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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!

Is email finished as a marketing tool for financial advisers?

When working with financial advice firms on their marketing plans, the value of email marketing always raises its head. Is it effective? Is it being replaced by social media? Is email passé?

I firmly believe that email marketing is a really important element of the overall marketing mix for financial advisers. It can be extremely effective if done well and can offer you a very targeted approach to reach your clients. It’s not a case of either / or in relation to social media, it’s a case of both! And it’s certainly not passé, it’s still probably the most essential communications tool for businesses today. Finally, if you go down the road of email newsletters, they offer you unparalleled feedback in relation to the engagement of your audiences.

 

You reach the inbox

While people sometimes (not that often in truth) complain about email overload, the key feature of email marketing is that you do actually land in the inboxes of your database. And generally as a result, at a minimum your subject line will be read. Even better, if your audience saw value in your previous content, the chances are that they will actually open and read your message. This is a big difference between it and social media, which is undoubtedly also an extremely valuable medium, but one where a lot of your messages can be missed due to the constant stream of messages being delivered.

You have an existing relationship

If you (legitimately) have the email addresses for your database, you already have a relationship at some level with the recipients. Therefore your messages won’t be viewed like a cold call approach; instead they will be seen as coming from a trusted source. However this proximity of your relationship brings an added challenge. If you consistently issue poor quality content, your email recipients will no longer want to receive your emails. This obviously may actually damage your overall relationship.

So a key point is that you don’t start spamming your database with irrelevant messages, as this practise will really undermine your relationship.

It’s another audience to reach

You want your marketing messages to reach as many people as possible. You deliver the messages verbally in person, potentially display them in and around your office, post them on your website to display to people who land on your site and share them out to your social media connections. Your email database is another audience, yes there is overlap with some of the other groups mentioned above, but this is another really important audience for you.

It’s low / no cost

While email newsletters delivered through your normal email platform are free, email newsletters delivered through reputable platforms (such as this one) do incur charges. However the charges are low when you consider all the benefits, particularly the feedback available, which is covered below.

You get unparalleled feedback

Email newsletters offer amazing feedback on the success or otherwise of your marketing campaigns. With advertising, direct mail and PR activities, it is notoriously difficult to measure your success at all. With online advertising, search and links to your website via social media, you get better information. With these media, you can see at least if your activities are driving people to your website.

However email newsletters deliver incredibly revealing feedback. Listed below are some of the metrics you can receive and how these are of use to you. One critical point to note is that these metrics can be tracked for your email list as a whole, but more importantly, you can look at these measures for each individual recipient too.

  • Delivery rates: You can see how many of your emails actually landed in the intended inboxes, revealing among other things the quality of your data.
  • Open rates: You can track how many people actually opened your email. This gives you a sense of whether recipients view your content as worthwhile / important to open.
  • Click Rates: You can then track how many people actually clicked on one or more articles. This reveals whether recipients were interested enough to actually read your content.
  • Individual article performance: You can see the open & click performance for each individual article. This gives you information on the type of content that resonates best with your audience.
  • Time spent: You can also see how long people are reading your content. Are they just scanning it or really spending time over your content?
  • Social interaction: You can see comments that people leave, if they “liked” your content and indeed if they shared any of your content.

This is extremely revealing information, particularly when examined at an individual subscriber level.

One adviser I’m working with had a protection client who opened 3 separate articles on investment topics a total of 14 times over the space of a few months. The adviser as a result focused his next review meeting on his investment expertise… and ended up securing a significant investment mandate with this client. Without the insights gained from his email newsletters, the adviser would not have known that this was an opportune button to press.

Also, as you review the statistics over time, the trends tell a very interesting story too – is your audience becoming more or less engaged, what sort of content should you focus on etc.?

 

Email marketing is still a really valuable and effective tool. It provides a level of certainty of the messages reaching the target market and exceptional feedback. Do you use email marketing? If so, what are your experiences? Please feel free to leave any comments below.

Is inbound (or content) marketing relevant for financial advisers?

You bet it is!! In fact inbound marketing, often called content marketing has become one of the key elements of the marketing mix for financial advisers today.

