2014: The battle between custom and canned content hits center stage

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Investment firms have been content marketers for decades. Today, newsletters, direct mail pieces, conference calls, and seminars have been replaced or complemented by blogs, email campaigns, and webinars. The goal has not changed — firms want to deliver timely, actionable content that stimulates the target audience to act in a desired way. What has changed is the vast number of new digital channels that allow financial services firms to connect, engage, and stay relevant in their clients’ and prospects’ minds.

The past 18 months have seen the acceleration of financial firms adopting social media tools and finding new ways to deliver content to audiences, but one significant problem remains as we outlined in a post in early December.

At issue? The content conundrum. The content conundrum comes down to using prepackaged, “off the shelf” content, which can be cheaper and quicker to obtain but often appears canned and impersonal, or developing custom content that speaks specifically to your clients and prospects, their needs and aspirations.

I will make a call right now that 2014 will be the year when custom content comes into its own, and takes on a foundational role in financial services marketing. Why? Because authenticity is critical to creating credibility with an audience. The ability to tell your story, communicate your business and investment philosophies, and become a trusted advisor to your clients hinges on a willingness to educate, communicate, and inform your clients and prospects to market risks and opportunities.

Canned content fails on many levels. First, it’s impersonal. If it’s not coming from you, why would your clients be interested? Second, others do it better. Why would anyone read canned content from you, when they can easily get fresher, more thoughtful analysis and reporting by picking up a copy of the Wall Street Journal? Third, canned content fails to deliver any ancillary benefits, such as search engine optimization. Google and other search engines are now engineered to sniff out pretenders and ignore them. Fourth, with canned content, you risk losing interest and eyeballs to other asset managers and advisors who are creating legitimate, thoughtful analysis and using it to ingratiate themselves to your clients through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging, and other social tools that you don’t even know they are using to penetrate your market!

Before embarking on a canned or custom content campaign, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What is my firm trying to accomplish? Are you simply checking the box that says “must distribute regular content to touch clients and prospects” just to fulfill some generic goal? Are you looking for authentic ways to enhance your visibility, stay connected to valued clients, keep in front of prospects and centers of influence, or enhance your firm’s search engine rankings and visibility?
  2. Does my firm have a unique voice in the market? If you can’t create or capture a unique perspective in your firm’s approach or philosophy, then why worry? Just buy canned investment advice from an outside source. Thoughtful advisories, though, are thinking more, doing more and creating more separation between themselves and their field of competitors. Custom content is the ultimate differentiator — a way to uniquely control your narrative and tell a compelling story that impacts the decision of your target markets.
  3. How much can we invest in time and money? Content is king, and it is killer in that it requires real thought and work to create and publish. But stop and think for a moment. The irony of the industry is that financial advisories are in the business of well, advising. Inherent in that process is a willingness to share ideas and concepts, warn of risks, and point to opportunities. That can be viewed as an additional and costly burden or it can be simply an extension of the work a firm’s subject matter experts are currently doing.
  4. Will content generate leads and new business opportunities? No. Not if the content is cold, indifferent, and nothing more than a digital version of a canned newsletter or tweets purchased from a company with no idea of your firm’s position in the marketplace. But if that content is authentic, creative, and thoughtful? Then yes. The marketplace will value it. Clients will follow it. Prospects will take notice and respond.