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Letting your communications drift

So you finally decided to start sending out a regular email newsletter or regularly updating the blog on your website. Well done to you! The first issue of your newsletter is full of promises about your new newsletter keeping clients and other contacts informed and educated. And then the newsletter delivers this in spades! Roll on to a month or two later and the next edition is due to go out. You’re busy, it’s the middle of pensions season and the markets are in turmoil. You just about manage to cobble the newsletter together, everyone moaning about not having enough time. And then that’s it, the next edition never see the light of day…

Unfortunately this happens a little too frequently among financial advice firms. So apart from a bit of a gnawing sense of failure within your own firm, what messages does letting your communications drift say to your audience?

You don’t have an opinion

Your clients and prospective clients want to hear your opinions about current events. Whether they are about how they should (or shouldn’t!) react in the current market turmoil, your views of any changing legislation that will impact the personal finance world or indeed developments within the life and pensions market. Your opinions may reassure investors, allow you to demonstrate your expertise and show that you have your finger on the pulse.

Of course if you’re not sending out these opinions, exactly the opposite applies. And then your clients don’t know where you stand on these topics. And of course then there is the very real risk that they will find their way on to the email database of another Financial Broker who provides them with this expert opinion all of the time. Who will they want to deal with – the person with their finger on the pulse or the person without?

You’ve run out of ideas

Of course email newsletters also offer you the opportunity to educate your clients and prospects. You can remind them of the value of getting advice from a Financial Broker, set out the benefits of having a risk appropriate investment portfolio, remind them of the importance of having the right income protection plan in place and how to ensure that their legacy on death is not a worrying tax burden for their loved ones.

But then when you stop, have you demonstrated all that you know, that you’ve shown the breadth of your knowledge? So what about the topics that are worrying your clients that you haven’t covered? You don’t want them thinking that maybe you just don’t have knowledge in that particular area…

At the end of the day, your clients can be a rich source of content ideas. Ask them for topics that they would like covered and then write about them!

You just don’t care

Of course this is the real worry… that your clients will think that you simply have lost interest and don’t really care about your marketing and your business. That you have simply slowed down a bit and are coasting…Of course this will set off alarm bells in their heads about your approach to your wider business, your clients and their personal financial affairs. Are you just punching in time there too?

At best, your clients might just see all of this as a bit unprofessional – starting a marketing initiative that you’re unable to continue. Is this how you want them to view your business?

StepChange provides content to Financial Brokers who don’t have time to write it themselves and a newsletter service to manage the whole process of sending out regular fully personalised and branded communications to your clients. And we’ll deliver these on time, every time!

Do you want your Marketing to Work? Get the Brief right!

Many Financial Brokers are now starting to turn their attention towards 2015 and as part of this, some are reviewing their marketing material.

There are probably two ways to approach this. The first is to appoint a marketing professional (cough, cough – such as myself!) to remove the headache and to deliver the particular project for you. The alternative approach is to roll up the sleeves, write the content and arrange the design and production yourself. Irrespective of which path you decide to follow, I suggest that one of the main determinants of success is the quality of the brief that you give to anyone who you engage in this process, such as a consultant, a graphic designer, advertising or PR agency etc.

This might not appear to be the most exciting topic in the world, but if you don’t want to waste your marketing budget, it’s a really important process to get right. So what should a strong marketing brief contain?

Clear Objectives

First of all, you need to set out in crystal clear fashion what are the objectives of the particular marketing project. Are you looking to raise brand awareness, to sell a product or to educate etc.? Don’t assume that any 3rd party involved in the process will instinctively know what you trying to achieve. Instead, remove any doubt and set out clearly your objectives.

Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach with your marketing communication? Think about this across a range of demographics;

  • Males or Females
  • Age groups
  • Geographical areas
  • Socio-economic groups
  • Occupational groups or sectors of the economy

The clearer you are about who your communication is aimed at, the better the chances of it actually getting picked up and noticed by that group. Because people will engage with it if they believe that it is specifically aimed at them.

