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Your Marketing is Not Setting You Apart; It’s Making You Blend In

“Differentiation,” the action or process of differentiating, is a term that gets thrown around ad nauseam in business and marketing. It’s used so often that I worry we’ve begun to file it away as yet another buzz word that people say to sound smart, but that has little meaning.

I fervently hope that this is not the case, as I believe differentiation lies at the very heart of what separates successful marketing from mediocrity. That may sound harsh, but in an environment in which we are all exposed to an unprecedented volume of advertising and promotional content, it’s more difficult than ever to stand out.

It’s one of the most frustrating things about marketing today, especially for small business owners. You have something important to say, and something even more important to give to your clients, but you can’t get a word in edgewise. You can and should be perturbed! But you also can’t just give up on marketing for the very same reasons—you provide a critical service and are committed to doing the right thing and people should know about it.

So what do you do? To begin, let’s set aside the term differentiation—it’s too industrial and jargonized for our purposes. What it really means is finding answers to the question of “Why you?” Why should your prospective clients choose to work with you, instead of: a) investing on their own; b) getting free portfolio support from their 401(k) provider; or c) working with another planner?

Writing out your answers to this question will help you realize that a good portion of how you’re currently representing yourself and your business on your website, in your marketing materials and on social media isn’t helping you stand out—it’s actually making you blend in. The most common example of this in the profession is the ubiquitous list of “services provided” on nearly every financial planner’s website.

Yes, it’s important for current and prospective clients to understand what you do, but if it’s not far less prominent than who you really are or why you do what you do, you’re not only doing your business a disservice, you’re also benefiting your competitors. Stop showing people why you’re the same and start focusing on why you’re different!

There is a bit of an art to this, and it does take courage, but I believe every financial planner can at least take the following steps necessary to reveal their true selves to the world.

1.) Take a Stand. Doug Kessler, one of my favorite marketers, gave a presentation at Content Marketing World in 2015 that has really stuck with me. The title was, “How to Practice Insane Honesty in Your Marketing,” and the premise was that volunteering weaknesses in your products and services can actually bring in more customers than focusing only on the positives.

For most financial planners, going all in on that type of strategy would be an incredible leap. Starting with one small component of the concept, however, is inherently doable. For example, one of the pros Doug shared about “insane honesty” is that it alienates less likely customers or clients. Traditional marketing tenets state that we should never alienate anyone, and that our job is to make everyone feel good about our products and services.

I’m with Doug on this one, though—you can certainly attempt to position yourself and your business as being all things to all people, but that tends to backfire. In reality, you often end up casting such a wide net and staying so close to the middle of the road that you start to blend in with everyone else. In his presentation, he used the example of Hans Brinker Hotel in Amsterdam which, without waiting for the media or consumers to do it, went ahead and labeled itself as the “Worst Hotel in the World.”

As an extreme budget motel with small, dingy rooms and massively outdated appliances, the company knew it was never going to woo travelers seeking a nice family vacation or those who routinely stay at the Ritz-Carlton. So, Hans Brinker chose to alienate those people entirely through its marketing and advertising efforts.

While the ads undoubtedly turned away more discerning clientele, it resonated deeply with the company’s target market: young, extremely budget-conscious travelers looking for an all-night party in Amsterdam. Each advertisement reads like it was created expressly for these types of travelers, and the response was incredible—Hans Brinker quickly became one of Amsterdam’s most popular hotels (with its target crowd, of course).

Take a page out of the Hans Brinker book by taking a stand and telling your current and prospective clients what you truly believe in, why that matters to you and what you intend to do about it. Yes, you could certainly lose clients and alienate others through this approach, but were those clients your ideal clients in the first place? Were the others ever going to be your clients if they don’t identify with your values?

In today’s hyper-aware and distrustful world, talking about how great you are no longer signals confidence; it can actually signal weakness. Taking a stand based on your most important core values and using that stand as a filter for who you want as clients and who you don’t might sound heretical, but in practice, may be what sets you apart from your competitors.

2.) Your Clients Understand What Sets You Apart—Use Their Words. Take a moment to review the “Who We Are” or “About Us” sections of your website. If you’ve spent a lot of time and effort here, and you think that the content adequately represents you and your business, congratulations! For most planners, however, this isn’t the case. These sections are often treated as throwaways and populated with copy from old marketing brochures listing services offered and benefits provided. At best, this hurts the business from a search optimization perspective, and at worst, it completely turns off interested prospective clients from pursuing further inquiries.

