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Five steps to better financial services thought leadership

Rob Mitchell

“The basic economic resource – the means of production – is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labour. It is and will be knowledge.”

Sage words from management guru Peter Drucker, and a sentiment that will resonate with content marketers in financial services. After all, knowledge and expertise are the lifeblood of financial services firms.

From traditional banks fighting off innovative new entrants, to insurance companies trying to muscle in on asset management, firms across financial services are striving to use thought leadership to set themselves apart from competitors. Few in the sector, however, are being targeted enough in their content strategy, or bold and compelling enough in their point of view, to meet these objectives.

At FT Longitude, we believe there are huge opportunities for the financial services firms that can equip their existing and prospective clients with the most insightful, robustly researched and timely content. These thought leaders will be front and centre in their clients’ thinking as they make decisions about future growth.

Here, we outline five key steps to improving financial services thought leadership, and highlight some of those firms that are already applying these lessons.

1. Gain deeper insights into your clients’ needs 

Your senior leaders work closely with clients, so they’ll have a good understanding of their concerns, but they’ll rarely have a full view of exactly what research clients would like to see most.

Consider undertaking primary research, such as round tables or interviews, or assembling a thought leadership editorial board to help focus your significant research programmes on the areas that will add most value for your target audience.

A good example to emulate is the BlackRock Investment Institute. It produces focused investment information that aims to improve the way its portfolio managers manage their funds and, importantly, helps its clients to maximise their own investment results.

2. Be willing to share your knowledge

Compliance headaches, the rapid rate of change in the sector, and resourcing issues are a few reasons why financial services firms often err on the side of caution when including practical guidance in their thought leadership.

But they are missing a trick. If you frame it in the right way, your willingness to share insights and knowledge will be key to winning your audience’s attention and trust.

For instance, fund management and investment advisory firm Capital Dynamics partly attributes its success in raising $1bn for its clean energy strategy to a targeted thought leadership project. The firm produced a 200-page guide of professional know-how, detailed statistics and case studies explaining how prospective institutional investors could invest in clean energy, a then-nascent asset class.

3. Help to guide your clients through uncertain times

Obviously you need to draw a line between delivering insightful thought leadership content and giving professional advice to clients, but in times of economic uncertainty there are opportunities to take the lead in guiding industry thinking.

For example, with the UK electorate preparing to make a decision on EU membership, many financial services professionals are understandably nervous. Intelligent commentary and meaningful guidance will be well-received and can help to assuage concerns.

Banks such as J.P. Morgan have responded quickly, producing practical briefing notes that share some of their own predictions about the consequences of each outcome of the UK vote: ‘leave’ or ‘remain’.

4. Keep pace with the sector

In the era of globalised and interconnected financial markets, the pace of change can be very rapid. Timely market insight and commentary plays a more and more important role in helping market participants to make decisions.

There will always be a place for large-scale thought leadership research that analyses the megatrends influencing the sector. However, expert insights that shed light on more immediate events are increasingly valuable.

Fidelity International is a go-to provider of such commentary, and its Markets and insights web pages are full of up-to-the-minute content and investment perspectives for all levels of investor.

5. Use targeted content to compete in growth areas

For global financial services firms it can be tempting to try to cover every issue across their business with separate pieces of dedicated content.

But content marketing resources (and audiences) are finite, and in most cases it isn’t possible to cover everything sufficiently well. At the content-planning stage, you should audit each new project. Ask: “How will this piece of content support our growth strategy for the next one or two years?”

Standard Life is a good example of a firm that has aligned its thought leadership with its business growth strategy. Its dedicated programme of thought leadership reports, webcasts and videos supports its diversification into asset management, and Standard Life is one of only a handful of European insurers to have turned this into a substantial business.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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