If you think content marketing is easy, you’re probably misinformed. And if you think creating interesting, widely-read content in the financial industry is a breeze, then you probably don’t work in the business.
I’ve spent years managing content creation for several notable financial brands, and I’m afraid I need to point out the elephant in the room: Creating financial content that consumers actually read, share, and return to is exceedingly hard. The most successful financial industry giants struggle with blogs and microsites that often underperform or outright fail.
At this point, expectations are so low that a “successful” article or video only needs to drive 1,000 views to stand out.
To add insult to injury, the content creation process is often harder in finance because of SEC regulations and complex internal approval chains, which slow everything considerably. But building a content operation doesn’t have to be such a risky investment. As a financial journalist and editor, I’ve seen firsthand how content can thrive and how the content creation process can be managed effectively.
While other companies are stumbling to build loyal audiences, here are a few key insights that can help your financial content succeed:
Know your audience
Knowing your audience seems straightforward: It either consists of existing consumers, or potential customers you’ve identified and want to reach. But even with that knowledge, financial brands haven’t been great about optimizing this aspect of content strategy. That means the content might not appeal to the right audience, reach that audience, or get delivered in the format consumers prefer.
At one major firm with hundreds of billions of assets under management, this essential distinction remained unclear. The company created an economics blog written in a light, conversational tone, but the content was still very technical and ill-suited for a lay audience. The result? Fewer than 100 views per blog post, and significant confusion over how to reach the intended audience effectively. When the blog was reconfigured as general-interest investing content, it quickly appealed to a much larger reader base and drew an average of over 2,000 clicks per post.
Generally speaking, financial content can be categorized into two groups. The first is technical financial content designed for either fellow financial industry professionals or sophisticated investors. This content needs to be informative and authoritative. The greatest challenge is not simply producing the most insightful content; it’s creating work that gets read or mentioned by the right people. That’s a massive challenge because there are relatively few of these so-called “right people.” And trying to target the right people with email blasts doesn’t work well, either. An industry comparison from Constant Contact showed that emails focused on accounting and financial advising ranked below average for open and click-through rates.
The second type of content is designed for the average consumer or investor. Think of blogs, emails, and videos created with the retail investor in mind—content that often aims to communicate features or stories that are of broader interest. But despite the less-sophisticated material, the challenge of reaching the right reader remains just as onerous. Though this demographic is much larger, it’s also much more fragmented and oversaturated with financial content.
There’s no easy way to appeal to either group, but there are some important questions to ask yourself as you seek to produce content for your audience:
-Who is my precise audience? It’s a mistake to assume that just because your consumers have a checking account or trade on your platform that they’ll all want to read the same content. Demographic and psychographic groups have different styles and consumption preferences. Does your marketing team have any statistics or information that reveals your audience’s behaviors? If not, what do past trends suggest about what they want?
-Where is my audience? Knowing who you’re targeting is an essential first step, but equally important is knowing where your audience is. This will dictate where you publish your content. Does your audience spend ample time on social media? Do they read blogs or watch online video frequently? How often are they really on your website? By understanding where your audience spends their time, you stand a better chance of crafting content that will be seen, read, and hopefully shared.
-What do they need from me? Does your audience just want occasional product and account updates? Do they look to you for insights and thought leadership? Knowing what your audience needs from you is crucial for you to understand what content you should be creating.
Understand your goals
Too often, content suffers from KPI confusion. Is your goal to promote your brand as a thought leader, to entertain, or just to build brand loyalty? Thought leadership content, for example, won’t necessarily get you a huge audience, so the right KPIs might focus, instead, on retweets from prominent influencers, or press mentions in prominent publications. On the other hand, a blog for lay consumers might seek lots of readers and high engaged time.
Intuit’s MintLife blog captures this insight admirably. The award-winning blog for Mint.com reaches over 2 million readers, with barely any mentions of Mint.com itself. Instead, Intuit and Mint strive to create brand trust by providing neutral, marketing-free personal finance advice and articles. The result? Prominent financial experts and writers work with MintLife for free, seeking to be published on such a widely-read platform. The blog won a Webby award, generated sponsorship and ad revenue, and served as free thought leadership for the brand. Had Intuit chosen to use MintLife as a marketing tool, it might not have reached such a large audience or become known for thought leadership.
The metrics for success differ based on your intended goals, so make sure you select the right KPIs for the job. For example, content that is subject to SEC scrutiny may not be as provocative or lively, and thus would be poorly suited for a social media campaign striving for 10,000 likes.
Streamline approval chains
Financial organizations can be notoriously complex, which results in slow, often laborious editorial approval chains. I worked on a project with one of the world’s largest financial institutions and found too many chefs and not enough line cooks—an unfortunate circumstance that slowed the creative process and hampered idea generation. Ask yourself these few questions in order to minimize delays:
-Who are the key stakeholders? Everyone loves collaborating, but it’s important to reduce the number of people reviewing the content if you want to publish at the speed of news. Who really needs to be involved in the review process? Are there ways to limit the scope of how much certain employees can edits? Can you build a content approval flow that minimizes the number of reviewers?
(Editor’s note: See this excellent piece by John Hazard for more on how to streamline your approval chain.)
-Can this process be replicated? If you’ve published content recently that has been particularly well-received or that flowed smoothly through the approval chain, consider replicating it, if possible. Can you create a framework for articles or videos that reduces the need for oversight? Does your compliance department favor a specific style that is easier to approve? Consider replicating successful processes and project frameworks.
–Can I minimize concerns beforehand? Communicating a content strategy before you begin content production can help alleviate any concerns and reduce delays once you start. Get buy-in from your compliance department and build team consensus before starting a project to reduce questions or friction once the project is underway. Think about clear project briefs, straightforward team calls, and clear delineation of employee responsibilities in order to communicate your vision clearly.
Being thoughtful and resourceful about content creation is valuable in any industry, but doubly so in finance. Not only are the stakes arguably higher, but the dividends greater. Take a moment to reflect on your content’s goals and your audience’s needs in order to maximize your chances for success.