When executed well, these sections can be a powerful and relatively low-effort way for you to tell your story and position for the clients who you want to work with. The best part? You don’t need to be a writer or marketing genius to put this content together. Your best resource—your top clients—are sitting right across from you.

First, identify what you mean by “top clients.” Your ideal clients aren’t those with the most assets; they are the clients you most enjoy working with. Want more clients like them? Ask them outright what they like most about working with you and your staff, why they chose you and/or plan to stay with you down the road. I can almost guarantee you’ll hear things that you never considered yourself, spoken or written in a way that will resonate with other clients who are looking for the very same things.

Yes, you have to be careful with testimonials, so don’t use this content for that purpose. Instead, gather the information and use the main themes, terms and phrases to populate your “Who We Are” or “About Us” sections, and start driving people to these areas with your social media or email marketing efforts.

3.) Find (Or Re-Discover) Your “Thing.” As a financial planner, there are many things you do every day to prepare for client meetings, conduct the meetings themselves and to craft and manage financial plans—and you likely do many of them well. Of the many things you do well, which one is your “thing?” Many of the skills and services that make you a good financial planner are the very same skills that other advisers and planners would list as their strengths. So the question then becomes, what makes you great?

Again, if this were an easy question, there would be no need for marketers or a burgeoning marketing industry. I can’t tell you the answer, as it’s a question that requires deep personal introspection on your part, but I can tell you that I’ve been surprised by how often someone’s “thing” exists outside of the day-to-day work of their profession.

For example, the greatest business leaders are rarely lauded for their tactical skill in any given area. Instead, we are in awe of their authenticity, empathy, emotional intelligence or the ability to make and stand by bold decisions in the face of significant opposition. It’s the same for marketers in many ways—the excellent public speakers, humorists and collaborators are positioned above even the strongest tacticians.

Don’t limit yourself to just your skills as a financial planner. Ask yourself: What makes me a person that people not only want to work with, but be around? What cause or issue am I so passionate about that I volunteer my time outside of work to local programs and organizations? If you asked my friends what they like most about me, what would they say? What makes me happiest, whether in or outside of work?

These types of questions may spark an answer, and the useful thing about a “thing” is you’ll know it when you hear it. Finding your “thing” should be a wonderful moment, regardless of whether you’re re-discovering it or finding it for the first time. It should make you feel powerful, energized and awaken or re-awaken that confidence that says, “Oh this? Yeah, this is my thing.”

I’ll leave you with a quote from Debbie Millman, author of Brand Thinking and How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer, who said, “A brand is simply a set of beliefs. And if you don’t create a set of beliefs around your products or services, well, you stand for nothing—you have no values and no vision.” So get out there, take a stand and tell the world not just what you do, but who you are, and why it’s time for them to pay attention.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.


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Niche Marketing and Social Media for Financial Advisers

Forbes conducted a social media usage survey within the financial planning industry in 2017 and found that 85 percent of advisers use social media to grow their business and connect with prospects. Of this percentage, the majority said that using digital media shortened the buying cycle.

Like its counterparts in the digital realm, social media stands as a strong arm of the inbound marketing umbrella. However, much of it is still misunderstood, largely due to the variety of platforms and their general target markets. Depending on your particular niche, you may do much better on Facebook than Twitter, or perhaps even Pinterest or Reddit.

Here is a quick check-up guide to help you determine where you should be on social media, what times you should post based on that platform, and, as a bonus, some tools to help you manage your social media presence.

Before You Pick a Platform

We’re really big on niche marketing at the CWA Network, so much so that our founder John Enright did a full personality test to best determine what profession he should seek clients within—so that’s exactly what I suggest you do for your business over all—know your demographic inside and out. Unless you have a foundation set in your business plan (your ideal client profile, mission statement, etc.) then it doesn’t matter where you post your content if it isn’t geared towards the right people. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many advisers don’t “niche themselves” and cast an incredibly broad net.

Is Facebook for Me?

