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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!

Will Financial Brokers be replaced by Robots?

Does it sound like a mad idea to you? Well it shouldn’t, there’s even a name for them now – Robo-advisers. The question is not if they’ll eventually have a role in the Irish market, it’s when will they have a role and to what extent will they disrupt the traditional advice models.

So for starters, what is robo-advice? It is using technology to carry out the advice process within an overall investment management proposition. It’s related to the advice part, not the management online of an investment portfolio, as that capability has of course been around for years. It’s suggested that there is a swathe of the population that may be disenchanted with the traditional advice model and want to be more in control of the process themselves, via the use of technology. It’s already making strides in other markets – for example a robo-adviser firm in the US called Wealthfront now has more than $1bn in assets after only two and a half years in operation. They’ve doubled their assets in the last 9 months.

The robo-adviser model works by the investor completing a series of questions on a website, similar to those that you ask at a meeting with a client – their investment objectives, age, time frames, assets, risk profile. The website then instantly runs a programme that produces an appropriately diversified portfolio for the investor, made up of passive funds and ETF’s. Once the portfolio is implemented, the other activities carried out by an adviser (rebalancing, annual reports etc.) are also carried out by the robo-adviser.

So are robo-advisers a real threat for financial planners and financial brokers or can they be ignored? Well the jury’s definitely out, so here are a few thoughts to help you make up your own mind.

Why you can’t ignore them

  • Cost: Websites can typically work for a lower price than humans. So robo-advice will be attractive to investors whose main aim is to reduce costs.
  • Convenience: Investors can get advice without leaving their desks, at a time completely of their own choosing.
  • Dissatisfaction with existing broker: Some investors are dissatisfied with advice they’ve got in the past. They see this as a preferred way forward.
  • Technology: The technology is (or at least appears to be) there now to enable people to get the advice they are looking for.
  • Attractive to younger investors: These models are potentially more attractive to younger investors who are happy carrying out many others aspects of their lives online. Will they view investment advice any differently?
  • Attractive to smaller investors: As financial brokers struggle to deliver their proposition profitably to investors with smaller funds, this may not pose the same problem for robo-advisers.
  • The missing link: The advice piece was the one area missing in terms of portfolio management. Robo advisers will enable investors to fully manage their portfolios online.
  • Scale: One of the biggest challenges for financial brokers is to deliver a top-class advice proposition to large numbers of clients. This is not a challenge for robo-advisers.

So is it game over for traditional financial brokers. To my mind, absolutely not! While there might be fewer arguments “for the defence” below, these are very powerful reasons.

Why financial brokers will always win

  • It’s all about the discussion: We only have to look at the risk profiling process. I think many financial brokers agree that none of the systems available are perfect, that the discussion between adviser and client is equally important to bottom-out the client’s real risk profile.
  • Tasks can be templated, but people cannot: We’re just not that straightforward as a species! Research tells us time and time again that the full personalisation of advice is a key requirement of investors.
  • When markets tumble: Who do you call for reassurance and advice when markets tumble? I call my financial broker, unless he’s got to me first! No such luxury with robo-advisers.
  • A major change in your life: Who will help you make sense of the impacts on your portfolio of major changes in your life – a death, a sudden and serious illness, loss of job etc. All of these need a friendly face to keep you on track. Robo-advisers don’t offer that.
  • It’s not all about portfolio growth: Financial brokers give so much valuable advice around the edges of a portfolio – they will consider the impact of taxes, inheritance planning and protection needs. All very valuable and not on offer from robo-advisers.
  • You can’t ignore emotions: Investing can make you feel exhilarated, angry, reassured, doubting! Financial brokers play a very important counselling role, one that robo-advisers will never play.

I for one can’t imagine being willing to pass on the value that I get from my financial broker. Yes the fees may be slightly higher than those available online, however I think they’re worth every cent in terms of the reassurance that I get, the opportunity to “run things by” him and the sense of having someone in my corner. I won’t be moving!

Do you view robo-advisers as a real threat or are they on your radar at all?

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.

Bowl your Clients over with your Content!

One of the main marketing challenges faced by many of the financial advice businesses that I meet, is around the production of good quality content that will really help them engage their clients. Here are a few thoughts to help you overcome this challenge.

Be Organised & Committed

The secret ingredient! We’ve all faced that looming deadline for “my turn” to produce that article we’d promised to go into a newsletter or as an update on the website. It’s tough when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! The good news is that you’re not alone, this is the single biggest challenge faced by everyone tasked with writing content.

To avoid this, set up a “Content Calendar” for the year. Get all the potential contributors into a room for an hour or so and brainstorm loads of article topics. As potential subject areas come to mind, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

What will this achieve? First of all, it gets you started each month – you know what you’re going to be writing about. Secondly and as important, as new ideas come along over the year, they get inserted ahead of other articles that mightn’t be as strong. So now you’re driving up the quality of your topics. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective about what you write. Hard to believe but it happens, every time you have a Content Calendar.

And once you start, stay committed to the process. Don’t stop now!

Be Relevant

Your audience are far more likely to engage with your content if it is relevant to them. So as you develop out your content topics, spend some time thinking about them from your audience’s perspective. The latest developments in investment software or some obscure technical point about pensions might be of interest to you. But your clients probably won’t give a hoot!

They want to know about topics that will impact their lives, so put yourself in their shoes and develop your content with them in mind. Of course you need to know who your audience is before you can do this. Are they business owners, professionals or are you focused on personal protection etc. for families? If you have very diverse audiences, you might need to target specific content at specific people. All pretty straightforward to do with the wonders of modern technology!

