Marketers working in regulated industries have likely asked themselves a similar question — how do I market what my business does if I can’t talk about what my business does? For example…

HIPAA rules constrain healthcare marketing.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau threatens lawsuits against spirits marketers who stray from following the rules.

The SEC and FINRA keep financial services from saying much at all.

As rigid as these entities’ rules get, they’re in place for good reason: to stop companies from making false claims that can hurt consumers. There’s a high level of responsibility required because the consequences of misleading claims in these industries can be dire. Making false claims about a drug’s effectiveness could damage a patient’s health; false claims regarding investment performance could deplete a retiree’s long-term savings; and promises of wild parties with models could encourage people to drink irresponsibly.

Every year, states attorneys file thousands of “false and deceptive advertising” cases. Declaring product benefits, normally a gold mine for content marketers, remains off-limits in more regulated industries. Marketers instead have to work around these restrictions and promote products without making false claims.

With all the restrictions, it’s easy to feel like content marketing just isn’t worth it in a highly regulated industry. But the truth is that content marketing works extremely well — even for those in difficult industries.

If It’s So Hard to Do, Why Do Content Marketing?

With 89% of B2B companies using content marketing, even those in regulated industries are realizing the benefits.

When done well, content marketing anticipates customer questions and provides answers — no false product benefits required. Instead of focusing on pushing products, content marketing allows companies to produce marketing material that naturally leads customers down the purchase funnel. Marketers have heard for years now that they must change their orientation from selling their products to providing a library of information about them, and this has proven to be a great strategy for regulated industries especially.

It’s clear that content marketing works; but without the ability to tout your product’s benefits, what can a marketer focus on? Here are five guidelines to follow for successful content marketing in difficult and regulated industries.

Rule #1: Know Your Audience

Any good content marketing strategy starts with knowing your audience. Whether you do this through creating defined marketing personas or simply identifying a target demographic to narrow in on, knowing who your audience is key in developing topics to write about.

Once you know who your audience is, the next step is to identify what their pain points are. You can do this by asking yourself three questions:

  • What makes your customer decide they need your product or service?
  • What makes it hard for your customer to find your product or service?
  • What would stop your customer from purchasing your product or service?

Creating content around these three consumer pain points is a great way to initially develop a content strategy, especially when your industry is difficult or restrictive.

Another important point is to always test how your content is performing with your target audiences — social media analytics and marketing automation tools are great for this — so you can tweak your strategy as you learn more about what works with your audience.

Rule #2: Complicated Doesn’t Have to Mean Boring

Content strategist Ronell Smith is brave enough to assert, “There is no boring industry content, only content that’s boring.” Boring is relative. The key to marketing a seemingly dry or complex product is getting inside the heads of your consumers and serving them the information they need. When you give your customers the information they’re looking for, your content isn’t boring at all; it’s right on the money.

A common mistake marketers make when writing content for difficult industries is thinking they have to use the same language when talking to the public that they do within their industry. It may be encouraged in your industry when publishing academic papers, for example, to use academic language — but this doesn’t necessarily mean that your blog posts need to use the same language.

Keep in mind the function of your blog and who the audience is. If the goal of your blog is to educate the general public about what you’re doing, there is likely no need to speak to them in an academic tone — in some cases, doing so may detract from your goal. The nature of blogging or social media allows you to write to wider audiences, which in most cases means that the way you write can be less formal, and more focused on being explanatory and conversational.

Don’t forget: there are a variety of media available to you to explain complicated concepts that may work more effectively than a blog post. Infographics, for example, are very effective in breaking down complex ideas and are highly sharable.

Rule #3: Leverage What Makes You Unique

Every company has a unique story that only they can tell, and sharing that story is a great way to connect with consumers. Whether this comes in the form of case studies, original data, or unique interviews, don’t ignore the unique story that your brand brings to the table.

If you are lucky enough to have original data that you can share, make it the centerpiece of your content strategy. Spend some time and effort to make a polished piece of content that shares insights from this information — whitepapers and ebooks work well for this purpose. From there, take your centerpiece of content, and build supporting material around it.

Always be sure that you have signoff to share your original data. This leads us to the next rule…

Rule #4: Make Friends with Legal

The world of content and digital marketing is always changing and it can be hard to stay on top of marketing trends — doubly so if you have to keep on top of changes to legislation as well. It benefits both marketing and legal teams to take three steps to create legally compliant content:

  • Build a bridge between marketing and legal. Explore the limitations and pain points of each team. Help both parties understand what’s at stake should a piece of content marketing break a law. Set up meetings or lunches mixing the creative content folks with the by-the-letter attorneys. The more each team understands the other’s job function (and why it matters), the easier it will be to support each other to ensure that you produce high-quality and compliant content.
  • Know the regulations that pertain to your industry. Content marketers should take the time to stay informed of major laws impacting their industry. Being able to catch a questionable paragraph or design element before it enters the months-long legal process saves everyone time and aggravation. An easy way to become more informed is to set up Google alerts for your industry, your monitoring body, and the terms “new regulation,” “new legislation,” and “compliance.” Reading just one or two articles a week will quickly make you the go-to legal resource in the marketing department.
  • Leverage technology. Today, templates exist for every channel: email, social media, blogs, and landing pages. Have the content marketing team create templates for each channel, with elements that remain within all legal guidelines. Once each template has been reviewed and approved by the legal team, this gives you a helpful jumping-off point for all pieces of content moving forward.

Rule #5: Create a Clear Approvals Process

When you’re working in a heavily regulated industry, having a clear approvals process for your content marketing is vital. Without an approvals process, projects can take twice as long to complete and you will likely go through rounds of revisions that could have been prevented. It may sound tedious, but developing a clear approvals process will likely be the best investment you can make in your content marketing program.

To map out your approvals process, identify who must sign off on each piece of content. If this varies depending on what type of content you’re producing, create a separate approvals map for each content type. Start with the person who has final sign off and work backwards. While mapping it out, take note of bottlenecks and places where content is often held up. In these places, you may need to add additional processes such as internal deadlines, prioritization charts, or regular check-ins.

Making Content Marketing Compliant Takes Effort, But It’s Worth It

Content can be complex and constrained by rules in your industry, but it NEVER has to be dull. As a content marketer, your goal is to help your audience understand and find the right information from you. When you deliver it to your customer base, a bond of gratitude forms. Remember, too, that keeping content legal doesn’t mean it can’t be creative. In fact, it can be even more creative as staying within industry parameters can force you beyond go-to approaches and work within your guidelines.

Image source: Sanwal Deen