If your business plan is heavier on the 401k/retirement side of things, Facebook is your goldmine. Aging boomers spend a decent chunk of time on Facebook. The best part of Facebook advertising (should you go the paid route) is that it’s much cheaper than advertising on Google Ads. The amount of targeting options available is incredible. For example, you could set up an advertisement that targets 45 to 65-year-olds who live within 30 miles of your office and have interests that are directly related to retirement.

Best times to post on Facebook: Saturdays and Sundays around 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., times that all have higher engagement according to a study done by CoSchedule.

Is Twitter for Me?

One of the best strategies for advisers on Twitter is simply to curate content. Sure, you could engage with potential clients (and profiles they may follow), but Twitter is a fickle and fast beast. If you don’t have the time of day to actively engage in ongoing conversation, the content curation route may be best for you. Of course, feel free to post your own content but gathering up articles and links of interest to your demographic is a solid strategy.

Best times to post on Twitter: Wednesdays at noon, but this could vary depending on your niche.

Is Pinterest for Me?

If your demographic is over 80 percent women, then you’ll want to spend some time on Pinterest. Creating content that is geared specifically towards personal finance and budgeting will go a long way. Just be careful to utilize a keyword strategy so that your content doesn’t fall into the incredibly broad “penny pinching” and “thrifty” categories.

Best times to post on Pinterest: Pinterest varies wildly from its counterparts because it’s an image-based platform like Instagram. However, there is a consensus that “pinning” is usually done on Saturdays between 8 and 11 p.m., but 2 a.m. and 4 p.m. any day is also considered fine. Avoid work hours.

Is LinkedIn for Me?

If your client profile has a heavy professional element to it (and it most likely will), targeting business pages where they hang out is a good strategy to have. Creating a Company Showcase page for your practice is the first step as a passive and constant place to show your content, but actively seeking out groups related to your demographic is highly recommended.

Best times to post on LinkedIn: Midweek (Tuesday through Thursday) from 5 to 6 p.m.

Is Google+ for Me?

It’s very unlikely that you’ll find your traffic on Google+ because it’s viewed as one of the less active (community-wise) platforms. CoSchedule found that 90 percent of users on Google+ are lurkers and won’t interact with your page. However, from a SEO perspective (see my last Practice Management Blog post), having a Google+ local business page is incredibly important. Firstly, it helps validate that you are, in fact, a real business. But it also will help prospects find you on the map, contact you easily from their mobile devices and give you that very important validation that being on a Google listing brings.

Is YouTube for Me?

We believe that advisers need to first educate their clients and not worry so much about selling to them. Our job is to help them buy. That said, if you fancy yourself in front of the camera and want a more personal face-time approach to finding and interacting with your clients and prospects, then having regular content uploaded to YouTube is a great idea. Bonus; Like Google+, having a YouTube channel helps with SEO.

Best times to upload a new video: This one is up to you, depending on the content you’re sharing. If it’s more educational in tone, uploading on Mondays generally gets better viewership. If you’re trying to get a call to action completed, try for Thursdays. Industry tip: the same rule applies for sending out emails to your list.

Tools You Can Use

Content scheduling tools can help free up your time to do your client work and analytics tools can help you find out if your efforts are worthwhile. Here are a few:

Content scheduling and engagement
Hootsuite
Buffer
Feedtable
Sprout Social
Social Pilot
CoSchedule
Feedly

Analytics

Buzzsumo
Simply Measured
Keyhole
Reputology
Brandwatch
Google Analytics

An Important Note on Compliance

You know there are rules for traditional marketing. Rules also apply to digital marketing ventures. If you need to know more, make sure to review what FINRA and the SEC says, or check in with your compliance officer before any design or piece of content goes to the cutting room floor.

Kristina Rocci

Kristina Rocci is the web content manager for the CWA Network, a Rochester, N.Y.-based financial adviser coaching business that has developed a turnkey practice management business plan for the high net wealth, 401K and Mass Affluent/Gen XY markets. She originally hails from the fin-tech world in Toronto with 7 years of digital marketing under her belt. You can learn all about how the CWA Network can help adviser and planners alike at www.cwanetwork.com.


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3 Signs You’re Barking Up the Wrong Tree with Your Marketing

It’s been said that the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Are you going a little insane with your marketing efforts, trying the same things over and over but not getting anywhere (and have no idea why)? The problem might not be you—and I doubt you’re truly insane.

