May 13, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: Content Marketing in Highly Regulated Industries

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is crafting compelling content in highly regulated industries, with guest Ann Marie Krahulec.

“Our markets constantly change, even in heavily regulated industries. What people are talking about and what people are engaging with is constantly changing. So we have to make sure we’re staying on top of those topics but also making sure it’s still compliant, which is the trick.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Ann Marie Krahulec, digital marketing manager at ACI Worldwide, to discuss how to create compelling content in highly regulated industries. They explain the unique hurdles content marketers face in industries like financial services and healthcare and offer tips for pushing your creative bounds. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: What do we mean when we say a specific industry’s content is highly regulated? And which industries does that term apply to? 

All industries have some level of regulation. However, healthcare, financial services, insurance, government, and other industries have specific laws and regulations that can restrict content and marketing teams’ activities. 

“Almost all industries have some sort of regulation to them, either copyright or consumer protection laws, and it varies from country to country, region to region. When I’m talking about it, I’m focusing on industries that I’ve worked in, primarily in the U.S. and/or globally, and that have some sort of regional or government oversight.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Actual legal terms where you have to say certain things in either product descriptions, having legal disclaimers on the bottom of direct mail pieces, digital content on your website, etc. It’s what a company can and cannot say about what their product or solution can do.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“The things that you have to disclose, or terms that you need to avoid, in healthcare or financial services or insurance are completely different from what you have to do in pharmaceuticals… “We’ve all seen the page-long disclosure language that goes with their advertising.”—Erika Heald

“All the credit card commercials you see have all that sped up down at the bottom, about interest rates and that sort of thing. Because, again, it’s a highly regulated industry. The government says you have to tell consumers what the interest rates are for these particular products and/or services.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q2: What hurdles do content marketing teams face when working in highly regulated industries?

Privacy regulations can limit your ability to tell customer stories.

“In healthcare, you can’t do a case study the way that you can in other industries because of HIPAA concerns.”—Erika Heald

Content approval cycles may take weeks and involve multiple stakeholders.

“There’s a whole process that you have to go through to write something as simple as three lines that [say] this is what your product is. You have your marketing speak—this is great, it kills fleas and ticks for up to six months, it’s waterproof, they’ll love you for it—but underneath that, you have all the chemicals listed, what actual fleas and ticks and other insects that it actually kills.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“There’s somebody like me behind there writing all of that, then submitting that to a product marketer to make sure it’s in line with our brand marketing. Then that person submits it to a regulatory person who checks all those boxes. And then you go through the legal team just to make sure all that information is correct.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“The next time you’re shopping online, think about the fact that there could be hundreds of hours that go into a simple product description in a heavily regulated industry.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Legal teams’ risk avoidance practices might come into conflict with content marketing principles. 

“When it comes to content marketing, where you’re trying to create engaging editorial type of content to really serve your audience, you end up with a whole other set of hurdles. Because then you have your legal team interpreting ‘If we can’t do these things in advertising, then we shouldn’t really talk about this topic,’ or, ‘We need to make sure that none of our language is promissory.’ But so much of what content marketing is about is helping your audience solve their problems.”—Erika Heald

All these challenges mean your content may become repetitive or even offputting to its intended readers.

“That’s one of the greatest hurdles that you have, is how can I make my content engaging, but 1.) Not sound like it’s repetitive and saying those same words because I’ve got a list of approved words or 2.) You don’t want to scare people.”—Ann Marie Krahulec 

“Especially when we’re talking about artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Or when you’re dealing in the finance and banking industry with security breaches. Or, like, for me, in [my prior] pet care situation, talking about rabies. How do you educate your audience and provide engaging content without scaring them?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q3: Why is content in highly regulated industries typecast as necessarily dry and boring?

Marketers can get worn down by content approval cycles and stop trying to push creative boundaries.

“It’s tough because you want to create something interesting and good, but you can feel like you’re constrained and that the dry, boring compliance-approved whatever everybody else is doing content is all you can actually get approval for.”—Erika Heald

Regulated organizations often hesitate to link to third-party sources. 

