Content: The Women and Co. content platform has been around for a decade. Can you tell us about what inspired its creation in the first place? Why the focus on women?
Linda Descano: Citi Group had just formed and our CFO was a woman. In 1999, we sponsored the inaugural Fortune Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business.” We knew how active women were in managing their family finances, but our industry wasn't talking to them—we were talking at them. They still felt they didn't have enough information and they lacked confidence in making financial decisions. Many advisors didn't engage with them in a way that felt good. We asked ourselves, “Do other women feel this way?” We embarked on a listening tour and found more women in the work force, more actively in management in the work force, managing their parent’s finances. We couldn’t ignore this population. Our goal is to build sustaining relationships through the generations and we thought women would be a way to do that. We wanted to exchange information and have structured conversations with women. We used email newsletters, then the website, and last year, we heard from so many of them who asked, ‘Why can't I share this information with my friends?’ The conversation would be so much richer if we involved more women. So we opened it to the public and made it a fully digital resource. We also built bridges with other publishers and partners to share through their channels.
Content: Since 1999, has the goal for content shifted?
LD: The goal initially was about client engagement and building deeper relationships with customers. So the foundation has been conversation. We've applied new ways of facilitating this conversation. Now, we ask, how do we engage with consumers at large? How do we build consideration for our brand? How do we take the financial friction out of our lives?
Content: “Content marketing” and “commerce journalism” are such buzzwords, especially now with multiple channels of delivery. How does the Women and Co. initiative reflect Citi’s current view on content vs. advertising?
LD: When I think of ads, it's about what we want to say. It's product led, and about our message. For me, content is more information-led. It's less about what my brand can do for you and more about how we can solve a problem.
Content: Is there a conversion metric? Do readers turn into buyers?
LD: We're very early in the journey of content marketing and our focus has been on building followers. Are we changing perceptions about the brand? In some places where we have measurement, we are. Our primary goal today is creating engagement and earning a place of trust.
Content: Did you seek a content provider, or has it always been done in-house?
LD: It's a combination of both. We work with some paid and some non-paid freelance contributors. We've built some relationships with tremendous thought partners. Our goal is to try to curate that. I probably post four to eight pieces of original content a month, and we have our own team involved in the writing, in first person—and not all women, we have male voices as well. We're willing to show our vulnerability and not hide behind a corporate byline. We're a very large company and we want to put a face on Citi.
Content: How do you plan content?
LD: Banks, in particular, know how to do collateral and ads. [Content] is a different muscle and it challenges every aspect of what we do. There's not always a clear product pitch. It's new ways of working with legal and compliance. Your personal and professional brands merge. We think about the seasonality of a consumer’s financial life. People start retirement contributions. They go to college in Q1; back to school in Q3; year-end planning in Q4. There are trends: Q4 holiday shopping and entertaining, things to do with your kids in summer. We seek partners like Real Simple, and we have regular touch points between the social teams and forums.
Content: What models of other content inspired you?
LD: I like what GE has done—content at a high educational level. They have a very sophisticated model, the right content for the right platform. Johnson and Johnson with the Huffington Post on the Global Motherhood partnership. Burberry with their Tweet-ups. Starbucks, Puma, Red Bull. It's dynamic. Patagonia. There are so many sources of inspiration. We asked ourselves, “How do we create something that works for us as a bank?” But we don't just want to compare ourselves to other financial companies.
Content: Is legal compliance and content a problematic relationship?
LD: We can be fairly nimble and flexible, but as a regulated entity in a highly scrutinized environment, we have strong partners in legal and compliance. They vet ideas, not every word, but it’s having them think through the ideas and the philosophy. When I started in 2003, with bylines and photos, all the lawyers said, “No!” Now we bring them along with us.
Content: Tell us about your partnership with LinkedIn.
LD: It’s interesting. Citi has a global focus on women with Women and Co., but women wanted more resources, and LinkedIn wanted to get more women engaged. So we asked how we bring together our respective strengths. The LinkedIn sponsored community has evolved into its own ecosystem—it's sparking blogs and posts off LinkedIn. I write for LinkedIn and we get as many men as women commenting on the posts. We're not trying to sell them and we've been able to earn a place in the conversation. When the members themselves organized their first meet-up, people were thanking me for making this happen.
Content: Is the sponsorship helping drive different perceptions?
LD: We're seeing it in the data, and there could be partnerships with other platforms. Maybe bringing other brands into the LinkedIn group. We built a relationship with mom bloggers; we've done two webinars. We’re building advocacy.
Content: How much time are you putting in to the program?
LD: Twelve hours a day, ten hours over the weekend. Weekend work doesn't feel like work, though. All the rewriting is very cathartic, and my writing responsibilities are a tool for networking. I like to do service journalism. I like to reach out to experts and it gives me a way to get in touch with them. Plus, I'll even use family pictures, like recently I used one of my niece in a princess costume. We may ask people for pumpkins or fall scenery. And believe it or not, those types of things can get 25-percent higher click-through rate.