Think of your brand as the edge pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This is the framework in which your content strategy should sit. Each piece will have its own design and purpose, but they should fit together harmoniously and unite to build a complete picture of your firm.  

A jigsaw is also a great metaphor for the interconnected nature of an ideal content strategy. The pieces come in all different shapes and sizes, each with its own part of the message, but they provide solidity and structure to the brand.  

When a piece is put in the wrong place (or, worse, in the wrong puzzle) the overall image / message can become distorted.  

Drag and drift 

Consider the following scenario: Your team has written a series of thought leadership articles and accompanying social posts, built a distribution plan, scheduled launch dates and harnessed the power of PR to get your message to market.  

There’s only one problem...  

The content does not reflect your brand or your values, which means the work has been done for nothing – or requires extensive editing.   

There are two main reasons individual pieces of content, and even entire campaigns, fail to live up to the brand of the company sending them out.  

Message drift occurs when a project either take too long to complete or involves too many people. It’s natural for things to falter when deadlines are not fixed or enforced. When there are unclear expectations or deliverables, the output can be swayed by the louder voices in the room.  

Message drag, however, tends to happen when a key stakeholder pursues a strategy without taking the overarching brand and corporate messaging into account. This could range from commenting on events outside of the company’s remit, to a misunderstanding of purpose and strategy.  

There is rarely any malignant intent, however there can be message drag for personal reasons. This can be where someone either disagrees with their company’s stance on an issue, or is seeking to drive an agenda that is not aligned with their employer.  

An extreme example of this is the former global head of responsible investing at HSBC Asset Management, Stuart Kirk, who gave a presentation entitled: ‘Why investors need not worry about climate risk’. A bold statement for someone with his job title.   

His presentation was described as ‘rogue’, ‘unfiltered’ and ‘totally bizarre’ as it made headlines around the world. HSBC CEO Noel Quinn personally took to LinkedIn to distance the bank from Kirk’s comments. The situation was far from ideal and certainly not something HSBC likely wanted to devote time and resources to.  

Content confidence 

There are a few fairly simple rules to follow to make sure the content being sent out into the market is intentional, purposeful and lives up to the message you want to convey.  

Step 1: Be clear from the outset 

One of the easiest ways to pre-empt message drag and drift is to use a briefing document. This should include details of what is to be produced and why. This template will help the writer stay on course and give them a direct line of communication to the person who made the request should anything be unclear or ambiguous.    

Step 2: Keep in touch 

As outlined in the first part of this series, one of the most important steps of any content plan is to hold regular reviews. Where a longer form piece of content is being written – think white paper or research project – regular check ins will help spot drag or drift. This is less practical and desirable for blogs and articles, as those can easily edited.  

With research, however, one of the authors might pursue an interesting finding only to later discover that it leads to an avenue the company does not feel is worth pursuing.  

Step 3: Final inspection 

Asset and wealth managers are extremely comfortable with the idea of screening investments, whether for ESG requirements or other financial metrics. A similar approach should be used to ensure the content ready for distribution aligns with your firm’s brand and values.   

Having a framework in place where content can be reviewed by an extra set of eyes before it is sent out gives you the opportunity to catch any drag or drift that may have crept in. This should not sit with compliance – this should ideally be a marketing or content team function.  

Consider the following:  

  • Does the messaging align with your company values? 

Every member of the team should be clear about what your company stands for and how that is articulated. If that is not the case, some internal workshopping is probably necessary.  

  • Is there anything in the copy that undermines that message?  

This includes quotes; especially from senior figures in the business, even the CEO can misspeak at times. Some people might be reluctant to challenge any ambiguities or inconsistencies, or assume that the word of the CEO cannot be changed, so it is not worthwhile to check it. This could not be further from the truth.   

This is also an opportunity to sensitively include key words or phrases to underscore your company’s values. They must feel natural, however, and not as though they were shoehorned in. Also, do not forget about the imagery – they say a picture paints a thousand words, you must ensure they are the right ones.  

  • Is there any room for misunderstanding? 

Use a critical eye on every sentence and also read between the lines. A stray metaphor or incomplete quote opens to door to misinterpretation. As does groupthink and a lack of internal challenge.   

Case study: 

The HSBC example above was the product of a single individual – and we are not here to discuss the rights and wrongs of that particular situation. But a more commonplace example of where messaging can misfire is a recent campaign by UK wealth platform AJ Bell, which looked into the gender investment and pension gaps.  

The research was driven by the worthy goal of improving women’s financial wellbeing. The reception, however, was likely not what the, seemingly all-woman, AJ Bell team behind the campaign had hoped. And the main reason for this is that it is titled ‘Wobbly Bits’.  

The female journalists at Mark Allen Financial did a great job of addressing why it was problematic, and you can find their article here. 

AJ Bell has stuck with the campaign, which can be found on their website. It is, as of the time of writing, far too soon to judge whether it will be successful. The name certainly generated a response when it was revealed – how that impacts engagement levels will likely only be known in-house.  

There is a time and place to be provocative – it’s unclear if that was the intent behind the AJ Bell campaign – but it needs to be intentional so you are prepared to handle any criticism and backlash. 

Final thoughts 

The content your company sends out into the market is a reflection of its brand and values. Understanding your company’s purpose, vision, priorities and red lines is vital to accurately and appropriately representing them.  

Nothing can showcase your brand as well as purposeful, meaningful and crafted pieces of content.