OODLES OF CONTENT MARKETING RESOURCES: JUST IN TIME FOR YOUR 2019 PLANNING

I was super happy to be a speaker at the recent Schwab IMPACT 18 event in Washington, DC. The topic? Content Marketing: How to create a lean, mean, inbound marketing machine.

It was an information- and resource-packed, three-hour, pre-conference session. We discussed thought leadership and authority marketing, digital branding, tactical ways to get started and easy ways to create and share content. Thanks to Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator, I also shared about 200+ blog ideas.

Rather than keep all the goodies to myself. I thought I’d share them with my website visitors as well.

So, here are links from Edleman to two research reports that I referenced in the workshop; their collaborative research with LinkedIn and their annual Earned Brand Executive Summary. (I’m a huge fan of Edleman’s work all the way around.)

And, here’s a link to download a plethora of handouts and resources that were shared — from a personal branding resource to a listing of My Favorite Things. (Granted, it is a little early for the peppermint mocha, holiday reference…but still.)

Here’s hoping that you’ll find some tiny bit of inspiration to get your content marketing moving along for 2019. (Oh! And, if you’d like to explore your own three-hour content marketing workshop, let’s chat.)

Happy National Fiduciary Day! Or not?

For those living under a rock, there was a big ruling last week regarding the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule. You can read all about it here.

Since I’m in no way qualified to discuss the technical merits of the Fifth Circuit’s decision, you’re safe. This isn’t another article about the regulations themselves – or the possible Supreme Court showdown between the Fifth Circuit ruling and the Tenth Circuit’s opposite view of the rule.

This is about trust.

We, the financial services industry, already have a bad rap. Each year Edelman – a global marketing and communication firm steeped in helping their clients create lasting trust with their communities – studies the tides of trust in the world. And each year, for the last ten years, the financial services industry has been the LEAST trusted of the bunch. 😢

Let’s not even discuss Millennial’s distrust of Wall Street.

If I understand the issue correctly, the product distribution folks see a bright line between sales people and advisors. Bottom line: Sales conversations are sales conversations only, and do not contain the trust and confidence of an advisory discussion.

What? We’re selling Americans financial products, solutions and services every day. If you ask me, when it comes to money and financial security, trust is an essential part of every conversation.

This is about authenticity.

Imagine, if trust is gone, then what? Interestingly these same organizations that wish to steer clear of trust and confidence still pursue branding and marketing messages that that point toward fiduciary-ish relationships. So now we say one thing and do another? That’s not gonna work in our hyper-connected, social media-savvy Age of Authenticity; they’ll just head on over to Google for something Better(ment).

This is about opportunity.

No matter. Even if the some organizations want to tuck fiduciary away, it’s there. If John Oliver did a piece on the subject, the memes of a client’s best interest and fiduciary will not disappear.

I remember being a 401(k) sales person back in the early 2000s. (Would I be a fiduciary now?) Anywhoo…the organization I worked for was quite skeptical of ESOPs, as many organizations were/are. My thought? Run toward ESOPs! Don’t be scared. Be different. Be valuable. Be really good. And charge for it. Ditto for fiduciaries. Be different. Be valuable. Be really good. Be a fiduciary! And, charge for it.

So, Happy National Fiduciary Day! We have millions of Americans to help; we need you.

FYI: Michael Kitces, this is entirely your fault! Your fantastic article about the ruling and the surrounding issues was extraordinarily helpful. Thank you!

The Trouble with Turtles

We all know the financial services industry moves a bit slowly. We say that with regularity. Somehow we seem to think that being risk-averse and moving slowly is fine. (Then there’s compliance, which intensifies our turtle-like approach.)

But this slow pace isn’t gonna work as the most connected, personalized, multidimensional generation steps into leadership roles.

Since day one, Millennials have had a remote control, a microwave, cable, computers. Not to mention the younger members and their own cell phones. Whether they’re Millennials or Xennials—Gen X/Millennial hybrids—they’ve seen their access to technology, flexibility, speed and control compound every year. And they’ve grown to expect it. No more checking a smart phone for the weather, just ask Alexa.

