When you write content for clients and prospects, it’s tempting to sell more aggressively than might be expected in an educational piece. There’s an implicit contract between you and your readers, and if you include slick-sheet language in, say, a blog post or white paper, you’ll undermine your purpose.
High-quality educational content engages clients, helping them understand your products and services or solve problems. It can raise the level of interaction between your talented professionals and the people they serve. For any of that to happen—for clients to take the time to read it and for a firm to incur the time and expense to create it—content must both deliver and create value.
Here are suggestions for how to identify topics and write about them without sacrificing your ability to build trust and credibility and strengthen relationships.
What is your audience already thinking about?
Think of the content development process in three parts: (1) picking the topic; (2) figuring out the structure to deliver your ideas; (3) actually doing the writing.
Of these, the first two are usually harder than the third. It’s all too easy to get deep into writing only to find yourself spinning your wheels because you’re not really clear on why the topic matters to your audience. To avoid getting stuck in the muck, spend time up front to ensure you choose a topic that’s salient for your specific audience.
To do so, questions like these help:
- What questions am I getting from clients or prospects? Or, what questions is the sales team fielding? Similarly, what search terms are people using on your website? How can I frame this content around one or more of those?
- What impact should readers expect from an industry trend or topic in the news?
- What practical information would benefit my readers right now?
Once you have a general idea of a topic, here’s a kicker:
- What insight can I provide that a center of influence (COI) contact would consider sharing with his or her own contacts (who might be your prospects)?
This question is a particularly good litmus test for two reasons. First, salience: thinking of a COI reading your content helps evaluate whether what you have to say is actually insightful. Second, salesy-ness: you’re less likely to veer from educating to active selling when writing with a COI in mind.
We will spend some time discussing salesy content later, but it is important to mention it here. It is tempting and a frequent impulse to want to sell yourself and your products in everything we do. After all, isn’t finding new clients why we are doing what we are doing in the first place? The truth is that for content to be read and consumed by clients or prospects, it needs to be educational and not self-serving or promotional. More on that to come.
Approaching timely topics
Topics in the news, or connected to industry trends, should be a primary focus of content development efforts for a simple reason: they are what’s on the mind of your audience. For example:
- A financial planner informing clients about changes to the tax code
- An asset manager commenting on current market dynamics
- A valuation expert sharing common mistakes relating to new regulations
- An analyst creating an explainer on the investment opportunities in artificial intelligence given several news-making AI product launches
In any of these, you can weave in information about how you help clients without sounding salesy. For example, when you refer to yourself, speak to process, not capabilities. The great thing about process is that talking about it is educational in and of itself. If you are educating a reader about a complex topic, you may be able to use your own process to explain it. Say you’re writing about valuing illiquid securities. No need to announce your capabilities—as the author you are assumed after all, to be the expert. But do look for opportunities to illustrate how you work along these lines: “For example, in our work with clients, we would approach the valuation of the security by….”
Also, find ways to put your article in a broader context beyond how you help clients. Let third-party research or data, if available, speak to the importance of your topic. It could make for a graphic for the post, offsetting any impression that this is just all self-serving. That lets you avoid banging the drum in what might be a purely self-serving way. Discuss industry trends and current news to demonstrate your topic’s relevance, further supporting an educational tone.
As you structure your article, here are some specific suggestions:
- Find ways to empathize with your readers early on. Lay out a common problem, construct a hypothetical story, tell an anecdote or otherwise make clear why you’re writing on this topic at this time and why you too are interested in the common problem. In these ways, ally yourself with your reader.
- Walk your reader through your article with sub-headings. Be friendly to skimmers. Look for ways to frame your sections—and therefore subheadings—from the reader’s perspective.
- Consider applying a formal structure that makes and delivers on a promise (“how to…”; “four things to know about…”). If the reader knows what to expect and then receives what’s expected, the reader is likely to be more at ease—and better take in and retain your ideas.
- Give special attention to the end. It’s usually an easy place to weave in a few action items that more directly speak to how your work ties in with the topic you’re writing about. You may be able to frame those comments in terms of “what’s next”—as in, you’ve set up a problem many readers face, and now here are some options for how to solve it.
