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Dare to be different in your financial marketing

On my bicycle close to where I first glimpsed the Robolights

The Robolights house grabbed my attention. Its colorful sculptures stood out as my husband and I bicycled around the sleek modernist houses of Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighborhood.

We were just one block away from Frank Sinatra’s house, where we glimpsed the pool side entrance as men set up for a party. We’d been biking and driving around, guided by a map of modernist architecture in Palm Springs, California. The colorful Robolights sculptures contrasted with the subdued earth tones that we saw around it in other homes and the landscape.

More Roblights sculptures

More Roblights sculptures

I saw no garish colors as I peeked in the back entrance to Frank Sinatra's house

Looking in the back entrance to Frank Sinatra’s house

another modernist home in Palm Springs

Another modernist home

Lesson for financial marketers

Too many marketers for financial services firms produce messages and materials that look the same. That’s okay if you don’t want to stand out from the crowd.

If you DO want to stand out, try becoming the Robolights house of your niche. Embrace a different appearance.

Sure, some people will shy away from your differences. I saw some nasty comments about the Robolights house.

On the other hand, other people will become passionate fans. Don’t you want to attract people who appreciate the real you?

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy 6 ways financial advisors can differentiate themselves or You vs me — or we: A rant on financial marketing.

 

 

Be specific about your advantages, or lose prospects

It’s hard to stand out among financial firms offering similar services and products. That’s why I agree that you should be specific about your advantages, as suggested by Marie Perruchet in One Perfect Pitch: How to Sell Your Idea, Your Product, Your Business—or Yourself. Learn and share your differentiators.

Perruchet says:

A key differentiator should be specific. All customers expect good value, fair prices, excellent customer service, and reliability, to name a few. You are bringing unique value to your market. You solve a unique problem for your customers. That’s the key differentiator.

 

Find your differentiators

How do you identify your differentiators? While Perruchet’s book is geared to entrepreneurs pitching to investors, some of her questions for uncovering uniqueness can help financial advisors, too. Here are some of them:

  • “Remember your last interaction with a client who loves your product. What made him rave about it?”
  • “Remember the last time a client, user, or partner told you about your product’s efficiency. What did the person say?”
  • “Who is the human resource who stands out and affects your product the most?”

After answering Perruchet’s questions, can you quantify the contribution that your differences make to the results or experience of your clients? If you can, that’s powerful.

Still struggling to find your differentiators? In an email interview with me, Perruchet suggested that you ask your clients why they’ve enjoyed working with you. Ask questions such as, “Why would you recommend me to your friends? Can you tell me of situations where I have really made a difference?” Push your clients to be as specific as possible. Next, share what you’ve learned with your leads to see how well it resonates with them.

Perruchet suggests that you tell a customer story. Create an imaginary character. Walk us through his painful day. Show him experiencing real problems that are solved by your (new) product features. Consider using client testimonials or case studies, if you work in an area of financial services where that’s allowed. Check with your compliance officer to see what’s allowed. However, you’re not likely to have much luck if you’re an investment manager.

Perruchet’s take on advisor mistakes

Knowing that Perruchet has worked with some financial advisors, I asked for her insights specific to that experience. She kindly shared her list of the top mistakes that financial advisors make when pitching to prospects. By the way, I love her tip about trying your pitch on your friends. I suggest a similar technique for testing your writing.

Mistake 1. Not simplifying the pitch 
Problem: A pitch should be simple enough that the person who hears it can remember and tell it to others in their own words. The lead you pitch to today may not become their client, but they may have a friend who is shopping for a financial advisor and is a perfect fit for you. What should they tell their friends about you? How can you give them the elements to pitch for you to their friends?

Solution: Practice with friends who are not in your field (or co-workers) and ask them for feedback on your pitch (for example, is it clear, am I specific). Ask them to put your pitch in their words. You will spot the mistakes right away.

Mistake 2. Not discussing specific problems they enjoy resolving for clients
Problem: You need to discuss the main problem you resolve for clients. Generalizations don’t work.

