The Six Pillars of Bad Financial Content

By Feb 26, 2020

As a financial firm, you have lots of important things to say and loads of knowledge to share. Perhaps “Save early, save often” is one of them. “Stay diversified,” another. But although these old adages are good advice, they’ve been said countless times, making for blah content if your message is going to be heard.

When it comes to creative content, there are a handful of ways you can really screw things up. Avoiding them is half the battle. Here are six common content blunders that financial firms tend to make that virtually guarantee a belly flop in the content pool.

1. Dropping Knowledge from a Cloud

No matter how much of an expert you are, if your content is dry, lifeless, or indecipherable enough to turn off your readers, then your smarts won’t matter much. You won’t make a connection, which means you’ll fail to make a difference.

If you’re a finance professional, you carry a degree of expertise that your audience depends on. Financial pain points are scary and the financial lexicon is confusing. So, when you’re writing for “the rest of us,” don’t pose for other industry folk. (If you have a compliance department to run content past, don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of stuffy.) Write for humans. There’s no need to show off your sophisticated knowledge in a way that confuses or bores readers. For example, if your content includes a lot of math, separate or clarify it. People will get the concepts even if they can’t understand the equations.

Write the way you speak and sound conversational. Conversation creates a sense of familiarity and rapport. And rapport encourages trust. Ultimately, trust comes before the sale.

2. Speaking in Jargonese

There are only two reasons to use industry jargon: To efficiently summarize concepts already familiar to industry insiders, or to deliberately remain vague (like a Fed chair might do).

Your audience wants your content because they’re most likely not financial professionals. They’re looking for answers and clear solutions. So unless you carefully explain each arcane term, speaking in untranslated jargonese can only drive a wedge between you and your readers.

3. Creating a Labyrinth of Data

We all need nutrients. And most of us prefer to get them from a delicious meal versus an artificial-tasting supplement. The tastier the meal, the better it goes down, and the better we can keep it down (retain it). How’s content any different? When people read financial content, they’re not just seeking data. They’re looking for engaging prose and/or an interpretation of data that addresses their pain points—stuff that matters to them, that they’ll remember.

It doesn’t matter if you’re promoting a product, sharing educational tips, or presenting a complex macroeconomic forecast. Simply dumping a load of information folks can’t interpret on their own is a surefire way to get them to run for the hills and un-trust your content.

Instead, make the information palatable—not only in a logical sequence, but with a narrative flow. You don’t have to write a story, but you can make it feel like a story (remember: your reader is the hero, not you). If you can do that, you can transform a bland labyrinth of data into an adventure of informational discovery.

4. Talking to Your Toaster

Search engines are machines. They’re there to help humans find information. They’re not your main audience. Everyone knows this, yet many companies feed bots, not humans, by over-focusing on SEO.

That’s not to say SEO isn’t important. It’s critical. But it’s not the whole strategy. If you’re hung up on keyword density to the point of allowing awkward and redundant throwaway sentences to infest your content, you’ve gone too far. If you insist on your content length running past its worth in relevant ideas because you’re jamming in words that your SEO decoder ring suggested, then you’re diminishing the value of the good stuff with too much filler.

No matter how great your SEO strategy, the content has to be written well to be shared, which is the other half of the equation. Even painfully bad content can rank high on the results page. But bad content is still bad, no matter how findable. So don’t sacrifice your human audience to appease the bots.

5. Producing Content Sausages

A sausage is made up of many parts unknown, right? Too many. You can’t really discern one from another, and probably wouldn’t want to. Sausage can be satisfying every now and then, you don’t want it for every meal. What does this have to do with content? Content written in a sausage factory is content written by committee.

Everyone has unique ideas to contribute. But mashed together, not all ideas are compatible. A skilled content team can sometimes smooth out the differences without eliminating the “edginess” of each contribution—producing a synergistic smorgasbord of ideas. But more often than not, you get a product that processes out the sharper flavors for the sake of a bland unity. A sausage.

The problem? Writing by consensus or group think has a way of flattening the ideas that reflect each individual contribution. It’s uniformity over uniqueness. This usually happens in the review stages, where brilliant prose gets neutered by stakeholders and compliance. The content often ends up being too safe, too agreeable, and way too watered down. Let your creatives do their work. Let ’em take ideas to the edge but without breaking rules.

6. Preaching Atop a Soapbox with a Megaphone

If you want people to know who you are and what you have to offer, speaking in a crowded street atop a soapbox with megaphone in hand isn’t the way to do it. In fact, boasting about yourself, or worse, maligning your competition, is a great way to turn off a crowd.

Yet the online marketplace is saturated with the sheer noise of company proselytizers. Some of them may be interesting enough for you to want to get to know, but most are talking at you about themselves, and not really curious about your pain points. It’s an impossible (and uninteresting) conversation.

If you want to get to know a crowd, look for the people who are granting you their attention. Even if just one person finds common ground with you, they’re likely to introduce you to others. To resonate with your audience, they need to see a bit of themselves in you, and know that you see a bit of yourself in them. What better way to engender trust?

The Bottom Line

Poorly constructed content is weak at its very foundations. Financial content in particular can be scary and confusing for the average reader. We’ve just demonstrated six effective ways to change that perception. If you avoid these blunders, not only will your audience delight in reading your content, but you’ll make a few bucks out of it, too. That’s content marketing for ya.