Since day one, Millennials have also been given choices: “Do you want to wear your blue shoes or your red ones today?” (We were told choice eliminated the morning-shoe meltdown.) “Do you want to play soccer or softball? Or both?”

This is a whole new world, and we have to change the way we market to this generation. We have to change the products we offer and the messages we send. Even the way we depict the American Dream.

The slow, one-size-fits-all approach we’ve taken in financial services just won’t fly with Millennials. We have to provide efficiency, convenience, choices, innovation, personalization, with a splash of color. Millennials believe they can have whatever, whenever, however they want.

Then they encounter the turtles in financial services.

How’s that gonna work?

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Don’t get me wrong about compliance. I know and respect their efforts. At times I’ve shared my love for them. (I couldn’t do their job.) We all must work within our industry’s guidelines. I get that.

But I can’t help but think about the Fosbury Flop. (Stay with me for a second.)

Dick Fosbury had challenges with the high-jump in high school. He was unable to compete with the scissor-kick, the straddle or the belly-roll. Then he invented the Flop. “The advantage,” he said, “from a physics standpoint is, it allows the jumper to run at the bar with more speed and, with the arch in your back, you could actually clear the bar and keep your center of gravity at or below the bar. It was much more efficient.”

The Flop looked very strange at the time. Track coaches were worried as young athletes began to imitate Dick’s Olympic Gold-winning moves; afraid their athletes would break their necks. Then it stuck.

Now the standard is the Flop.

No one did it, because no one did it. Until they did.

Now, think about the four-minute mile. No one did it, because no one did it. Until they did.

That’s the trouble with 🐢. They aren’t engineered to Flop. Yet.

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I recently joined Ed Kless, host of the Sage Advice Podcast, to talk about all things digital marketing. (Well, an eight-minute dive into digital marketing.) Listen in!

WTF?

I guess you could call me a pointillist. I believe that every small dot, selected with intention, can connect to form a beautiful image. The world of marketing, branding and client experience is as vast as the ocean and feels like it requires huge budgets and endless hours – not small dots. Not necessarily true. We just have to choose our details wisely.

Over the past year, I’ve worked with a variety of financial advisors as their marketing coach. For three hours—alongside their wholesaler—we dive deep into their marketing and branding concerns and questions. What’s working right now, where they want to be in the future and what I’d do if I were their Chief Marketing Officer.

Surprisingly, these Rent My Brain consulting sessions are never the same; advisors’ challenges, marketplace, growth plans and team capacity are all quite varied. Not to mention what they’ve selected as a focus for our time together—from pitch books to websites and everything in between.

But no matter what our focus, we have to start with the dots.

In one of my recent three-hour coaching sessions, we spent two hours reviewing their 18-page pitch book and focusing on the small stuff. I reviewed one page at a time and pointed out areas where there were inconsistencies in the details. Really simple ones—like their fonts—that, when changed, create a significantly more professional book.

The Trouble with Fonts

What font do you use for your pitch book? Do you use Calibri, the default font for PowerPoint? While it is a perfectly fine font, it feels too casual, too regular and most importantly, not unique in any way. Anyone can have Calibri, so, everyone does. What does that communicate about your practice? You’re fine being like everyone else?

Or maybe some days you use Calibri and then the next you use Times New Roman. You do this because you get bored—or possibly because someone else built the deck this time. These random decisions can send a message of inconsistency.

Yes, even a font has the power to make a bad impression. It may seem like such a small detail. But, in the world of financial services, details matter. Details matter all day long.

I’m a typography geek, and will spare you the rules of Serif and San Serif for now. However, here is a quick checklist for your pitch book.