Solution: Give examples as many times as possible and speak using simple English. For example, do you enjoy working with people who want to buy a house in the next three years, who have moved from a foreign country so they don’t understand the U.S. financial system, or who don’t know how to start saving in their first job out of college? Or maybe you prefer clients who just sold shares of their start-up and don’t know what to do with the proceeds, or who need to start saving for retirement? Be specific so people retain images in their heads. For example, make them visualize their retirement in Palm Springs.

Mistake 3. They have a great 15-minute script, but they don’t do their homework about their leads.
Problem:  Your pitch won’t resonate with your prospects if you repeat a pitch by rote or you fail to provide relevant situations to the clients.

Solution: Do research about your prospects before you meet them. A great deal of information is available via the internet or social media. Then you can refer to their specific situation. For example, you can say, “as you have a new kid,” or “as you have just changed jobs,” or “as you have just refinanced your home.” When you understand the struggles they face, you can tell them about clients who faced the same and similar situations, and how you helped them. People think they are unique but they are going through universal problems.

 

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of One Perfect Pitch from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it. Also, if you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

What’s too long for a blog post?

What’s too long for a blog post? I stirred up a lively conversation when I posted this question on social media earlier this year. I asked because I’d drafted a 2,400-word blog post. That’s unusual for me. My natural length seems to be 400 to 600 words, although I’ve written longer.

As I expected, there’s no consensus on the perfect blog post length. However, you can make the decision that’s best for you, if you understand the issues.

The case for blog posts running 2000+ words

Long posts do best, as measured by shares and links. That’s what BuzzSumo-Moz research on content—that’s content of all kinds, not just blog posts—suggests, as reported in Contently’s “5 Ways Content Goes Viral.”

“Long” means way longer than the typical blog post. It means 2,000 words or more. To put that in perspective, according to Contently, “After studying close to 490,000 text-based articles, BuzzSumo and Moz found that 80 percent of content contains fewer than 1,000 words, while only 2.5 percent surpasses 3,000 words.”

The difference between shorter and longer content was dramatic. Content with less than 1,000 words averaged about 3.5 shares apiece vs. almost nine shares for content with 2,000 to 3,000 words, and 11 shares for 3,000+ words.

Evidence from financial blogger Michael Kitces

When I think about long blog posts, I think about Michael Kitces, who writes the Nerd’s Eye View blog. He shared the following graph with me, showing that long content dominates his shares. In fact, 2,000 to 3,000 words is his perfect blog post length.

Michael Kitces' perfect blog post length is 2000-3000 words

Michael Kitces’ share counts by article length. Image courtesy of Kitces.com

Here’s what Michael said to me in an email exchange about longer blog posts:

I’ve found that optimal length seems to be in the 2,000 – 3,000 word range.

We often say that people “don’t have time” to read long posts. And I suppose technically that’s true. Most people don’t. But people who have REAL problems, need REAL solutions, and might want to HIRE you, are the ones who are motivated enough to actually read a long post. And get interested. And do business with you.

So think of it this way: writing long and thorough posts is a great screening process, because it helps to ensure the people who read it are interested enough to potentially do business with you.

That’s an intriguing point about your best prospects being willing to read your long posts.

An earlier Investment Writing take on blog post length

For another perspective on blog post length, read this guest post on my blog “Do longer articles really get shared more often?

Reasons you shouldn’t go long

1. Sharing isn’t the same as reading

If you’d like people to read your content, rather than simply sharing it, shorter may be better. When people share your content, they may not have read it from start to finish. I’m living proof of that.

I confess that I’ve shared articles that I haven’t finished. Why? Because I’ve found an article that I believe will interest my followers, but it isn’t that useful to me. I read enough to find worthy content and then I skim the rest to get a sense of whether it upholds the standards of the beginning. If there’s one tip in the first part of the article that can help my connections move closer to achieving their goals, I figure it’s worth sharing.

