Dear Ary: You’re right, except…

Recently ERISA attorney Ary Rosenbaum wrote a great post, Marketing For Plan Providers: What It Can Do And What It Can’t. In the article he mentions a variety of not-marketing tasks and tactics that every business must consider before marketing. These include ideas such as finding a target market, creating a company culture, providing an exceptional client experience and more.

And! I agree wholeheartedly with the ideas he outlines with one exception: EVERYTHING is marketing. Well, let me explain.

Recently, I presented a two-day Deconstructing Digital workshop for a group of advisors at Cetera. Yes, two full days of helping them get their arms around the world of digital marketing and social media. And, I’m certain they were expecting we’d start the first day with a predictable PowerPoint presentation about Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. Nope! In fact, the first full day was discussing everything that Ary points out in his article (as not marketing). And, you know what? He’s right. It isn’t marketing; it is branding. But they are two peas in the same pod.

On the first day:
• We discussed the necessity of a heart-centered message.
• We dove into the courage it takes to serve a niche.
• We explored the experiential economy and how customer service links to client experience.

If brand clarity does not exist at the outset, marketing will not succeed. It will simply be noise—and noise gets you nowhere.

I say this to many advisors and organizations who seek my help: Branding must begin with asking yourself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Deciding this, and having the courage to see it through is a deeply introspective and soul-searching experience.

Great branding starts with your customer’s story—not your own. It appeals to their heart rather than their head. It makes people feel like they belong. It gives them something to believe in.

Out of this work comes creating your marketing strategy and tactics to find the right people; creating and delivering the right message; and developing solutions that serve them in the right way.

Marketing’s role is to help an organization connect to people in an emotional way to build influence, elicit trust and serve sales.

Marketing is pretty much everything.

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If you’d like to get a list of the homework I give folks to help them think through their brand and marketing strategies, simply text the word SHOEFITTS to 33444. I’ll send along some treats and inspiration from my presentation Your Brand, Your Business, Your Bottom Line.

One other tip: How did I know Ary mentioned me in his story? Google Alerts, of course. I have one set for my name and my firm name, in addition to other hot topics. Need help on creating your own “listening channel”? Here’s a helpful article I wrote for NAPA-net.

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?

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.