First of all, to explain what is meant by inbound or content marketing… Most importantly it is not about selling, instead it is about creating engagement with your target audiences. Marketing has evolved, the days are over of only trying to hit people over the head with a constant stream of sales messages through advertising, sales campaigns and other traditional sales methods. While these methods still have a place, consumers today want to be engaged, to be warmed up and to be made aware of why they should deal with you. This is where inbound marketing comes in.

The aim of this engagement is that your audiences will view you as someone worth listening to and in time, will ultimately seek you out for your professional expertise. This is done through inbound marketing – providing your target audiences with insights, ideas, tips and commentary in relation to personal finance matters. In time, this will make them far more open to your sales messages that will follow at the appropriate time.

This approach delivers a number of benefits for financial advisers. First of all, it enables you to stay in touch with existing clients by putting interesting insights in front of them and keeping them aware of the breadth of the product range that you can advise them about. It also helps you to establish yourself as a thought leader and someone to be listened to, among both prospective clients and the wider public at large. Finally fresh content on your website is a critical component of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.

So what are some of the elements of a great content marketing strategy?

 

Know your audience

Know who your target audience is. Is it local business owners, particular occupations or particular age groups? Who are you actually writing that new website page, blog or email newsletter for? Write for this audience about topics of interest to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they will want to read. If your audience find it interesting, they’ll view you as someone to listen to and will seek out your content…and hopefully in time your advice in relation to their personal finances.

 

Make sure it looks good

First of all, your content has to look engaging. Use a solid design and layout. I always tell financial advisers to “Think Apple”. For any of you who have bought an Apple product, you’ll know what I mean – the excellent quality, yet simple packaging that really impresses you as you unpack your phone or iPad. Your blog / newsletter should have the same impact. It should look very professional, enticing people to read it. At the end of the day, you want to portray the professionalism of your business in every single touch point with your clients, both online and offline.

 

Have a plan

I know from talking to some advisers (and from my own experience too) that lack of time to update the website or write a newsletter is often just an excuse for a lack of structure or ideas. There’s nothing worse than relying on your brain kicking into action every month or so when you’ve no idea what you’re going to write about! So what happens is you find something else to do and satisfy yourself that you’re just too busy to write the content.

The way to deal with this is to develop a content calendar for the year. Spend a few hours at the start of the year brainstorming ideas that you’ll write about, either as new pages on your website or as newsletter articles. Once you get a few ideas down, I promise that the creative juices will start to flow and more topics will come to mind. As potential topics come to mind now and at a later stage too, drop them into the calendar with a few bullet points of what the article might cover.

Now you’ll have a structure to ensure you don’t lose potential content ideas as you go along and it will also give you a starting point every time you sit down to write that article. You’ll actually find after a while that you’ve too much content and now can actually start being selective in what you write about.

 

What do you write about?

You’ll be glad to know that everyone sees this as one of the biggest hurdles! However, with a bit of thought, you will quickly realise how relatively easy it is to overcome this particular challenge. You absolutely need a helping hand to come up with the topics to write about. So here are a few sources that will help prompt some ideas for you.

First of all, listen to your clients. Probe them about areas of interest to them and areas where they they’d like more information. Are there particular challenges they face in relation to their personal finances where they would like some general advice? If you ask a number of customers, I’m confident that themes will start to emerge for you.

Secondly, keep your content schedule at the back of your mind when you go to a presentation, read the newspapers or indeed just go online.  These are each great sources of ideas, which can be used by you as prompts for you to develop your thoughts and position on – not to copy and paste but for you to set out your viewpoint and flavour on these topics.

Some financial advisers take a short cut and rather than writing their own content, they only share out links to other websites through LinkedIn and Twitter. This type of shared content has its place, however I think it can only sit alongside some original content that you are writing yourself. It’s great to share content that is of interest to your audience but they also want to know what you think! Using the content of other people, while better than doing nothing, is not enough on its own.