When it comes to getting your readers through an entire post, shorter is better, unless the reader is motivated to learn about the topic you present. To support this, here are some of the comments I received in response to my asking if I should publish a 2,400-word blog post:

  • I’ve been staying under 1000 for my site….a typical newspaper column used to be about 500
  • Few blog entries I’ve edited were more than 550 words long.
  • I think it’s too long!

Several respondents suggested breaking my blog post into two parts to make it more manageable. They also made the smart suggestion that I should structure a long post to make it easy for my readers to absorb.

2. You’re not good at writing long

Don’t write long blog posts if can’t do a good job on them. You need compelling insights or strong writing skills—or both, ideally. Without them, you’ll drive away the people whom you’re trying to attract.

One person who commented on my question said, “Long posts are better if well written.” Clearly they they don’t enjoy poorly written long posts. Who would?

3. Your topic doesn’t need a long explanation

If you emphasize length over content, you’ll end up with repetitive, boring blog posts.

Your content should be “long enough to make your point,” as one of the people who commented on my blog post length question. Don’t make it longer than that.

Short can work

What if you lack the skill or motivation to write long? Don’t give up!

Short can work.

In “How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer,” Neil Patel shares the example of Seth Godin. Godin has been tremendously successful with short posts on his Seth’s Blog. At a quick glance, his posts generally run fewer than 300 words. Many run under 100 words.

Still, if you’re not a social media visionary like Seth Godin, consider writing longer than him. Yoast, which produces an SEO optimization plugin (to help you get found in online searches) suggests in “Common sense for your website” that you aim for a minimum of 300 words:

Your page content should contain at least 300 words. That has a simple reason: would your page be a great source for the topic or keyword you want to rank for when it would only contain 50 words? Is that all there is to say about that keyword? I don’t believe that, you don’t believe that and Google does not believe that. There should be a significant amount of content for your page to be considered a great source of information.

The perfect blog post length?

What’s the perfect blog post length? It depends. The answer will vary depending on your goals, the strength of your writing and information, and the time that you have to sink into writing.

I’m going to continue to average far fewer than 2,000 words per post, despite all the research about sharing. Shorter works for me, with some exceptions.

Speaking of exceptions, I published “My experiment blogging on LinkedIn,” the blog post that sparked this discussion, with a length exceeding 2,700 words.

Please tell me what you see as the perfect blog post length.

Do you want to succeed as a financial blogger?

 

Blog image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Financial ads and we vs. you

“We are great. Hire us.” That’s the gist of many financial ads that I see. They could be for a small financial planning firm, a wealth manager, or even an institutional money manager.

Emphasizing “we” and “us” isn’t the way to go. If you’ve attended any of my writing presentations, you know I’m a big believer in the power of “you.”

However, using “we” isn’t always bad in financial ads.

I like how Bessemer Trust combined “we” with “your money” in the ad excerpt you see below. The firm puts the ad’s emphasis on the reader, not the firm.

Financial ad example from Bessemer Trust

Also, this wording is more persuasive than the gazillion financial ads and websites that simply say, “We are fiduciaries so we put your interests first.” A fiduciary blurb requires me to trust you. The Bessemer ad gives me a reason to believe.

There’s text in smaller print that supports the headline that I’ve reproduced above. For example, “Have you ever wondered if your investment advisers would behave differently if it were their own money they were investing?”

I also like Bessemer’s use of plain language in this ad. It has no jargon.

I wish I could show you the full text of this ad, which I tore out of The Wall Street Journal. But I can’t find it online. However, you can read another post, “’Smart people’: A good ad by Bessemer Trust.”

“High net worth” in your financial marketing

A copyediting project spurred me to think about how to use “high net worth” to describe investors. First, should you hyphenate “high net worth” when using it as an adjective? Second, is “high net worth” a useful term for communications with prospective clients?

“High net worth” and hyphens

My gut told me to use hyphens in “high-net-worth” investor.” I checked my gut with a survey. The survey’s first question asked, “Which of the following is correct? They differ in hyphenation.”

The results? A tie between “high net worth investor” and “high-net-worth investor.”

