Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing: HSBC Makes an Elevator Pitch to Small Businesses

August 2, 2016

Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing: HSBC Makes an Elevator Pitch to Small Businesses

Editor’s Note: In the Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing series, we reflect on the visionaries past and present who excel at content marketing. Last time, we learned how the Metro Trains Melbourne turned dumb ways to die into whip-smart marketing. This time, we look at how HSBC created a content hub for small business owners—with a show-biz twist.

What can banks do to reach out to small businesses? Sure, they can offer special small business loans and accounts. Maybe take out a few ads touting the benefits of banking with their specific institution. They can even throw in some branded pens and day planners. Maybe a toaster.

When HSBC UK wanted to bring in more small business owners, they could have gone for any of the above. Instead, they thought a little bigger. Okay, a lot bigger. They engaged agency Grey London to rewrite the conversation between financial institutions and small businesses. Could the agency convince entrepreneurs that HSBC genuinely cared about their success?

The Ground Floor

Grey London started their campaign by listening to their target audience. They held a series of workshops to talk with small business owners to learn what motivated them, what they valued, and what they needed.

That research led to the discovery that business was about more than profit forecasts or interest rates. For small business owners, it’s a passion. It’s intertwined with their personal lives, and it’s a calling that motivates them beyond making money. In other words, as the tagline Grey London developed puts it, “It’s never just business.”

Grey London had the audience intel and the concept to start their campaign. But they didn’t go straight to an audience yet. First, they launched an internal campaign to explain the concept to employees. Everyone from tellers to board members received tools and training to promote the idea.

The First Story

Once HSBC’s employees were on board with the new mission, Grey London introduced the new mindset to the public with a short film riffing on the idea of an “elevator pitch.” In the 60-second spot, an entrepreneur in the 1970’s gets in an elevator to his new office space. As the elevator goes up, 40 years of business development plays out, all within the confines of the elevator:

The film interweaves personal moments with scenes about building the business (including weathering setbacks). It deftly gets across the idea that HSBC understands how entrepreneurs’ home and business lives are never separated, and that the bank cares about helping small business owners succeed.

To really get the message across, though, HSBC took the “elevator pitch” concept even further.

The Next Level

HSBC launched a contest called “The Elevator Pitch.” Small business owners in the UK could send in a 90-second video pitching their company, for the chance to win £150,000 in prize money.

A simple sweepstakes would have drummed up some business for HSBC and made one entrepreneur very happy. But HSBC wanted to do more than hand someone a check. They wanted to tell stories that their audience could invest in, and in the end create a resource that would benefit more than a single winner.

Of the thousands of pitches HSBC received, ten finalists were chosen. HSBC interviewed all ten, allowing each a chance to tell their story and engage the online audience.

Then the finalists traveled to HSBC’s London headquarters to meet with business experts and refine their storytelling skillbody languagepitch, and delivery. HSBC distilled the key takeaways from each session into short videos and uploaded them to the Elevator content hub.  Some of the videos have over 200,000 views on YouTube, not counting views on the hub itself.

By approaching the contest as more of a reality show than a competition, HSBC made sure all the finalists received valuable business advice, not just the winner. And, of course, they shared that knowledge with viewers who tuned in to follow the story.

The Continued Ascent

The Elevator Pitch contest got viewers’ attention with compelling storytelling and practical advice. To hold that attention, HSBC partnered with UK newspaper The Telegraph to build a content hub for small business owners. The hub features the Elevator Pitch short videos, but also long-form video and blog content. Blog posts cover everything from expert business advice to emerging trends in specific sectors. 

After entrepreneurs soak up the content, they can use interactive tools to create a business plan, plan for financing, and project their earnings. These tools let visitors directly benefit from HSBC’s financial expertise in a low-pressure setting.

The Penthouse Suite

The final piece of HSBC’s strategy was a series of live streaming videos, the Elevator Talks. These 90-minute sessions featured advice from creative businesspeople with a wide variety of experience, from sports figures to architects.

For those who couldn’t make the live event, HSBC created short highlight videos for each talk, and even uploaded four of the six sessions in their entirety. The resulting YouTube playlist is a content marketing asset in its own right, with over 21,000 views since the start of the year.

The Results

HSBC attempted to change the way banks talk to small business owners, and in turn the way entrepreneurs think about banks. The initial results from the campaign show that their audience appreciated the switch:

  • Over 150,000 views on Elevator Talk videos
  • Over 100,000 views on Elevator Pitch videos
  • Ads on the Elevator content hub have 36% higher CTR than previous benchmarks
  • Increased leads from the campaign created a £9 million increase in profits

The Takeaways

How did HSBC make a connection with their audience, rebuilding trust and establishing a new, more human brand identity? Here are a few key strategies to steal:

  • Listen before you speak. Instead of telling their audience about their new small business friendly accounts, HSBC listened to learn what small business owners really needed to hear. HSBC learned what their audience valued, which made it easier to show that HSBC shared those values.
  • Change comes from within. Grey London took their campaign to HSBC employees before they took it to the public. They knew that to make a lasting change in the way HSBC interacted with small business owners, every member of the company needed to be on board.
  • Tell a story. HSBC made the Elevator Pitch contest meaningful and memorable by focusing on their 10 finalists’ stories.
  • Provide real value. The Elevator content hub proved HSBC’s claim that they cared about helping small businesses succeed. The articles, videos, and live events were all aimed at providing sound business advice, with little to no overt brand promotion.

HSBC set out to redefine their relationship with small business owners. The stories told through the Elevator Pitch contest built an interested, relevant audience; the value provided afterward kept them engaged. All in all, HSBC succeeded in humanizing their brand, establishing thought leadership, and building a lasting resource for their target audience. That’s a truly astonishing tale of content marketing.

Want more own astonishing tales? Download Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing. Let these stories entertain, inform, and inspire you. Then use them as fuel to create your own amazing stories.