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Best of 2018: Financial Planners, Stop Making Excuses and Start Marketing

Editor’s note: Until the end of the year we will be publishing the top blog posts of 2018. This no-nonsense piece by FPA’s Marketing Director Dan Martin advises readers to just do it already when it comes to marketing. 

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.

Happy storytelling!

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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Looking for More Revenue from Sophisticated Clients in 2019? Ungate Your Content

Do you want to increase revenue for your financial advisory firm in 2019? Of course you do! If you’re aiming to get more from high-net-worth families with complex planning needs, then it’s time to ungate your content.

What do I mean by ungate? I mean that it’s time to get your marketing content out from behind your contact forms and share it freely with your prospects and centers of influence.

Let me ask you three questions:

  1. How many leads are you generating through gated content?
  2. How many of those leads are high-net-worth families?
  3. How many of those families convert to clients?

If you are pursuing a retail-driven strategy, then gated content will serve you well. You can put guides, white papers and checklists behind contact forms. Prospects on the lower end of the net-worth spectrum will trade their contact information for your content.

But what about people at the higher end of the income spectrum? They value their privacy. Nothing you can offer is worth giving away their identity to a stranger.

Develop a Marketing Touchpoint Mix

If gated content won’t drive revenue from high-net-worth families, then what will? Developing relationships with their other trusted advisers and plan on working your way toward your ideal clients through these advisers, who serve as centers of influence (COI). To do this, you will need a strong marketing touchpoint mix designed for a cohesive user experience.

What does a strong marketing touchpoint mix include?

  • Pitch deck. Your pitch deck should cover who you are, who you help and how you help. Create a tailored version for COI meetings that speaks to how you help shared clients.
  • Make it as simple as possible for prospects and COIs to learn about you and your firm. A positive experience with your website that is consistent with your other materials can greatly increase the perceived professionalism of your firm.
  • Social media. For most firms, this will be the use of LinkedIn to maintain connections with COIs. Publishing your blog content here is an easy way to stay top of mind and demonstrate content cohesion.
  • Email marketing. Create a consistent, ongoing touchpoint with your COIs by producing an informative, relevant and valuable email newsletter.
  • Events and sponsorships. Present your firm in event programs and sponsorship materials in the same manner that you do across other platforms.
  • Webinars, guides and expert-level content. This is the content that should be readily available. An acceptable bridge to cross is a registration form for a webinar. Beyond that, make it very easy for prospects and their trusted advisers to quickly see these demonstrations of your expertise.

How do you make this happen? There are two ways:

  • Build a cohesive brand voice. Develop a voice for the firm that captures the spirit of its relationship-oriented business and the firm’s focus on helping people. Work with members of the firm to identify key characteristics for the firm’s brand voice. Define target client types so that your marketing touchpoint plan can be designed accordingly.
  • Develop an ongoing marketing touchpoint plan. Establish a content calendar to ensure consistent publication of marketing materials across your website, blog, email and social media. Align the calendar with your community initiatives or sponsorships. Include timely supporting materials in your plan, such as an annual financial planning guide or a market outlook, so that these are available for COI and prospect meetings.

Why is Content Cohesion Important?

When you target more sophisticated clients, retail lead generation tactics won’t work. The gate between you and the high-net-worth client is not a contact form, it’s the client’s centers of influence. You need to break through that gate by showing COIs that you are the best fit for their clients.

Your marketing content must pull double duty, since the ideal outcome is that the COI shares your material with the client by way of introduction. Therefore, your content must be cohesive across all touchpoints.

When the COI shares your email newsletter with the client, the look and feel of it should match your website because the client will visit the site to vet you. At the pitch meeting, your deck must align with both pieces to further demonstrate your high degree of professionalism.

But What if You Don’t Have the Time?

For many advisers, the time demands of a sophisticated marketing touchpoint plan will be more than they or their in-house staff have capacity to handle. Firms are facing increased pressure to implement new technology platforms, streamline operations to protect profit margins and find growth opportunities through mergers and acquisitions. An experienced professional services marketing firm can help you stay on track and find ways to increase your firm’s revenue in 2019.

Editor’s note: Our July 2018 marketing cover story discussed how when looking for a marketing firm, it’s best to interview several firms and choose the person who shares your visions and goals and who is also a good fit. See that article here.

Katie Gilmore

Katie Gilmore is the founder and CEO of KSGilmore Consulting LLC, a content marketing firm specializing in professional services. She has more than 15 years of experience in marketing, leading teams of creative professionals to support clients’ business development objectives. Prior to founding KSGilmore Consulting LLC in 2015, she served as director of marketing and business development at Ice Miller LLP. Gilmore is past-president of the board of directors of AMA Indy, the Indianapolis chapter of the American Marketing Association. You can email her at katie@ksgilmore.com.

 

 


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To Succeed with Content Marketing, Get Out of the Financial Planning Business

Many advisers I talk to feel frustrated by content marketing. “I’m on LinkedIn,” they tell me. “I publish a post once or twice a week. We wrote a blog post last month. But it feels like a waste of time. What are we doing wrong?”