“When you’re in the situation where everyone is predisposed to just link to your own content and own sources, you have to remind people that if you’re doing actual content marketing, you’re in service of the person consuming your content. And they have the expectation that you’re going to have third-party validation of your claims, that it’s not going to be just your own data and your own experts.”—Erika Heald

But audiences expect a healthy mix of content with innovative ideas or approaches. 

“People can become noise blind if you overwhelm them with case study after case study, stat after stat.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q4: What tips do you have for content marketers working in regulated industries? 

Partner with subject matter experts and other marketing teams to align your messages and priorities.

“You have to be aware of the types of content you’re producing in your campaigns to help support your overall brand message. That’s where working with subject matter experts come into play [and] your product marketers come into play. What do we have? What do we need to create? And how are we using it effectively over the campaign, whether the campaign is one month, seasonal, or a year-long campaign?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“When you get a great idea as a content marketer, always loop in your stakeholders. Your social marketing team, other copywriters, your content strategist, other digital marketers, your boss. You want to make sure that when you’re tossing ideas over the fence, people who need to be aware of it—or maybe adding extra work on their place—are also aware of it. And they can get their feedback in and fit it on their calendar.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Align on your content goals. Are you addressing all your potential customer needs through content? 

“Educating your consumer, educating your target audience is a little bit different than selling them on what the product does. There’s a definite difference between the two, and that can be a challenge as well. What are you doing here? Are we educating, just basic education like frequently asked questions? Because those can be just as important in your campaign as emails and direct marketing.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Identify industry peers whose content you can share. 

“It’s really helpful to have that understanding of who your actual business partners are. For example, on the B2B side at Schwab, we had a number of registered investment advisors with a good sized book of business with us. Or maybe [you have an] advisory board. These are folks that we actually do business with. They have the same kinds of regulations as us. We know if they published a survey, we could potentially quote it. Or if they came out with a really interesting article, we might be able to link to it.”—Erika Heald

Keep an eye on your competitor’s messaging and content strategy.

“Don’t be afraid to check out your competition. They’re talking about X, Y, and Z. And what are they ranking on? What is my competition talking about? Are they using case studies?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Read customer reviews and available feedback to better understand your customer’s voice. 

“I’m reading those reviews. I’m reading what people are saying, because that’s direct feedback on those descriptions and those products. So then I can take that information, compile it, take it back to my product marketers, and say ‘How can we adjust this?’”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Set a plan and follow it. Don’t get distracted by activities that will ultimately hinder your progress toward your goal. 

“Stay focused on what you need to focus on and not on a lot of the outside noise. You’ve got to trim it down and say what are we trying to accomplish in the next six months? Where is the company going? And that’s where your brand guidelines come into play. That’s where your executive leadership comes into play.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Once you get that information, it makes your job so much easier as a content creator. We have a roadmap, we know where we’re going, these are the topics they want to do. And here are some of the supplemental things that we can add in to help support that message while you’re crafting the overall new product messaging or solution.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Use project management tools to visualize your workflow. If an executive suggests a new, high-effort campaign, explain how that will impact your other deadlines. 

“Project management is key with any of these things. What are our deadlines? Show them the Gannt chart. Say if we’re two weeks behind, that’s going to push the deadline out by two or three weeks. Once you show them the visualization and the work and the process that goes on behind the scenes, then people start to get those aha moments.”—Ann Marie Krahulec 

Perform an analysis to understand what did or didn’t perform well and where you should route your resources next.

“You may think it’s a great idea, you put it out there, and the campaign just fizzles out. And what do you do? You come back to your team, you sit there, and you do a post-campaign wrap-up. This didn’t perform as well as what we thought. Where can we shift the paid search money? Or maybe it’s a lack of information, maybe we need a guide page or subject matter experts?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Nothing’s worse than course correcting at the end of the year. Waiting to the end of the year to go back and look at 365 days and go, ‘Oh, we should have changed course mid-year.’”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q5: What should content marketers do if their boss wants them to get an industry certification?

