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Clever copywriting supports financial services sales

September 2012

Clever copywriting in its various forms is making marketing more effective in the digital age, helping financial services firms to deliver better results with smaller budgets. Well- written, thoughtful communications are successfully raising profiles, enhancing brands and even improving sales.

Web copy, blogs, white papers, tweets and video scripts are in vogue as marketing departments get smarter about what works on the web. With embedded brand messaging, these copywriting derivatives are increasingly effective at supporting your sales objectives.

The combination of lean budgets and growing web expertise has sparked a quiet marketing revolution. We recently conducted a mini-poll of banks, asset managers and wealth managers, which showed they’re generally increasing the use of writing-based collateral to differentiate themselves through distinct brand narratives in a commoditised industry.

This revolution is driving a renaissance in copywriting, lifting its importance relative to design after several decades when pictures held more marketing sway than words. Yet for copy to be truly effective, our poll respondents said, you need to make it factual not whimsical.

Style backed by substance
To test our view that financial services copywriting is on the up, we polled 10 large firms from across the industry. Asked to rank written and visual elements of branding against each other, they clearly gave the written elements greatest precedence, ranking key messages and verbal identity respectively first and second, followed by visual identity. Showing how things have changed, when asked what their priorities were three years ago they placed visual identity first.

Ranking words versus pictures:
                                    Today                                     Three years ago
Key messages (words)            1st                                           3rd
Verbal identity (words)         2nd                                          2nd
Visual identity (pictures)      3rd                                          1st

But respondents qualified their responses by saying that written communications only worked well when backed by substance. At a time when trust and confidence is low in financial services, ‘thought leadership’ papers – which provide the author’s views about future trends – form the foundation for many emerging forms of marketing communication, from videos, to blogs, to tweets. Our poll confirmed thought leadership’s popularity, ranking it as the most effective of the three types of content we discussed. The other two types we asked about – proprietary marketing materials and third-party newsfeeds – ranked second and third respectively.

Ranking content types:
Thought leadership                                            1st
Proprietary marketing materials                  2nd
Newsfeeds, other 3rd-party content          3rd

Presenting clear, insightful points of view about a highly technical industry such as financial services can be extremely powerful – especially when it’s in a state of flux. If thought leadership offers a well-defined picture of the future, and enhances your clients’ understanding, then it improves their perception of your organisation’s expertise.

But our respondents also mentioned ‘tone of voice’, praising its potential as a tool for making sure that the brand’s characteristics were embedded in as many communications as possible, right down to emails and conversations. Defining your organisation’s tone of voice can enhance the standard of all your marketing communications, making not only the written word but also the spoken word more effective. Some of our respondents thought this particularly powerful because talking to clients remains the most common way of communicating.

Linking words to sales
In conclusion, our mini-poll confirmed how the financial services industry is using clever copywriting to make marketing more effective. Videos, webinars, blogs, tweets, articles and white papers are all broadcasting content that starts with writing.

All of these communications can reinforce your firm’s underlying brand narrative and, ultimately, they should prove their worth in terms of helping to generate sales. Proving a direct link is often difficult, but there is evidence, albeit some of it circumstantial.

What’s clear, however, is that for your writing-based communications to be successful they have to be backed by strong content. Often this involves extensive research to gain a fresh and well-defined perspective on an issue. But putting resource into this is proving worthwhile for financial firms competing for their share of slow-growth markets.