Tone of voice

Think through the tone of voice that the audience are likely to best connect with. Should the communication be written in corporate style language or should it be written in informal “folksy” language? This needs to be considered carefully as the wrong tone of voice will immediately alienate the audience.

Their current perceptions of the product or service

It is always a good idea to capture the current perceptions of the product or service that is being marketed among the target audience. If you can clearly demonstrate that you know what the audience think of your product today and build your message from this position, this will help to build your audience’s engagement.

The desired perception of the product or service

This is where are you trying to get to. Is it a position of the audience seeing improvement, in building greater levels of trust, in seeing you as the best in the marketplace? Be realistic about your desired perceived positioning and then capture it clearly so that everyone understands where you’re trying to move the audience to.

Clarify the benefits of the product or service

These are obviously required, but spend time capturing these in detail. There may be an “angle” in one of the more obscure benefits that a creative person might spot as a great hook for your target audience. So list these out and explain in detail why the target audience values the benefits.

Design

First of all and similar to the tone of voice, some design styles will land better with your target audience that others, so clearly identify whether you are looking for a sophisticated, corporate design or something less formal and potentially even humorous for example.

The other area to consider in relation to design is the linkage back to your own brand. Provide all of the necessary assets – your logo and contact details are obvious ones. But also provide any colour schemes that you generally use and of course if you actually have brand guidelines, provide these.

Audience Reaction

The next question to consider is what you want your audience to think and feel as a result of your communication. Should they be enlightened? Should they be scared by some stark facts you’ve put out there? Should they be questioning their existing approach to the problem at hand, maybe questioning the approach that they are currently taking to their investment portfolio?

Calls to Action

And finally, what do you want the audience to do? Are you aiming that they will ring you, or visit your website or download some information? Maybe you’re looking for them to sign up to a newsletter or other communication? It’s really important to be crystal clear in your call to action, to give yourself the very best chance of success.

These are the areas that will make up a very strong brief for a 3rd party working on your behalf. Put the time into getting the brief right, it will pay back many times over in the long run.

How do you get more PR Coverage?

With the huge attention being focused on social media these days, some of the more traditional marketing tools can get forgotten. Which is a terrible shame, as many of them continue to be extremely relevant for Financial Brokers today. One of these is coverage in local or national newspapers.

PR coverage is still an excellent medium for brokers. Many of the national newspapers and indeed some of the local papers still have widely read personal finance sections, with some very credible business journalists covering a range or topics that regularly feature in the advice given by Financial Brokers. These journalists are constantly on the lookout for original news stories and thought provoking opinion pieces, and there is a relatively narrow cohort of financial brokers who help them fill their columns, gaining really valuable coverage for themselves.

So how do you break into this group and establish yourself as a valued source of content by journalists? Well here are a few thoughts…

Think of the Readers

Don’t see PR as a sales route. That’s not to say there can’t be subliminal sales messages in there. But a journalist won’t react to an advertisement for your business! It needs to be “newsy”. Your pitch for coverage needs to be about a development in the market that will affect consumers, the impact of changes in legislation on consumers, maybe a new angle for consumers to consider about their personal financial affairs. Or maybe you’re about to hire a big team of advisers – now that’s a good story too!!

Know the journalist’s preferences

So you have a story that you’re very sure is interesting to the population at large. The next critical step is to point it in the direction of the right publication and individual journalist. Many a mistake has been made by just picking up the phone to the first national journalist that comes to mind. Unfortunately this may result in your story being taken and then given only a tiny feature, if at all.

Instead, start reading the business columns carefully yourself. Get a feel for the type of content that individual journalists write about and also use from outside sources. This should help you decide who offers the best opportunity of you achieving the coverage that your story deserves.

Make your story unique and interesting

Your news story or opinion piece needs to have a novel twist to it. It needs to pique the readers’ interest. You also have to make sure that it’s timely; it can’t be old news! So spend time working on communicating the real difference in your story – as this is your hook in getting the story placed.

