1 Comment

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.


1 Comment

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.


2 Comments

Use the ‘Mere Exposure Effect’ to Attract More Clients

We tend to like people we’re most familiar with.

According to this Social Psych Online article, the phenomenon of liking something or someone after we become more familiar with them is called the mere exposure effect.

Basically, the more you see or hear something, the you more you like it. A 1992 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrated just how far mere exposure can go. Scientific American noted also that people tend to like people they share things in common with.

Researchers had four different women with similar appearances attend a college class numerous times throughout the semester. One woman didn’t go to any classes, another attended five times, another attended 10 times and the last one attended 15 times. The women simply sat in on the lecture, not interacting with any students.

At the end of the semester, students were asked to evaluate the women on several scales, one of which was physical attractiveness. They rated the woman who’d been to the class 15 times more positively than the other three, Social Psych Online reported.

How Can Advisers use Mere Exposure to Their Advantage?

So just by being around others more often, you have a greater chance that they will view you more favorably. This underlies many of the tenets of networking; the more you put yourself out there, the more others will view you more favorably over time.

But, you don’t have to physically be present for mere exposure to work. Advertisers like McDonalds discovered this long ago, and have been using it to their advantage for decades, as noted in this Science Blogs post.

By sharing information about yourself online, being active on social media and participating in online discussions, others will come to feel as if they know you and will be more likely to feel that they like you.

Twenty over Ten notes that you can nurture this even more if you go one step further and share a bit of personal information about yourself. Write blog posts or articles that include personal anecdotes and stories, which open the door to building rapport and allowing prospective clients to find things about you that they might share in common.

10 Blog Post Ideas to Write and Share to Speed Up the Mere Exposure Process

Every blog post you write is a chance for readers to learn more about you. We know that consumers make choices based not just on services, but based on who they ultimately think they’d enjoy working with.

1.) “Meet the Team”

A “meet the team” post is essentially a blog post that revolves around a Q&A session with you or one of your colleagues. Sharing a glimpse into that team member’s life allows your readers to get a better understanding of the individual and who they are as a person. For example, some questions the team could answer are:

  • What gets you up and going every morning?
  • Where is your favorite place you’ve ever been on vacation, and why?
  • What books are on your nightstand?
  • What inspired you to become a financial adviser?

2.) “5 of My All-Time Favorite Books”

Any favorite books? Articles? TV Show Commentaries? The information we are drawn to and consume says a lot about us. Listing these out in a blog post allows readers to get a sense of who you are, and gives you a great talking point. Sharing this post on social media and asking others to share their top five favorite books also fosters discussion—and you may even reach a new audience of prospective clients.

3.) “Financial News I Read Every Day (That Is Worth Your Time Too)”

Similar to example No. 2, you can share the financial news you read to keep up with daily events. Although it is more geared toward finance, this is still a great way of connecting with your audience because it shares a glimpse into your interests and fosters a sense of care. You are staying up-to-date and educated on behalf of your clients—and this blog post would show that.

4.) “A Peek at Our Own Family Budget”

In this type of post, you can share a glimpse into how you and your family budget and save, and the trade-offs you make personally. For instance, you may want to specifically gear toward a scenario like: “Simple Do’s and Don’ts to Saving for a House” if you are building a client base of millennials. You can discuss the uphills, the downhills, the peaks and the trials to budgeting. We are all instinctively drawn to seeing how others live and these types of post naturally pique our interest.

5.) “Conversation with a Current Client”

For this type of blog post, talk to the client in advance to get permission and ensure them they will remain anonymous. Essentially, this blog post should let prospective clients know the type of situations you and your firm deal with when it comes to handling clients and their financial situation. For instance, you might have a series of “Conversations with a Client”—one client in their 30s, one in their 40s, etc.—that revolve around the biggest questions clients have in those age groups. Or your approach could be “Conversation with a Client Business Owner,” etc.

6.) “My Family Vacation”

Have you taken a recent vacation? Talk about how you handled the budget for vacationing, along with friendly travel tips. For instance, you may have some great recommendations for the resort you stayed at, or the beaches you visited. As we all look forward to our vacations and usually spend a good deal of time investigating which locations/resorts/experiences will be the best value and most interesting, your readers will appreciate your own tips.

7.) “Budgeting for Big Life Events”

With weddings, holidays and many of life’s big events, money is always an important factor. In this blog post, you might share how to effectively save and budget for such events. Because the post will be in real-time (especially with holidays) your chances of getting more reads are definitely higher. For example, a post titled “Budget Friendly Tips for Holiday Spending” around November is sure to get many reads!

8.) “The Top 5 Tools I Use to Run My Business (That are Worth Every Penny)”

In this post, you might share the tools you use to run your business. Are there any tech tools that you couldn’t live without on a daily basis? Perhaps there is a scheduler app to schedule appointments? Or you might use Google Drive to share documents? By sharing your top tools, your readers can get a glimpse into your daily practice and immediately feel more connected with tools they may even potentially use themselves.

9.) “How I Save Money Every Day in the Simplest Ways”

Do you cut back on your daily Starbucks coffee and make your own at home? Do you pack your lunch instead of ordering out? Share a glimpse into your daily spending habits, and how your small trade-offs result in large savings. This type of post provides inspiration to your reader, where he or she may even begin to pick up your own smart saving habits. And since you often ask your own clients to track and take note of their own spending, this is a great “practice what you preach” post.

10.) “How I De-stress from the Financial Markets”

Being in the financial industry is isn’t always easy. With fluctuating markets and worrisome clients, it can even be extremely stressful. What daily rituals do you practice to stay at peace? How do you de-stress? Similarly to No. 9, this type of post can also provide plenty of inspiration to your readers, who may also have high-stress jobs.

Sam_Russell_Headshot
Samantha Russell is the director of sales and marketing at Twenty Over Ten, a web development company that creates tailored, mobile-responsive websites for financial advisers. She’s spent the last five years empowering advisers to market themselves effectively online using digital tools. With a background in marketing, social media and public relations, Russell focuses on helping business owners understand the value of their online presence and connecting them with the marketing tools and digital solutions they need to effectively manage their brand and engage clients.