I didn’t start my career at an ad agency or a literary magazine. My first internship was actually on the structured products team at an asset management firm. After two weeks, I knew I didn’t want to work for an investment bank. But it only took two days for me to realize just how convoluted the material was—by design.
That summer, I learned to appreciate people who could make complex topics easy to understand. As a plebe at the firm, I had to ask a lot of questions and learn fast. Let me tell you, there were a lot of financial experts in the office, but only a few of them could clearly communicate that expertise to others who weren’t on their level.
The learning experience has stuck with me. During my time at Contently, financial services has arguably been the most bullish industry when it comes to content marketing. Since the ’08 financial crisis, finserv companies have stepped up their efforts to educate clients and consumers. Yet there’s still a huge need for more guidance; just look at how day-trading (Gamestop to the moon!) became a cultural phenomenon this year. Everyone wants to get in on the action, but they need trustworthy content to help their decision-making.
To see where finserv marketers should be investing their time, we recently analyzed 2,848 pieces of content from 26 of the biggest finance companies in the world. We just released our full report that breaks down what brands can do to stand out from the competition. (You can download the free report by clicking the banner below.) For now, though, here’s a sneak preview with some of the most important takeaways from our research.
1. Focus educational content on emerging fields like cryptocurrency, not just personal finance
People crave financial expertise. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of the first companies to crack the code on content marketing—like Mint, American Express, and Chase—came from financial services. These brands built loyal audiences and attracted customers in large part because of content that demystified everything from taxes to credit scores.
Naturally, that early success led to a lot of copycat content, particularly in personal finance. Companies with retail banking divisions invested in educational resources centers. Personal finance guides popped up on lifestyle sites. And tons of bloggers began offering their budgeting hacks. At this point, it may not even be worth trying to replicate what the Mints of the world accomplished because you’d have to deal with so much more competition and diminishing returns.
However, finserv can still benefit by creating strong educational content, as long as they cover different subjects. For example, in our analysis, investing and cryptocurrency emerged as two valuable topics with much less competition than personal finance. In fact, the top 20 fintech and crypto stories in our data set had 4x as much engagement as the top 20 B2C personal finance stories.
Crypto is interesting because some people love it, some dismiss it, and some are confused by it. But that’s part of why it has so much potential as a content pillar. Only about 17 percent of U.S. adults own crypto, per a 2021 study from the New York Digital Investment Group, but 75 percent of respondents expressed interest in learning more about it.
The main point is to help your audience by teaching them something new rather than recycling old educational topics others have already covered. Then go all-in on developing easily digestible lessons.
2. Use multimedia content to help thought leadership content break through
Looking for another way to stand out? Use multimedia content formats like podcasts and video to develop your thought leadership.
Multimedia content delivers a more personal experience than text, since you have the added benefit of hearing someone’s voice or seeing their face. It’s also often much easier to turn around timely financial news or advice when you can just press record and share your expertise.
Our analysis pinpointed a couple of very successful multimedia series. The top-performing podcast was Morgan Stanley’s Thoughts on the Market, which had 25,473 social shares (100x the average in our study!).
Thoughts on the Market works for two reasons. One, it’s short. Most episodes last three or four minutes, so Morgan Stanley can post every day and make it easy for people to listen. In a joint study on thought leadership, LinkedIn and Edelman found that timeliness and brevity were key to engagement. Seventy-five percent of decision-makers said that “being short and easy to absorb” made thought leadership content very compelling.
The second reason is because of a special hosting setup. There’s no singular voice. Instead, Morgan Stanley calls on a rotating cast of experts to weigh in on their specialties. Andrew Sheets breaks down cross-asset strategies, Mike Wilson makes sense of U.S. public policy, and Graham Secker covers European news. This gives Morgan Stanley the best of both worlds—the regulars provide consistency, but the show is still able to cover a range of financial topics with authority.
3. Be more authoritative
Speaking of authority, content that commands attention tends to be clear and assertive—particularly when it comes to investment topics.
Using StoryBook, a Contently tool that integrates voice and tone data from IBM Watson, we scored every piece of content and found a correlation between less agreeable content and better engagement. Across our fintech and B2B segments, which focus heavily on investing-related topics, top performing pieces were much more likely to have a low agreeableness score.
In this context, agreeableness refers to a person’s tendency to be compassionate, cooperative, and compromising. It also suggests a dislike of confrontation.
There’s definitely a place for compassion in marketing, but finserv audiences also benefit from hard-hitting, assertive counsel rather than vague or meek recommendations.
Take, for instance, Binance’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Day Trading Cryptocurrency,” which has an agreeableness score of .04 and has been shared over 5,000 times on social media. Of course, Binance’s content team hopes people will use their exchange to invest, but the guide doesn’t sugarcoat the details. It breaks down “the highly stressful and very demanding” life of a day trader and recommends follow-up resources people should consult before jumping in.
It’s another helpful reminder that for financial services content to be great, it needs to stand out.
If you want to see all of our finserv findings, you can access the research report here.