How to Approach Financial Content Marketing in a Crisis

March 20, 2020

There’s a widely accepted bit of wisdom in financial services marketing that’s looking pretty relevant right now:

When the sh$% hits the fan, communicate more – not less with your audience.

It sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.  

For one thing, compliance and process challenges make it difficult to get communications (blogs, emails, social media posts) out in a timely manner. By the time you’ve figured out what to say, the situation may have changed drastically.

There’s also the question of what exactly you’re going to say. How can a company that sells financial products “market” in a time of crisis without looking like they’re exploiting a terrible situation? (The short answer is, you can’t and you shouldn’t — more on that in a minute).

Add to all of this the fact that you, financial marketer, are trying to navigate this new normal on the personal front. Maybe you’re working from home for the first time ever; maybe your job isn’t exactly conducive to doing so. Maybe your kids are home with you (if so, I sympathize – and offer you this list of our team’s best WFH tips. As a virtual team, we’re old pros at juggling the crying babies and the barking dogs and the glitchy Zoom calls).

And frankly, you may be freaking out, and justifiably so. You’re worried about loved ones, neighbors, yourself, the world. If so, I urge you to take care of yourself and your people above all else. The below advice is for folks who’ve secured their own oxygen masks and are looking for ways to help others through this crisis.

All of this stress, uncertainty and worry add up to a mountain of reasons to stay quiet on the marketing front – “accepted wisdom” be damned.  

The thing is, this is the kind of moment that content marketing was made for.

Financial marketers are in a powerful position. The content you put out there can enable people to make better financial decisions. It can excite them about taking control of their finances. And right now, it can help them navigate uncharted (and frankly pretty terrifying) waters.   

If you’re feeling stuck about the what and the how of it all, here’s the framework we use to approach financial content marketing during a crisis.  Really, it’s all about showing up for your audience, especially when the going gets tough.

  1. Always be helping.

One of my favorite marketing people, Tara McMullin, has been talking a lot lately about how our role as marketers is “to generously be of service.”  I don’t know about you, but that simple turn of phrase takes a huge weight off my shoulders.  

[bctt tweet=”This is not the time to sell; this is the time to support.” username=”superscriptmktg”] This is not the time to sell; this is the time to support. If you offer a product or service that can help people right now, by all means let them know.  But from a content marketing perspective, you can’t go wrong if you focus on solving your audience’s problems.

This Ellevest blog post, “Answering Your Money Questions During Uncertainty,” is a great example.  Throughout the recent market turmoil, the Ellevest team has been publicly answering all the investment questions they’ve received via email and Instagram (and updating it regularly with new questions and answers – see #4).

  1. Listen first.

You can probably make some pretty accurate assumptions about what your audience is going through right now, but the surest way to know is to actually ask them.  

Of course, no one has time for a big market research to-do, so here’s your chance to try out some quick-and-dirty methods, such as:

    • Email or call your clients/customers.  Ask — and genuinely care — about how they are doing.
    • Talk to your sales/customer service team.  Give them an easy way to pass along questions, concerns and trends they’re noticing over the course of their conversations (we like Airtable for this, but a shared doc works great, too).
    • Throw out questions on social media and email.  If you don’t have a very large or active audience yet, asking good questions and interacting authentically with responses can help you start to build that engagement.
    • Survey your audience within webinars and other virtual events.  Put those polling features to work, and be prepared to ask questions that people can answer via chat.
    • Use a paid survey service like Pollfish.  If you can’t directly access your audience, this kind of tool can help in a pinch.
    • Tap behavioral insights.  As a complement to actual client conversations, keep an eye on what topics and formats are resonating with your audience using your own engagement/traffic metrics and third party data sources, such as BuzzSumo and SEO keyword volume/trends.

Make it your mission over the coming days and weeks to know every fear, challenge and opportunity your audience is thinking about right now — and use that info to fuel your content calendar.  

  1. Tap internal — and external — expertise.  

For some clients, the answer to “what should we talk about re: Coronavirus?” is pretty clear.  For example:

    • Investment companies can provide commentary on volatile markets.  
    • Lenders can educate about recent interest rate cuts.  
    • Wealth managers and personal finance companies can guide people through this economic rainy day that’s suddenly upon us.  

Not to mention the mountains of data most of these companies can mine for compelling story ideas.

And if you want to provide value on a subject that’s not in your company’s wheelhouse, there are plenty of other experts you can lean on. In fact, one of our favorite content creation methods is to highlight third party perspectives, whether from experts outside our client’s firm or regular people in a storytelling format. (Here is an example from Buzzfeed that is resonating with readers.)

  1. Update regularly.

One of the biggest missed opportunities we see is when clients don’t regularly update their content. It’s even more important in a time of crisis, when the information you’re sharing can change on a dime. 

In fact, one of our favorite blog formats (in good times and bad) is the continuously-updated resource list.  Here are a couple of great examples you can tweak for your own audience:

Financial Assistance Tracker for Businesses Hit by the Coronavirus Crisis (Inc.)

List of banks offering help to customers impacted by the coronavirus (Bankrate)

  1. Put it front and center.

At the time this article was published, 27 of the 30 largest US financial companies mentioned Covid-19 on their homepage.  However, the treatment ranged widely, from a cryptic “Letter from our CEO” (company shall remain nameless) to a vanishing pop-up (ditto) to a full-page of audience-focused, Coronavirus content (MetLife).  

You can probably guess which approach we recommend.  The Coronavirus pandemic is the #1 thing on people’s minds right now. If you’re producing content that will help them navigate this situation, by all means make sure they can find it.

  1. Have it come from a human.

If there was ever a time to drop the anonymous byline from your content marketing, now is it.  We always recommend highlighting the humans behind the corporate facade, and it’s doubly important in a time like this.

Your audience is far more likely to connect with the valuable content you’re putting out if it comes from real people.  Bonus points if those people share personal experiences (because hey, it’s nice to know that Bob from ABC Bank is scared, and brave, and doing the best he can in an uncertain time — just like me).

Keep calm and content on

We are living in a crazy, scary time.  But at least we can all be in this together.

I’m a marketer, just like you.  And I struggle with how to be a marketer in times like these, when it seems like the last thing we should be doing is marketing.  

So instead, I’m just going to be a human who genuinely cares about the humans in my audience.  If that advice resonates with you, I think you’ll have a better chance of reaching — and helping — your audience.

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