So yes, content marketing needs to be an integral part of the marketing plans of financial advisers today. Once you start to really engage your prospective and existing clients, they will soon realise your expertise and the added value you offer. In time, some of your audience will hopefully want to talk to you about their wider financial affairs…and their product needs.

Have you any thoughts in relation to content marketing? If you do, please leave them below.

Marketing tips for Financial Advisers

A number of financial advisers have said to me over the last few months something along the lines of, “I don’t have the time / resources to carry out a full marketing planning process at the moment, so what are the 4 or 5 quick wins that I should look to achieve in the meantime?” While I’m obviously an advocate of the benefits of a rigorous planning approach and have seen many times the value that it brings, here are a few ideas to work on.

 

Think Engagement

Audiences everywhere are tough. They don’t have time to be bored or brow beaten by orthodox, old-fashioned advertising. We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in & be what people are interested in.”

Craig Davis, Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson (world’s 4th largest ad agency)

 

The world of marketing for financial advisers is evolving in response to changing business and customer environments. Traditional marketing methods such as advertising, sponsorship, seminars, entertainment and direct marketing are no longer enough on their own.

“…as you’ve noticed people don’t want to be sold . What people do want is news and information about the things they care about.

Larry Weber, author of “Marketing to the Social Web”.

Inbound Marketing (or ’permission marketing’) looks at new marketing methods that earn the attention of’ prospects or customers. The aim is no longer to talk ‘at’ your customers. Now it’s important to engage customers, primarily by producing ‘content’ (often online) that customers value.

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you’ve more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing”.

Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist, Apple.
So, the learning from these quotes for financial advisers is that you can’t always be in sales mode. Your marketing efforts need to look to engage your prospects, existing customers and other contacts to earn you their ear as someone to be listened to. If they view you as a financial advice expert, they are then more likely to consult you as their own financial advice needs emerge.

 

Clarify your Proposition

One of the areas of greatest opportunity I see for financial advisers when it comes to marketing is in clarifying and communicating their value proposition. To my mind, you have to nail your first meeting with a client. You’ve got to be able to show them and leave them in no doubt that you are the only financial adviser for them.

You won’t do this by diving into the fact find! Instead, you’ll win their attention by taking time to walk them through your points of difference and the methodology you are going to use to improve their financial health. Show this visually, take time over it, prove your worth to them.

 

Capture your Data Religiously

Your data is the enabler of your marketing efforts. Without relevant data, you are restricted in the activities that you can carry out and then unable to measure the success of activities. I see poor data among some Financial Advisers in two areas in particular. The first is not having email addresses for all of your clients. This really limits you in your marketing efforts as email offers a very effective, easy and low cost way to get messages in front of your clients. If done well, email marketing can be very effective.

The second area of poor data that I encounter is in relation to the source of leads. Many Financial Advisers feel that they intuitively know where their leads came from but cannot back this up with hard data. Often when data starts to be recorded, the results really surprise them! Recording the source of leads is really important, as it is a strong guide when trying to decide which marketing activities to repeat in the future.

 

Develop a Stockpile of Quality Content Ideas

Another challenge that many Financial Advisers face (who have bought into the merits of Inbound Marketing) is developing a consistent stream of quality content for their repeating marketing activities. This arises with websites, newsletters, blogs and other social media activities. Also, fresh content is a core requirement for a successful Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy. We’ve all seen the first issue of a newsletter that is really very impressive but that is just not followed up by future editions. Often this is as a result of the author struggling for ideas for content for the subsequent issues.

I suggest that you should capture the titles and key points of your first 5 or 6 editions before you start the activity at all. This will help you to avoid “writer’s block” when you sit down to pen the future editions of your communication.

Finally, put the effort into ensuring the quality of your writing. Put the effort into writing engaging content, but more importantly, make sure your grammar and spelling are 100% accurate. Otherwise, get someone to do it for you.

 

Harness the Power of LinkedIn

Social media has exploded onto the scene over the last few years. Central to this for Financial Advisers is LinkedIn, which offers great opportunities for them to connect with existing and prospective clients. Financial Advisers who aren’t on LinkedIn are at a serious disadvantage in terms of the missed opportunities to research potential clients and to connect and add value to prospective and existing clients.

