Most financial marketers today understand that content is the cornerstone of a high-performing marketing and customer experience. Unfortunately, much of that content falls into the oft-bland categories of cookie-cutter financial literacy or trite yarns about a desire to be a part of every customer or member’s journey through life. Where did our content go wrong? Why do we settle for synonymized versions of the same article that appear on hundreds of financial websites? Why can’t we build and maintain a content calendar? There’s a reason the buzziest of buzzwords, content marketing, has yet to lose steam: it’s really tough to figure out.
It usually starts with brand. When the majority of consumers feel that a bank is a bank is a bank (or that a credit union is not a bank but looks and feels like a bank that calls me a member), your opportunity to stand out is painfully obvious. The same could be said for the undifferentiated neobank with a nice debit card and pleasant mobile user interface and experience. People can’t see your unique qualities if you don’t define what these are and show them.
If most financial companies are lacking that certain je ne sais quoi that takes their brand from commodity to something connected to the heart and mind, their content suffers a similar fate. A powerfully consistent and captivating brand sets the foundation for great content that arises from your brand’s personality.
So, just go create, right? If only it were that easy. Where do you start?
Starting Is The Hardest Part
Starting to develop content probably feels like an overwhelming tidal wave of anxiety. You’re not alone in this feeling. Most marketing teams struggle to start and maintain effective content programs. But starting is truly the hardest part. And the easiest place to begin? You. Your organization. No matter what area(s) of banking you specialize in, there’s content to be mined from your subject matter expertise. And those who bank with you (or are thinking about doing so) would probably benefit from that knowledge.
Here’s a tip: you don’t need the perfect content strategy to start producing useful content today. You can grow into your content strategy. Don’t get hung up on building a pristine strategy and manicuring all of your channels for content success. Start writing.
Don’t worry if an idea is worthy of being an article, a series of blog posts, an infographic, or even worthwhile at this point. Your first goal is to brainstorm. And whether you’re whiteboarding alone or in a group (after all, more of your team equals more subject matter expertise), the process is the same:
- Focus on generating an extensive list of topics.
- Choose one, then list as many subtopics as you can.
- From those subtopics, start developing ideas. (Tip: Think of the financial questions you receive from customers or personal situations you’ve experienced related to the topic du jour. Either of these is a fantastic starting point.)
- Repeat for each topic and subtopic.
Congrats! You now have a list of financially-focused pieces of content just waiting to be developed.
Plan Your Financial Content
The next step is to take everything you’ve come up with and begin refining and prioritizing topics. Don’t throw anything out completely, but prioritize the best ideas based on your FI’s overall focus and what aligns with your most important marketing strategies. Your content should support your strategy!
The easiest way to get organized is through the creation of a trusty content calendar — a schedule of what topics, categories, and types of content you plan to publish when. You can use spreadsheets, but try using a more collaborative tool that allows multiple people to make changes concurrently (think Google Sheets, Airtable, Miro, or CoSchedule). Once you have a working calendar, you may want to go a step further and ensure this information integrates (or at least exists) in a project management system, so that you and your content partners are held accountable.
Here are a few best practices for creating your content calendar:
- Focus on milestone events in the lives of the general public. For example, tax refund season is a great time to focus on savings and investment accounts, automobile loans or mortgages (which would require a down payment), or even a catch-all article written to the tune of, “What should I do with my tax refund?”
- Make sure you cover what you want to cover over the course of the year. Find the right balance between hitting your primary focus areas without neglecting other topics that would benefit readers (prospects and current customers alike). Again, you can always make changes later, but planning a year out will keep you from wondering, “What can I find to publish tomorrow?”
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Seriously. If you’re starting from scratch or have limited content to work with, start creating content within a manageable cadence. Remember, there are 52 weeks in a year. Starting by saying you’ll create two pieces of fresh financial content a month (which is still 24 pieces of content a year) is much less daunting than promising your CEO that you’ll have a new article up every week, then failing.
- Go chasing waterfalls! Set up your calendar to “waterfall,” meaning ideas move from a brainstorming section to a status-driven calendar where you’ll record when something is due and the responsible party. Additionally, your calendar can plan to break older content into social posts, graphics, or quotes long after a single piece is published.
Develop and Deconstruct Content
On the last note above, deconstructing content is one of these best ideas to increase the longevity of what you produced. Unfortunately, it’s one of the least practiced too! What does it mean to “deconstruct” content? You take a piece of finished content and then rip it apart to repurpose it for other mediums!
