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.

____________________________________________________________

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.

Create a Magnetic Brand, Build Margin

Several years ago, I attended my second National Speakers Association Annual Conference. My objective for attending was to rub shoulders with successful speakers and take away a handful of ideas to jump-start my speaking practice. Hence the first evening, I stopped at the lobby bar for a beverage and a bit of mingling.

While enjoying my Grey Goose and soda – with three limes – I met Chris Mercer, CEO of Mercer Capital. Chris is one of the leading business valuation experts in the country and author of a plethora of books for business owners. Being a 401k nerd, I questioned him about Employee Stock Ownership Plans and the challenge he sees in valuing firms. (Seriously?! Who would discuss ESOPs over cocktails? Obviously, a geek like me.)

I very much wanted an expert opinion on a theory that I’ve long held: An organization that builds and executes an effective brand brings additional margin to the bottom line. Of course, I already knew the answer, “Yes.” But Chris said, “No.” So, I bought him another drink.

Let’s back up and lay some groundwork. You’ve likely seen marketers and brand experts trot out Starbucks, Apple, Coca Cola, or Target as examples of well executed brands. And, many large multi-national organizations do track their specific brand equity. In fact, the firm Interbrand tracks brand values and the associated changes in brand value from year to year. As an example Coca-Cola retained the No. 3 position on Interbrand’s esteemed annual ranking of most valuable global brands for the second consecutive year. Coke’s 2014 brand value is estimated at $81.6 billion, up 3 percent from 2013, more than four times that of the nearest beverage brand on the list.

Many advisors and small business owners don’t have the necessary capital and staffing to compete on a global level and therefore likely have zero brand equity to discuss during the sales process. Hence, Chris’ answer.

However, after some additional discussion, we came upon the answer I did want to hear: “Yes, in a way, a powerful brand can bring more margin to the bottom line.” Because a well branded organization increases the perceived value of their services. I’m going to say that again: an effective brand and well-executed brand can help increase the perceived value of services. (Thereby eventually bringing greater margin to the bottom line.)

Unfortunately, many local and regional advisors neglect their brand. They see their brand as simply a logo slapped on a business card, brochure and website. Your brand encompasses the full experience your prospects and clients have with you and your firm; from how you answer the phone to the quality of your business card and everything in between.

Your brand can be an intentional piece of your business development effort. As an example, we recently redesigned the ShoeFitts website. It was the third iteration in as many years as we have been in business. The ShoeFitts Creative Crew expanded the use of the pimento red color specifically to imply sophistication and power. Now we are evaluating our client onboarding and welcome process because first impressions last forever. In fact, we have an ongoing audit of our brand and client experience. As you move into the New Year, consider an audit of your visual and experiential brand; here’s a starting point: Brand Touchpoint Audit.

Are You Ready for Social Selling?

I loved playing Monopoly as a kid and always fought my brothers and sister for the prized playing piece: the Scotty Dog. While I still love hunkering down over the board on a rainy Portland afternoon, I gotta admit that today’s business world—and particularly selling environment—no longer takes place in a linear, flat fashion.

The game has changed! The business of selling now requires you to work multi-dimensionally and embrace the digital space by implementing social selling. Sure, the premise and goals are still the same—increase sales and business opportunities. And, many of your selling skills are also still valid. What is different with the inclusion of social selling, is the approach and thought process

With social selling, you need to rethink how you define, discover and engage with clients and prospects. You need to meet them on a different level, or social space, before many of them will even let you make in-person contact. Consider these numbers from Sales Benchmark Index:

  • You are almost five times more apt to schedule a first meeting if you have a personal LinkedIn connection.
  • Some 98 percent of sales reps with over 5,000 LinkedIn connections achieve quota.

Those are pretty staggering numbers! And, your work doesn’t stop with the sale; you must continue to incorporate social selling with constant, quality contact to keep and win new business.

I love a good board game now and then, but when it comes to business in the real world, it’s not about who can make it to “Go” first; it’s who can best utilize the digital arena to find and build connections, and then grow that business day in and day out.

 

Ready for the next step? Check out our Social Media Boot Camp, and Ready, Set, Social programs to become a social media master. Contact us today to see how ShoeFitts Marketing can elevate your business’s social media presence.

Social Selling to Rock Your Sales

Okay, I am a digital native. I used my first Mac word processor in 1984, sent my first email newsletter in 1998, and coded my first website in 2000. I’m a digital geek; I’m a social networking nerd.

