The Big Short: How Storytelling Clarifies Business & Financial Information

If you’ve seen – or heard of – The Big Short, the recent blockbuster about the collapse of the housing industry with Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, you know that the film depicted outliers in high-finance unpacking the root issues of the 2008 financial crisis.  Even more telling than the film’s plot itself showing how the bubble burst:  the clever “sidebars” featuring explanatory blurbs in hilarious style.

A key take-away for anyone developing content for the legal or financial industry is to use storytelling as an effective explanatory device for copywriting.  A recent Fast Company article articulated how much more our brains are engaged by storytelling than the cold, hard facts, and pointed to numerous studies that confirm it.  Consider how these scenarios could play out:

  • Need to convey the emotional and financial complexity of estate planning? Draw on a hard-luck tale using a 1st-person accounting and show the unfortunate outcome to survivors of the failure to plan. Imagine the impact of that compared to a list of bullet points about probate costs.
  • Want to illustrate the circumstances in which a reverse mortgage can be advantageous? Spin a yarn about an independent senior enjoying the flexibility and autonomy of aging well in place. Contrast this saga with a chart of retirement asset expenditures.

Some cautionary measures, however, will ensure that your attempts at storytelling enhance – rather than disguise or confuse – your financial copywriting or legal marketing message:

  1. Don’t just plop the same boring copy into a forced “narrated” tome.  You need to do a wholesale revision on the presentation to make it into a successful story.  Carefully decide where the story begins and ends, and what the main message should be.
  2. Play with the placement of the story as part of your article/post/message. It may be most impactful to jump right into a scene and then make the point. Or it may be best to set the stage with some introductory points which the story illustrates.
  3. Remember that storytelling is a different type of writing. It may take some time to develop your skills at enlivening your prosaic content in this manner.  There are some great resources online to hone these skills.
  4. Help readers draw conclusions. Just depicting a scenario may not drive home the key points.  You need to help the reader tie up “the moral of the story” with the important takeaways.

While Hollywood still clearly has some lessons to learn (#OscarsSoWhite, anyone?), there are a few tricks of the trade that have value in creating compelling content.


When Less is More: Lessons from Large Firm Blogs

A recent article posted on the excellent JD Supra blog for law firm marketing discussed law firm marketingwhat large firms do on their blogs to define their practice area and build their online presence.   A common trend in 2011, they report, was for firm websites to pile on great heaps of content and appear as a large conglomerate in something resembling a “corporate brochure.”  This pattern, they now point out, seems to be transforming to a greater emphasis on enhancing a site’s functionality.

In the great race to look big and powerful and draw an ever-increasing number of page views – whether by amassing tons of SEO-enriched content or through a slick web design – one vital point of emphasis is getting overlooked:   It doesn’t matter how many people are viewing your site if they are the wrong people.

While developing and sharing plenty of fresh content on a consistent basis helps to build reputation and solidify a firm’s position as a thought-leader, relevance is often overlooked.

The goals of a large firm’s website include turning a qualified website visitor into a new client without wasting time talking to non-qualified prospects and supporting existing clients.

This nugget is equally true for firms of all sizes.  It is vital to consider some key questions when you select content to be posted to your firm’s blog and social media outlets:


1.  Are you writing for business or consumer prospects?

2.  Does the look of your website reflect the size and scope of your business and potential clients?

3.  Is the tone/level of the writing targeted to the proper audience?

4.  Is the material distinctive enough to add value in a way that only you could?

5.  If you hope to have the content shared by colleagues, are you promoting it to facilitate that approach?

Developing and sharing relevant content helps to ensure that referrals generated from this effort are on target.