Digital first!

By being relevant, compelling and shareable, digital communication can have a measureable impact on the business bottom line.

In January this year, Deutsche Bank celebrated a premiere: when we published the Bank’s results for the full year 2014, we broadcast a video statement by our co-CEOs for the first time ever. Jürgen Fitschen and Anshu Jain explained the relevant figures and key messages of the past year.

Feedback on the video was great. The New York Times quoted it, numerous online media integrated it into their websites, television stations used it and we reached a vast audience through social media.

This new video format is a good example of how Deutsche Bank uses the opportunities offered by digitalisation. It illustrates how corporate strategy goes hand in hand with digital and corporate communications. To put principles into practice, we established ground rules to ensure our digital communications are part of our identity. More about that later.

Changing  the competitive  landscape

Digitalisation affects us at all levels: social, political and financial. It also impacts companies and their business: the number of contact points are declining in the offline world while stakeholder dialogue is increasingly taking place online. Products and sales are becoming more digital. Social media and digitalisation are changing how companies interact with the outside world.

The financial sector is no exception. In the past, clients wanting to take out a loan were advised by staff in bank branches. Today, clients can use an app to handle large parts of this process. Digital strategies, smart products and more efficient processes are becoming decisive for success in business. Every service should therefore be aligned to the digital first concept. This means that thinking about how digital tools could facilitate the advisory service when taking out a loan, for example, should already be embedded into product development.

However, without communication that connects with our audience it is impossible for us to create added value digitally. Interactivity as well as new participation and recommendation models are already influencing every link on the value chain. This is why banks need to be where people obtain information, interact and engage in discussions. These are places where banks must actively present their content, products and services. Banks must recognise and make better use of the trend towards a mobile internet and the economics of inclusion through social networks.

A bank can only achieve this if it makes digitalisation a core topic for the entire organisation. Digital communications have to become an integral part of corporate strategy, which means they are emerging from a niche area to a company-wide function. The priority for content and channel management is to develop comprehensive concepts to achieve a consistent and significant digital footprint for the company. New formats must have digital DNA and communication content needs to be more tightly knit with topics that promise to appeal to a broad digital audience.

Five principles for successful digital communications guide us at Deutsche Bank:

       1) Courage to innovate: If you try to exclude all risks, you can easily miss today’s digital trends. Of course, there are legal and regulatory restrictions and observing them is a must. However, digital communications need managers willing to venture something new. Companies need to promote a culture that encourages staff to put forward their ideas and supports their review and implementation. If not, someone else quickly takes the lead in the digital world.

Managers must be able to accept that an idea can also fail. This, too, requires courage. Digitalisation cannot take place in just one functional area of a company. It has to be part of the firm’s identity and presupposes a culture that embraces opportunity instead of risk. This creates an environment for employees to develop. In fact, this is the only way for a company to proactively shape digitalisation, instead of being driven by it, and to sustainably secure its leadership in innovation. To put it succinctly: digitalisation is a leadership issue.

       2) A comprehensive strategy for content and channels: Digital communications must form an integral part of corporate communications, both strategically and operationally. Strategic means that digital communication itself must become a central topic of corporate communications. This helps to achieve pre-defined communications objectives. At the operational level, it is important to align content to channels and to use company-wide communications platforms.

We have developed clear guidelines for our digital communications. Four conditions have been established: first, digital communications support the company’s reputation. Second, they are intended to help give our brand a “positive charge”. Third, they intensify the dialogue with our stakeholders. Fourth, they must support our operating business divisions by communicating with our current clients and appealing to future clients. These criteria apply to both the digital content and the distribution channels we use.


     3) Content must be conducive to sharing: What applies to corporate communications overall applies here, too: content is king! Digital communication is all about informing, fascinating and inspiring. Content must have relevance for the stakeholders so that the formats are seen and shared. This is the only way to ensure content spreads independently from the firm’s own website, enabling a company to achieve digital diversified distribution effects in the war for attention.

We decide on our communication content by asking two questions. What do our stakeholders expect from us? And what do we want to communicate? We therefore have two areas that overlap: one with topics that we can cover thanks to our expertise and reputation as Deutsche Bank and the other with topics of general interest to our stakeholders. The relevant content of our digital communications are drawn from the overlap. We can expand the statement above: relevant content is king!

       4) Formats must be easy to use: Media consumption has changed along with how people stay informed and how they search for information. Not only is visual communication becoming more important, but the selected formats must also match the topics and the stories they tell. Form and content must be compatible – regardless of whether this involves a web video, infographic, documentary or photo slideshow. If these preconditions are not met, stakeholders will not share the format with others.