HNW_hyphen_poll_results_110515

Here’s what some fans of the unhyphenated “high net worth” said.

  • “Using two hyphens in a three-word modifier feels like overdoing it.”
  • “I just don’t like to hyphenate.”
  • “The phrase is clear without hyphens. Why clutter the page?”

The anti-clutter commenter mentioned The Associated Press Style Book, which says:

Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion.

Avoiding confusion is one reason that some readers favored hyphenation. They wanted to ensure that no one thinks the investors are high on drugs instead of net worth. “You need two hyphens to make things crystal clear,” said one respondent. I agree. I see high-net-worth as a compound modifier.

I don’t always hyphenate compound modifiers. When in doubt, I look at how respected sources, such as The Wall Street Journal handle the term. It hyphenates “high-net-worth investor,”as you can see in “Voices: Joshua Coleman, on Using a ‘Quarterback’ to Serve High-Net-Worth Clients.”

Whether you hyphenate or not, please pick one style and stick to it.

“High net worth” and your prospects

High net worth (HNW) is a useful term for discussions among financial professionals. But, when your prospects read “high net worth” do they think, “Yes, that’s me”?

The people whom you see as HNW may not agree. They may see themselves as middle class according to “Who You Calling Affluent?”, a study by CEB Global. (By the way, I typed the study title accurately. I checked multiple times to make sure that there was no “are” in it.)

The study says:

Only about 20% of the consumers we identified as affluent ($100K+ HHI and/or $100K+ in investible assets) considered themselves, or their income brackets, to be affluent. Even more surprising, more than half of consumers with household income above $500K per year or more than $5 million in investible assets don’t accept the “affluent” moniker, revealing a true discomfort with the term.

Before I found this CEB study, I polled my readers, asking “What’s the best way to refer to your target audience in marketing materials aimed at investors who have a high net worth?”

Only 25% chose “HNW.” “Affluent investors” was the most popular choice.

Question_2_HNW

In favor of HNW, here’s what one person said, “Per my advisor friend: ‘Wealthy or affluent. It’s subjective but people with wealth are aware that they have it. HNW is an industry term that makes them feel like a trophy. Generally I find people start considering themselves wealthy when they have 1-2 million of investable assets, 5 million+ in real estate, or a 10 million+ operating company.’”

More commenters favoring HNW said

  • “Everything else is gauche, especially since we’re in such a polarized climate in terms of income inequality.”
  • “I don’t think people like to think of themselves as affluent or wealthy.”

Another person who favored “affluent” commented that the term “throws a big net.” That’s an interesting point. Among some audiences, “affluent” refers to investors one rung below HNW. According to one definition, “affluent” ranges from $100,000 to $1 million in investable assets.  HNW starts at $1 million, according to this example.

A respondent who voted for “Investors with more than $__ to invest” said, “Nobody likes to be labeled. A dollar figure gets straight to the point and is completely objective.” Identifying specific dollar levels was much less popular than using a broad label. However, I was interested to see that a 2015 ad by Bessemer Trust stated “Minimum relationship $10 million.” It seems as if most firms targeting individuals or families are vague about how rich their new clients must be. Perhaps specificity gets easier as your minimum account size rises and it becomes more important to screen out prospects with insufficient assets.

Another respondent suggested using the term “individual investors as opposed to institutional.”

Personally, I’m not wild about using labels such as HNW outside our industry. I liked this respondent’s answer, “I don’t usually refer to their net worth. I focus on where they are in their financial life: nearing retirement.”

Thank you, respondents!

I’m grateful to everyone who answered my questions and shared their thoughtful comments. Thank you!

Blogging Q&A with James McDonald

James McDonald of Index Strategy Advisors, a Houston-based firm that manages ETF-based portfolios, has made social media a key part of his firm’s marketing. He has built his firm’s assets under management from zero to more than $50 million in a little more than two years.

This is part of a series of Q&As that I’ve conducted via email with advisors who blog. Previous interviewees included Michael Kitces, Jim Blankenship, and Carolyn McClanahan.

