBorders, but will appear across a multitude of channels, including social media (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter), recruitment sites, alumni publications, traditional media, and at events. This maximises visibility while reducing the volume of content that needs to be produced. ‘The blog is not the be all and end all,’ says Amsinck. ‘Our content is used across multiple platforms. The sweet spot is, for example, a business story that we send on to our clients, which is then repackaged and used in local markets.
‘It’s important to remember that this is one of many channels. Our management team still write op-eds for newspapers. We still share expertise with media through our spokespeople. This is just an extension of our communication strategy – evolving the way we engage with audiences. We won’t be stopping the comms we have been doing: BeyondBorders will align with it.’
Every fortnight, a content panel group, comprising representatives from Standard Chartered’s main markets/regions, communications, brand and marketing and global research, ‘meet’ on a conference call. ‘We look at what’s interesting, what coming’s up, what do people want to hear, what global events could make some content more important, and so on,’ says Amsinck. ‘We are all working on content in different ways [brand and marketing, for example, is responsible for client events and brand campaigns].
Communications can sit in a slight bubble, but this opens a conversation and we learn about what content is out there and how it could be used.’
Amsinck cites this collaboration as a great advantage of this work: ‘Lots of companies will be realising that sitting in silos isn’t an option; we have to find ways of working together and thinking as one on content.’
In the long term, she thinks it will be tough to keep the content compelling – success will mean paying close attention to their target audiences. ‘We are going to try and really listen to what people are interested in and shape our strategy accordingly – this has to be a flexible tool that is responsive to how content is received.’
As the site has only just been launched, it is too early to say how well BeyondBorders is engaging its audience. But the team is using a number of tools to monitor success, including Google Analytics for site data and Sprinklr to monitor social media engagement to help understand key trends and topics. ‘Listening is a very important point: we have to watch what goes down well, and try to create more of that. We want this to be used and owned by everyone,’ says Amsinck.
Whatever the obstacles, there is a clear sense that for Amsinck this is only the beginning. As BeyondBorders develops, so too no doubt, will the experiment become a critical component of a content strategy designed to make Standard Chartered stand out from the crowd.