Let’s look at this article you’re reading right now. In its finished form, it’s a good-sized chunk of content — one that’s great for reading online but way too long for, say, social media or video.
Rather, you could post an article like this online, then:
- Develop a series of short, eye-catching social media posts featuring snippets of the article text (and a link back to the article itself).
- Create an infographic related to the content-brainstorming process, and post it both online and on social media.
- Record an audio version of the article, read by the author, as part of a podcast.
- Turn this article into a motion graphics script that could illustrate the importance of financial content as a differentiator.
Those are just four examples of different types of content that can extend the lifespan of a single piece of content — your original article — almost infinitely.
Categorize Your Financial Content
Now, let’s talk about different “buckets” of content that are incredibly relevant to different segments of your audience. Mind you, there are more buckets to be filled, but taking an intentional approach to developing content within these three areas will go a long way to positioning your FI as one that “gets it”:
- Educational content: fact-driven pieces that inform readers and break down complex financial information into something more easily digestible. Some good examples of this type of content would be articles entitled, “What’s the Difference in a Traditional and Roth IRA?” or “How to Open a Checking Account.”
- Aspirational content: financially-related content focused on consumer life goals. In their simplest form, these are pieces of content targeted toward those anticipating a future “next step” in their financial journey. Think of topics like, “Is Buying or Renting Right for Me?” and “What can I do with a HELOC?”
- Lifestyle content: Often overlooked (and tragically so), lifestyle content can be a true differentiator between two banks that offer quality content. Lifestyle content is that which, at first glance, may seem to have nothing to do with your FI or finances in general. However, a good call-to-action (the single action you want a content consumer to take next) and tie-in to your values or services will connect the dots.
Take, for instance, a multi-town community bank with a separate mortgage company that’s looking to increase its online reach.
The educational and aspirational content might include an article explaining the difference between fixed- and adjustable-rate loans, a first-time homebuyer Q&A with a mortgage lender, and even a “How-much-can-I-afford?” calculator. Upon closer inspection, this bank’s footprint features a hot real estate market chock full of cozy, vibrant cities and towns, many award-winning restaurants, and plenty of rich cultural history.
With that in mind, a series of features on the community itself — with an obligatory call-back to this bank and its experience helping locals and newcomers alike finance the home of their dreams in the town of their dreams — would not just draw in those looking for financial education, but those looking to plant roots, too. The local PR effect, where important local publications pick up or link to your reviews, will further amplify your brand’s connection to the community.
This is a simplistic example, but it works. Seriously, we’ve seen it firsthand.
I’m A Banker, Not A Writer
One of the things we often hear when meeting with financial marketers is, “I’m a banker/executive/manager/product builder, not a writer or creative type!” You don’t have to be a great writer to put ideas on paper. There are many ways to get over the creative resource hurdles that companies face when starting a content program. Here are a few options you have at your disposal.
- The first option is to buy a prepackaged, ready-to-publish bundle of content from a vendor specializing in creating generic financial content for the masses. Be warned — you may get a host of factually correct articles, but they’re probably going to be “one-size-fits-all” content pieces that don’t take your brand, your community, or your specific goals into account. The majority of this purchased content will fall into the educational bucket, which means you’ll be missing both aspirational and lifestyle content.
- Another option is to do it yourself. Maybe not you, personally, but you could enlist the help of your marketing team colleagues, financial experts, and others who have knowledge to share. Just be sure to remember that the more people you have around the table, the longer each planning meeting will be (and the more content you’ll personally need to keep track of).
- Finally — and the one we at HIFI of course think is the best option — is working directly with a content creator (or a team of content creators) who specialize in financial content and have both the creativity and flexibility to craft sound, on-brand financial content that feels unique to your financial institution. After all, anything you put on your website, video format, social channels, or anywhere else is a direct reflection of you. When it comes to their money, consumers are skeptical of anything that doesn’t “feel” right. So don’t hesitate to ask a prospective content creator or agency for samples of their work and ask them to explain the why behind each piece of content — not just the what.
Only then will you be able to see how financial content can truly affirm, engage, and impact your prospects, customers, and members every day — online or on their mobile devices, all from wherever life takes them. There are many different types of digital financial content — articles or blog posts (like this one), white papers, infographics, calculators, videos, social media posts, and more. The possibilities are endless. Forget about where you are right now and set your focus on developing a financial content-based marketing strategy that will set you apart, raise your FI’s profile, win new clients and better engage those you currently have. It’s time to start.