Q. When did you start your Insights blog?j2

A. December 20, 2011 — I launched my blog on my birthday to coincide with the public debut/announcement of my company on social media.

Q. How has your blog brought you new business or improved your existing client relationships? Please explain and quantify, if possible.

A. My blog was crucial in growing my business from scratch. It helped by displaying my expertise and research to three main audiences:

  1. Potential clients
  2. Potential employees
  3. The media, colleagues and potential partners in the industry.

It’s all about showing people what you know and what potential value you bring to the table without logistical limitations! I’ve acquired clients, employees, and partnerships from all four corners of the United States and everywhere in between based solely on my online presence. Without my blog, I could never have grown my business across the country, let alone persuaded anyone to do business with me.

I can trace some new clients directly to my blog. In fact, there’s one blog post that attracted dozens of clients for me over the course of several weeks.

Q. What blogging techniques or topics have most helped your business?

A. The two most effective blogging techniques for me have been the

  1. Presentation of timely, news-driven topics, such as the Facebook IPO, fiscal cliff, U.S. presidential election, and euro zone credit crisis—this works because it attracts pageviews from people trying to understand these topics

2. Integration of people I care about into my writing—for example, I’ve been thrilled to reconnect with friends from my high school in Bethesda, Md., from 20 years ago. I often remark about them or speak directly to them in my writing. In other words I usually make my narrative personal. This seems to resonate with my readers, who feel they’re getting to know me as a person.

Q. What are three of your favorite—or most effective—blog posts? Provide the titles, URLs and a comment about why you included them.

A. My three favorite blog posts:

  1. How To Invest Smarter: The 5 Reasons Your Portfolio Isn’t Growing — this post is a favorite because it demonstrates our core expertise directly. This is the blog post that attracted dozens of clients for me over the course of several weeks.
  2. A complex debate simplified by money — this post is a favorite because I learned something new (financial statistics about the gun industry) and was able to constructively get something off of my chest. After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was a heightened gun debate in the U.S. I wanted to join that debate, but from the perspective of a parent and investment professional. This post attracted several new clients for me. It was also a catalyst for new relationships with journalists interested in the topic and my research skills.
  3. 4 reasons why I accept Facebook as a friend, but am ignoring the IPO request — this post is a favorite because I felt so strongly about the topic (opposing investment in individual stocks by retail investors) and the investment in question (FB IPO). It was a fun way to include my technical expertise and personal thoughts, while weaving in my friends on Facebook who I enjoy so much. In fact, I even dedicated the post to my FB friends and a hilarious video about a baby raccoon that I had just seen on FB.

Q. What’s your best tip for advisors who blog?

A. My best tip for advisors who blog is to track and measure your viewership analytics closely. If people don’t like what you’re writing you need to change it. If people do like what you’re writing, then you need to increase your emphasis on that topic or style of post

Google Analytics is a great free tool to measure how many have viewed your blog posts. The input from a good tracking tool will inform how you calibrate everything you do with respect to your blog. It will ultimately drive your ROI higher.

Learn what works in winning clients

Are you about to embark on a new marketing campaign that will cost you a lot in money or time? Take a step back! It’s time to assess what’s already working for you.

There are marketing firms that will help you conduct an assessment. But you can get a quick sense by analyzing your most recent new client wins. After all, as Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.” In this case, it means you can learn from your history.

Create a table of new clients

To illustrate what I mean, I created a table analyzing some of the new writing clients that I picked up in 2012. I looked at the following criteria:

  1. Client type
  2. Initial contact
  3. Whether they subscribe to my e-newsletter, which has been a key element of my marketing strategy
  4. Social media connections
  5. Time from initial contact to hire

Here’s a screenshot of my table:

 What worked for me

So what was most important for me in gaining new clients? On the basis of this table, plus some notes that I haven’t shared, I decided on the following:

  1. Word of mouth from people who know me well–In two (possibly three) of these cases my colleagues played a key role.
  2. LinkedIn visibility complemented by my blog/newsletter to keep me in front of prospects until they’re ready to move–The role of social media would be greater if I analyzed how I’ve found students for my blogging class.
  3. Clearly defining my target market on my website–I nearly missed my shot at one of these clients because it wasn’t clear that I worked with vendors to the asset management industry. I’ve since modified my website copy to make that more evident.