Approaching evergreen topics
Not everything has to be of-the-moment. Here are some suggestions for crafting evergreen content on subjects your readers routinely face.
- Calendar-relevant. Content that relates to dates or seasons can often be used as-is or lightly adapted in future years. When drawing up a content plan, the calendar is a useful tool to help build it out. In general, you want your subject-matter experts to drive your content production. That is, focus on the topics they are thinking about and working on. Their expertise will naturally point your content toward what matters to your audience at any given time. That said, you already know some things that will matter to your audience—and exactly when. So, get ahead of graduation season by writing content for new professionals just starting out. Plan for a year-end tax tips article (for November or early December—not late December!). Maybe even schedule in a “financial spring cleaning” article around tax time in April. You’re very likely to come away with content you can dust off for use in future, too.
- Explain and define. In the financial industry, there’s no shortage of technical concepts to comment on. You can use explanatory evergreen content on its own. You can also link to it from non-evergreen content as a way to provide additional context—and potentially gain search benefits as well. Be creative. Set up analogies. Create compare-contrast tables. Draw up process charts. All these can help your clients understand important topics as they come up in the news. Sometimes a good starting point is asking your subject-matter experts about emails they’ve sent in response to customers’ questions.
- How-to. Checklists, guides and other how-to material is ideal for evergreen content. For example, “Six questions to help you gauge retirement readiness.” “How to evaluate risk in the fixed-income portion of your portfolio.”
- Core messages. While all your content can and should relate to your core messages, consider a subset of your evergreen material devoted to them in the form of position papers. For example, “Why ESG is not a fad.” “Why a tactical approach to bonds is critical coming out of recessions.” “Three ways RIAs add value.”
A well-considered library of evergreen content can come to your rescue. There are many ways to repurpose a rich library of evergreen content to demonstrate to your customers your attention to what’s happening in the news or markets even when you can’t produce something new.
Applying your media-facing core messages
In a prior post, we discussed the nature and development of a firm’s media-facing core messages. (Quick recap: they are things you can actually say to reporters during an interview. They can’t sound like advertising. They should differentiate your firm in the competitive landscape.)
Reporters and editors are external audience you are trying to reach—and so are your clients. So, it’s no surprise that language carefully tuned for the media often works well in client communications, too.
That’s where media-facing core messages become a handy reference point for more than interview prep and news release drafting. Here, drawn from the prior post, is a hypothetical core media-facing message for an ESG-oriented asset manager:
No company is perfectly good or perfectly evil. At XYZ Money Manager, our job is to find outstanding investment opportunities among companies working hardest to be sustainable.
That language could absolutely appear in the wrap-up portion of a blog post or article analyzing available ESG metrics. It delivers a subtle marketing message without undermining the objective, educational tone of the blog post.
Another place to use messages like this is lead-ins to articles—that are graphically different from and separated from the articles themselves. For example, monthly or quarterly e-newsletters can be structured with a brief introduction, perhaps from a financial advisor or portfolio manager, that precedes the main content. A reader is unlikely to be turned off by a quick comment on why the content in the main body—say, a market update—is relevant to them.
For example, consider this introductory message, with its bolded phrases reflecting content that could be straight from a financial advisory firm’s core messages:
This quarter’s letter examines the relationship between elections and market risk over the decades. As always, we seek to put current events in perspective within a larger context. Often, politics are less important to markets than one might guess.
We also touch on tax proposals from the presidential candidates’ platforms. For many, now is a good time to revisit estate plans. As we look forward, we are always studying all the pieces of the investment puzzle and how each new piece should shape clients’ individual financial plans.
The bolded phrases connect to the topic at hand—the market review and outlook—while also emphasizing key ideas about the firm. The idea is to simultaneously deliver an objective point and share what differentiates your firm.
Always come back to audience
Nothing matters more than putting your focus on ideas that matter to the people you care about reaching. You honor them by avoiding a salesy tone in content that promises to be educational. Keep that contract, and over time you’ll find plenty of opportunities to work in messages about what you do and how you do it.