  • Your font? Use ABC. (Anything but Calibri, Comic Sans or Courier.) Pick one (or two) and stick with them. Check out Google Fonts for free, open source fonts. I like Karma and Open Sans Condensed together. At ShoeFitts, I use Avenir for printed materials such as proposals, pitch books and presentations. It has classic roots from the 1920s but is modern, crisp and clean. Oh, the history of Avenir. Apple uses Avenir for its Maps app and some Siri screens; Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has used Avenir and Avenir Next for its mobile apps and websites since 2012.
  • Look at the size of the font from page to page. I opt to have one size headline (32 pt or so) and one size for the body copy (24 pt or so). And, don’t reduce the size when indented or bulleted. That’s letting PowerPoint push you around. It looks horrible. Indeed, there are some cases when you’ll need a smaller option. That’s fine, just create a rule and stick to it. (Speaking of PowerPoint: Just say no to clipart. Just say no to word art.)
  • How do you “treat” your words? Are your headers consistent? Are they ALL CAPS, Sentence case, Title Case, etc.?
  • BTW, stop with the underlining. Underlining is old school, a remnant of the typewriter when folks couldn’t bold. If you want to signify a heading or title or important point, bold them. (Use bold and italics sparingly, if not then nothing is important.) More importantly an underline might be misconstrued as a hyperlink.
  • Speaking of bold. If for some reason you opt for the Arial family of fonts and take a liking to Arial Black, do NOT bold it. It’s already bolded. (Told you I was a geek.)
  • Ditto for two spaces after a period, exclamation point, question mark and every other punctuation mark. Yep. Only one space is correct. Short explanation: No typewriter, no monospaced fonts. Need the details? Read more here.
  • Need more ideas for consistency in word selection and punctuation? Download my AP Style Guide cheat sheet.
  • Want to do a deep dive into the Oxford comma?

 

A Study in Disruptive Marketing

JD Carlson’s LinkedIn profile photo looks like a mug shot; long hair, lots of facial hair, no smile. The hero image on his profile is a photo of him surfing. In the world of same same same, he is different. In fact, he is unforgettable.

I’ve followed JD and his firm for some time. Obviously when someone’s profile photo is radically different it stands out. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a mugshot for everyone, but for JD it works.) More importantly, I’ve admired his use of the social world from afar. His firm, Plan Design Consultants, is a content creation powerhouse with a video series, an ongoing blog and a very active social media presence.

Several weeks ago, while at the Excel 401k Conference, I had the opportunity to see JD and his team in action. Video camera, microphone and lights in tow, they marched into the opening night cocktail reception with a ready-made quiz, filming contestants and awarding tickets for winners as a way to drive traffic to their booth. (1. Great idea for some fun content. 2. Great idea to drive booth traffic.)

Their booth was also set up for video – somewhat like an Ellen DeGeneres set – cozy couches, lights, cameras. During the event, they filmed interviews advisors and industry influencers about various topics; likely their favorite one, “Why Your TPA Sucks.”

Here’s the interesting bit, many folks at the conference asked me, “What do you think about them?”

“Frankly,” I said, “Guess what? They’re disruptors. They’re conversation starters. They’re asking different questions. And you’re talking about them.” “That is exactly what marketing should do.”

Marketing should make you unforgettable.

Obviously I’m a fan. But, let me outline, from a marketing geek perspective, what they’re doing right.

Authentic Branding: Dr. Seuss said it best, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Their brand is true and unique. Absolutely JD could show up in a suit and tie. But that isn’t who he is – or how he chooses to move around in the world. (Note: He did wear a stylishly hip jacket and jeans at the event, he wasn’t in-your-face surfer.)

Tribe Clarity: They are uber clear on their tribe. Financial advisors. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. They aren’t marketing to advisors AND CPAs AND employers. Nope. Only to advisors. And their content and singular intention shows.

Thought Leadership: In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini lists six ways humans influence other humans. Authority, consistency, two of his principles that come into play with a thought leadership strategy. Rather than simply saying they are thought leaders, JD and his team consistently show up in a teaching and smart-sharing capacity; bringing useful information and new ideas to their tribe. (Oh! FYI: There is nothing worse than a singular blog from 2014. What does that say about one’s ability to be consistent in their business dealings?!)

The content they create is valuable and insightful. It isn’t just for show. It is helpful, thoughtful, and credible. And smartly, they distribute their content through a completely separate website, 401kAcademy.com, focused entirely on the most important link in their distribution chain, financial advisors.