You just might be barking up the wrong tree. And in that case, the solution is simple: find a different tree!

If you’re finding yourself in any of these situations, it may be time to hit pause, return to the drawing board and consider another, more effective approach so your marketing gives you better results.

1.) You’re Trying to Convince Your Target Market They’re Wrong

Try this fun little experiment: get on a social media network, any social media network and espouse your political opinions to the world. See how many people who fundamentally disagree with you show up to argue about your opinions.

Then try to convince all those people they’re wrong.

You can also try this at your next family get-together or holiday. Or not, because you know how that ends.

So why are you trying the same thing in your marketing?

I’ve worked with financial planners who, when I ask them, “What does your target audience believe about money?” respond with, “Well, they don’t think they need a financial planner.”

Those firms used their marketing to try to convince that particular market segment that they were wrong. It didn’t work.

You need to understand your audience and meet them where they are and work with their beliefs, not against them. And if a client persona you want to market to fundamentally disagrees with your business or your services, you need to go back and redefine that target market. 

2.) You’re Focusing on Your Weaknesses

Most of us feel that to improve personally and professionally, we need to identify our weaknesses and strengthen them.

I’m not sure what the thinking behind this is, but it seems a little backward to me—especially if you’re just starting out. Why double down on what you know you’re bad at, when you could really use all the help you can get to gain traction and grow your practice?

I don’t mean to suggest you should never identify a weak spot and attempt to improve or correct it. But I do mean to say the time to do that is not when you’re trying to grow, you’re struggling to hit goals or you’re not on track to the kind of success you want.

Focus on your strengths instead so you can start making progress and seeing results.

How does this apply to marketing? Here’s a simple example: if you’re a terrible writer but a great speaker, don’t blog. Try video or podcasts, seek out phone interviews with journalists, or apply for speaking gigs as you primary marketing channels.

Or record yourself talking and hire someone to transcribe that into a blog post for you.

3.) You’re Appealing to Reason

Many planners make rational, reasonable appeals in their marketing messages and their content. They logically explain their services and why they’re objectively better than the next firm down the road.

The problem? People aren’t rational.

People don’t make rational decisions. People don’t choose a product or service because it’s objectively better. People make decisions based on their emotions and their feelings, on their worldviews and belief systems.

We all suffer from a number of cognitive biases that lead us to make irrational or illogical decisions. That doesn’t mean we always make bad decisions or choose the wrong thing.

But we tend to believe we’re making logical choices when in fact we’re highly influenced by a number of things at a subconscious level that have nothing to do with logic at all. We’ll do mental back flips to justify our decisions as perfectly reasonable and rational.

The solution? Stop appealing to reason and start appealing to emotion—or even to those cognitive biases themselves.

You can do that through storytelling. You can do it through great copywriting. You can do it by understanding some basics about human psychology and understanding how people—including yourself—think and make decisions the way they do.

You can get empathetic with your audience and really take the time to understand what they care about and respond to, and what does or doesn’t matter so much to them.

Only by doing that work first can you create compelling content that resonates with the group of people you seek to serve.

KaliHawlk
 Kali Roberge is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.


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Hidden Marketing Gem: Working with the Media

Occasionally, the local NBC affiliate in Denver interviews CFP® professionals on money matters; often members of the FPA of Colorado. To those viewers, their names become top of mind whenever it comes time to search for financial planners.

Being quoted in the media—print, digital, TV or radio—has served as a great marketing tool for some FPA members, a few told me recently for the cover article in this month’s Journal of Financial Planning.

Mychal Eagleson, CFP®, president of An Exceptional Life Financial, said completing FPA’s media training was a smart marketing move for him. Members go through the training and then have access to reporters and writers who need input from financial planners. When reporters fill out an FPA MediaSource request, it’s distributed to members who have completed the media training, and they can respond via email or call the reporters up and answer questions.

“I recently used MediaSource and was quoted in an AARP Magazine article,” Eagleson said. “I’ve had two prospects who saw that article and called me because of it.”

Eric Roberge, CFP®, founder of Beyond Your Hammock, said in an FPA member profile that the FPA media training was invaluable in helping him attract new clients and impress his current ones. Participating in the training helped him build a media platform and be quoted in CNBC, Entrepreneur, InvestmentNews and USA Today. After the USA Today article, a high school classmate he hadn’t talked to in more than 20 years contacted him to talk finances. Another high-earning young professional contacted him after reading the same article.