Then add some colour to your story. Include some quotes from the leader / public face of your organisation  – these should be written in a conversational style, as if they were actually spoken and recorded.

Finally, think about the placing of your story. Are you going to issue a blanket press release and hope that a few publications will pick it up and use it? If so, your story had better be extremely strong! The alternative is to give the story to a single journalist, and aim to get them to cover it extensively as they were given exclusivity with it.

Be concise

No matter what, keep your story brief. Have a clear headline that will encourage the journalist to at least scan your article. Then get to the point quickly. Journalists are not going to have the time to sift through padding to get to the nub of the story. Help them get there quickly!

Make it Easy for the story to be carried

Once a journalist is interested, you then want to make it as easy as possible for them to use the story. Have ready any other information that they might want. Start by providing them with a short bio of yourself and your company. Make a photo available too – if this is a little bit unusual or quirky, all the better! Be available also for interview at a time of the journalist’s choosing as they might have some follow-on questions. Make sure to include all your contact details.

Be resilient

How do you best pitch a story to journalists? There’s no doubt that building up relationships over time is extremely important. At the end of the day, this is where a PR agency will add value, as they will have already built up strong relationships with the relevant journalists and know how best to approach them. But that’s not to say you can’t do it yourself… you’re just going to have to be willing to put in some hard yards, building up relationships with individual journalists. And this might take time, so resilience is needed! But there are many Financial Brokers who have proved that this can be done!

A journalist may not bite now – but if your name keeps cropping up in front of them in relation to interesting stories or angles, you just may be someone they’ll contact when they’ve a slow news week.

So “traditional” PR can play a really important role in your overall marketing mix and can really help you to become recognised as an expert by your clients. It takes a lot of work, but if successful will deliver a really valuable dividend.

How are you going to exit your business?

This is a question that continuously exercises all business owners. How are they going to leverage their business to support their desired lifestyle when they want to stop working? This article explores some of the main areas you might consider to increase your chances of achieving your end goal in relation to your business.

What are your goals?

First of all, think about what is important to you in terms of exiting your business. Do you have a particular timeframe in mind? Are you looking to “get out early” and maybe have a long, but relatively modest retirement? Or are you looking to work hard well into your 60’s (or later) and then sell your business to fund a more prosperous retirement? If so, it’s important to be working towards a definite end date. Or are you looking to build a business that will continue after you’re gone, possibly headed up by one of your children, a business that may also support you in retirement?

These are really important decisions to think about now, as they will influence what’s important in achieving your goals. Will it be all about maximising the value of the business on a certain date in the future or are you trying to build extremely deep relationships between your clients and your business that will endure after you’ve exited?

Know what your business is

Now you’ve got to be really honest with yourself. What do you have to sell? Is it actually a business or simply a consultancy service? For some Financial Brokers, they’ve built up a thriving business in which they are the conductor of the orchestra, where the value is not based purely on their own presence in the business. These businesses are obviously very attractive to potential buyers. Then there are other businesses in which the value all revolves around the business owner. Take the owner out of the equation and what is there? While these businesses may offer a nice lifestyle to the owner, they are a far more challenging proposition when it comes to trying to sell.

If you own a business that is based on you as the key asset and you have ambitions to sell it one day, you need to start thinking about how you will develop some saleable value within your business.

Where is the value in your business?

So let’s assume that there is potential value in your business, outside of your own input and that your aim is to actually sell your business. Now it’s time to try and maximise the value of all of your assets. These might include;

  • Financial Assets: An obvious one to start. The main asset that a prospective purchaser will pay for is the future income stream of your business.
  • Persistency: The next thing a buyer will look for is the persistency of your business as this will be a key influencer of the potential future income stream. This will give them a sense of the quality of the “book” of clients that they are buying.
  • Brand: if your brand is well known and seen as a trustworthy brand, there is definite value in this for a buyer.
  • Staff: If you have a team of highly qualified, revenue generating people that will remain in the business, they are a very valuable asset to the business.
  • Market Positioning: If you have a recognised presence in some attractive market segments and niche areas, these may open up new opportunities to a potential buyer.
  • Operational Excellence: If your service proposition, compliance and data management (among other) areas are very strong, these offer great opportunities for a buyer to leverage off the capabilities of your business.