If this sounds familiar, let me offer some advice. First, publishing pieces of content for the sake of publishing content on social media or a blog is not content marketing. Yes, you created content and yes, you hit a publish button—but unless these actions take place within the framework of a larger strategy, they won’t do anything for you.

Second, even consistently creating and sharing lots of content may not be enough to get you results (and certainly doesn’t count as a strategy). This is where many advisers throw up their hands and walk away from the idea of content marketing.

And that might actually be the right move for you to make.

The Problem with Content Marketing: Expectations vs. Reality

Many advisers bring the wrong expectations to the idea of content marketing—or fail to understand what it is and how it works. Many firm owners think “we’ll publish a blog post or two a month. That’s content marketing!”

Only, no, I’m sorry to say, but it isn’t.

Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, unique content that communicates your value and specific message to a specific group of people. It’s the process of providing information, insights and ideas to those who want to dive into a topic that you speak on as an authority and an expert in that particular domain of knowledge.

This is why writing a blog post on “how to do a backdoor Roth conversion,” publishing it on your blog, then posting the link to that blog on LinkedIn doesn’t work. It fails to fulfill the duties that true content marketing carries out:

  • It’s not high-value content, because almost every single adviser with a blog has already written this exact article (not to mention all the articles on the topic provided by major publications like MONEY or Forbes).
  • It doesn’t communicate your value, because again, any halfway decent adviser should be able to tell you how to do a Roth conversion. This doesn’t speak to anything about what makes you unique or different if it simply lists out the “how-to” steps of the process.
  • It doesn’t provide a specific message to a specific group of people. In fact, it’s essentially the opposite: it’s a generic message that could apply to literally millions of people.

Content marketing requires a commitment to creating excellent, high-quality, useful, valuable and impactful content that your target audience wants to read.

This is not something you can dabble in and see success from. Nor, if we’re being honest, is this something that anyone can do (or at least, not something anyone can do well). If content creation—writing blog posts, creating videos, recording a podcast, etc—is not your strong suit, you might want to explore alternative strategies and tactics for your marketing.

Similarly, if you’re not willing to learn how to execute a successful content marketing campaign or you feel unwilling to dedicate real resources to your team members who are responsible for creating content, this probably isn’t for you either.

You should only commit to using content to market your business if you’re all in; if you’re willing to devote the time and energy required to develop content worth consuming. Otherwise, you’re only adding to the noise while failing to serve as a signal—and that doesn’t help anyone, including your own business.

The reality is this: to succeed with modern marketing, there needs to be at least a segment of your business that acts not as a financial planning firm, but as a publishing company.

How to Win the Content Marketing Game: Become a Publishing Company

I’ve started to frame the issue this way to advisers who ask me about the time and energy commitments you must make to use content successfully. If you want to get the most from your content marketing efforts, pretend a tiny publishing company exists under the umbrella of your firm.

A true publishing company exists to sell what it publishes. Book publishers want to sell books. Magazines and newspapers want to sell more magazines and newspapers. TV and radio stations want to sell their shows by getting more viewers and better ratings, and therefore more advertising dollars.

Publishing companies succeed when they create the kind of content that viewers, readers and listeners want to consume so much that either they’ll pay for it or they’ll tolerate interruptions to it in the form of advertisements.

You can do the same and create content that specific audiences want so badly that they’d miss it if it wasn’t there. Only, in your case, the goal is not to sell the content (either to consumers or advertisers). The ultimate goal is to have your audience ask for more—and that’s when you can offer them your service.

But producing that kind of content—content that’s valuable, unique, can’t-get-it-anywhere-else, interesting and engaging—requires serious work and effort. Writing another blog post about a Roth conversion will not leave anyone on the edge of their seats begging you for more. Making this mindset shift may also help you understand that content campaigns are not small or simple endeavors. They’re big undertakings when you do them right.

The other thing to consider about publishing companies is that every single one of them does more than distribute information. They make new ideas accessible. They expand perspectives. They spin and share stories.

Rarely does a publishing company that simply peddles the same information already widely available succeed. They must constantly find new ways to create engaging content that resonates with a specific target market, whether in the form of ratings, subscribers or book sales—or they’ll fail.

None of this is to suggest you should shut down your firm and start a newspaper instead. But what I do suggest is that, if you want to enjoy greater success with content marketing, you need to consider your firm as more than just a business that offers financial and investment advice.

Start looking at a segment of your firm as a tiny publishing company tasked with making the ideas, beliefs and values that fuel your financial planning and investment management philosophies widely accessible to your target audience—and having that target audience eagerly come back looking for more.

By doing so, you’ll better position yourself to succeed with your content—or at the very least make it clearer that this isn’t the best marketing approach for you to explore. And knowing what isn’t right for you is often even more valuable than understanding what makes a good fit.

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.