Content Marketing for Financial Services: Why Thinking Like a Journalist Pays Off

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Boundaries between media and marketing are blurring fast. But the best content marketing strategies aren’t shy about borrowing from best practices in journalism.

Content marketing can encompass a range of tactics such as value-added educational content or turnkey social media marketing programs, but they all share the same imperative: Create appealing content that captures customers’ attention.

That means brands are turning into publishers, competing for attention not just with other brands but also with other media outlets.

The Columbia Journalism Review observes that “[o]ne day soon, native advertising may be recalled as a quaint evolutionary step, as brands are increasingly comfortable simply reaching an audience themselves.”

“Financial brands are looked to as thought leaders,” says Carpenter Group SVP Editorial Director Cathy Weigel. “They are now expected to have a point of view, and be willing to share it — whether it’s high-quality, educational content or insights that seek to move the industry forward.

The key is to find the tactic that’s the right fit for your brand and your capacity. But whether you think of yourself as giant media outlet like The New York Times or a hyperlocal news source like The Villager, it still makes sense to think like a journalist.

The Newsroom Mentality

Many financial firms seek to leverage the value of their thought leadership resources — the men and women whose expertise powers the firms’ products and services — through content marketing. But you need a clear-cut plan to effectively tap those resources. You need to develop the right vehicle — say, a mix of in-depth analysis, blog posts, and social media posts.

Thinking like a journalist may mean acting like a newsroom. Key stakeholders who are thought leaders take the role of sources: the holders of specialized, accurate information. Writers act as journalists (these days, they often are journalists), conducting interviews, corroborating facts, and, most important, telling engaging stories. Marketing managers and leaders act as editors, ensuring content aligns with strategic goals.

Writing Like a Journalist

Content should provide value and inspire trust in your target audience.

1. Know your readers, and understand what content is valuable to them. Content should be “newsworthy,” providing your target audience with valuable and timely information

2. Don’t talk up — or down — to your reader. Financial B2B marketers are often talking to specialized niche markets, and these audiences will have a high level of sophistication. Once you’ve identified your reader, use appropriate language.

3. Stick to the facts. Journalists verify and corroborate facts, and brands should do the same. Can you objectively verify claims and promises?

4. “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Often known as Hemingway’s rules, these four sentences from the Kansas City Star style guide will also remind you to create concise, direct messages with language that quickly seizes and holds onto, readers’ precious attention.

5. Write engaging and informative headlines. Clumsy SEO attempts can alienate readers, or even backfire when they’re seen as clickbait. By all means, entice readers with clever language, but don’t play games. Let readers know what they’re going to get. “Five Top-Performing Socially Responsible Funds” is much better than “How to Do Good while Making Good.”

6. Don’t bury the lead. An old saw that refers to obsolete newspaper typesetting technology, this means “Get to the point. Don’t test readers’ patience by making them wade through several paragraphs to find the main point of the story. Remember, you’re competing for attention, and you need to explain immediately how you’re going to reward the reader for hers.

7. Give credit where credit is due. You shouldn’t shy away from using third-party content — let’s face it, not everyone has the resources to generate their own proprietary content. It’s often best to use mix a of the two, but your should always clearly attribute content from third-party sources, and not simply present it as your own.

It’s All About the Story

One thing that great marketing and journalism have always had in common is the ability to tell great stories that evoke an emotional response and inspire action.

Thinking like a journalist can help you make sure those stories are accurate, concise, and meaningful to your ideal reader. And operating like a newsroom can help you create a process for turning story ideas into attention-grabbing content.

Effective content marketing programs have wide-ranging benefits for your brand, among them increased brand visibility, greater customer engagement and added conversation starters for sales.