When Vantiv, a Cincinnati-based company that helps merchants and financial institutions process payments, wanted to begin a thought leadership program to generate inbound leads, they consulted their integrated content marketing agency, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY-based Leverage Media, for solutions.
The challenge for Leverage—run by CCC member and former CCC president Michael Winkleman—was not only to create standout content in an increasingly crowded category that would generate and convert leads, but also to help Vantiv understand how its merchant clients can counteract showrooming, the new scourge of every retailer.
Winkleman offered us insights into the program, which generated a 400% ROI in 2012.
Content: Can you give us a little snapshot of the thought leadership program you created with your client?
Michael: It starts with survey research, and we do three types: During the holiday season we work with Roper to survey U.S. consumers to see what their payment habits were over the course of the holiday season. We ask how concerned they were with security issues, whether they were using debit cards and why, what impact gift cards and rewards points had on the purchasing decision, and more.
And then we complement that study with a large survey every January of about a thousand U.S. consumers, who are sorted demographically, to take a look at their awareness, interest, and use of different kinds of payment processes. We look at how they’ve been exposed to these processes and how they’ve used online and mobile payments. Increasingly, too, we’ve been looking at something called showrooming.
Content: Tell us about showrooming.
Michael: Showrooming happens when somebody comes into a store to see the product, and then checks their phone or goes home and checks online to find another vendor that has the same product at a better price—and buys it from that vendor. That consumer has just used the store as a showroom. It is a huge and growing problem for retailers.
Content: How can you help your client help their clients handle showrooming?
Michael: What Vantiv is able to do with the survey results as detailed and analyzed in the content we produce is to say to the merchants, “Yes, there’s showrooming going on, here’s what we know about how people are using it and here’s how you as a merchant can counteract that.” So they can develop rewards or coupons that come through somebody’s phone that captures that person when they’re in the store. Or they can counter somebody’s ability to look someplace else because they’ve got a kiosk right there that lets them control the situation.
Content: You mentioned a third piece of research.
Michael: The research house that conducts the large consumer survey, Mercator, also does telephone research with executives. They talk to forty or fifty executives in both merchant companies and financial institutions to get a sense for what they’re doing, what their attitudes are, how they perceive the customers, what they think and are doing about the evolving payment technology. From this, we’re able to see if there’s any disconnect between what the merchants are thinking and doing and what the customers are thinking and doing.
Content: What do you do with this information?
Michael: We use all of that material along with the thought leadership expertise of the subject matter experts at Vantiv and Mercator, other studies that we’re able to pull information from, as well as Mercator’s other research in this area, and we produce four large white papers a year. The first one each year (which is the one that won a gold Pearl Award last year) focuses on the Top Ten Payment Trends of the year, where, based on the data we determine what seems to be hot, and what people are interested in—is it prepaid, security, rewards, T-Mobile, tablets or something else.
Content: And what did you do with that white paper?
Michael: We do one of these papers each quarter—so, for example, we just finished one on what’s being called Omnicommerce, the ways in which consumers use all different shopping venues (stores, mobile, online) and all different payment methods (cash, credit, debit, mobile, etc.) to shop and pay for purchases. We use each of the white papers as the foundation for a webinar that Vantiv holds, and we put together the deck and the script that Vantiv’s thought leaders speak from.
Content: And the white paper exists on the Vantiv website.
Michael: The white papers are available to everyone who attends the webinar, and yes they are also posted on Vantiv’s website in the company’s thought leadership section and often highlighted on the homepage and used essentially to capture registrations.
Content: It’s a useful inbound marketing tactic.
Michael: Yes. Once the webinar is held, the white paper goes live and is available. They also tape the webinar, so if you aren’t able to attend you can attend through the website. We also do a whole range of spin-offs from the white papers and the webinar materials—a dozen blogs, for example, where we will hone in on specific topics discussed during the webinar. In addition to that, we work with Vantiv’s PR team to create pitches for articles on these topics that will run in various trade publications—and then we create the articles if the pitches are accepted.
Content: Are you using infographics?
Michael: Yes, for instance, one of the things that was particularly interesting in looking at Omnicommerce is the demographic split there, that younger consumers, 18 to 35, are not only more technologically savvy but also more demanding than older consumers. The point of all this is to say to the merchants through thought leadership content, “We know you’ve been holding off on investing in the technology because you’re afraid that whatever technology you invest in is going to be obsolete tomorrow. But here’s what we know about your consumers, here’s what we know in particular about your younger consumers, and maybe it’s time to bite the bullet. And oh, by the way, Vantiv can help you with this, and here’s how.” With the financial institutions we’re saying, again through our content, you’ve got this window of opportunity because our statistics are showing that consumers tend to trust their banks and financial institutions when it comes to innovations such as e-wallets more than they would Google or some other non-financial institution. But that’ll change, and if you don’t act right away, a year from now some other group may have taken your place. So, we’ve done an infographic looking at Omnicommerce through the prism of demographics.
Content: The success of thought leadership programs is tough to measure.
Michael: Earlier this year, Vantiv sent us a list of the statistics they had about how well this program had done and why they had received clearance to not only continue the program, but ramp it up. When you’re looking to measure the impact, you can’t say, “We know that x number of people have read the white paper or that they really love that sidebar on page 4.” What you can say is that because we’ve had this range of Thought Leadership products released to Vantiv customers, whether they’re merchants or financial institutions, “We’ve had x number of inquiries. We’ve had x number of people coming to our webinars. We’ve gotten this many more sales appointments. We have this many new clients. We brought in this much more revenue.”
While you can’t necessarily credit all of it to the Thought Leadership Program, it’s clear that that’s where the communication comes from and where the points of differentiation are. And Vantiv seems to be very happy to continue in this direction based on those results.