There has been increasing interest in content marketing and a lot of articles popping up about writing content for “boring” subjects and industries. There are a couple of good ones on SEOMoz here and here. I bring this up because this month we’re focusing on what is widely seen as one of the driest, most boring professions on the Internet: financial services. This includes accountants, banks, pension management companies, investment houses, and the like. In other words, professions that most people see as slightly more interesting than watching paint dry.

Of course, the people working in these places know that financial services can be exciting, full of life and death drama, sudden and unexpected twists, and colorful characters and events. As my old English teacher used to say: there’s no such thing as boring subjects, just boring writers. So today, we’re going to look at how to make dry financial services writing interesting and exciting. Here are four strategies and tips to take your financial services content marketing from snooze to must-read.

1) Interesting Doesn’t Have To Mean Silly

A lot of the concern we hear from more “respectable” fields (and especially from those providing higher end products and services) is that their clients and customers expect a certain reserved tone and a quieter writing style. Fair enough. This being the Internet and all, “interesting” has come to be seen as almost synonymous with “outlandish”, “silly”, and “light”. This doesn’t have to be the case. Interesting means just that: interesting. After all, the New York Times writes interesting headlines without having to stoop to the antics of the National Enquirer. Formal writing can be of great interest, so long as you set out to make it so. The key takeaway from this point is don’t let the need for a more dignified writing style push you into writing content that is a bore to read. Instead, work within your constraints to identify topics, themes, and content types that your visitors are interested in.

2) Answer Questions Before They Become Questions

Americans are woefully undereducated when it comes to handling finances. In 2011, USA Today reported that over a third of americans would give themselves a C when asked to grade themselves as financial role models for their children. According to the Oregon State Division of Finance and Corporate Securities, less than one fifth of adults polled could pass a basic financial literacy test about common investment vehicles. What’s my point? That you know as well as I do that your customers come to you every day with questions. I will even go so far as to say that most of those people have the same questions.

This is the perfect opportunity for content creation. By making a list of the top 10, 20, 50, 100, etc. questions your customers come to you with, you can:

  1. Provide top notch content that your customers are actually interested in and need
  2. Save yourself the headache of answering the same question 20 times per day
  3. Do your part to make your country a little bit better by providing financial education

It’s a complete win-win, and is exactly the type of positive and rewarding marketing that content marketing promises.

3) Think Outside The Blog

We have now reached that point in our culture that the term “blog” is unanimously recognized. It’s also become synonymous with content marketing. I spend a good bit of time with clients just explaining that there is more to what we offer at S&G than just blogging and infographics. Content is a rich and dynamic field that is constantly changing and growing. Video is part of content. Data visualizations (including infographics) are part of content. Email marketing is part of content. Gaming and social and mobile apps can fall under the content umbrella.

Besides the staggering array of media that can be categorized as content, there are many plans and structures that work better for some industries than other. B2B companies often benefit more from case studies and whitepapers than from daily blogs, and consumer brands looking to build branding can see much better results from a good social plan than an email newsletter. I say all this because a lot of financial service firms seem to be terrified of having to blog regularly about something that they see as boring, and they don’t have to be, because content DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ONGOING! I can’t stress this enough. Static content still works, and in some applications works much better than dynamic, periodic content. Put another way, writing interesting and useful content for financial firms can seem far less intimidating if you go old school and think of the content as a digital brochure.

4) Let Your Customers Do Your Work

One of the biggest fears we’ve heard from financial professionals about diving into content marketing is the time commitment required. Because to do content well, it DOES take time. No one ever knocked out an amazing blog post in half an hour a week. This blog post has taken me most of a day (granted it was a start and stop process that was regularly interrupted by client work). However, while the time requirement is a valid concern, it shouldn’t keep you from launching a content marketing strategy, and (arguably more importantly) it shouldn’t make you put out bland, boring blog posts because you don’t have the time to write better content.

There’s always the option of outsourcing (hint hint). If you want to keep it in house, consider user generated content. Consider adding a Q&A section to answer questions from your customers in a public forum (see #2 above). Look into adding a forum to let your customers talk amongst themselves (note: this will require moderation!). Do a weekly call-in podcast. Get your customers on board. Not only do you get your customers to do much of the work for you, you also build a strong bond with customers who come to see you as a source of information and entertainment and not simply a place where they do business. More importantly, since your customers are providing at least the foundation for your content, you are almost guaranteed to put out more interesting (to your readers) material.

This is hardly a comprehensive list, and there are a lot more specific tricks you can use to make your writing more useful and interesting. Later this month, we will be looking at specific examples of financial firms doing content right, as well as dissecting the results of a marketing research study we are performing in-house to find out what kind of content consumers are looking for from financial service providers, so stay tuned. What we hoped to accomplish with this post, though, is not to give a specific how-to but to get you to shake the myth that financial content has to be boring. Start thinking beyond typical content outlets, and start thinking past traditional marketing goals, and you can start down the road towards producing great stories that sell your company without having to do any selling.

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