“The FPA media training and media queries are an incredible way to help me expand my platform to people across the country,” Roberge said.

Being quoted in articles and on TV isn’t just a way to prospect, it also affirms for current clients that they made the right choice.

“When clients see my name, they say, ‘Oh congratulations, we saw you in this article and we were blown away,’” Eagleson said. “It’s a testament.”

Serving as a resource to the media is commonly among the top public relations tips for financial planners.

“The better the relationship [with reporters], the more opportunity you will have long term,” Ben Lewis, director of public relations for FPA said in a recent Financial Advisor article.

The article indicated that if you build positive relationships with reporters, you’ll
continually get quoted, leading to more exposure to potential clients for you.

To sign up for the virtual media trainings that come with your FPA membership, click here. Not a member? Become one today.

Ana Headshot

Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.

 


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Outbound Versus Inbound Marketing: Which Strategy Is Best for Financial Advisers?

There’s a battle raging in the corner of your business labeled “marketing.” It’s between two completely different methods for spreading the word about your firm and getting prospective clients in the door: outbound marketing versus inbound marketing.

Which strategy should win out? Which is going to win you the best results from your marketing efforts?

As someone who makes a living helping financial advisers leverage content as part of inbound marketing strategies, I’m admittedly biased. I believe that content should serve as the foundation for your marketing strategy.

But that doesn’t mean outbound marketing doesn’t have a role to play—and as biased as I am, I’m also professional enough to know there are some situations where outbound tactics will win.

Let’s take a closer look at this debate and help you determine which methodology is appropriate for your firm.

But First, The Difference Between Outbound Versus Inbound Marketing

You can’t make an informed decision about which strategy will win in your firm’s battle for the best marketing approach if you don’t truly understand each side of the fight and the differences between the two. Outbound marketing is traditional, old school stuff. It’s where marketing and advertising started, and it’s what a lot of businesses still rely on today. Outbound is:

  • Cold calling (or cold emailing or messaging)
  • Direct mail
  • Paid advertisements (online or off) or paid publicity
  • Trade shows/seminars
  • Interrupting someone to get their attention
  • Incurring a tangible, direct cost to acquiring a lead or client
  • Creating an advertising system that’s dependent on budget

Now let’s compare that with inbound marketing:

  • Content creation (written, visual or audio)
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Public relations
  • Supporting events
  • Community involvement
  • Public speaking
  • Word of mouth

Inbound marketing earns someone’s attention. It gets their permission to communicate with leads and has low monetary cost of acquiring clients. It’s more dependent on messaging and connection than ad spends, and does not always cost money to do.

The Advantage Goes to Inbound If You’re Short on Budget

The internet has made inbound marketing possible—and massively popular and often profitable—because the cost of distribution of the tactics in this marketing methodology is often free. Think back to that list of outbound tactics. With each one, there’s a cost associated and therefore a limit to how widely you can spread your message. There are only so many stamps you can buy so you can send out your direct mail because your budget is only so big, right?

But with inbound marketing, most of the time, you get free supplies and free distribution channels. It’s popular not because some millennial said, “Hey man, blogging is cool,” or “All the kids are on social media these days,” but because it’s an incredible opportunity for unlimited reach without spending a dime. It’s just a smart business decision to invest in inbound marketing, which of course, content marketing is a part of.

You get a lot more bang for your buck and you also have what essentially amounts to unlimited upside. Your reach is virtually limitless because you’re dealing with digital space.

That being said, you must understand that these marketing methodologies could have a place in the overall marketing strategy for your firm if you want to be a successful marketer. There’s nothing wrong with either type of marketing. Both work.
They’re both very different, but that doesn’t mean there’s a “right” and a “wrong” here. It depends on your business, your goals, strengths and services or offers.

Use Both These Marketing Methodologies, But in the Right Order

I think the “outbound versus inbound marketing” debate is, ultimately, the wrong one to have. A far better question to ask is, “in which order should I layer on my marketing tactics?”

Start with inbound. Add on the direct mail or social media ads or whatever kind of cold outreach and paid advertising you want to do after you build a solid, organic ecosystem that houses a hyper-engaged audience of people who showed up to hear from you because they’d miss your message if it was gone.

