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You Need a Story to Succeed in Marketing. Here’s How to Find Yours and Tell It

“The best businesses are the best stories.”

This was one of my favorite quotes from a marketing conference I attended last year because it gets to the heart of what it takes to be successful as a marketer and entrepreneur. You need to develop a story—and then share that story with others.

Stories are compelling because they trigger our emotions. They align (or don’t) with our existing beliefs and values. The ones we like confirm our worldviews and our biases.

All these things play into our decision-making process. As much as we’d like to think we’re perfectly rational when we make choices, we’re simply not. And you need to keep that in mind if you want to convince more prospects to become paying clients of your firm.

This being said, finding success—developing your story and then sharing it well with others—isn’t easy to do, which is why most people (and planning firms) don’t market themselves well. Good storytelling is an art, and even if you can spin a yarn that resonates with others, you need to find a good one to share first.

Here are some of my best tips to be able to both find your story and tell it well.

Make Sure You Have the Raw Materials for Building a Story

I would not describe most of the financial advisers I know as “thrill-seekers.” And that’s not a bad thing. Most people get into this profession because they’re naturally inclined to protect and nurture valuable assets, both for themselves and others. If you’re stampeding through life, taking unnecessary risks and making stupid mistakes, you likely won’t make a great financial planner.

But a little adventure, a little risk and a little discomfort are good things that so often we become averse to seeking out on our own. The problem with that? If you’re comfortable, you’re not doing anything new. You’re not pushing yourself; not exploring or challenging anything; and not gaining useful experiences that you can use as the raw materials for good stories.

Finding a good story is not about dreaming up something more imaginative or innovative than the next guy. It’s more about being able to think creatively to piece together seemingly random, disparate ideas to come up with something new, interesting and original.

Living life and seeking out things that push you just a little outside your comfort zone each time is a wonderful method of developing great stories—as well as getting new insights, finding ways to think differently and giving yourself the opportunity to consider new perspectives.

I’m not suggesting that you be in a constant state of anxiety or discomfort in order to grow or form new ideas. But you have to be willing to step into a situation you know will be uncomfortable for you in order to give yourself the chance to grow, see things in a new light and develop the experiences necessary for a good story.

Talk About Where You Divert from the Mainstream

Ever get that feeling that the crowd is moving in one direction—and you’re doing a 180 in the complete opposite direction? Treat that feeling as an indicator that you might be sitting on a good story to tell.

We try to do this often at Beyond Your Hammock, in both blog posts and on podcasts. We’ve challenged the idea of homeownership as “always good,” specifically pointing out that there’s a lot of pressure for high-achieving 30-somethings to want to buy a home…but a lot of us don’t want that at all.

We’ve pushed against the FIRE movement’s idea that there’s only one way to “financial independence,” and it’s through extreme measures. We’ve been willing to say, you know what? Being good with money is not all about how much you can save. It’s how well you can use your money as a tool to live well today and still plan responsibly for tomorrow.

It takes some vulnerability to stand up, raise your hand and say “I don’t seem to feel the same way as everyone else. I’m thinking differently about this and here’s why.” But these are great places to find a unique story that others will appreciate, because what happens is you give a voice to the things your audience already thinks but might not feel brave enough to say.

Think About What Matters Most to You

What gets you fired up? What do you feel passionately about? What do you believe in with such conviction that you’re willing to take a stand for it without being moved or dissuaded?

These areas of your life make good hunting grounds for stories. What can you share about how you came up with your beliefs? If you have a philosophy or a mantra you live (or do planning) by, what is it and what led you to develop it?

Telling Your Story: How to Share It Once You Find It

Developing your story is only the first step. You also need to hone your communication skills so you can share it with a receptive audience. Keep these quick tips in mind:

Polish your story first:

If you follow the advice above, you might dig up a really awesome story you want to tell—but that doesn’t mean just word vomit somewhere and people will enjoy it. You may need to trim bits and pieces, or just tell us a snippet of the story. You might need to lop off a lengthy intro and get to the point. Knowing what to share and what you can cut out is a critical component of good storytelling.

Aim to form connections, not prove points:

Stories are not lectures or sermons. A story should serve as a channel for connecting with other people—so don’t be afraid to dive into things that feel a little squishy or intangible or not even directly related to financial planning. People want to connect with other people. Be vulnerable, be human and share openly about what makes you, you, and how you came to form your views on how you do business, the advice you give and the people you want to help.

Use the right medium:

Is your story best told with visual aids? Then a podcast might not be the best way to tell it. On the other hand, do you want to tackle something controversial? Video or podcast might be better than a blog because people tend to be more receptive to new ideas when they hear them rather than just reading them. Consider the context and choose an appropriate medium for your story.

Give context to information:

A story is not a recitation of facts. None of us needs more information; if we need data or stats or info, we can ask Google. The value you can provide with storytelling is to put that information and the data and the facts into context. Information is widely available more than ever thanks to the internet. And context has never been in shorter supply.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this piece of advice for developing your story and the content to tell it with (a favorite tip from fellow writer and blogger Chris Guillebeau): When it comes to sharing your story, communicating your message or publishing your content, strive to be educational, entertaining or inspirational—but preferably all three.

