Monthly Archives: April 2009

7 Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

It was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with an assortment of treats and trinkets. Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial planner.

First gift ever. The crux of most financial planner marketing.

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Seven-story corporate headquarters of Longaberger's Basket Company, Newark Ohio.

Apparently, the stock market’s spiraling decline inspired her to do a little preemptive marketing.

Like most small, professional service firms, her marketing efforts are inversely related to her current cash flow. When the markets are up and she’s riding high, her marketing expenses are low. She’s too busy — and content— to worry about it. When things are tough, it’s time to turn on the charm. It’s human nature.

Unfortunately, her current clients see the effort for what it is. (Just buttering us up for the bad news to come.) And new prospects aren’t swayed because her personal brand isn’t strong enough to weather the whims of Wall Street.

Her brand has no credibility right now. No differentiation. And little visibility. The only good thing you can say is she didn’t work for WaMu or one of the big investments banks.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing plan for an independent financial advisor.

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

• Christmas card to all clients. (Gift baskets are typically reserved for only the top three or four clients.)

• One-page, off-the shelf website, never to be touched once it’s up.

• Annual guest speaker luncheon. (Bring in a so-called “expert” spokesperson, book a room at a local hotel, cater lunch and then bore us to tears. If I wanted to know all that stuff, I’d do my own trading.)

It’s more of a tactical to-do list than an actual marketing plan. In the past it might have worked. She could get by on her good looks and good news from a bull market.

Not any more.

Compensation for independent financial advisors is typically based either on a flat fee, or on a percentage of the total assets under management (AUM). If it’s $100 million of other people’s money, they typically make 1% of that. A million bucks gross. The problem is, they’ve all seen a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they’re scrambling to find new clients.

Most are just ratcheting-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

It’s pretty simple. Advisors sign up with an independent web directory and they pay only for highly qualified referrals. Very little effort for financial advisors. Very big ROI.

Independent, third-party directories also fill a vital role for consumers: They help simplify the search and match prospects with a financial advisor who fits. It’s a vexing decision, choosing someone to handle your life savings. And most financial advisor web sites have the same, stock-photo look, and the same brochure-style copy.

On-line directories have been done successfully in the education market, travel, real estate, and the auto industry. So why not financial advisors?

When prospects go on line to research “financial advisors” they begin with Google. But Google can’t sort or organize the category in a helpful way. That’s where directories come in… they categorize advisors, provide details on specific services and nudge prospects along in the decision making process. So independent advisors get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization they could never achieve on their own.

In this day and age, having a web presence beyond just a static website is a marketing no-brainer. If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge by writing a blog. Create a Facebook page. Join a social network like Linked In or Triiibes. Establish a presence for you and your personal brand in places where your direct competitors aren’t. Do something, ANYTHING, that’s different from what you’ve always done.

Most professionals who run small service businesses believe networking is enough. But that’s not the case right now for financial advisors. There’s no gift basket big enough for the job ahead. It’s time to start employing some new marketing tactics.

If you want an idea that will dramatically differentiate you from all the other hungry advisors and help you retain clients without the use of lavish gifts, send me an e-mail: johnf@bnbranding.com.

3 Brands that are built to last.

Built To Last, by Jim Collins, is commonly known as one of the most influential business books ever written. It’s on every consultant’s bookshelf and should be required reading for any executive, business owner or budding entrepreneur.

It’s also one of the best branding books you’ll ever read.

built_to_lastYou have to read between the lines though, because Collins never used the words “brand” or “branding.” Back in 1994 it just wasn’t on his radar. Collins and his co-author Jerry Porras focused instead on “visionary” companies and compared them, head-to-head, with not-so-visionary competitors.

They found that “core ideology” is a common element of success among all visionary companies. Those organizations have strong, enduring principles that go beyond just profits. Call it a cause. A purpose. A set of principles… Whatever. The point is, if you want to build a visionary company or a great, enduring brand, you have to start by knowing who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist.

Collins used this equation: Core Values + Purpose = Core Ideology. The Brand Insight spin: Core Values + Purpose = the foundation of your branding efforts.

If you’re launching a new brand or reevaluating an existing one, start with that equation. Dig below the surface and ask yourself this fundamental question: “What business are we really in?”

Sounds simple enough, but there are millions of business owners and entrepreneurs who never give that a second thought. (Too much navel-gazing, I suppose.)

These are the people who figure “success” is enough of a purpose and you shouldn’t waste time or resources on things like branding. But as Collins proved, it’s those core values that set great companies apart from also-rans. And the great brands from wannabes.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon understands that his brand goes way beyond selling books. And Phil Knight knows it’s not just the shoes at Nike. (Interestingly, both of those brands would probably fit Collins’ criteria of a “visionary” company.)

Here’s another important finding from Built To Last: Ideology must be authentic and integrated seamlessly into everything the company does.