Starting with content helps you build trust, relationships, and connections. But why? Why is this the case that we get these outcomes, and why specifically does content deliver these results where outbound marketing may just not do the trick?

Because 50 percent of people under 40 don’t trust financial advisers; 65 percent of investors distrust the financial advice industry as a whole; and 66 percent of the children of clients will fire their parents’ adviser when they inherit their assets.

I’m sure you’ve heard some of these stats before, and they’re daunting numbers to face. To succeed in the modern world, you have to change the way you communicate. You have to find new ways to attract clients.
Traditionally, most financial planning firms get stuck asking for referrals as the only way of building out a prospect pipeline. That’s really limiting; your ability to generate prospects lacks diversity this way.

And putting outbound or direct marketing tactics first tend to breed even more distrust than is already there. Neither buying the attention of potential clients (through ads) or interrupting and demanding attention (through cold calls or messages) builds authentic connections that allow prospects to feel like they know you (let alone like you).

Think about it: if someone’s first impression of you is as someone trying to sell something (as an ad implies), is the power of your later communication going to be strong enough to convince them you’re there for the relationship, not just to make a sale off their business and trust in you?

Which Would You Rather Do: Create a Space Where People Can Like and Trust You, or Just Keep Selling?

That’s where content marketing makes a difference because you earn your prospective client’s attention. You create, publish, distribute and promote content to attract the right people with the right message and the right time.

Content marketing creates a space where people want to come to you and work with your firm because they trust and like you.

If you sell a product or focus on transactions, you can likely succeed without high-quality content as part of your marketing strategy. You can get away with just scraping information from site visitors using cookies and ad pixels, then use retargeting ads to interrupt a separate web experience those people were having at a later date.

I’m sure this has happened to you—where you’ve visited a site and then that site’s ads follow you around everywhere. Is it effective? Sure. I know it is, because there’s more than one thing I’ve bought after seeing countless ads for it. But that was with a thing, not with a relationship.

If you focus on relationships rather than transactions, you should really consider how you can develop a connection with those site visitors before you make your hard sell. Content allows you to establish yourself as a trusted partner, communicate why you versus the thousands of other financial advisers out there and build a relationship before you ask for anything in return.

You don’t need to sell anyone if you create useful, helpful content. The right content can expand your reach, establish your authority, increase your influence, attract prospects and leads and, most importantly, build trust between you and the people you want to serve.

If I had to declare a winner in the outbound versus inbound marketing debate, I might call it a draw—as long as inbound marketing gets your attention first, and you look to build on it with outbound tactics once you’ve established trust with the people you want to work with.

KaliHawlk
 Kali Hawlk is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.


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5 Marketing Tips for the Brand-New Firm­­­

You’ve got a lot going on if you’re a financial adviser who wants to launch—or just launched—a brand-new financial planning firm. The compliance, the regulations, the tech stack, the operations and administrative tasks—­­­it gets overwhelming fast. And that’s before you even consider how you’re going to spread the word and market your brand-new business.

But by focusing on the little steps that make a big impact, you can gain traction while using your available resources wisely. This is my best advice for advisers with brand-new firms who want to know where to focus their first marketing efforts.

1.) Leverage Your Biggest Asset: Time. Yes, things might feel hectic right now—but if you just started your business, you probably don’t have a full load of client work to get through right now. Take advantage of the most precious resource you can have at your disposal: time!

You don’t need to hire anyone to handle your marketing at this stage of the game. It might make sense to work with a marketing professional to help you nail down your strategy and plan, but you are more than capable of knocking out the to-dos associated with execution of said plan.

There will come a day when you literally don’t have the time to market yourself. For now, make sure you schedule time into your calendar for marketing activities. Those activities could include:

  • Attending networking events or joining local communities of business owners
  • Signing up for directories and professional associations
  • Creating a compelling website that converts visitors into leads
  • Building relationships and connections with reporters and influencers who can help share your story far and wide

…and a lot of other little tasks that you could put on your list. That brings me to my next piece of advice.

2.) Focus on Your Strengths. Are you the world’s biggest introvert who would rather shave off their eyebrows than attend a networking event where you know no one and be forced to make small talk all night?