Ask about the support your employer will provide to earn the certification. What is the investment, and how will it affect your work pipeline?

“I have to ask them 1.) What is the certification and 2.) How much time are you asking me to invest? It’s going to take away from actually producing content and the role that you hired me for as a content marketer, digital marketer, or content strategist.”—Ann Marie Krahulec 

“I’ve had this happen to me before. I was hired as an email marketer and was told to get Marketo certification. What kind of support am I going to have? This certification process, even for basic levels, is like $250 per test.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“I need to get paid for training, I need [to be] paid for the certification, and we have to shuffle some of these other things that I’m running. Because I’m running a lot of campaigns, I’m not just doing email marketing. So we have to figure out a balance.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Ask if the certification will help your career.

“Say, ‘Is this really going to help my career? Is this really going to help me overall in my career?’ Especially when people are starting out, they don’t know. So, of course, they’re going to jump on it and say yes, I want that certification so I can keep my job, or maybe it’ll help me get a promotion. And sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. You have to say where’s the balance? Where’s the balance for my home life, for my career? Is it worth the investment to do that?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

If the certification doesn’t speak to you and your goals, don’t be afraid to say no.

“It also depends, too, on what kind of certification. In my scenario, it was very dry, memorizing rules, and stuff that I know I’m not good at. And there wasn’t going to be the ability to do any of this during work hours.”—Erika Heald

Q6: Is content marketing valued in regulated industries?

Content marketing is a key differentiator for regulated companies. 

“At Schwab, it was a huge differentiator, because we did so much investor education. It was built into the values that we had as a company: Bringing investing to everybody, democratizing investing. So content marketing had a whole team of people creating investor education content.”—Erika Heald

“In the veterinary care services, it was a cornerstone of what we did. Educating pet parents on the importance of vaccinations and basic health care for your pet. We were offering them and educating them about services so that they could provide for their pet and still be able to afford all the other necessities they need.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q7: How can marketers make the case to their executives that they should try new content marketing approaches? 

Your leadership may not understand content marketing, but they will buy into it if you explain its purpose. This article from Erika is a great explainer of what content marketing is and how to succeed.

“My job is to educate people on what we do and why it’s important. Once you humanize it and explain it to them in terms that they understand and in the language that they understand, they’re going to be much more receptive to that.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Develop a solid relationship with stakeholders and subject matter experts involved in your content creation. 

“The most important thing about developing relationships in your company or in your organization is setting up initial meetings with people. Find out who your stakeholders are for that campaign or whatever you’re producing content for. Who’s the one who’s going to do the final sign-off?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Set up a one-on-one meeting and ask questions. Why are we doing this? Who is our audience? What do you want them to do?”—Ann Marie Krahulec 

Remind your stakeholders that content marketing can take months (if not years) to show tangible results. 

“In the sales industry, our sales cycle can be 18-24 months. I could generate a lead in 2023, but the company won’t actually see results until 2025. That’s where content strategy comes into play. How long does it actually take me to produce a piece of content from start to finish with legal approval? It can be anywhere from six weeks to six months.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q8: How can content marketers gain audience insights in a highly regulated industry in place of consumer surveys?

Attend the conferences and events that your audience attends.

“We have product marketers who go to conferences and come back with ‘They asked us [this]. They’re talking about [this].’ So we can actually get boots-on-the-ground information directly from our subject matter experts.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Social media polls can provide valuable insights.

“There are also surveys that you can send out to clients and customers. LinkedIn has polls. You can put it out on your corporate channels. We’re noticing these trends, what are you most interested about?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Just doing an informal poll like that to say what is my audience caring about? Where can I create content around that subject? Five people may answer, or you may get two comments because not everything is going to go viral, but at least that can kickstart that creative process within you and your team.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Monitor social media to see what topics are trending and how your audience is engaging with the topic.

“This is a hot topic trending on LinkedIn. Let’s get a comment from our subject matter experts who go on LinkedIn and say something about it—and, of course, get it past legal.”—Ann Marie Krahulec 

Customer advisory boards can provide feedback on your content ideas.

