Ask uncomfortable questions: UBS and boundary-pushing content marketing

Through working with partners from Vice to Vanity Fair, UBS is addressing changing attitudes and pushing the boundaries of its content marketing.

"Does wealth make us rich?" may not seem the most obvious question from the top marketer at the biggest wealth management company in the world.

Yet for Nicholas Wright, chief marketing officer at UBS Wealth Management, challenging existing thinking by pulling the brand out of its comfort zone has been key to his genre-defying marketing strategy.

The idea of a financial giant partnering Vice Media seems like an unlikely pairing but this is exactly what UBS wants for its new thought-leadership platform, Unlimited. The website, unveiled in July last year, comprises original content from partners that also include The Future Laboratory and Motherboard, and launched with a lecture from Stephen Hawking. This focus on content marketing has led UBS into uncharted territory.

"As the market leader, we have a job to ask the uncomfortable questions, and that is the spirit of Unlimited," Wright says. It is an approach that has led to a shift in both content strategy and consumer insight at the brand. He explains: "When we looked at the changing attitudes to wealth, it is all about purpose. The millennial generation simply aren’t interested in acquiring things."

Unlimited: content platform launched with a lecture from Hawking

The attention deficit myth

But millennials do have a drive for knowledge and information. In fact, according to Wright, despite the advertising industry’s assertions of "content overload", this audience is actively seeking out and sharing long-form content. He continues: "What has really surprised me is we took a call that long-form content is going to be the core of how we communicate, and that has really paid dividends.

"We made a big play with eight-to ten-minute reads – and ignored this sense that this generation has a short attention span. We have found that if your content is good enough, they will stick with it and they will share it."

Many brands have confused the rise of mobile as a reason to focus on "snackable content" at the expense of investing in longer-form content. However, Wright claims that, although 72% of Unlimited’s engagement is through mobile, this has not had a negative impact on long reads. 

In the rush to embrace content, others have been guilty of mistaking thought leadership as a substitute for investing in the skillsets to create truly thought-provoking and effective content marketing. It is a state of play that has led some critics to suggest content marketing has been overplayed as a marketing tool.

Wright argues that content marketing gives UBS an edge in places where it is established. He explains: "In markets where we have strong brand awareness, we have struggled to justify above-the-line budgets and we have dialled down that traditional adspend." However, in markets such as China, where brand recognition is not as high, "you still need that advertising budget to break through and drive awareness". In other words, content marketing in isolation is not enough.

A change in tone

Unlimited is a core part of a broader marketing push at UBS, which has already undergone a substantial repositioning to humanise the company and make it more accessible. It has partnered photographer Annie Leibovitz in an attempt to move beyond the "alpha male" marketing that’s prevalent in the financial industry. Wright explains: "The baggage of the financial crisis has meant we need to ensure we are connecting with less cold and authoritative statements, or people just tune out." 

At the heart of UBS’s strategy lies collaboration, and there is no doubt that the Unlimited project has brought a wealth of new ideas and opinions to the company. The brand has set up a "curatorial board" to bring content and ideas together, which meets once a month in London and once a quarter at UBS’s Zurich headquarters. 

Unlimited will add Vanity Fair to its offering this year. For the editorial partners, Wright believes "it is not just about writing an invoice to a big bank – it is about deeper engagement". 

Leibovitz: tie-up aims to move UBS away from ‘alpha male’ financial advertising

Diversity sells

While this diversity of partners has brought fresh thinking to UBS, it is clearly a riskier move than traditional advertising. "The level of risk we are expected to take as CMO is quite significant. It is so unpredictable, you need a level of agility to make those changes," Wright concedes. 

This strategy demands that the brand embraces other voices. The biggest learning from the project? "The power of collaboration and the humility that comes with bringing smart thinking to a problem," Wright says. "If you are open, you can create something special by bringing together a diverse pool of talent together." 

Wealthy consumers may well be approaching "peak stuff", but the drive to learn and be enriched isn’t even close to reaching its pinnacle.

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