Google the phrase “index annuity,” and you will get more than 2.5 million hits. “ETF” nets 13.7 million. If web pages mentioning ETFs were people, the Honorable State of ETF would be the fifth largest in the U.S. My point is that there is a lot of noise out there related to financial products and a paucity of useful, relevant information.
Like everyone else, the financial professionals in your channel – the ones you need to reach in order to drive your company’s product sales – are deluged with product and company information all day, every day. Emails, print ads, post cards, banner ads, voice mails, texts, even faxes from companies hawking their products. If you think I’m overstating the case, ask an independent financial advisor to send you a screen shot of what their inbox looks like when they open their email tomorrow morning.
Content marketing is a way to cut through all of the clutter to get your brand in front of the financial professionals you need to sell your products. Unlike traditional forms of marketing, content marketing is not intended to be disruptive. Content marketing in its most basic form is simply telling a story that resonates with the people you want to reach in order to influence their behavior. The most successful companies in the world are using content marketing to make their prospective customers more informed, better educated buyers who will ultimately reward them with their business and their loyalty. If you haven’t seen Coke’s corporate website lately, it’s worth a look. Content marketing is not just the future of marketing – it’s the present.
If your company hasn’t yet created a robust content marketing strategy, don’t feel bad. With a few notable exceptions, most of the financial companies I work with haven’t done so yet either. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for financial companies interested in engaging their sales channel in a meaningful and sustained way to positively affect product sales and grow market share.
Following are three examples from outside the financial industry that you should consider “borrowing”:
Example 1: Staples
Everyone knows Staples as a place where they can buy copy paper. The company is a large office supply chain, with over 2,000 stores worldwide in 26 countries. Like many large brick and mortar retail chains, office-supply retailers have been decimated by online competition. Further, Staples sells fairly commoditized products widely available anywhere. Staples experienced a devastating sales decline of 5 percent in 2013, leading the retailer to announce the closure of 225 stores by the end of 2015, representing nearly 12 percent of its locations. The company also recently announced plans to trim $500 million in costs.
The one bright spot in the Staples story is that online sales rose 10 percent in 2013, now accounting for roughly half of total sales. Staples has an online storefront where one can buy office supplies, but what’s most interesting about the company’s online sales strategy is that, instead of positioning itself as a purveyor of copy paper, Staples has established itself as a provider of business solutions through its robust content marketing program, “Make More Happen,” which was launched last year to help grow its online sales.
The payoff: Staples’ primary online competition is the online behemoth Amazon, a formidable competitor by any standards. Staples sells the same products as Amazon, often at a higher price, and it doesn’t have Amazon’s distribution capabilities or the very large customer base accustomed to buying its products online. The “Make More Happen” site, however, publishes helpful stories aligned with the needs and interests of its target customers – small businesses. Non-promotional content featuring stories, such as “Five Small Business Cloud Apps That Can Improve Operations” and “Auditing Your Offline Marketing Materials,” demonstrates Staples’ understanding of its customers’ needs and gives customers a reason to engage with the Staples brand as a go-to source of helpful information and solutions. And, yes, customers can still buy copy paper, too.
Applications for the financial industry: Let’s face it, there is a whole lot of product homogeneity in the financial industry. Both carriers and wholesale intermediaries struggle to differentiate themselves in a fairly crowded space. But defining your brand is essential if your goal is to invigorate your distribution channel. According to National Underwriter’s 2013 Independent Brokerage Study, the single most important factor for independent advisors when making a product recommendation is the reputation and financial strength of the company. Providing advisors and brokers with useful, non-promotional content that speaks directly to their needs and challenges is an efficient and compelling way to positively impact your reputation among financial sales professionals and, ultimately, grow sales.
Example 2: McDonald’s Canada
What is in that special sauce on my Big Mac, really? And are chicken nuggets really made with chicken? These profound questions have been plaguing McDonald’s customers ever since the dawn of the happy meal. McDonald’s Canada has built a site that fearlessly tackles questions like these head on. The “Our Food. Your Questions.” blog allows the company to proactively and openly address rumors and negative opinions about its food. Visitors like Michael from Toronto can submit questions like, “Why does your food left out over long periods of time never mold or decompose?” (I can’t help but imagine what Matthew’s apartment looks like.) McDonald’s chooses which questions to answer and then publishes responses in a visually compelling, tile format with a very contemporary feel.
The payoff: The site is McDonald’s response to a growing consumer consciousness about what is in our food and how it is produced. McDonald’s, the poster child of fast food restaurants, was singled out in the documentary Super Size Me (2004) and a wave of books, such as Fast Food Nation. Rather than adopting a duck-and-cover response, “Our Food. Your Questions.” gives McDonald’s a forum to dispel rumors and correct misconceptions. The blog positions McDonald’s as an active member of a community, rather than an aloof corporate behemoth and typical fast-food chain restaurant. The site also drives social media engagement with customers. Every published Q&A has embedded social media functionality so visitors can tweet and post to their heart’s content – and many do.
Applications for the financial industry: Want to improve your favorability among brokers and advisors? Get down into the trenches and answer their most pressing questions. Accurate or not, when I look at McDonald’s site I am left with the impression that here is a company with nothing to hide. There is no shortage of financial companies contending with negative images within the broker community, but companies in that situation tend to keep their head down and hope the storm will pass. The McDonald’s format offers a model for how a company can take an active role in reshaping its brand image. The format also offers a compelling way to engage with the advisor community by collecting and responding to pressing questions and concerns about complex and changing issues like advisor fees, fiduciary regulation, and annuity suitability.
Example 3: Logicalis
Logicalis is an international IT solutions company. Visitors arriving at the company’s U.S. homepage don’t see a menu of products and services or a lineup of recent self-validating press releases (though both are readily accessible through the top level navigation). What one finds instead is really good, helpful information, from case studies and infographics to tool kits and guides. Logicalis puts the customer first – not by saying so in a mission statement that only its employees read, but by offering site visitors useful, actionable information.
The payoff: The company’s value proposition is wholly dependent on the level of expertise they are able to offer their customers. Logicalis is affirming its expertise through accessible and intelligent thought-leadership content. By offering useful, practical information about some fairly complex issues, Logicalis deepens its relationship with existing customers and establishes credibility with would-be customers.
Applications for the financial industry: Toolkits, guides, case studies – These can be incredibly useful tools for financial professionals trying to get a handle on complex issues, such as fee disclosure and health reform, and how these issue are likely to impact their practice and their customers. Financial companies that engage their distribution force with timely, relevant and useful information will enhance their reputation and inspire loyalty among financial sales professionals.