Networking shouldn’t be a huge part of your marketing strategy then. Don’t put it on your list of marketing tactics to try. It’s common sense, but you’d be amazed at how often advisers doggedly pursue marketing strategies that make no sense for them.

Focusing on your strengths isn’t an excuse to avoid learning something new or to get out of the hard work of doing great marketing, rather it’s a guideline to help you avoid getting bogged down in something that won’t serve you well.

If you have a knack for storytelling but don’t understand how to use live video on Facebook or Instagram stories, then you can learn how to leverage those tools to amplify this skill you already have (telling stories).

Going through your strengths and weaknesses and appropriately—and honestly—categorizing them takes a lot of self-awareness. That’s a skill in itself, and if you feel you may be lacking I highly recommend starting there.

Enroll in a personal development workshop. Identify your strengths and double down on them. Know your weaknesses and be mindful of them. You don’t necessarily need to “fix” them, but you need to be aware so you can focus your energy in places where you can get the most bang for your buck.

3.) Then Focus on Your Strategy. If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering, “Yeah, but what do I DO? What, precisely, should a brand-new financial planning firm’s marketing to-do list look like?”

The thing is, I can’t tell you the exact right thing to do in this article because I don’t know your strategy (and you probably don’t either at this point). I can tell you that if you’re asking, “what should I do?” you’re asking the wrong question and getting stuck in one of the biggest mistakes I see advisers make.

Questions about what to do are questions of tactics. And tactics are useless unless you create a strategy first. Your marketing strategy is like the framework of a house. Wanting to know all the tactics to try first is like walking onto a house with a foundation but no walls and trying to hang pictures.

A marketing strategy is made up of elements like:

  • Your messaging. What are you saying and why? How are you showing up in the world?
  • Your positioning. What place in the market do you occupy, and is it a space where no one else exists?
  • Your branding. What do you want your firm’s reputation to be out in the world? What do people say about your business when you’re not in the room?
  • Your promise. What promise are you making to the people who give you their attention and trust? (A hint: this isn’t about what you do, literally. Your promise is not “financial planning.” Your promise is about a specific outcome a client will receive as a result of your service, and that outcome is probably more about a feeling, emotion or status than anything tangible.)

A good marketing strategy and clear understanding of your audience will allow you to fill in the blanks on the following statement: “We do [WHAT] for [WHO] because [WHY].”

Let’s talk about the “who” in that sentence next.

4.) Decide Who You Are For. You marketing will fail unless you understand who your marketing is for. Who do you want to help? What kind of change do you want to guide those people to make? Why are you the person to take them on this journey? And, equally important, who are you not for?

The more specific you can get with who, the easier it will be to answer those “what” questions in your marketing: what do I do, what tactic do I try, what should I spend money on, what methodology should I use, what platforms should I be on, and so on. Who your audience is largely helps point to the right answers for these questions.

A quick note on this: it is far easier to help someone who wants to be helped, than to seek out a group that stubbornly refuses to change (even though you know they need what you can offer).

When considering your audience and the change you want to help them make, seek out the people who are already open to some kind of change. If your target audience is people who don’t think they need financial planning (even if they would get more benefit from financial planning than anyone else in the world), you’re going to have a hard time with your marketing.

Trying to convince people they’re wrong is tough. Don’t believe me? Go post your political opinion on Facebook with the goal of getting your relatives to finally see the light and understand how wrong they’ve been about their beliefs for the past few years.

5.) My Favorite Marketing Tactics. Look, I get it. You came here for the tactics and I’m preaching about strategy. I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I’ll quickly share my favorite marketing tactics to leverage, especially if you just started your firm:

  • Blogs and article writing. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it’s an amazing no-barrier-to-entry way to get your ideas to spread. Blog once a week. You have the time right now.
  • In-person networking. A lot of young advisers I talk to don’t want to do the legwork of in-person networking because they’re trying to build virtual businesses. So? Old-fashioned stuff still works. Join a BNI group, find a niche community, volunteer for causes your target audience cares about and reach out to advisers who might make good referral partners. Pound the pavement and always seek to make connections.
  • Online relationship-building. Look for relevant Facebook groups (i.e. groups where your target market is). Follow influencers and interact with them. Find reporters you might want to work with and reach out to introduce yourself and offer to help. Start your own community.
  • Start sampling. No, you can’t give out samples of your product at the grocery store, but you can let people try before you buy. Host free workshops or webinars.