Be an Educator, not a Salesman

Your audience will switch off if you spend your time pushing sales messages at them. At the end of the day, they will see your content as simply an ongoing sales campaign and will disengage.  Add value by writing about financial issues or challenges that affect them in their lives, in which you can exhibit your expertise. Aim to be seen as an expert, an educator, someone with valuable insights that will help your clients, rather than a salesperson.

To make this easier for yourself, write about topics you know. This means that you won’t have to spend loads of time researching topics, and this familiarity with the subject will help you write better content too!

You see the world of marketing has changed. Rather than trying to constantly interrupt people with messages to sell, sell, sell; successful advice businesses are establishing themselves as thought leaders, as educators and as experts. So then when potential clients at their own time of choosing have a financial need, they will naturally gravitate towards these advice firms that they already see as valuable.

Be Alert

Great topics to write about will emerge from a range of sources. Presentations you attend, conversations you have, comments from other clients. Once your antenna is up, you’ll start to identify nuggets from what other people say – their challenges, their areas of interest, the issues they want to read about. So write about these!

Also when reading a newspaper or surfing the web, you’ll come across loads of topics of potential interest to your audience. Put your own spin on these topics and write about them too.

Be Brief

Be expert but also be brief. The purpose of your content is to engage your audience, not to demonstrate that you know every intimate detail of a topic. Typically an article of 750 to 1,000 words can be read (and written!) quickly and will perform well in search results. If you only have 500 (good) words though, go with that – don’t pad it out to get to 750 words.

Make your content easy to read too. Use headings and/or bullet points to make it easier for the reader. If the topic is just not capable of being explained in anything close to 1,000 words, break it out into a series of articles. And now the challenge next month has just got easier…

Be Found

What has this got to do with Content? Well, one of the key drivers of strong performance in Google search results is original, good quality content. While this might not have been a driver behind your efforts to produce a regular stream of good content, it’s a very valuable bonus!

At the end of the day, I reckon the initial thought of producing a lot of content is far more daunting than the reality! I hope these thoughts help you with your challenge.






image courtesy of Flickr / Mohammad ALNajdi

How does a Financial Broker rank higher on Google searches?

Many financial brokers see an effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy as the Holy Grail. Consumers search for a financial broker. You appear at the top of the Google search results. The consumer clicks on your website, likes what they see and picks up the phone to you. Oh, if life was only that simple!

The first point you need to realise with SEO is that you are actually pitching the quality of your website to Google rather than the consumers. At the end of the day, Google’s success as a search engine is dependent on them delivering the best results for the search term that is input. If you search for a product or service and the results don’t deliver what you’re looking for, eventually you’ll start to use a different search engine. So Google constantly move the goalposts, by developing new algorithms to ensure the most relevant results are delivered.

Long gone are the days where you simply loaded your pages with the keywords that you wanted to be associated with (pensions, investments, protection etc.). In fact in the early days of search your content didn’t need to make any sense, it just needed to feature the keywords lots of times. These day are thankfully long gone!

So how do you climb the Google rankings today?

 

Set your pages up correctly

This is not the be all and end all any more, but still important. You need to ensure that as pages are added to your website, that they are structured properly. This is usually made easy now by in-built SEO packages but some of the main features to ensure are

  • Your URLs (web page addresses) must be relevant
  • You must use the correct Headings structure
  • You need to give the page a relevant title and description for search results

 

It’s all about content

Content is the juice behind an effective SEO strategy. Original, relevant, fresh content regularly published through a blog / news section on your website is central to successful SEO. Remember that Google want to point searchers to the most relevant websites. Relevancy is achieved by demonstrating expertise and authority in the keyword area, on an ongoing basis through the production of a consistent stream of quality content. Establish yourself as a voice to be listened to and a thought leader in the keyword area, and Google will reward you by lifting you up the search rankings!

 

Social media activity is key

Once you produce great content, the next step is to get it out in front of as many eyes as possible. So lead people to your content, using all the routes available to you. These are primarily via email marketing and also via your social media channels.

Google reward you for this when your network then endorse your content by “liking” it, commenting or better still, by sharing the content with their own network. Google are paying increasing heed to content being shared by 3rd parties, as they view this as an endorsement of the quality and authority of the content.

 

Don’t ignore Google+

Most people don’t want to hear this as the last thing they want is yet another social media channel to manage. However Google+ is not going away, it is slowly but surely gaining in relevance as a channel. One of the main reasons for this is the weight that Google gives to activity on Google+. Sharing content on Google+ and gaining endorsement from a wide number of followers will really help your performance in search results.

 

Establish your Google+ Authorship

Google have introduced a new feature on Google+ called Authorship. It enables you to establish yourself as the confirmed author of your content. To do this, I reckon the best way for most financial advisers is to talk to their web developer who will be able to set this up for you.

The benefits of actually doing it are twofold. First of all, it helps your performance in search results as it is another positive indicator of your credibility as a relevant voice and secondly, it improves how your search results are displayed. Rather than a simple results line, it will display your photo and name too. This in turn may well help your chances of your link being clicked – compare the difference in the 2 links below.

Search results

 

So, as you can see, improving your ranking in search results is no longer simply about stuffing your content with keywords. Google is full of smart people and we also need to be smart to gain their approval!

I hope some of these points help you in improving your search results. If you’ve any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below.