“I found our customer advisory boards to be helpful, because we did quarterly calls with them. It was such a great time to share all the content we’re planning, and see what we are missing and make sure we cover what they would never read or listen to. If you have those kinds of groups within your organization, use them as a sounding board.”—Erika Heald

“If they’re bored about an idea, don’t even try to tee it up. On the flipside, if there’s something they are really excited about, then if you do pitch it and you get a lukewarm response, it’s not just you pitching it, it’s you saying there was this really lively conversation, and these are the points they brought up. You’re not just pitching an idea with what you think will resonate, you’re pitching an actual conversation that you are a part of. And that can make a huge difference.”—Erika Heald

“Ask: Would you read this? If I get dead air or no response, or ‘I never thought about it that way,’ that’s a great conversation as a content marketer to kickstart that conversation.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“When I worked in veterinary services, I was very blessed to have a whole council of veterinarians across the United States that got to weigh in on topics that they were seeing in their local clinics and regions.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q9: How can content marketers stay up to date on the latest legal or ethical considerations for their regulated field? 

Speak with subject matter experts to see what’s on their radar.

“I work with a lot of product marketers and subject matter experts. Regulations are constantly changing, especially when you’re talking about real-time payments, which can be super dry. The way that makes it easy for me is I reach out and talk about them. I talk about this is what’s going on in the EU, this is what’s going on in the U.S.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Create Google Alerts to get notifications about new regulations.

“Keywords like payments, digital payments, alternative payments, payments, regulation, and that sort of thing. So I can get notices.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Monitor social media for trending conversations. 

“I also keep my eye on LinkedIn. What’s trending on LinkedIn, they talk about new EU regulations, they talk about bankruptcies, healthcare breaches, and cybersecurity.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“I go to LinkedIn and I hashtag real-time payments, alternative payments, AI, generative AI, cybersecurity healthcare. I want to see what people are talking about. Not just within my company and my competitors, but what are other people in my industry talking about?”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Join content marketing groups and organizations to collaborate with professionals across industries. 

“I belong to a lot of content creation groups on LinkedIn to see what they’re talking about. How are they facing their challenges, because it’s not always just about my industry? Touch base and see what’s happening and what we do as digital marketers.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Q10: Can you share examples of fun or creative content in a regulated field? 

Ann Marie and Erika share their favorite regulated industry content marketing examples below:

“Schwab has always done such a great job of content marketing that really helps people become that informed investor.”—Erika Heald

“I was a One Medical customer for a very long time when I lived in the Bay Area. They had such a great approach to creating super relevant content. It was very human and very patient and very real.”—Erika Heald

“We’re producing a 51-page report that we’re doing videos for, paid social for, social marketing for, and we’re diving into specific countries and seeing how those countries are using real-time payments. But it’s not boring, we’re not just slapping a bunch of stats out to you. We’re saying how is this actually impacting people’s lives.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Remember those little Flex Armstrong guys from back in the early ‘80s, where you could stretch them and stretch them until they broke? We sent those out to a couple hundred people and had a marketing campaign about stretching your cloud and stretching your budgets and working with limited resources. You can be creative. It’s working with your subject matter experts and agencies to say, where can we have fun? I know that most people, if I give them something, they’re just going to throw it away. But with little stretchy guy, it’s a stress ball, and you can put it on your desk, and it’s something to get them to laugh and get you remembered.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

“Another campaign we ran was for HPE. It was all around chemistry. I sent out bright yellow boxes with red-lensed glasses in it. You had to use your red glasses to read the secret code to enter to win an Amazon gift card. And then we also produced socks with our HPE logo on it and handed them out at a healthcare conference.”—Ann Marie Krahulec

Defining a Content Strategy for companies in highly Regulated Industries 

We know firsthand how challenging it can be to create content for a company in a regulated industry—and we’ve partnered with countless teams to develop a content marketing plan that will help them move closer toward their goals (and stay compliant!). 

If you’re looking for help building your content marketing plan, reach out today and tell us what you’re hoping to achieve. 

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