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Plenty of financial services companies have been drawn to the appeal of content marketing in recent years. Open an app geared toward stock trading, and you’ll probably discover a dictionary of investing terms that rivals Investopedia. Or maybe you’ll find a blog full of fun, light-hearted advice pieces. Many of these exist in service of a product or brand.
But what if the main product was trust?
Situated somewhere between newswires and fintech companies, Morningstar has been steadily building its reputation since 1984. Now operating in 29 countries, it’s emerged as a financial information leader that can help anyone, at any stage of investing, with unique content.
“In the realm of investing, there are so many ways people can feel daunted or intimidated,” explained editor-in-chief Nicolas Owens. “I think people can successfully navigate uncertainty or ambiguity through trust.”
That trust is built on charts and graphs, articles about saving and investing, how-to blog posts, and videos from industry experts like Christine Benz and Russel Kinnel. These reassuring voices pop up on the Morningstar website again and again. Morningstar hopes the audience may begin to see them as partners in their investment journey.
Behind the scenes, it’s a massive operation. These experts rely on data and qualitative research conducted by over 200 analysts on companies, funds, investing trends, policy, investor behavior, personal finance, retirement, and more.
Morningstar’s content also supports other products, which include investment management services through advising subsidiaries, and platforms for outside investment advisors and companies to help their own clients. When content is such a big part of your business, you’re selling your reputation just as much as an app or product. That has a marked effect on what your website will look like, whom you’re aiming to attract, and what you want them to click on once they get there.
“What you see are the samples in the bakery window of all the good stuff we have to share,” Owens said. Much like a major newspaper, which offers web visitors a certain number of article clicks before hitting a paywall, the Morningstar website aims to put out content that will entice you to click through. As Owens put it, “At Morningstar, content is our business.”
“Content is our business.”
“Content is our business.”
Let’s say, for example, you decide you want to get into investing. If you turn to Robinhood, you may notice its clean interface, friendly illustrations, and introductory advice. (Full disclosure: I’ve written content for Robinhood.) But the website can seem monolithic. You won’t see many faces or names. Competitor websites, including Moomoo and Betterment, are similarly wiped clean of identifying markers. It’s as if, in order to invoke trust in the app they are selling, these companies have to make you believe their expertise comes from a computer, not a person.
“A lot of these [B2C fintech] websites are trying to emulate successful examples, such as AirBnB and Uber, from other sectors” said Chris Brown, a financial copywriter and content expert who has worked at a hedge fund and an investment bank. With B2B, however, “you’ve got finance professionals talking to professional investors, [and] the audience wants to know about the team behind the investment,” he said. “Establishing expertise and trust is a really important part of the puzzle.”
With an audience that consists of 85 percent seasoned individual investors and 15 investment professionals, Morningstar has to straddle that line.
“I like to think about, who are we creating content for?” said Marissa Monson, editorial experience director at Morningstar. “It’s really about those life moments when you need information: when you’re getting ready for retirement, if you want to understand what an emergency savings account is and whether to consider one, or in a moment of market volatility.”
The answer, it seems, is to embrace trust above all else. Building strong relationships is essential when it comes to reassuring customers in uncertain times. “We’re trying to be relevant and be there for folks when they need us,” said Owens, “which is a broader mandate than the cruise stock or travel stock of the week.”
This approach has come in handy during the pandemic. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, Morningstar turned to their readers via survey to find out what they wanted to know and what they felt was important. The answers ranged from financial concerns to personal health worries to a kind of hopefulness about what this might mean for new investments.
To address the feedback, Morningstar published a “package of content that we resurface whenever the market wobbles,” Owens explained. Topics included a special guide on market uncertainty, an essay on humility, and thought leadership commentary on Morningstar’s commitment to help manage the financial impact of COVID-19. The company relied on different strategies to connect with different users: “For some, an appeal to a data survey might be credibility-building. For others, a personal anecdote,” Owens said.
What you won’t see front and center on the Morningstar website—although they exist if you click around—are the basic definitions that so many fintech companies feature. This type of content has become ubiquitous because some marketers lean on it for SEO. But Morningstar isn’t looking to draw you to its website simply by telling you what a mutual fund is. The company wants to keep you interested by advising you on the best ones to research, and by showing you through content that trust is a worthy investment too.
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