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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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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5 Tips to Help You Take Charge of Your Social Media Strategy

If your biggest challenge as a financial planner is finding and acquiring new clients, you’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of financial planners recently surveyed by the Financial Planning Association listed “client acquisition” as their top challenge.

And yet, the money and skillset required to come up with an effective prospecting—and what it might take to execute the plan—can make attracting new clients seem impossible.

While certainly not a magic bullet on its own, social media can be a cost-effective way to build your personal and professional brand and connect with potential clients in a genuine, authentic manner.

This post offers five tips to help clear up common misconceptions about using social media in business and to help you begin building a social-driven prospecting strategy from the ground up.

1.) Recognize the Uses of Each Platform. One mistake when using social media is to immediately build a profile on every platform without thinking through how to create or curate content for each separate entity.

Placing the exact same content on multiple platforms can make your brand look lazy and out of touch. What works on Instagram may be the opposite of what drives engagement on LinkedIn. Further, creating and curating the amount of content required to run a functional blog/website and generate activity on four to five separate social platforms is simply not an option for most small businesses.

Avoid the temptation to build a profile on any social outlet until you have worked out why and how you plan to use the platform. Here are a few tips on some of the heaviest hitters:

LinkedIn is primarily a professional network, and the content that performs best on the platform follows suit. Investopedia reports in its article “LinkedIn: How Advisors Can Use It to Grow” that nearly three-quarters of U.S. advisers maintain a profile, so it may be a good place to look at focusing your initial efforts.

Facebook and Instagram are more personal, with Instagram focusing heavily on imagery. This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t have a profile on these platforms, as many advisers do—it all depends on the type of clients you’re trying to reach, the content you are looking to create and/or share and whether you can support many platforms at once.

Twitter is essentially a newsfeed and, while the content required for each post is smaller in volume (140-character limit), the platform requires a larger volume of posts to maintain a semblance of activity.

2.) Find Your Formula. Businesses that use the social platforms for promotion often treat the content as a one-way street to aggressively push product and sales-related information. In his blog post “Why Content is Fire and Social Media is Gasoline,” marketing guru Jay Baer said, “Social media was not intended to be the world’s shortest press release.” I believe social media was designed to replicate human conversation, and building a healthy following is dependent on how well you tell your personal and professional story.

While advisers are somewhat limited in how much they can engage in two-way discussions on social media, one area that can make a major difference is in how you curate and deliver content. If your profile summary, original posts and retweets on Twitter reflect the tone of a sales brochure, you risk driving people away.

Instead, as you’re crafting your profile, writing your first few posts and deciding what to retweet or share, think about how you prefer to get to know someone when you meet in a face-to-face conversation. What do you want people to know about you? What are the things that are most important to you? What defines you? Answering these questions will help you frame your presence in a way that best reflects who you really are.

My good friend (and social media expert) Steffen Kaplan (@SpinItSocial) shared a formula for building an online presence that I have found to be unbelievably valuable, especially when it comes to attracting followers on Twitter. He recommends parsing the content you create, what you share and what you like into three separate buckets: one-third of your posts should be designed to create awareness about your business (think of this as your “branded” content), another third should be personal (answering the questions outlined above) and the last third should be content designed to engage and inspire (quotes, photos and videos that might make others smile).

3.) Share Content That Tells Your Story. Most advisers know they need to do a better job promoting their practice and value proposition, but many don’t consider themselves to be marketers or know where to start in communicating with prospective clients. In the past, promotion didn’t matter as much, as a high percentage of new clients came via referrals from happy customers.

In today’s world, communications should be more persuasive and educational than a simple list of your services. But who has time to create all that content and send it to the right people at the right time? The beauty of the level of saturation in the blogging and social media world is that you don’t need to spend all your time creating your own materials—you can easily find educational content that you appreciate and share it with your clients.

When you share content, you are advocating for the message of the material, and that’s often the closest thing to putting your name on it. Beyond saving time and money, shared content comes with its own set of advantages as it allows you to send powerful messages from a credible third party. Relevant, useful and valuable content is an effective way to build trust with current and prospective clients. As content marketing expert Drew Davis puts it, “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

4.) Don’t Overdo It. You don’t have to post content 50 times a day to be successful. Sure, social media requires creating and posting content with a high level of frequency, but that doesn’t mean you must spend your entire day brainstorming your next tweet.

Like any other marketing medium, social media success depends on the quality of the content you distribute—including the actual post, the attached image or GIF and the post’s linked content. To help focus on quality over quantity (and maintain your sanity), create a simple editorial calendar and plan out posts for each week or month. You can find countless free content calendar templates with a quick online search, but a traditional printed cat or firefighter calendar will also work just fine.

5.) Have Fun! Seriously, have some fun with it and do your best to be you. Your readers and followers will appreciate it, and it will make your content better in the long run.

Happy Tweeting!

Disclaimer: Before you go down this path, it’s important to understand FINRA’s regulations surrounding the use of social media, as well as any guidelines provided by your broker-dealer or RIA, if applicable.

Dan_Martin_Headshot
Dan Martin is the director of marketing for the Financial Planning Association®, the principal professional organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP®) professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. He is an award-winning author with a diverse financial services industry background in marketing and communications. He earned a journalism degree from the University of Denver and his MBA in marketing from the Daniels College of Business.