For those who are using LinkedIn, make sure it doesn’t just become a glorified address book! LinkedIn offers so many opportunities to engage your contacts through sharing value-adding content that will keep you top of mind with them in relation to financial matters. So, complete your profile fully, build up your connections and then add value those connections to stand out from the crowd!

I hope these few, simple ideas were useful to you. Please feel free to leave any comments below or share the article with others.

Good data = more sales for financial advisers

Financial brokers and advisers today are becoming very aware of the role good customer data plays in generating sales. It provides excellent insights into their customers, enables robust decision making and provides the necessary foundation for successful marketing activities.

Good data of course is central to your service and ongoing advice to clients. You need to have access to the information contained in the customer fact find and also your client’s existing policy information to enable you to provide robust financial advice. However I’m going to focus here on how having good data will really help your marketing efforts.

I’ll start with an obvious one. Do you have email addresses for all of your clients? Many advisers don’t and this is quite understandable. Email has only emerged as the default communication method in the last decade or so and many client relationships go back much further than that. However most clients have email addresses today and email offers a no-cost means of communicating with your clients on an ongoing basis. So what should you do? Well obviously you can write to all clients asking them for their email addresses – this may yield some results but if you’ve lots of clients, it may be an expensive exercise. At a minimum though, I would suggest that you introduce a business process that ensures that before anyone in your company finishes a conversation with a client, they check with the client have you got their current email address. Everyone has a role here, every single time, every conversation. This will refresh and enrich your data, allowing you regularly reach your clients at no cost.

The second area is in relation to the source of leads and customers. If you capture this religiously, it can provide excellent insights when deciding where to apply your (usually limited) marketing budget in the future. This will tell you which activities worked in the past and should be carried out again or maybe tweaked, and which ones bombed and shouldn’t be repeated!

Data also provides the foundation for successful client segmentation. While this can be quite a complex area and will be covered in detail in a future article, there are many ways that you can segment your clients and then target them with specific campaigns or offerings. Examples of segmentation dimensions at a client level include;

  • policy type
  • income levels
  • earnings per client
  • premiums being paid
  • funds under management
  • age
  • occupation etc.

There are many potential dimensions and indeed as businesses become more comfortable with segmenting their clients, they begin to use multiple dimensions.  This enables you to focus your offerings to make them as relevant as possible to your target clients. Good data helps you to make better decisions in relation to your marketing activities and can really enhance those activities through enabling you to provide relevant campaigns aimed at carefully identified groups of clients. The quality of your data is key – remember the old saying; “Garbage in, garbage out!”

As a result of more targeted marketing efforts, greater confidence and expectations can be placed in relation to your sales return as you move from a scattergun approach to carefully crafted and targeted campaigns.

Managing your data however comes with real responsibilities, both in relation to how you use this data and also in relation to keeping this data secure. You need to understand your requirements under the Consumer Protection Code and also your data protection obligations; how and when you can contact your clients and also the permission you need to send further sales messages to them. In relation to security, I’m sometimes concerned about how lax some businesses are particularly in relation to the easy access to data on smartphones and tablets. Is access to confidential data within some of your emails only a 4 digit iPhone password away from someone who could make trouble for you? This is also exacerbated now with the explosive growth of cloud computing. If you use cloud computing on your phone or tablet, is your data constantly accessible on your device, potentially giving someone full access to all of your client files?

Your data is hugely valuable. It is central to your planning, your decision making in relation to your activities and can really enhance your sales effort. Give your data the attention it deserves, make sure that your whole organisation is constantly focused on improving your data. And finally, manage your data securely.

I hope this article was of interest. If you’ve any comments or further observations, I’d love to hear them!

10 steps to enhance your brand in 2013

The financial adviser space is a crowded space. There are lots of advisers chasing after a relatively small number of new clients. So how do you stand out from the crowd and get your brand to punch above its weight? This article sets out 10 steps to help you do some early planning to build a stronger brand for 2013 and beyond within 3 main themes.