An example of how we put this into practice can be seen in a traditional storytelling approach we combine with a video portrait lasting several minutes. These portraits present a person along with his or her life’s work or key ideas – for example, a scientist’s unusual research project or an entrepreneur’s unique business model. These brief videos fulfil journalistic criteria, making them stand out from traditional corporate image films.

       5) Departments have to work together on the big picture: Digital communications are steered by subjects, not by departments. However, one area has to be responsible for the overall process. At Deutsche Bank, we established a digital communications department as an integral part of our corporate communications organisation. It comprises content and channel management as well as corporate television and films. Our digital communications team is responsible for developing and establishing new digital formats for the Bank and integrating them comprehensively into our communications.

However, it is not just when creating new communications instruments that departments have to work together more closely. The marketing and distribution of content also have to function throughout the firm. If a client has questions about economic developments, an advisor can recommend an online video on our website, which is how cross-departmental cooperation becomes reality.

Screenshot: Deutsche Bank/ YouTube

Liquid content

One thing is clear: if it doesn’t go viral, it doesn’t have reach – and if it doesn’t have reach, digital communication is not successful. So how do we prepare and market our content so that it can be used digitally? Take the following example from our external communications.

Macroeconomic analyses have always been part of our business and we regularly publish studies and commentaries. This expertise in economic and socially relevant subjects has a positive effect on our reputation. Using digital communications, we aim to strengthen this effect by reaching new, younger target groups with a high internet affinity.

We began by thinking about how we could put our expertise to better use. We surveyed our stakeholders about this and asked them: what topics do you expect Deutsche Bank to cover? Why should the Bank comment on them and in what form? Our experience has also shown that choosing content relevant to the current social debate can boost viral impact.

By applying the results of the survey and our experience, we selected specific macroeconomic topics and crafted our digital communications around them. Initially, these topics were mainly communicated on our website. We were, however, aware that blogs, online media, social networks, as well as video and infographic platforms are continually growing in importance. So the objective became to prepare our content in a way that made it suitable for various formats and channels with the aim of making it more fluid.

The euro crisis is a good example. Public interest in this issue remains high with frequent online searches including “euro crisis explained” or “euro crisis - causes and solutions”. Using a short, five-minute animated film released on YouTube, we explained not only the reasons for the euro crisis, but also solutions to it. We took care to ensure that the relevant facts were presented in an understandable way with a fresh look and feel.

Careful preparation, the right format and the right keywords helped us meet our stakeholders’ information requirements in a way that also matched how they search for information. Bloggers embedded the film in their posts and it was even picked up by a television talkshow. In this format, it was crucial that the spotlight fell on our expertise, not our brand. By achieving this, we were able to provide neutrality and create sustainable reach.

Measureable results

To contribute to business success, communications have to develop and improve relations with stakeholders and help companies achieve their strategic and political objectives. The fact that Deutsche Bank’s digital communications do exactly that is highlighted by numerous examples. Today, we reach millions of people via new formats and various channels. 200,000 people follow the Bank on Twitter, three times as many as last year. In the same period, the number of Facebook fans has risen 29 per cent to 90,000 and the number of views tracked on our YouTube channel has jumped by 50 per cent to 3.9 million. This wider digital spread raises awareness of our brand. It invites more people to get involved in discussions and draws greater attention to our products and services. This, in turn, benefits our business.

One thing applies to both digital and traditional communications: they should not be ends in themselves. Instead, they should contribute to the achievement of pre-defined objectives. Companies should not simply let themselves be carried along by the digitalisation wave. They need to develop their business models using the digital first approach. Managers need the courage to support the new digital ideas being generated by their employees. Creativity is a key aspect here, along with thinking outside the box.

Increased digital thinking leads to more participation. And increased innovation leads to greater transparency. Companies that actively seek dialogue with their stakeholders not only receive new ideas, they also become more transparent. In turn, this gives them the opportunity to align their business models even more closely to the needs of their clients, making them healthier and equipped for a successful future.


Main image: John Wildgoose

Thorsten Strauss

As global head of communications, CSR and public affairs at Deutsche Bank, Thorsten Strauss is responsible for Deutsche Bank’s communications, corporate social responsibility and public affairs activities around the world. He joined the bank in March 2012. He gained professional experience as a press officer for the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) and then as a regional journalist. From 1999 to 2011, he held various management positions at the international media company Bertelsmann and its services division Arvato. Before joining Deutsche Bank, he was executive vice president at Bertelsmann, with responsibility for corporate communications, marketing and public affairs.