All marketing is essentially storytelling that leads, whether directly or indirectly, to a sale. In some realms, such as fashion or consumer electronics, the path from a content marketing piece to a sale can be as straightforward as an email blast with a “Buy” button featured prominently at the bottom. In the finance world, content marketing is rarely that simple. Thanks to regulatory constraints, financial content is by its very nature hedged and indirect; funds “seek to” provide exposure to various strategies and asset classes. Different approaches “may” or “might” lead to outperformance of the broad market, and so on. Thanks in part to this significant limitation, most financial marketing content tends to take a more neutral, educational tone.
With this in mind, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions as you begin to put together a piece of content. The very first question you need to ask yourself is: what is our goal here? Are we producing a fund-specific educational piece? Are we seeking to broaden brand awareness? Will it focus on a particular strategy? Or are we aiming for a broader explanatory piece? An extremely important corollary to this question which should inform all of your content writing is deceptively simple: who is the audience? Will your piece of content be picked up by a sophisticated financial advisor or institutional investor, or is this going to be focused on more of a retail audience?
One final question to ask yourself as you set the parameters of the piece is: how will we distribute this? In other words, what are we picturing as the medium? Your goal and target audience will go a long way towards informing this decision as well. If you are creating an educational piece for an institutional audience, it’s unlikely that you will be creating a print ad. Similarly, if you are creating a basic primer on ETFs for a retail audience, you probably are not going to want to write a 10-page whitepaper. Some kinds of content may lend themselves to multiple distribution channels, for example a one-page infographic could be repurposed as a print hand-out for conferences.
Once you’ve settled on the goal of the piece, your target audience, and your distribution channel, you’re ready to get into the nitty-gritty: content generation. Step one of the creative process is inevitably research of some kind or another, though you may not think of it this way. You’ll need to gather up all the pre-existing materials that your company may have produced on this topic over the years. What do you like? What do you not like? What questions does the piece leave unanswered? It’s best to go in with almost too much ammunition—as I’m fond of telling our writing clients, it’s much easier to cut than it is to add. After gathering together all of your pre-existing materials, you’ll want to do some research online, and might even want to interview an expert on your team (and speak to all the stakeholders) to make sure you’re getting the point across correctly.
Now you’re ready to get writing! “But wait,” you may be thinking to yourself, “what about design? I have a very clear idea of how I want this content piece to look.” It may be tempting at this stage to skip over the writing process and jump right to design, but in our experience this approach often creates more problems than it solves. For starters, a designer needs to know what is being communicated in the piece before they start placing things. They can’t place text and graphics when there isn’t any clarity on the actual message that’s being communicated. Certainly, any designer worth their salt can mock-up something vague to give you an idea of what the final product could look like, but it’s all just speculation until you have your finalized text. Even if all you’re creating is a very text-light infographic, it’s best to get all the text nailed down first before you move onto the design page. Trust me, it’ll save you a lot of duplicative work down the road.
Once you have a first draft of the text, it’s time to get it edited so it gets everyone’s sign-off. The editing process for any piece of content can be long and harrowing, but it doesn’t have to be. For starters, it’s a good idea to have all stakeholders view each draft of the piece as it proceeds from concept to completion. This ensures each round of revisions is as comprehensive as possible, integrating all feedback before moving onto the next round, and it also helps to keep versions under control. If versions get fragmented and it’s unclear what is the most current version of the draft, wires can get crossed and the process can slow to a standstill. Likewise, if the most senior stakeholder involved in the project doesn’t take a look at the piece until version 3, it’s very possible your writer will be back to square one after they’re done with it.
After the research, writing, and editing stages are done, it’s time to pass the text on to your designer. A good designer should be able to adhere to your firm’s brand guide so that the final product fits in with the rest of your collateral. Your designer should take your feedback into account as they move closer to a final product. Once you’ve approved the final product it’s time to distribute your content—but we’ll leave that topic for another post.