Inside MD Financial Management’s Successful COVID-19 Content Strategy

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On March 11, the content team at MD Financial was finalizing their Q2 content plan, built around themes like spring cleaning your finances and home-buying season. Then Prime Minster Trudeau announced Canada’s response to the COVID-19 situation.

“Our world flipped,” said Shawna Dennis, who leads all of marketing for the physician-focused financial services company.

By March 13, the entire marketing team was mobilized around an entirely new content strategy. Within a week, they had launched a hub of COVID-19 resource content. The results have been astounding: 200 percent audience growth, a 38 percent increase in logins by its customers, and a 30 percent uptick in messages to financial advisors.

The story of how they got there is a masterclass in how to adapt an enterprise content strategy on the fly—one that marketers across industries can learn from.

The COVID content strategy

MD Financial’s content strategy shift was led by its director of content, Rachel Kenworthy, but it was supported by the entire organization.

Kenworthy and Dennis set out to fully understand the impact COVID-19 would have on its audience of 130,000 physicians and medical learners in Canada. They tapped into the subject matter experts (SMEs) at the company—from asset management, wealth and financial planning, and field teams—to understand client needs. Some physicians were seeing an 80 percent drop in income; others were working overtime on the frontlines.

MD Financial discovered three core needs: peace of mind about their portfolios during volatility, how MD was going to address their unique financial needs during the pandemic, and an understanding of what government programs were available to them.

The results have been astounding: 200 percent audience growth, a 38 percent increase in logins by its customers, and a 30 percent uptick in messages to financial advisors.

Within six weeks, the content team created 16 fact sheets, 15 articles, 10 market thought leadership blog posts, and 8 videos. They’ve attracted over 53,000 visits to the new COVID content—an impressive feat given that its total addressable audience is only 130,000 people. They also launched the “MD Market Watch” podcast, which was downloaded over 1300 times in those first 6 weeks.

Perhaps most impactful, though, was an interactive tool that gave physicians personalized information on which government assistance programs available to them. Its audience visited the tool over 15,000 times.

“We were flat out saying, ‘We understand that these are the challenges you’re facing right now,'” explained Dennis. “Here are some pieces of content that are going to help you. We’re always here.”

MD Financial’s 3 keys to success

A successful content strategy pivot doesn’t just happen by force of will. It was made possible by years of groundwork and an audience-first approach to marketing. Dennis walked me through the three keys that set them up for success.

1. Establish buy-in from the top

As a former journalist, Dennis believes in the power of content. But the team needed more than her buy-in to execute this content strategy to its full potential. The entire marketing team had to rally to get its COVID content up and running in less than 10 days. The company’s internal SMEs had to be willing to help, and the rest of the senior leadership needed to support the content-first focus.

That collaboration was the result of two years of effort developing the content program. “The strategy help that Contently has provided in getting our content strategy documented, getting the technology in place, all of that has been really valuable for the team,” Dennis said.

Dennis and Kenworthy have also gotten buy-in by setting clear goals and KPIs that demonstrate content’s impact. MD Financial measures content success in three buckets that map to the stages of the funnel:

Site Traffic and Engagement (top): visits, views, and time spent with content, with an emphasis on organic traffic.

Deeper consideration (mid): Driving from content to tools/calculators, newsletter sign-ups, and product pages.

Sales and loyalty (bottom): Leads, sign-ins, customer engagement, and advisor messages.

Showing how top-of-funnel engagement maps to sales and revenue makes it easy for others in the org to see why the entire marketing team needs to throw its weight behind a content strategy shift like this.

“A lot of people get hung up on the vanity metrics because they’re easy to get,” Dennis said, “but it’s very difficult to prove the ROI to the rest of the org when you’re talking about pageviews and engagement rate because they don’t see how that ties into sales.”

2. Pivot quickly and put your audience first

When COVID-19 hit, MD Financial had a full-fledged Q2 content strategy mapped out and ready to go. But when the world changed, they didn’t hesitate. They threw that plan out the window and started from scratch.

“We were running along ready to go with our normal stuff we had planned for Q2 and overnight had to do a 180 and change what our plan was,” Dennis said.

If they’d delayed even a week or two, they not only wouldn’t have seen the same content success, but also wouldn’t have been there for clients in the same way.

“I will always clear the way for content,” Dennis said. “If I have to move budget there to make it happen, if I have to clear things off people’s plates and make content a priority, then that’s what we do.”

3. Involve SMEs early in the process

Collaborating quickly and effectively with SMEs throughout the company had two big benefits. First, it helped them understand what their audience needed quickly.

“We used our SMEs as real partners,” Dennis said. “We worked hand-in-hand with them to create content that was super specific to our clients and what they needed.”

Second, working this way helped MD Financial expedite approvals and publish content quickly. “A lot of times the SME is the last person who reviews, but we found that by engaging them early in the planning process, the whole thing went smoother than it normally would. And from a compliance and legal perspective, the reviews we had to go through took way less time.”

Research backs this up. In our recent state of financial services content research report, we found that including SME and compliance teams early was one of the biggest keys to content success.

“Everything that we do, all of our acquisition campaigns, our advertising, our social activity, everything that we do from a digital perspective, is driven by content,” Dennis said. “It’s the underlying force behind what we’re doing.”

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