This stuff works better if you can show up to where your audience already is. You don’t need to build from scratch. Go find someone who has the audience you want (but who isn’t an adviser—they shouldn’t be direct competition) and partner up with them.

You don’t want to build on leased land for too long, but leveraging people who already have the audience you want can help you kickstart your own audience growth, since some of those people will follow you back to your own site, platform and brand.

All this being said, I can’t emphasize it enough: tactics are the wrong things to think about if you’ve just begun to market yourself. What you tweet or which networking group you show up to this week feels productive, but often it’s just busywork if it’s happening randomly instead of strategically.

Take the time to lay a strong foundation. Know who you’re for (and who you’re not), what your promise is and how you want to position yourself in the market. The tactics will reveal themselves after that.

KaliHawlk
 Kali Hawlk is the founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, an inbound marketing firm that helps financial advisers grow their businesses by creating compelling content to attract prospects and convert leads. She started CAM to give financial pros the right tools to build trust and connections with their audiences, and loves helping advisers find authentic ways to communicate in a way that resonates with the right people.


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To Find Differentiation, Focus on Your AND

I wrote in my last post about how financial planners need to find ways to avoid using challenges as excuses for poor marketing and the importance of starting simple before adding too much complexity to their marketing efforts. In this post, I want to focus on one specific challenge that many financial planners face when it comes to articulating and promoting their value: commoditization.

Commoditization can be defined as the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming indistinguishable from their competition in the eyes of the market or consumers. Every lucrative profession must eventually face the specter of commoditization, as the success of individuals or organizations in an industry prompts a flood of new entrants looking to get in on the action.

And financial planning is far from immune. Even given the contraction in the industry and profession over the past decade, there were still more than 300,000 financial advisers in the U.S., including all channels (as of January 2017). Yes, this number includes all of the different tiers and types of “advisers,” and the case could be made that true financial planners are a cut above the rest. The case could also be made that a good portion of the American consumer public does not grasp that there’s a difference at all, much less what that difference is.

The mantle then falls to financial planners to dramatize that level of differentiation, not only as it pertains to separating themselves from competing planners, but also in helping consumers understand the problems you can help them solve. Yet, if that was easy, we wouldn’t have a commoditization problem in the first place. The process of finding differentiation can require profound soul-searching, and may force you to dig as deeply into the weaknesses in your practice as you delve into your strengths. You may even find that what got you here (your recipe for past success) won’t get you there, and that can be a tough pill to swallow.

That said, I believe it’s a process that’s worth your time, as knowing who you are, who you are not and why your clients should care will serve as the foundation of your marketing for years to come. The following are a few tips to help you get started.

Do you remember the Coke Zero advertisement in which a young man is shown in a variety of different situations asking “and?” when receiving a reward (like an ice cream cone)? (FACT: describing commercials always makes them sound far worse than they actually are, so there’s a link above to watch it). The commercial does an excellent job of visually and verbally illustrating Coke Zero’s tagline of “real Coke taste AND zero calories,” but is also a useful way to think about differentiation.

In other words, what’s your AND? What do you, or your firm, offer that makes you truly different? Many planners and even large financial services organizations are still providing prospective customers with a laundry list of benefits, with a few awards sprinkled in, and calling it “marketing.” These are often lists of the things that every organization or individual does: “creation of a personalized financial plan,” “maximizing client investments” or “minimizing taxes.” If a prospective client was being direct, they would likely respond to these messages by saying, “You had better do those things.”

Essentially, planners are focusing on the baseline, what’s expected, when they should be focused on what sets them apart. As your differentiator must be unique (obviously), I can’t tell you exactly what you will find, but I do believe that, as a true financial planner, the act of planning itself (and why you spend the time to do it) could play a significant role. To most consumers, financial planning is not about investment selection or rate of return—it’s about the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they have done the work to prepare to fund an uncertain future. This makes the financial planner much more than someone with whom they are completing a transaction; the planner becomes one of the few critical trusted confidantes that their client can call upon in a time of need.

Great marketing does not ask prospects to sift through the message to find the benefit or feature that speaks to them. Great marketing shows the prospect that what the organization or individual cares about most is solving their most important problem. Find that problem, articulate your solution, and you will have found your AND.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.