5-step storytelling for financial services marketing

Turning stories into engaging content requires a systematic approach.

BY Chris Matt
Senior Vice President, Strategy, Imagination

Financial services institutions need to be telling stories. Lots of them. And, boy, do they have the stories to tell.

Here’s why: Storytelling starts with conversation. And what industry has more conversations than financial services? Firms hear about an individual struggling to get out of debt, start a business or handle a loved one's estate. More importantly, they know how real people overcame those struggles. Telling these stories provides answers for clients and prospects—and gives them hope.

These conversations are gold mines for marketers. But capturing these stories and bringing them to life through content requires a smart, thoughtful approach. After your raw stories are documented, you can then shift your focus toward turning them into powerful content with a real impact on your audience.

Consider this from Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: “We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with ‘Once upon a time.’”

With this five-step process, financial services organizations can author their own narratives:

Capture the raw stories

At a bank, the branch is the front door for storytelling. For insurance companies, it could be the offices of individual agents or customer service channels. At investment firms, it’s the financial advisors with a calendar full of client lunches and meet-and-greets.

People shaking the hands of clients and prospects or answering phone calls and emails truly have the pulse of audience pain points, needs and financial successes—their stories. Capturing these stories isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right process in place.

Start by getting management buy-in. For example, in bank branches, work with regional managers to ensure field-level conversations can be captured for use in content.

Provide those managers with a vehicle to capture conversation. It could be a one-page document with predetermined questions an employee could fill out to summarize client interactions. For example, “What questions did the client ask on her visit?” or “What life circumstances—new baby, retirement, new home—is she going through?” or “What stood out from other conversations you had today?”

Offer incentives. Employees have myriad responsibilities and goals in their day-to-day duties. So to effectively motivate them to help with storytelling, they need a little push. Tie in storytelling goals with other performance metrics to help ensure participation. While storytelling may not have a direct tie to revenue growth, its importance to brand awareness and overall customer sentiment can justify these actions being considered a part of regular performance review.

Determine what's actually a good story

Renowned content marketer Coca-Cola uses the following criteria to evaluate the strength of its stories:

Does it answer the “Why Should I Care” test?

Does it surprise you?

Does it have universal appeal?

Does it generate interest?

Is it new—something you haven’t seen before?

Is it different from what your competition is offering?

Is your content being measured systemically?

Your organization may have other criteria to define a good story, but this core set is a good place to begin the evaluation process.

Turn raw stories into the right content

Shifting from capturing the stories toward turning them into content is a key next step. Storytelling can take many forms: engaging prose and imagery comprising a long-form piece, a series of captivating podcasts or videos featuring individuals on screen telling their tales.

Identifying the right vehicle to tell the story comes down to:

Your audience’s demographics and psychographics. If your target is millennials or midmarket executives, the medium you choose will likely be different based on consumption preferences for those groups. For example, if you have a mobile-first audience, longer-form storytelling may not be as appealing as digestible, quick-hitting anecdotes consumed on the go.

Your content hub. Do you have an owned property where you can package your stories together for a more holistic experience? A video could be your anchor, but a related podcast may allow for further exploration on a particularly interesting nugget.

Your distribution channels. Is YouTube a focus of your social media strategy? If it’s a destination for your audience to consume brand content, video should be a focus. If telling stories through blogs is appealing, leveraging LinkedIn’s built-in publishing platform can be your storytelling arena.

Identify your storytellers

With your content types identified, it’s time to think about who will be able to tell your stories. If you’re focusing on articles as your primary storytelling medium, quality writers and editors are a must. Writing stories is different than writing educational articles with tips and how-to approaches. It’s a journalistic style that’s difficult to pull off without the right instincts, training and experience.

If live-action video is your preferred medium, careful consideration must go into whom you feature on camera. Two great options are your own people in-house and your clients.

Your in-house subject matter experts have the pulse of the client base and can tell powerful, relatable stories with that intel in mind. And having your clients tell your brand’s story on your behalf is invaluable.

Partnering with third-party experts is effective in providing your audience with a known entity. Ideally, this third-party expert has a popular blog and a strong social presence, allowing you to leverage those followers and bring them to your content hub.

Share your stories in multiple channels

Think of the last story you read, watched or listened to. Did you relate that story to your own experiences? Were you compelled to post your reaction on social media or call a friend and discuss how the story impacted you?

Stories are personal. People want to share them. Whether it's on social media, a blog platform, via website comments or other avenues, people to react to your story by sharing their own. You never know what kind of user-generated content may come out of that kind of forum.

Don’t forget to look within your own walls, either. Sharing these stories internally creates awareness among employees and fosters buy-in for future content efforts. Remember, as a financial services firm, stories reside with your people in the field.

Implementing a process to bring those stories to life isn’t easy, but following these five steps can help form a foundation for content marketing success.

published: March 18, 2016

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