Build a Clear Message

Know what your value is to clients

First of all, know what you’re good at and build your story around this. What is it that makes you excellent, that clients really value? This is your value proposition. Spend time building this into a story that you can articulate succinctly, consistently and excellently.

Be clear what makes you different

Apart from what you’re great at, what makes you different? Is it your expertise in a particular product area or your experience in a particular market segment? Maybe a particular aspect of your service enables you to stand apart from other advisers or maybe it’s as simple as your geographical location offering you advantages over other advisers in terms of your availability to your clients.

Spend time thinking about what makes you different, write it down and hone this message. Yes, independence is a huge asset (for brokers) and education is a great differentiator for CFP’s. However you need to think beyond these (very important) factors and identify what makes you stand out from the crowd.

Have opinions…. and air them

It’s easy to stay quiet and just read everything that’s going on around you – either in newspapers, blogs or through other social media channels. You only have to look at the Qualified Advisers Group on LinkedIn, a fantastic group that now has nearly 1,400 members. However I bet less than 10% of them have ever participated in a group discussion or indeed possibly ever shared any update through LinkedIn.

Your clients and prospective clients want to know what you think, they want to know that you have a voice! They won’t always agree with you, but that’s fine too. Often that will result in a conversation that can lead to a better understanding of each other and a stronger relationship. Be brave!

Spend time building up a stock of messages that you can then feed out to your audience.

 

Start Communicating

Don’t forget traditional marketing methods

The world has gone digital, particularly when it comes to communications as the online world offers low cost opportunities to get your message out. However don’t forget the role that traditional channels offer. PR still offers enormous benefits, as 80% of adults in Ireland are still regular newspaper readers. This is only a 2% decline on the same period last year, according to the Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS) in August 2012. Articles written by journalists carry a lot of weight as they are seen as independent validation so if you have relationships with any, work them hard!

Also don’t forget the power of a good seminar as this gives you an opportunity to meet your clients and hopefully knock their socks off with an excellent presentation.

Go online too

I mentioned LinkedIn earlier, which offers great opportunities. Please see a previous blog post I wrote on how to use LinkedIn. Twitter is a very engaging, nearly even addictive platform I find, and is also being used really well by a number of financial advisers. This is an area I’ll come back to in a future article. And then there are blogs and newsletters – the opportunities to get your message out there are endless. All of these channels are free, however the flip side of this is that they take time and commitment. If you’re not going to give them both, hire someone who will!

Use all channels (eg video)

After that, mix it all up a bit. Some people react much better to visual messages than written messages and this is where video can play a role – it’s also so much easier to produce and distribute nowadays. While quality is important, some people don’t engage with this medium until they believe they can nearly win an Oscar! The message needs to be 100% right, the quality of production needs to be good but spending €1,000’s on getting it perfect in my view is not necessary. Use the time and money to develop a stream of fresh, good quality video content rather than a single masterpiece.

Leverage all partnerships

You’ve probably spent ages working on building up relationships with introducers of business, other business groups or other types of associations. Are there positive brand benefits that you can leverage from association with their brands or indeed co-branded opportunities?

 

Get Personal

Personalise your brand

So now hopefully you’re having more conversations with prospective clients. Ensure the client experience is consistent, every time and with everyone in your company. Clients want a personal touch and they want you to have empathy with them. They want you to be available to them and above all else, they want to trust you, to feel that it is their interests that you have at heart. Never let these values slip – ever.

Understand the role service plays

You can talk all you like about the values of your organisation and the value you bring to clients. Make sure though that you can deliver them. There is nothing more disappointing than a brand that over-promises and under-delivers. We’ve all suffered them and won’t go back for more.

Talk about your value proposition

Going back to the first point, your value proposition needs to become part of every conversation with a prospective client (your elevator pitch) and into your first meeting with them. It needs to be discussed, demonstrated and given to them. They need to be left in no doubt as to why they should be dealing with you!

These are some ideas to help you build your brand in 2013 and beyond. I hope you put some of them into practice or better still, get me to help you do it!

All observations / comments  / fundamental disagreements are most welcome. Please leave them in the comments section below.