Is Your Content Too Complex?

Angry customer on computerWe’re all familiar with the most common pitfalls of financial marketing: irrelevant content that fails to engage your customers and noncompliance with laws and regulations.

But, there’s one aspect of financial marketing that marketers often overlook, and it could be costing you real opportunities.

The chances are good that your content is too complex.

The Problem of Financial Content and Financial Illiteracy

Connecting to your current and prospective customers isn’t only about targeting them with relevant offers. It also depends on presenting complicated information in an easy-to-understand way.

Consider this sobering fact: According to a recent survey by Standard & Poor, just 57 percent of U.S. adults are financially literate. Financial literacy refers to the ability to understand and effectively use various financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing. However, it can also refer to one’s understanding of the jargon that commonly gets thrown around in financial institutions and, more likely than not, shows up in your marketing copy.

Now, your customers (i.e., people who have checking and savings accounts, among other services) are almost certainly more financially literate than the general population. But, the numbers still suggest that when it comes to establishing a connection, simplicity and clarity are the way to go.

Which brings us back to the content of your marketing campaigns and even your website. It’s easy for industry insiders to forget what’s common knowledge and what isn’t, but have you tried looking at your content from the perspective of someone with minimal financial knowledge?

If not, now is a good time to start. This exercise will make it clear which aspects of your marketing or website are likely to resonate with your customers and which are going to be overlooked or ignored.

How to Fix Your Content

What are some of the main offenders when it comes to unclear or off-putting copy? According to a report by software company VisibleThread, it boils down to two issues: poor readability and complex jargon.

Poor readability includes things like excessively using passive voice (think “the ball was thrown by Jared” as opposed to “Jared threw the ball”) and long sentences. Overusing passive voice tends to muddy the waters of whatever you’re trying to communicate. Overlong sentences make it hard to follow what you’re reading. And as we know, if someone has to try a third or fourth time to read something on your site or in a targeted email or mailer, they’re likely to give up and move on.

Jargon, as we mentioned before, comes from people who are familiar with the industry forgetting what’s actually common knowledge. If you were to stop a random person on the street and ask them what “bottom-up investing,” “imputed interest,” or “decumulation” are, the odds are they’ll have no idea. Why would you fill customer-facing communications with alienating language?

That brings us to our final point: How do you fix your content? Fortunately, the answer is simple, if not always easy to put into practice.

To deal with poor readability, the key is to simplify, simplify, simplify. Whether it’s changing passive voice to active voice or shortening sentences, striving to get your message across in the fewest words possible often solves the problem. Shorter and clearer really are better, and your content will hold customers’ attention longer as a result.

Eliminating jargon requires a shift in how you approach your value proposition. What does that mean? Instead of listing off 10 different services your institution can provide with no context, focus on what value you can deliver your customers.

That’s what they’re really interested in, anyway: What do I actually get from this service? Sustainable growth, financial stability, transparency – these are the sellable value of the services you offer, and they’ll draw regular folks in far more successfully than talking about “compounding interest” and “market volatility.” Remember, it’s your job to be an expert on the industry, not the customer’s.

In fact, it may be wise to go a step further and consider leveraging a third party service to handle your customer-facing communications, such as email marketing. That has the dual benefits of taking this time-consuming work off your plate while letting the experts who know how to communicate your value take the lead.

Make today the day that you reevaluate your marketing content. See if you can simplify it or focus more on value over product. If you do that, real and lasting customer connections will follow.

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