What about YOU?

Have you tried analyzing your recent new clients to identify trends? What has helped or hurt your new business development?

 

Reader challenge: How do you save your marketing project from last-minute derailment?

 

If you’ve ever had a project go bad at the last minute, you’ll care about the answer to this reader challenge. You may even have solutions. So please join the conversation.

I’ve participated in at least one marketing project that was cancelled due to a change of direction at the top. Some projects’ derailments are out of your control, for example if your firm is sold or a new boss arrives.

Stakeholder buy-in is key

marketing strategy, content strategyOther projects die from preventable problems. This is why I said “Aha!” when reading Margot Bloomstein’s Content Strategy at Work.

Bloomstein says, “It’s important that you involve all the stakeholders in the room–don’t let anyone hang back like a shadowy presence, ready to swoop in and derail activities.” In her book chapter on “Designing cohesive experiences: Introducing content strategy to design,” she walks the reader through a process using a facilitator to get stakeholders to agree on a company’s messaging priorities. While the specifics of Bloomstein’s plan are most appropriate for a firm tackling its marketing “big picture,” you could adapt elements for smaller projects.

My approach to getting buy-in

Learning from experience, I’ve tweaked my writing process to help my clients get buy-in from their colleagues and superiors.

You can adapt the following process to your situation, if appropriate.

Step 1: Interview the client to understand what they’d like to accomplish and why. Define the project’s scope as narrowly as possible.

Step 2: Prepare a proposal that incorporates information from Step 1. This lets us see if we share a common understanding of the project. If not, we discover our disagreements early. This saves time.

Step 3: Collect information for the writing project and prepare a robust outline. Rather than go directly to a first draft, I prepare a robust outline for the client’s review. The outline’s purpose is to let clients focus on ensuring that all of the necessary content is included, without getting distracted by stylistic issues. I’d like to think that it’s easy for them to circulate the outline for internal approval. Once a client finishes commenting on this outline, there shouldn’t be any surprises in the form of new content introduced later.

Step 4: Circulate a complete draft for comments. My clients typically have only minor edits in response to this draft.

How do you keep your marketing projects from getting derailed?

The techniques described above help in some, but not all, situations. I’ve discussed solutions specific to working with portfolio managers in “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?

I’m sure you have techniques that I haven’t discussed. Please share your ideas.

Reader challenge: Can you explain duration better than The New York Times?

The duration of a bond isn’t easy to explain in few wordsTiny Yields Pose Risks for Bond Funds. This is why I was delighted by the brief description I found in The New York Times.

Author Carla Fried wrote, “For the most part, managers seem to agree that it is best to limit a fund’s duration, or sensitivity to changes in interest rates. The longer the duration, the more yield you get today, but with the trade-off of a bigger price decline if rates rise.” This paragraph appeared in “Tiny Yields Pose Risks for Bond Funds” on July 8, 2012.

Can YOU explain duration better?

I’m interested in alternative explanations of duration that an ordinary American can understand. Please leave your suggestions below.

Focus your marketing, says the “Financial Services Marketing Handbook”

 

Targeting your prospects instead of marketing to everybody works best, as the Financial Services Marketing Handbook suggests in the following quote:

Very few companies can afford to be everything to everyone any more. Even companies with mass-market products (like basic checking accounts) segment their markets so that they can focus their limited marketing dollars on the most profitable segments.

The book also offers direct-mail statistics to support the value of targeting. “…When the list, the offer, and the message are narrowly targeted, response can go up to 10% or more” versus less than 2%. That’s an increase of more than 500%.

If you’re interested in learning more, this information comes from Chapter 1 Segmentation.

By the way, I won a free copy of this book in a random drawing by PropelGrowth. Thank you, @CandyceEdelen and @PhilDonaldsonNJ!