How Financial Services Players Can Make Their Content More Distinct

Learn how to crack the code and emerge from the sea of sameness.

In the financial services arena, banks, insurance companies and brokers have content strategies that are both hard to find and harder to discern any distinctness. The content appears to be highly commoditized, slavishly following the needs of search engine optimization rather than the needs of the brand.

The content is all the same, as the players all cover the same topics and subtopics. Look at these four articles on homeownership. It’s impossible to see which brand is talking to you.


“The first rule of brand should be, first they must know it’s me.”

In Byron Sharp’s classic How Brands Grow, he believes the key to success is distinctness. Creating consistent, constantly used and easy-to-remember brand assets will over time create distinctive memory structures to bring the brand front of mind when a consumer is shopping in that category.

Mark Ritson describes this even better with the idea of brand codes. He recommends that brands have distinctive brand codes, which could include a logo, color, shape, pattern or image. He points to Snickers, which has four clear codes: its logo, the parallelogram, the picture of the inside of the bar and the brown color. 


What is true for brands should also be true for content. 

The standard that is set for brand distinctness should be exactly the same for content distinctness. Because the content experience and the brand experience are one and the same.

This is especially important in the financial arena, where every possible topic and subtopic is covered multiple times over. Just search for “how to start investing,” and you will find hundreds of millions of options. 

Here are the five content codes that will give your content a fighting chance to stand out in the sea of sameness, and lead to distinctness.

Content Code #1: Visual Identity

Upstart financial companies like Robinhood reveal the importance of a distinct visual identity for content, as seen in Snacks. Iconic movie moments are used to connect to the story that’s being told. The image license fees may be costly, but they lead to a memorable portfolio of stories.



Visual language is a potent weapon to distinguish content, ideally by connecting part of the brand identity. Yes, it’s one thing to have an editorial voice for your content, but the look and feel should be clear about which brand the content is coming from. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Content Code #2: Engage or Else

Ally Financial’s Confessiongrams put a financial twist on the game of truth or dare. Users are prompted to choose a virtual “card,” each featuring a financial truth question and a dare challenge. The player chooses between answering the financial truth or posting a video of themselves doing the dare on their Instagram accounts. If done consistently over time, this approach could become part of Ally’s content code.



Content Code #3: Headlines That Demand Attention

STASH has demonstrated a knack for writing interesting and provocative headlines that draw in readers. Take this example, in which the writer fell in love with a trend that was almost certainly made up to sell books: dostadning, or Swedish death cleaning—getting rid of excess possessions to make things easier on your relatives and friends when you die.



Attitude can show through in content, just like in advertising. Allow your brand’s personality to come across in your content. Deliver this consistently and take care to ensure that all your content briefs define what the brand personality and tone of voice should be: Serious or cheeky? Direct or subtle? Teacher or friend?

Content Code #4: Content Experience Design

For the gold standard of distinct content in the financial services arena, Mastercard stands out. For a brand so distinct that it no longer needs to spell out its name, its “priceless” strategy has morphed into a series of experience and content opportunities for cardholders. This is truly a Big Idea that is underpinned by a great marketing idea, and executed with elegance and consistency.



Mastercard has shifted from storytelling to “storymaking,” with consumers becoming part of the narrative. The company narrowed down its “priceless” campaigns to four categories: “Priceless Surprises,” giving cardholders unexpected experiences, such as meeting celebrities; “Priceless Cities,” curating unique experiences and exclusive promotions for Mastercard cardholders; “Priceless Causes,” generating donations for charities when consumers use their cards; and “Priceless Specials,” providing various offers and benefits. 

Content is the currency that connects these categories.

Content Code #5: EQ Wins Over IQ 

Content that meets emotional needs is more distinct than content that meets functional needs. That’s not to say don’t meet functional needs, but chances are that your category and competitors have already worked out how to do that. In other words, EQ > IQ. In this example from our award-winning Plum magazine, 51 women spoke about menopause from their honest and varied perspectives.



What these five content codes demonstrate is a range of possibilities to break away from the categorical approach. The pursuit of distinctive content should become an important goal for brand and content teams alike. In fact, the opportunity exists for content codes to emerge that are immediately recognizable when a viewer sees content, in the same way that brand codes are seen and understood.

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