What about you? You don’t have to be a techie to dip your toe into the social space; LinkedIn makes it super easy to get started. And, if you followed the steps in last week’s Getting It Right: Top Tips for Your LinkedIn Profile tip sheet, your profile is fully optimized and ready to rock. Next step? Tap into the power of your LinkedIn presence and your “social” world to include social selling. Yep, social selling; that simply spectacular way to grow sales in today’s digital world. (I like the word spectacular.)

Social selling is all about growing your business by using social media and other online resources to identify and maximize your connection opportunities. Meaning, your LinkedIn presence isn’t just about a great profile, it’s also about using that platform to its fullest potential to find and make quality connections and then lay down the path to get your foot in the door.

Don’t confuse social selling with social media marketing. The latter is the big digital marketing umbrella that includes social selling but also encompasses brand identification, perception and awareness, public relations, thought leadership, and engagement.

Whew, a lot to consider, right? Well yes and no. In the next few weeks, I will explain the ins and outs behind social selling, and even include a few tidbits for cybersleuthing on LinkedIn.

Don’t Know Where You Are Going?

Iconic coaches, top athletes, high achievers, and innovative start-ups all know setting goals is an important component for success. Yet, regardless of industry or stature, anyone and everyone looking to attain business growth needs to define a process and plan, and with today’s connected world those goals must encompass social media.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
~ Yogi Berra

What should those goals include? Within the context of your overall sales and marketing program your social media plan should detail the following: brand perception and awareness, public relations, thought leadership, engagement and time management, competitive intelligence, and lead generation.

Clearly, there are many points to consider, but if you want rock your sales, you need to focus on the latter two and incorporate social selling. Just what is social selling? In short, social selling means actively using the resources available online and on social platforms to ferret out information about prospects so you can form meaningful connections that lead to business.

Social media is no longer just a tool for B2C purchases; businesses left and right are using social media to research, validate, and converse about B2B purchases. A recent McKinsey & Company article notes: “Business-to-business selling has become less linear as customers research, evaluate, select, and share experiences about products.”

Now consider the impact on sales:

  • 78.6 percent of sales people using social media outsell their peers. source
  • 55 percent of B2B purchasers source information on social media. source
  • You are five times more apt to get your foot in the door if you have a LinkedIn connection. source

Convinced? Good! Be sure you have a copy of our Six Steps to a Spectacular Social Strategy to guide your efforts. Then, hang on for more insights, tips and resources on social selling coming your way next week.

Six Steps to a Spectacular Social Strategy

Download button

How To Avoid Obsolescence: What Martha Stewart Can Teach Financial Advisors

Martha Stewart originated today’s hip and growing maker movement- giving us the tools, advice, guidance and inspiration to elevate every part of our home. So, of course, when I bought my first home, one of the first things I did was order a subscription to Martha Stewart Living. Martha (anyone who loves her magazine is immediately on a first-name basis with her) put every bit of her marketing brilliance into her magazine. It was a slightly different size than any other magazine available, so it always stood out. The photographs were high art even when they focused on the most domestic elements (even cleaning materials looked stunning).

Every month, I poured through the pages, dreaming about building my nest and enriching my life in the process. Should I paint my walls robin’s egg blue or sage green? Even my chicken rose to a whole new level. Martha’s attitude was always to imagine that with planning, industriousness and some creative juice, anything was possible and would make your life more beautiful. I made everything from homemade mustard to fennel-topped crackers. In fact, I still make her clove and cardamom-spiced apple butter each autumn and her Cioppino every Christmas (minus the mussels).

Read more

Promoting Events in Social Media – Your Top 10 List

Welcome to 2015. Yes, it’s time for marketing planning and deciding what trade shows you’ll attend and conferences you’ll hold. Some of the most useful information (and gossip) I gather comes prior to my actual attendance at an event. Well thought out, interactive social media campaigns extend the life and excitement around an event. Read more

Cialdini Influence: Be Consistent and Unwavering

On lazy fall weekends, I love spending a couple hours wandering through funky shops, antique stores and vintage clothing boutiques, and then tucking into a quaint small coffee shop for a strong Americano. Yet, on a day-in-and day-out basis, when I take a break from work and need my caffeine fix I head to Starbucks. Why? Consistency. I know my coffee will be perfect and not burnt. I know exactly what I am going to receive and my dog, aBoo, knows exactly what she will receive (her puppaccino). Read more