In addition, their consistency helps builds upon Cialdini’s similarity principle. Similarity is the “know-like-trust” principle or my favorite word, propinquity; the more you’re around someone, the more they like you and trust you.

Multichannel Approach: In a nutshell, they are creating content in a variety of formats, a website filled with hands-on resources, videos (which also speak to the second largest search engine in the world, YouTube), a blog and social media activity. Social activity not only in the form of pushing their own content, but supporting others. Their video series, Retireholiks, is equally as authentic and disruptive. The team gathers on a couch, discusses issues facing advisors and the retirement plan industry and drinks beer. (Along with a bit of additional fun and games.)

Sure they could create white papers and webinars. (Yawn.) But those aren’t disruptive or innovative in any way! Sure their efforts take time and energy, and likely a bit of bank. Are they serving their tribe?Are they creating buzz? Are they having fun? Are they appealing to their ideal client? Likely so!

What might you do to shift your marketing to the status of unforgettable? How might you step out and be bolder with your brand and your messaging? Or, how might you show up more human and authentic – as a full person, beard, surfboard and all?

I Believe

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix. For a variety of reasons: The issue with the red pill, the thought that we create our own reality, and of course Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss); a strong, powerful woman who knows how to harness the matrix.

In fact, The Matrix is one of the movies that is watched at least once per year in our house. And, each time I watch it something else stands out as a marvelous metaphor for business or life. (If you haven’t seen it, may I suggest giving it a shot?)

Fast forward to the scene where Morpheus, Lawrence Fishburne, is being held hostage by Agent Smith and his colleagues. Neo, Keanu Reaves, wants to head into the fray alone. Trinity lets him know that’s not going to happen. She begins,

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe if you were really serious about saving him you are going to need my help. And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don’t like, I believe you can go to hell.

There is so much in that scene about teamwork, the dynamic of women in the workplace, what it means to truly stick up for someone, and more.

But what it stirred in me was a memory from December 2012.

At that time, I was launching ShoeFitts and beginning to create our brand. To begin that work – to share with some awesome creative types – I wrote out a list of my beliefs. I shared it with them at the time. And, I’ve been encouraged to share them publically, but never have.

Who knows why I’ve decided to do that now…perhaps because I believe in transparency and connection when creating a powerful brand and personal brand? Perhaps because I believe in sharing the good stuff right now is important? Or is it that I made a commitment recently to practice what I preach about branding and boldness?

Here is what I believe…

I believe in the power of small steps to create big results

I believe in learning something new everyday

I believe in looking people in the eyes

I believe in thinking the best

I believe my red hair get the best of me sometimes

I believe in the abundant nature of the world

I believe in cleaning up after myself (even though I habitually pile)

I believe challenging people always teach us something

I believe in flannel sheets in the winter and the summer

I believe in honoring the people that serve us

I believe in serving others

I believe in giving, hugging and telling people I love them

I believe in being as close to my true self as possible

I believe in the rain and the sun and the sunrise

I believe in getting shoeshines

I believe in trying to see the other side of an argument

I believe in listening and asking questions

I believe there are always interesting people around

I believe in epsom salts, lavender and candles

I believe in the value of having a good tailor

I believe in me

I believe in giving spiders safe passage from my house (Note: this is no longer true after I cracked a rib trying to save one.)

I believe in singing along even if I don’t know all of the words

I believe in the graceful flight of pelicans, the determination of kingfishers and the strength of hummingbirds

I believe in laughter and bifocals

I believe in building bridges

I believe that the world is small

I believe in radical forgiveness

I believe in saying please and thank you

I believe in tipping the car wash guys

I believe in my friends, even when I don’t see them

I believe in using my blinker in traffic

I believe in helping

I believe in saying the “f” word about 10 times per day

I believe in fresh herbs

I believe in paying it forward in the drive thru Starbucks

I believe in celebrating success

I believe that my mom taught me to dance, and hug, and smile, and cook

I believe that my dad taught me algebra, how to grow corn (knee-high by the 4th of July), how to stand on my head, to be a speaker and to be strong

I believe that God exists in some form (I just don’t know which one)

I believe in fresh apples

I believe in taking deep breaths and ritual

I believe in feather pillows

I believe in sharing

I believe that hard work pays off

I believe in the power of creativity

I believe in pursuing patience

I believe in opening doors for people and giving back

It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Posts on LinkedIn where folks admonish the individual to move their comments to Facebook – or another more ‘appropriate’ social platform. “LinkedIn is a business to business (B2B) platform,” they write. “Personal content belongs somewhere else.”

