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Colorful words cut out from magazines form an attractive backgroundJennifer Stone

There has been increasing interest in content marketing and a lot of articles popping up about writing content for "boring" subjects and industries. There are a couple of good ones on SEOMoz here and here. I bring this up because right now, we're focusing on what is widely seen as one of the driest, most boring professions on the Internet: financial services. This includes accountants, banks, pension management companies, investment houses, and the like. In other words, professions that most people see as slightly more interesting than watching paint dry.

Of course, the people working in industries considered "boring" know that they can be exciting, full of life-and-death drama, sudden and unexpected twists, and colorful characters and events. As my old English teacher used to say, there's no such thing as boring subjects, just boring writers. So let's look at how to make writing about dry industries interesting and exciting.

Here are four strategies and tips to take your content marketing (regardless of industry) from snooze to must-read:

1. Interesting doesn't have to mean silly. A lot of the concern we hear from more "respectable" fields (and especially from those providing higher-end products and services) is that their clients and customers expect a certain reserved tone and a quieter writing style. Fair enough. This being the Internet and all, "interesting" has come to be seen as almost synonymous with "outlandish," "silly," and "light." This doesn't have to be the case. Interesting means just that: interesting. After all, The New York Times writes interesting headlines without having to stoop to the antics of the National Enquirer. Formal writing can be of great interest, so long as you set out to make it so. The key takeaway from this point is don't let the need for a more dignified writing style push you into writing content that is a bore to read. Instead, work within your constraints to identify topics, themes, and content types that your visitors are interested in.

2. Answer questions before they become questions. North Americans are woefully undereducated when it comes to handling finances. A recent survey from Visa ranked 28 nations by their commitment to financial education, with U.S. finishing fourth and Canada in fifth. Also, according to a 2008 survey by Credit Canada, only 13 per cent of teens said they knew a lot about managing money, and they ranked taking a class in school as the best way to learn about it. What's my point? That you know as well as I do that your customers come to you every day with questions. I will even go so far as to say that most of those people have the same questions.

This is the perfect opportunity for content creation. By making a list of the top 10, 20, 50, 100, etc. questions your customers come to you with, you can:

  • Provide top-notch content that your customers are actually interested in and need
  • Save yourself the headache of answering the same question 20 times per day
  • Do your part to make your country a little bit better by providing financial education

It's a complete win-win, and is exactly the type of positive and rewarding marketing that content marketing promises.

3. Think outside the blog. We have now reached that point in our culture that the term "blog" is unanimously recognized. It's also become synonymous with content marketing. I spend a good bit of time with clients just explaining that there is more to what we offer at S&G than just blogging and infographics. Content is a rich and dynamic field that is constantly changing and growing. Video is part of content. Data visualizations (including infographics) are part of content. Email marketing is part of content. Gaming and social and mobile apps can fall under the content umbrella.

Besides the staggering array of media that can be categorized as content, there are many plans and structures that work better for some industries than other. B2B companies often benefit more from case studies and white papers than from daily blogs, and consumer brands looking to build branding can see much better results from a good social plan than an email newsletter. I say all this because a lot of firms seem to be terrified of having to blog regularly about something that they see as boring, and they don't have to be, because content doesn't have to be ongoing! I can't stress this enough. Static content still works, and in some applications works much better than dynamic, periodic content. Put another way, writing interesting and useful content for financial firms and other "dry" industries can seem far less intimidating if you go old school and think of the content as a digital brochure.

4. Let your customers do your work. One of the biggest fears we've heard from professionals about diving into content marketing is the time commitment required. Because to do content well, it does take time. No one ever knocked out an amazing blog post in half an hour a week. This blog post has taken me most of a day (granted, it was a start and stop process that was regularly interrupted by client work). However, while the time requirement is a valid concern, it shouldn't keep you from launching a content marketing strategy, and (arguably more importantly) it shouldn't make you put out bland, boring blog posts because you don't have the time to write better content.

There's always the option of outsourcing (hint hint). If you want to keep it in house, consider user generated content. Consider adding a Q&A section to answer questions from your customers in a public forum (see #2 above). Look into adding a forum to let your customers talk amongst themselves (note: this will require moderation!). Do a weekly call-in podcast. Get your customers on board. Not only do you get your customers to do much of the work for you, you also build a strong bond with customers who come to see you as a source of information and entertainment and not simply a place where they do business. More importantly, since your customers are providing at least the foundation for your content, you are almost guaranteed to put out more interesting (to your readers) material.

This is hardly a comprehensive list, and there are a lot more specific tricks you can use to make your writing more useful and interesting. What I hoped to accomplish with this post, though, is not to give a specific how-to, but to get you to shake the myth that content about dry industries has to be boring. Start thinking beyond typical content outlets, start thinking past traditional marketing goals, and you can start down the road towards producing great stories that sell your company – without having to do any selling.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Lauren Fairbanks is partner and co-founder of Stunt & Gimmick's, an NYC-based content marketing and lead generation firm. Before she started her own firm, she worked in publishing at AOL and founded a popular lifestyle website that she sold in 2011. She's been featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Forbes, Crain's New York, CNN, AOL, and the New York Enterprise Report.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.

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