Interac tunes into audio content

How the debit-payment brand used podcasting to map the shift into B2B marketing.
Earning Curve

No two content strategies look alike – nor do the business goals that feed them. Brands are constantly seeking new targets, exploring metrics, and tackling models to better drive sales. This week, strategy is rolling out the first article of a series looking at how brands are evolving their long-term branded content plays.

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Strategy.

Interac has been experimenting with branded content since 2016, with its strategy evolving alongside its marketing. And in 2018, when it began targeting businesses, Interac stuck with a content-first strategy – but pivoted from video series to audio podcasts.

Interac’s content marketing has historically targeted Canadian consumers, speaking to issues like debt and personal finance. Its “21-Day Credit-Free Challenge” – starring reality TV star and personal finance guru Gail Vaz-Oxlade – centred around short videos with tips for living debt-free. The 2016 series aligned with Interac’s broader “Be in the Black” messaging, which Zulu Alpha Kilo first spearheaded in 2014.

Then, in 2017, it launched Upstairs Amy, a series co-branded with Walmart. Upstairs Amy provided a mix of scripted video, as well as influencer marketing that followed a similar finance theme.

As Interac looked to expand further into B2B in 2018, it created Earning Curve, a six-episode podcast series that focused on small businesses. Hosted by Dragons’ Den’s Michele Romanow, each episode covered topics based on common small business challenges. Interac continued to work with Zulu for the podcast, with production by U.S.-based podcast network Gimlet.

The podcast was part of Interac’s latest effort to highlight products designed specifically for business clients (such as e-Transfers). “We felt it was time to reinforce our position as a business solutions provider within the B2B landscape and open up the door to conversion down the road,” says Andrea Danovitch, AVP of marketing and brand at Interac.

Podcasting also offered Interac the ability to learn more about the business audience through content generation before it starts “putting out more tangible offerings that are part of [the company’s] B2B roadmap.”

There were also lessons to be learned from its earlier content programs. For Upstairs Amy, the brand was decidedly light on branding within the storyline, containing subtle Interac cues, such as a character paying for coffee with her debit card. “We wanted to be a brand that people trust. At times, that means not even talking about your own proof points or products,” says Danovitch. “In the case of something like a web series, we were able to compensate for that through pure entertainment value.”

Interac carried that minimal branding approach through to Earning Curve, where it had few mentions in the actual content and instead relied on pre-roll and mid-roll ads. “The stories being told were just good content focusing on entrepreneurship.”

One thing that did change was its distribution model.

For Upstairs Amy, the team housed the videos and social content in a central microsite that acted as a self-contained ecosystem. The series relied little on paid media, instead aiming for organic growth.

As for Earning Curve, it had a more robust national media buy. Danovitch says that paid media helped reach its niche business audience and provided data to better inform its content.

Facebook and LinkedIn video were the primary drivers, along with display and native ads, as well as SEM and radio content during 680 News business reports. The brand also sponsored the Canadian Business Growth 500 feature, as part of its effort to reach a business audience, all of which was handled by Media Experts.

After three years, ROI on content is “still a very difficult thing” to track, says Danovitch. “I think the objective is more about engagement levels with a brand.”

Danovitch wouldn’t share Earning Curve’s downloads, but says it surpassed benchmarks. The podcast was downloaded at twice the rate of other Canadian branded podcasts and was included in Apple’s Best of 2018 podcast rankings.

Danovitch adds that Interac intends to keep content as a part of its long-term strategy, aiming to tie it even closer to the brand’s overall marketing. “When you build these things in isolation of your overall plans, it’s never as strong… you have the hub, but then you need to have the other [media] spokes amplifying it.”