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Wells Fargo Launches Web Magazine, Seeks 'Deeper' Ties with Customers

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Wells Fargo has launched a new online magazine that aims to showcase the bank's more human side.

Wells Fargo Stories made its debut Tuesday and its first issue features 22 vignettes, including a story of a mortgage banking employee who last year helped save an elderly couple from getting run over by a train.

The bank's hope is that visitors will be inspired enough by such stories to share the content through email and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Chief executive John Stumpf explained the decision to create the magazine in a blog post Tuesday.

"Most every day, I make it a priority to call or visit a Wells Fargo customer and a Wells Fargo team member unannounced," he wrote. "And you know what I hear? Stories. Stories about how we help, in ways small and large. That's why I'm delighted we now have a new way to share these stories and for you to share them with your friends and family members."

Stumpf's point underscores how the investment is an effort by the nation's fourth-largest bank to better engage with existing and prospective customers by using social media techniques.

It's also the latest example of a broader trend, in which every brand is a publisher in the digital age and the content they feature is meant to reveal their companies' inner cultures in the best light, of course.

Michigan First Credit Union, for example, hires young brand ambassadors to blog and create videos of relevant content to millennials. Salem Five in Massachusetts profiles some of its successful business customers and distributes their stories and other content via email campaigns. The community bank also weaves in local imagery, such as the Boston skyline, and the language of the region, such as using the word "wicked" to mean "really," within its digital banking site to better connect to its audience. BBVA, meanwhile, publishes iPad magazines that center on emerging tech within financial services.

Part of the goal in publicizing internal stories to the outside world is to catch the attention of existing and prospective customers. But the effort could also be part of a broader campaign to better connect with employees or burnish its image with lawmakers and regulators, observers say.

"It's easy to assume audience is always the consumer," says Ben Rogers, a research director at Filene Research Institute, a think tank for credit unions. "[Wells Fargo] could have lots of audiences they are trying to reach."

Mark Schwanhausser, director of onmnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research, a Greenwich Associates LLC company, says that that the online magazine could go a long way toward enhancing the bank's brand.

"This is straight from [the] textbook on Branding Banks on Social Media 101: Tell stories that build your brand," he says. "You can help your customers, and they can help you. The odds are high that tweets, likes, and posts will produce positive buzz, and there's always the chance that you'll have a viral hit."

Wells Fargo Stories also links to WellsFargo.com and pulls in content from its corporate blog and its social media properties. The tie-ins could help the bank drive prospects to its products and services.

Banks across the country have been upgrading the way they present content online as consumers increasingly research potential bank partners via digital channels before they open accounts in the branch. Comerica Bank, for example, introduced a questionnaire tool on its website in a bid to help prospects find the right product.

Wells Fargo's latest initiative, which was about a year in the making, follows a makeover to its website the bank completed in June that included more white space, fewer links and added imagery.

The look and feel of the new site is a result of hiring an outside vendor and incorporating input from the bank's website team, among other Wells' units, says Arati Randolph, senior vice president for internal communications and new media for Wells Fargo, and the site's project leader. The site includes narratives, videos, slideshows and colorful photographs, all designed to make the site visually engaging.

"That's really the key," Randolph says.

Wells Fargo runs a weekly budget meeting to talk about what stories it wants to tell on the site.

This week it shined the spotlight on Chris Ihle, an employee at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Ames, Iowa, who likely saved the lives of two motorists when he pushed their stalled car off the railroad tracks as a train was approaching.

The bank will promote stories from the new magazine through social media sites. "At the end of the day, it's about forming deeper ties to customers and communities," says Randolph.

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Comments (1)
This is yet another way Wells Fargo demonstrates their long-term commitment to community engagement and content experimentation through the web and social channels. This is simply brand storytelling. It's a fairly straightforward site design featuring stories around community commitment, personal stories around their clients and employees - the question is whether they'll ever weave this type of content throughout their primary product site at wellsfargo.com - something you only see at a few of the tier one brands (USAA probably does it best). How will they maintain this content? Some of it already appears dated.

The problem for financial services is that the web is littered with attempts at community building that simply fall flat because the effort doesn't drive business - it drives brand. The problem for digital strategists is that driving the brand does pay off in the long term, but banks are tone deaf to the long-term view. Truly building a community through social channels or digital storytelling takes time, a great deal of effort (you must post frequently and in a genuine voice that doesn't put your brand at the center of the universe), and a commitment.

Kudos to Wells Fargo for their ongoing experiments. But there is so much more that bank brands can be doing to truly demonstrate a commitment to their communities - hence my ongoing lament about the future state of the community banking model.
Posted by Bradley Leimer | Wednesday, March 12 2014 at 7:19PM ET
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