Who will facilitate your exit?

This is another factor that you need to start thinking about well in advance. Who is likely to enable your exit from the business? Once you’ve identified the profile of your potential buyer, you can then work on making your business proposition as attractive as possible to them.

If your aim is that your business will continue with a new leader / owner of the business, you need to start identifying who your potential successors will be. Do you have fellow directors who will buy you out? Or do you have younger, ambitious individuals within the business who might want to take over after you’ve gone? If so, you need to identify these people and start putting in place structures and interim incentives to retain them, and to make it attractive for both you and them for a buyout to happen in the future.

If an external buyer is your preferred route, you need to start identifying particular candidates. Would your business be attractive to current competitors, either in your market segments or geographical area? How would your clients react to this? Are there firms trying to build presence in a niche where you already enjoy a strong presence?

And then, how do you alert potential buyers? Is it a quiet word or a public tender (which will alert your existing clients)? Or can you use the broker networks to gather interest?

How will they pay

Of course one of your main areas of interest will be how much you will get for your business and how the consideration will be paid! Will it be a straight cash deal or will there be some tie-ins into the future in the form of earn outs etc. And how will your firm be valued – are buyers likely to look at recurring income, profits or future cash flows? And which of these works best for you?

Lots of questions to consider! Now is the time to start thinking about them. The more thinking and preparation you do well ahead of your exit date, the more fit for purpose your sale proposition will be. And all of that is likely to result in a higher price for you.

What are the critical areas that you believe need to be considered when selling a financial advisory firm?

Are you still a Salesman?

I was with an adviser recently who ticked me off on a couple of occasions when I mentioned the word selling. He contended that he is an adviser and not a salesman. I say that you need to be both…but not like the guy in the picture!

There’s nothing wrong with selling!

For some people, selling is a dirty word. Particularly so when you are dealing with financial services. That’s understandable I believe when it comes to mis-selling, however this is an experience being suffered thankfully by fewer and fewer clients today. Financial advisers have continued to raise their game, industry standards have increased, and compliance oversight has increased too – all of these factors resulting in fewer incidents of mis-selling. Yes, there have been a few high profile cases (the latest one involving a well known stockbroking firm) unfortunately in recent years that again undermine trust, but these are not representative of the market in the main.

In fact these cases increase the need for selling! Not of financial products though, instead there’s a need to get out and sell the value of doing business with you!

Selling is exchanging

The Wikipedia definition of selling is; “Selling is offering to exchange an item of value for a different item”. A key part of your job is to convince your clients to exchange your item (advice, guidance, expertise) for their item (commission, fee). So selling is not passé. The financial advisory business model still needs selling.

The old days of “the insurance man” out selling products are thankfully long gone. This was where the seller was very transactional focused, having access to a very narrow range of (poor) products and their role was to convince people to buy these products, whether they really needed / wanted them or not.

The difference today of course is that the process starts and ends with the client. The transaction (if needed at all) is only a means to an end, a mechanism which helps clients to meet their own specific financial objectives. The value that the client gains is the advice, leading to the optimal product choice, rather than the product itself. Of course nothing stays the same as well, so advisers also need to sell the benefits of ongoing monitoring to ensure product adjustments are made as required to help the client to achieve their objectives.

Selling is necessary

Independent financial advisers provide a really valuable service to their clients. However prospective clients who haven’t experienced your service and seen the value being gained, may still be living in a world of mistrust of all financial advisers. So you’ve got to convince them otherwise and sell them the value that they will derive from having an expert on their side of the table, guiding them through the complexities of the world of personal financial planning.

