Marketing financial services in the age of distraction

In their 1996 book Rules of the Net, Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun wrote that attention is “the hard currency of cyberspace.” Twenty-plus years later, this has never been more true. In fact, you’re likely distracted right now—but don’t worry, everyone is.

That’s why financial service brands like Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab, Earnest, and Wealthsimple are leveraging well-designed content marketing strategies. These brands recognize that digital environments and harried attention spans are shaping customer relationships—and that to reach audiences, they need to go beyond the typical marketing funnel.

Journeys for financial service customers are not always linear

“The funnel is more like a billiards table. You may care about engagement or direct response, but you also have to care about the actions that come before and after that.”

Josephine Chew, Vice President of Digital Marketing, Wells Fargo

Content is malleable—it can be tailored to an audience’s online behavior. Whether in style, medium, or format, good content should adapt to a person’s environment and mindset while fulfilling a brand’s objectives.

This approach allows content to reach passive audiences browsing online, as well as those actively seeking financial service solutions—as long as marketers understand the unique habits of each group.

While it’d be easy to focus on audiences already interested in your services, brands shouldn’t discount passive audiences—some of the biggest marketing successes happened because people simply enjoy good content. From the early days of John Deere’s Furrow to the world-famous Michelin Guide, content marketing has earned attention by understanding an audience’s mindset while providing something of value in return. Here are some ways financial services brands can delight, educate, and convert both passive and active audiences in equal parts.

Insight #1: Deliver edutainment and measure it effectively

“There are both lean-in and lean-back mindsets—we want to make sure that we have content for both of those. So when you’re on the train, or while watching tv, or at the doctor’s office, we want to be there with things that pique your interest.”

Tami Dorsey, VP, Brand Journalism, Charles Schwab

When done right, content from financial services companies can be seen as “edutainment content”—content that delivers important information in an entertaining and memorable way. Science has shown that the process of learning consists of transferring information from short-term to long-term memory. In other words, when we learn, the information conveyed sticks with us longer.

The strength of implementing this type of content strategy is three-fold:

  • It piques interest, educates prospects with key information, and encourages them to learn more.
  • Whether in interactive, audio, video, or written formats, edutainment content is widely accessible and can target prospects who are on the go, multitasking, or not fully engaged.
  • By diluting complex topics into more accessible and entertaining assets, it provides audiences with content that is both approachable and memorable.

Podcasting as edutainment

To attract and keep customers, brands need to educate prospects. Podcasting is the ideal medium for this exchange because it creates a non-obvious positive connection with the brand itself. Whether audiences are on the subway, out for a run, or waiting in line at the store, podcasts can entertain financial services customers while also offering valuable insights.

How podcasts market financial services

Podcasts as edutainment help market the benefits of financial services brands to passive and active audiences alike. This content also leads to recurring engagement—which can in turn lead to product adoption.

A great example of this is Charles Schwab’s podcast Choiceology, which speaks to the behavioral economics involved in making smart choices. The brand’s second podcast, Financial Decoder, is more finance-focused: it dissects the biases behind certain financial decisions.

As people lean in to Choiceology, each episode steers listeners toward Financial Decoder. This layered approach piques people’s interest, providing them an option to discover more concrete financial service content down the line—but it also allows the team at Charles Schwab to measure engagement.

Financial Decoder has no media spend; the only way listeners can discover it is by listening to Choicelogy. This is a great example of edutainment in practice: using two different podcasts helps with attribution and provides clarity on how their content is yielding actual engagement.

Insight #2: Let data steer the content

Creating content that uses unique data points as the foundation for riveting stories is another powerful way to engage with passive audiences. Raw data can be compelling, but using it as the backbone for content helps connect with audiences who are unmotivated by statistics alone.

A great example of this in practice came from the innovative loan platform Earnest. In creating the popular “When do you outgrow Ikea” post, they shared captivating customer data that helped them cut through the background noise to reach passive and distracted audiences. The data-driven article acted as a PR push: other outlets like Vox, Refinery 29, Fast Company, and even Ikea themselves began sharing the story, engaging a much broader audience than expected.

“We had been looking at internal data and saw that people were at a point in their lives where they’re making different financial decisions—in one particular case, we noticed people stopped shopping at Ikea and started shopping at Home Depot. Initially, we had been looking at this from a product portfolio perspective, but it became more than just learning about our clients, it turned into a content idea for marketing purposes.”

Carolyn Morris, Content Marketing Editor, Earnest

Insight #3: Tell an authentic story that resonates

By sharing new data, curious insights, or common human truths, all good content tells a story. But when honesty and transparency are the driving force of the narrative, the resulting story can resonate way beyond the intended audience.

As one of Canada’s top fintech companies, Wealthsimple knows that to reach their audience, they need to lead the discussion. Beyond this, they understand that in order to build awareness, their content should engage those who are not actively seeking financial services.

In their campaign Investing for Humans, Wealthsimple interviewed 250 people about their fears, hopes, and dreams concerning money. These unscripted interviews shed light on the taboos of talking about money, striking a chord with anyone who has ever experienced financial stress.

The campaign is impactful and memorable, largely because we see ourselves reflected back. It’s a great reminder that brands can use narratives to positively influence customer behavior—because when an audience can empathize, they’re more likely to change their habits in turn.

In their quest for transparency, Wealthsimple is building customer relationships founded on common experiences. They understand that money is complicated, and that no one talks about it as openly as they should. Their campaign’s success stems from telling compelling stories that showcase the brand’s personality while laying bare financial truths that strike a chord with all audiences—not just their existing clients.

“Money is one of the most unifying human experiences. Everyone—no matter how rich, poor, old, young, financially-savvy, or financially-clueless—has a relationship with money. We believe telling real, unvarnished stories about money is the way that our brand will gain the attention and trust of people.”

Mike Giepert, Executive Creative Director, Wealthsimple

Ads can drive action, but content can change mindsets

For the financial services industry, content with the sole goal of acquisition won’t lead to instant conversions. And as scary as it may sound, if an ad does not modify the brain of the intended audience, then it has not worked. Capturing attention requires a more holistic approach that considers the consumer’s real-life and digital environments.

As things become relevant for shorter and shorter periods, marketers need to assume none of the content they create will last. However, no matter how distracting our world becomes, well-designed content will always attract and appeal—to any type of audience.

Watch the “9 Essential Content Marketing Strategies for Financial Institutions” webinar here.

Image: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

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