Financial institutions are increasingly thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing their financial products and services. As Fidelity’s Abigail Johnson said in a Nov. interview, “I’m very down on conventional advertising…I think that conventional advertising will be less and less the way of the world. We need to find other ways to get people to give us a try.” She’s not alone in her views. More and more financial services firms are seeking to generate buzz about their brands in unconventional ways—think State Street’s “Fearless Girl” statue.

At a Financial Communications Society event in Nov., Marty Willis, chief marketing officer of Nuveen, discussed the firm’s somewhat unconventional “Investing by Example” campaign that aimed to showcase the Nuveen brand in a new light. Nuveen commissioned indie band TV on the Radio to remake the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” which was the backdrop for an animated video central to the campaign. To deliver custom content that aimed to break through the clutter, Nuveen forged media partnerships with outlets including Forbes, The Atlantic and Bloomberg. The firm also sponsored a curated series of TED talks focused on diversity, responsibility and innovation.

A recent Ignites article outlined several other examples of financial brands taking content marketing to a new level. T. Rowe Price collaborated with National Geographic for a video series titled “Go Beyond” that centered on the theme of exploration. Oppenheimer brought the concept of “Made in China” to light with a 360-degree video tour of the world’s largest market in Yiwu China, which served as sponsored content on the news outlet Quartz. TD Ameritrade launched its own network featuring six hours of live programming for individual investors.

As firms seek to reach their audiences in new and unconventional ways, they are trying to create buzz that will get people talking about their brands. That is, they are trying to turn paid media into earned media to get journalists, influencers, the general public and ideally their target audiences talking about their brands.

The chief marketing officer of Cision, a media database and monitoring service for PR professionals, told Ignites, “Earned media is most important for financial services firms because, inherently, consumers trust journalists and unpaid influencers more than they do ads and paid spokespeople.” While Cision is inherently biased (as are we here at The Lowe Group) there’s no denying that a word-of-mouth referral or objective third-party endorsement carries more weight than a paid ad.

Creating buzz without the budget

The firms mentioned above—Fidelity, State Street, Nuveen, T. Rowe, Oppenheimer and TD Ameritrade—are big brands with big budgets. Let’s face it. Not all financial services firms have the luxury of commissioning independent artists to write songs or create sculptures to help promote their products and services. But all firms can turn their intellectual capital into compelling, interesting content that has the potential to engage prospective investors or clients. Developing a thoughtful, differentiated content strategy—and sticking to it—allows firms and their financial professionals to articulate their expertise and unique ideas. And while distributing this content to the right channels takes time, effort and potentially marketing dollars, social media is in many ways the great equalizer because any firm can leverage it to distribute content to a wide audience.

Firms also can leverage their content with reporters to generate that coveted earned media opportunity. Whether sharing existing content with reporters or proactively engaging with reporters to provide insights for timely news stories, firms can punch above their weight with a thoughtful media outreach effort.