Collectively, the financial services industry and, more specifically, the members of and advocates for the financial planning profession have done an atrocious job of articulating the value we provide. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but on the whole, I think most of us can agree that we can do a lot better.
And, as you all know, the stakes are not trivial. Sure, our jobs and livelihoods depend on the health and future existence of the profession, but in the end, it’s not really about us. It’s about the millions of investors who need and deserve access to objective advice and support in planning to fund a future packed with variables, potential potholes and uncertainty.
Having worked with financial planners for more than a decade, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. In this profession, I’ve met some of the most selfless, generous and philanthropic people I’ve ever had the honor to know, and truly believe that these planners can and do change the lives of those who choose to work with them.
As a marketer, however, I have come across the same excuses from planners for poor or non-existent marketing, and it’s time for all of us to commit to changing the paradigm. Yes, we face some distinct challenges, but we’re no worse off than industries like health care, featuring regulations at least as strict as those in financial services, or marketing technology, in which commoditization is arguably a far bigger issue than it is for financial planners, or donation-based non-profit associations, in which the lack of resources is a daily struggle.
The point being, we need to stop letting people tell us that it’s OK to do the bare minimum when it comes to marketing or, in some cases, not do it at all, because our industry and profession are “a different animal.” The challenges we face are all real obstacles and I’m not attempting to minimize them in any way, but I do believe they are mostly a distraction from what really needs to be done to promote yourself and your practice in a healthy way.
I’ll leave the full conversation about how marketing is defined for a separate post, if only to say that I think it’s extremely easy to overcomplicate the concepts of marketing and promotion, especially for those not exposed to the jargon every day. I want to make the case that, for financial planners, keeping it simple can be a foundation on which to build and a great place to start.
You don’t have to be a marketing expert to be able to articulate your value to current and future clients, you don’t need millions of dollars to build a strong brand and you don’t need to post on social media every few minutes to become a part of the conversation. Search engine optimization, search engine marketing, digital advertising, marketing automation and content management systems are all important tools in maximizing the value of a marketing program, but together or separately, they have no value without the story they are built upon.
Thus, before making your list of tactics on how to reach your audience, the systems and tools you need to get in front of the right people and the right time, and the spreadsheet identifying the return on investment for every marketing dollar that goes out the door, spend time crafting, reworking and solidifying the story about you and your practice, about your clients (not you), and that you believe with every fiber of your soul to be fundamentally, irrevocably true.
The term “authenticity” is now so pervasive in conversations about marketing, promotion or online content that it’s routinely included on lists of overused buzz words. And yet, nothing could be more important when it comes to earning new clients, and perhaps more importantly, making sure they are clients for life. At its most basic level, marketing is and always has been, about showing the world (and your current and prospective clients as a subset) who you are, what you stand for and why you care so deeply about helping them solve their problems. If you believe in the story you’ve created, and the way you show up for your audience every day (such as your clients, prospects, your family or the Twitterverse) reflects that story, others will begin to believe in it too.
So why isn’t everyone doing this? Well, it’s not easy to come up with a concise story in the first place. It’s much easier (although ill-advised) to attempt to be all things to all people—this is why it’s often far more difficult to write a one-sentence mission statement than a 2,000-word article. Even those who do have a concerted story may struggle to stick to it, as tough times will bring the temptation to walk back on commitments or to make seemingly small adjustments to appease important stakeholders that can take away from the power of a story over time.
For those who have worked under the traditional model of marketing throughout their careers, focusing less on the quantity of tactics going out the door and content that’s all about what makes them great in favor of marketing that’s about help, not hype (to quote the legendary marketing mind Jay Baer), will be inherently uncomfortable. But isn’t nearly everything worth doing uncomfortable at the beginning?
I firmly believe that a story infused with passion, centered on transparency and guided by truth can be a difference maker for you and your practice. For those willing to take the plunge, my advice to help you get started is to:
- Embrace your weaknesses. No true story focuses only on the positives.
- Be vulnerable. Showing emotion doesn’t make you weak, it can make you strong.
- Broadcast your passion. It’s better to be too passionate than to look like you don’t care.
- Narrow your vision. Don’t worry about alienating those who are unlikely to be your clients; focus on your ideal prospects and make your message about them.
- Focus on what matters to your clients. Eliminate the things that every financial planner offers, and center on how you can help clients relieve their pain points and solve their problems.
- Have fun. Your enjoyment in telling/showing your story can be contagious; let others know how much you love what you do.