To do this, you need to have developed a very robust proposition for your clients and then be able to communicate this in a very engaging way. If you can’t do this, they won’t see the value that they are getting and of course there is no way that they are going to part with their hard earned cash to buy your services.

Don’t be ashamed of selling, it’s a very noble pursuit when carried out with the right intentions! You can be very proud of the product (advice) that you provide and of the value that clients get from exchanging value with you. So get out and shout it from the rooftops!

Segmentation, targeting & positioning – fundamentals of adviser marketing

Going back through the eons of time, I can recall a number of the key marketing principles that were ground into me time and time again; the importance of research and knowing your customer, understanding buyer behaviour and the role of the four P’s (product, price, place and promotion) among others.

However in my day-to-day work with financial advisers today, the principles that I find myself returning to more and more to address the challenges of advisers are Segmentation, Targeting & Positioning (STP). Many advisers today recognise the importance of these strategies as they attempt to make best use of their limited marketing resources, be they time or money or both.

Some definitions

So to start this 60-second marketing lesson, here is a definition of each, as set out by Philip Kotler, the grandfather of marketing education.

  • Market Segmentation: Dividing a market into distinct groups of buyers with different needs, characteristics or behaviour, who might require separate products or marketing mixes.
  • Market Targeting: The process of evaluating each market segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more segments to enter.
  • Market Positioning: Arranging for a product (or service) to occupy a clear, distinctive and desirable place relative to competing products (or services) in the minds of target consumers.

What’s happening in the financial adviser market in Ireland?

Many financial advisers realise that a “one size fits all” proposition just doesn’t cut it any more. Either for the client who is looking for more than a generic service, or for the adviser who cannot profitably or successfully deliver the same service to all clients irrespective of their value, characteristics, needs etc.

As a result, many advisers are undertaking segmentation exercises, analysing their client bases and potential markets, most often by value. Others are also segmenting but by different dimensions – some are focussing on SME’s, others on specific professional groups.

A smaller number are then going on to specifically target sub-sections of their client bases and target markets at the expense of other groups – for example focusing all of their attention on clients of a certain value. In this case, some are even offloading their lower value clients to truly target their desired groups. Others are identifying specific occupations that they will target and also those that they won’t. And then sticking to this!

Finally, a relatively small number are taking that final step of actually positioning their business and all of their communications to appeal directly to their target market, even at the risk of alienating other potential customers.

Why STP is so important for financial advisers today

It’s this final step of having the courage to position yourself within a specific target market (or even a niche) that is a step too far for many advisers. They struggle with the thinking that while business might be quite tough today; it might actually be easier if you narrow your focus! How does this make sense?

If you offer a generic service to clients, they will recognise this. They won’t feel any particular connection with what you do, as it is not targeted at them. Instead if you have a clear target market and all of your communications are aimed with that group specifically in mind, the customers within that group will connect with your messages and are more likely to view you as a specialist who is out to serve their specific needs.

There are lots of very good financial advisers operating in the Irish market. At the end of the day, how are you going to stand apart from the crowd if you offer a very generic service?

Is a niche positioning viable in the Irish market?

My view is that it is 100% viable. Indeed you can build an extremely successful business based on a niche strategy! I’m not saying that it’s easy – you need to first of all very clearly and carefully segment your potential markets. You then need to decide the markets that you will target and have a clear strategy for building presence and scale in these markets. And finally you need to relentlessly build your positioning and re-affirm it time and time again.

I’m a believer and would argue that I practice what I preach in this area! There are 1,000’s of marketing consultants out there but not many that position their business specifically around meeting the needs of the financial adviser community. I’m really happy that I’ve pitched my tent there, attempting to meet the needs of a community that I admire and enjoy working with! Thank you all for welcoming me into your world and helping me to grow my business! I passionately believe that you can do the same within your chosen markets.

Do you have any views on this topic? Is a niche strategy viable? What are the challenges you face in running with this approach? All your comments as ever are very welcome.