Same with brands. If your core brand values aren’t authentic, consumers will figure it out. They’ll see through the marketing hype and recognize the disconnect every time.

Here’s a good example: Tommy Hilfiger used to be the hottest thing in fashion. His clothing was successfully positioned as a more affordable version of Ralph Lauren. Young, somewhat preppy suburban WASPs were buying lots of Hilfiger outfits that would blend well at any yacht club.

But in the late 90’s the Hilfiger line caught on in the hip-hop community. When that big Hilfiger logo started appearing in rap videos the company saw what was happening and thought, wow, we’re really hot in that market. We should start designing for them.

Donny Deutsch once said it was “the single stupidest blunder in the history of advertising.”

Hilfiger abandoned the brand ideology that made the company so successful and tried to cater to the African American market by adding bling to their clothes.

“We jeweled it, we studded it and we really pushed the envelope,” Hilfiger said in a 2001 interview. They also launched an ad campaign focused on the urban, street culture. But when the advertising went street, he lost the street.

The black community saw right through it and was immediately turned off. Pandering! And Hilfiger’s core audience in the white community saw the ads, said “that’s not me,” and quit buying. Sales plummeted, and that brand’s still suffering. As one wall street analyst put it, “that brand will never again be the hot, flashy, overly talked about, fast-growing company it once was.”

And it would never make it into Collins’s book.

“Stimulate progress, but preserve the core,” it says. Hilfiger abandoned the core in the name of progress, and it backfired on them.

There are many other points from Built To Last that relate to branding… Collins found that visionary companies have “cult-like” corporate cultures. Everyone is indoctrinated into the core ideology and they follow it faithfully. (Ever seen a Wal-Mart sales meeting!)

Great brands work the same way. There are so many parallels I’m tempted to say, just maybe, “Visionary company” is synonymous with “great brand.”

6 From Cola Wars to Computer Wars – Microsoft misses again.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war was a popular topic of college marketing classes, sit coms and even Saturday Night Live.

“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi once said.

Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to software. From free-spirited young people who’d “like to teach the world to sing” to nerds all over the world claiming “I’m a PC.”

It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.

Every since 1984, when Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with one of the most famous superbowl commercials of all time, the folks up in Redmond have been paranoid about Apple. So paranoid, in fact, they’ve ignored one of the most basic tenets of marketing…

Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.

This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft does, don’t give a puny little competitor like Apple the time of day. Don’t get suckered into a fight, and don’t design an ad campaign that directly mimics the competitor’s campaign.

I don’t think there’s ever been a more overt, tit-for-tat advertising war. (If you can think of one, please, send a comment.)

Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign. Those spots work on so many different levels, if the Microsoft execs were smart, they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole. Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own. You’re the market leader, remember!

But nope. They played right into the enemy’s hands and produced a knock-off version of the Apple spots. They hired an actor who looks like the guy in the Apple spots, and gave him this opening line: “Hello, I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”

All that did was shine the spotlight back on Jobs & company. Microsoft’s copy cat spots gave the Apple campaign a whole new life. Every time one ran, the audience was reminded of the original Apple spots. Not only that, the media coverage of the marketing battle gave Apple free airtime, effectively extending the smaller competitor’s media budget.

I’m not sure if Apple was purposely trying to get a rise out of Microsoft, but they sure did. And every time Microsoft responds in kind, they dig themselves a deeper hole.

This week Microsoft launched yet another Apple war ad. They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they can find for under $700. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”

It’s the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. Very honest and authentic feeling. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace… Apple has always been a premium brand that’s not for everyone. That’s not news. So why does Microsoft continue to run ads that help cement that message?

In the Laptop Hunter spot they’re basically admitting that a Mac is what everyone aspires to. If you can’t afford one you settle for a second-best PC. The spot flat-out encourages people to compare Windows-based laptops to Apple laptops, and the more that happens, the more market share Apple will steal.

Fox News did a nine-minute segment about the spot the other day, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Sure, there is some low-hanging fruit right now in low-end laptops. But that’s just a short-term message that hinges more on the economic climate than any genuine brand strategy. Not the type of message a #1 player should even consider. Tit for tat works for Apple. Not for Microsoft. The market leader should lead, not follow in its advertising. Besides, you can’t take pot shots at the underdog, it just doesn’t look good.

The fact is, Microsoft’s never had a decent ad campaign before landing at Crispin Porter. On the other hand, Apple has a long history of groundbreaking advertising, from “Think Different” to the iconic iPod spots and now “I’m a PC.”

Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. Microsoft… not so much.

I’m particularly amused by the Apple spots that directly pick on the dreadful, Vista Operating System and Microsoft’s response to the problem. As long as Microsoft keeps responding to this type of advertising, and escalating the war, Apple can’t lose.

See ’em here:

http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/