Surprisingly, the B2B world should be more personal and create more emotion.

In a recent research effort brought together by Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council, marketing research firm Motista surveyed over 3,000 B2B buyers looking for insight into whether they purchase in a logical manner; a manner driven by process and devoid of feeling. The research offered up very interesting results:

B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.

This actually makes perfect sense. B2B buyer’s jobs or organizations may be on the line with a purchase. They may be taking on enormous personal or professional risk. (B2C purchases are rarely career ending.)

Over the past six months, I have been speaking on the subject of branding. Specifically how the power of an emotionally connected brand brings real value to a financial advisor’s bottom line. “A well-executed brand and brand experience increases the perceived value of the services one provides,” I tell them. Well-executed brands garner love, trust and respect. They shift clients from static to ecstatic, who are now willing to talk well of you, and even pay more for your services.

The financial services industry is obviously a challenging place to build a brand. Put simply: we are in a PR meltdown. And the recent fiduciary rule underscores the underlying lack of trust. (In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer reports that financial services continues to remain the most mistrusted industry in the world.)

People buy from people they know, like and trust.

We’ve known for years the value of a personal introduction or referral. Unfortunately this approach to sales and marketing is simply not scalable. Advisors wishing to move from an organic growth mode to an intentional growth effort must tackle the trust issue head on. This effort begins with a deeper look at their brand and brand experience.

In an upcoming book, Brand Admiration, the authors define brand admiration as “the psychological state of mind of customers who develop a meaningful connection with a brand.” They write that, “an admired brand maps to customers’ own needs, goals, and sense of self.”

Unfortunately, that’s difficult for most financial advisors to translate. It seems that they most often focus on the F word; forms, facts, figures, funds, fiduciary and fear! This approach does not translate into trust. In most cases, it creates a disconnection. No one comes to a conversation with an advisor begging to discuss fiduciary issues.

What to do now?

  • Back up and start from the beginning. Spend time remembering why you’re an advisor in the first place. What piece of your heart sings when you work with clients?
  • Consider your brand from an alternate perspective. Walk outside your office and walk back in as a prospective client. What might you feel and do?
  • Build a foundation of messaging that embraces an individual’s emotions and stories about money—ultimately building trust. We are our stories and feelings, not forms, facts and figures.
  • Get brave and courageous. Be willing to step outside of what you ‘think’ people want to hear from an advisor. Step into what you want people to ‘feel’ about you.
  • Know that we are also visual beings. Stop using imagery that makes no sense to your target market. Considering reaching out to Millennials? Skip the compass and map. Give up on the bank columns. And, avoid Cialis commercial models at all costs.
  • Believe and trust that a well-executed brand will bring value to the bottom line. This effort will take time. In the interim, read the research! An admired brand has deep resonance—that translates into real brand equity—with a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

Learn more ways to create an unforgettable brand

P.S. Still don’t like those personal posts on LinkedIn? Instead of being annoyed or complaining, simply click the drop down arrow in the upper right corner of the post and select hide.

Easy Ways to Build Your Blogging Muscles

Are you like many business professionals who are afraid to write? Afraid to share their smarts and blog? In the February Digital Institute broadcast, only 17 percent of attendees said they blog on a monthly basis. Moreover, over 70 percent have not blogged in the past year and/or don’t have any plans to blog. Yikes. Blogging is one of the best ways to show your clients and prospects you are an expert in your financial services niche — something advisors need to do out of the gate!

Discover the Simple Secrets to Deconstructing Digital

Do you ever feel like the basic principles of the digital world are sitting on shifting sand? One day you think you’ve got it all figured out, and then the next, you’re completely confused and overwhelmed.