OPINION: 5 ways to build trust in financial services with content

Ian Truscott

Ian Truscott, CMO at Spotler Group, asks five simple questions that can help firms shape their content strategy.


It’s emotional

The financial services industry is, of course, built on trust. Primarily because, for most laypeople, it’s a system that is seen as complex and there are high personal stakes involved in making financial decisions that are wrapped in emotion.

These emotional decisions are made based on the primitive parts of the brain that evoke feelings of safety and risk. And like the stone age hunter-gatherer meeting a stranger on a path or hearing some rustling in the bush outside our cave, we are hard-wired to make quick decisions about who and what we trust to protect ourselves and our tribe.

And no article about trust in 2023 can avoid references to recent events with Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse making the mainstream news and shaking confidence amongst their customers and across the industry. Consumers are thinking whatever is rustling in the bushes is coming for us.

While established financial services brands have some advantages, being seen as long-term safe bets, they are being disrupted by up-and-coming brands with marketing investment to spend in a marketplace where “too big to fail” is a proven fallacy; just ask Lehman Brothers.


They do need education

Financial products also require an educated buyer, people who understand the benefits or feel the pain of being under-pensioned or underinsured or that they are missing out on a financial opportunity.

Traditionally, this trust and education were provided in-person, in-branch or through an agent at home, and of course, like most consumer interactions, this channel is being disrupted by digital and consumers are researching on their own. The digital consumer is now stimulated to change by digital ads and/or what they read on social media – and either transacting online or doing a lot more research before interacting with one of your people.

This research process is no longer guided by a trusted representative; this is the Wild West of the internet and it’s out of the control of the brand. If a retail investor reads Reddit and thinks investing in Gamespot stock is a good idea, then, it happens.


Content is the new agent

The lifeblood of this interaction is content, and content marketing is the discipline that organisations need to embrace to connect, educate and build trust with these consumers. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines this as:

 …a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

And, let’s face it, who doesn’t want a profitable customer action?

So, where do you start?

Before being a CMO, I created content marketing strategies for several organisations and have worked with some leading US insurance and financial services companies. To kick these programmes off, I suggest starting with five questions.


#1 – What are your goals?

Yes, we want a ‘profitable customer action’, but, as we’ve established, the first step to that is building trust, and we won’t do that by just talking about ourselves, our products or services.

We need to build an engaged audience that will advocate for us. This means thinking not like a financial services company with products to sell, but a media company with an audience to monetise.

Ask what success means for your content – what’s the minimum viable audience you need, and what would you like them to do?

#2 – Who are they, and what do they want?

The first rule of “who” is to consider a broader audience beyond your consumers, whom you know very well. Who are the influencers and content sharers that your consumer trusts?

And when it comes to “what do they want”, I like the CMI definition of content marketing, being “valuable, relevant, and consistent” but I add “useful”. What better way to build trust than to be useful or helpful? Remembering that it’s often an emotional decision.

As Steve Jobs said:

Your customers don’t care about you. They don’t care about your product or service. They care about themselves, their dreams, their goals.

And dreams and goals are often linked to financial decisions.

When thinking about your audience, don’t worry about their demographics; understand their needs, pain points and how they need to plan towards these goals, even if they are tangential to your product or service. For example, how, with all your research and understanding,  can you help a potential customer be successful in ***their goals***, aside from buying one of your products?

#3 – Why you?

We are all swimming in a tsunami of content; how do you stand out and differentiate yours? While you are thinking about your audience and what they want, think about why your target audience should choose your content over others. In content marketing you are not just competing with your industry competitors, but everything else that might grab their attention and all the places they might find similar information.

Can you offer unique value, such as research, insights, stories of other customers like them, or a differentiated point of view? This may be where you should flex those brand values, and remember that differentiation – standing out from the sea of sameness – means this won’t be for everyone. How do you really focus on your kind of customer?

#4 – Where are you going to build?

This is an extension of “why you”, in that why would this consumer come to you for this content? So maybe before we answer the question of “where”, we need to think about whether we need to build a new content destination (web publication, YouTube channel, blog or podcast) or if we should be present in the places where they are already getting this information with sponsorships, advertorials, placed articles, guest appearances and the like.

If the answer is yes, we need to build a platform; it’s common for a content marketing strategy to start with a channel. As in the apocryphal story of the CEO walking into the marketing meeting, educated by an airline magazine, saying we need to do more videos and be hot on Tickface. The other temptation of course is to launch a content program on ALL the channels.

The former needs to be validated – are your audience on Tickface and do they consume video? As for the latter, do you really have the skills, resources and focus to be good at ALL the channels?

So, as part of the “who” discovery, validate if your audience is present on a particular channel before investing in it and consider focusing on one medium and channel initially to become proficient before expanding to others.

Finally, consider this idea in Seth Godin’s book, This Is Marketing, that you need a “permission asset”, like an email address, a way to contact someone, with permission, without a middleman. Seth describes building an audience on social media as sharecropping; it’s rented land. One change of policy and algorithm and your content and audience could disappear. Does anyone remember Google+?

So, whatever your channel strategy, ultimately, you need to drive your audience to owned media properties, like a mailing list, for greater engagement and trust.

#5 – How will you spread the good news?

Sadly if you build it, they may not come.

This is where you embrace the role of a media company or publisher and market your content like you do your products. You need to cut through the noise and engage your audience organically on social media, sharing generously in the spirit of being useful.

However, as that medium becomes increasingly pay-to-play, you need to use your audience insights to target paid promotion effectively, track your metrics to evaluate engagement and, like any good digital marketer, be agile and course correct based on that insight.


Be useful, get permission and gain trust

In summary, content that your potential customer – or someone who influences that customer’s financial decisions – digests is the new agent. For that content to cut through, you need to think like a media company and create content that gets attention by being relevant, useful and available on the channel of their choosing.

But it has to be connected with your goals, as the Content Marketing Institute suggests, we need to “drive profitable customer action”, but to do that, we need trust. So return to step #1, review your goals and, of course, as with any marketing strategy advice, be led by the data, stay agile and build that trust.

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