Category Archives for "SMALL BUSINESS MANAGEMENT"

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Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

BNBranding logoIt was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with a delicious assortment of treats… Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial advisor.

First gift ever from a planner who I’ve worked with for more than 10 years. Apparently, the stock market’s rise inspired her to do a little outreach. That’s one of the problems with marketing for financial advisors… it’s a fair weather affair.  (She stays conspicuously quiet when the market is tanking.)

marketing for financial advisors BNBranding

Her marketing efforts are being driven by outside forces, beyond her control.

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 differentiation and little visibility.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing for financial advisors…

• 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 again once it’s up and running.

• 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. There’s no strategy at all. 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. There’s just too much competition on too many different fronts.

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, when the market “corrects” itself, they might see a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they start scrambling to find new clients.

Choose one main thing BNBrandingMost just ratchet-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But it’s tough when they’ve been silent for years.

Some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

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. Very, very few have any sort of specialty or market niche.

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 assuming that you have some sort of specialty or differentiating featues, you can get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization you could never achieve on your own.

In this day and age, marketing for financial advisors has to go beyond a static website and a Facebook page.

If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge and your unique insight by writing a blog. 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.

But before you dive in, consider your strategy. Because tactics without a strategy is like a ship with no rudder. For more on Strategy vs. Tactics, try this post.

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

For more info, try this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

1 waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

BNBranding logoWhen it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. The minute the boss gives them the bad news… “gotta cut your marketing budget”  they go straight to the list of tactics and start chopping off the bottom of the spread sheet. Not a smart trimming around the ears, a military-style buzz cut…

how to cut your marketing budget

First thing to get chopped  is  community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernible ROI.

The next thing on the chopping block is ”image” advertising.” Anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window.

Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Quite often, the only thing left is nearly-free social media posts and tiny little digital display ads that don’t get seven seconds of attention.

The short-term reaction often leaves companies looking quite bad in the long run.

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cutting your marketing budget.

Rather than a military barber’s approach to cost cutting, try thinking like a surgeon. First, do no harm. Start by eliminating the marketing messages that are off brand, off target, or both.

In order to do that, you might need a second opinion.

You need more than just the bosses’ orders and one person’s opinion to wisely cut your marketing budget. You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the marketing planning process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

So here’s an idea… why not start with an objective assessment of what you’re currently doing? Get a second opinion on your messaging, your media buy and your overall tactical plan.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem…

Print ads say one thing, social media says another and the web site implies something else. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Get your message aligned with your strategy. Reevaluate every marketing “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness. Then scalp all the wild hairs.

If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.”  No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

And you know what they say about ass-umptions.

Here’s an example from the medical profession: Our client, the CEO of a multi-location pediatric practice, was enamored with the idea of “excellence.”  He wanted to build a “pediatric center of excellence” and recruit specialists from all over to “elevate the level of care to new heights.”  Operationally, that’s a great idea, but it was a terrible idea for advertising.

Because the assumption — that the quality of care is relevant to young mothers — turned out to be false. Moms believe that ALL doctors are good doctors. They just want one that they like in an office that’s convenient. So in that case, we started by cutting out all the communications that were focused on the quality of care.

Here’s another example of the messaging process gone wrong. I wrote a post about an ad for Wales Tourism. A classic case of paying a lot of money to place an ad  in Golf Digest that was wrong in both its strategy, and its execution.

As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.”  And even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales Tourism probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

truth in advertising BNBrandingAny decent marketing person can buy media that will reach the desired target audience and choose tactics that will drive traffic. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely.

Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand  image.

So if you absolutely have to cut your marketing budget, start by reading this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

2

Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

BNBranding logoMarketing is a very judgemental business. Business owners and CEOs are constantly judging the results of their marketing efforts. Sometimes objectively, sometimes not.

judging your advertising agency's workAd agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.

When it comes to television advertising, everyone’s a critic.

TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.

But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgemental.

Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. Critical thinking is a key to good judgement.

You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. But there’s no such thing as constructively judgmental.

For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgemental. Judgemental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgemental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice.

I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgemental. One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil con-men, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgement to the point of being obstinately ineffective.

His poor judgement in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgement, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions. Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment. They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.

Many people who strive to be less judgmental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.

Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.”

That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a media schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work for him — that time.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. And I’m not talking about race. I’m talking about favorite colors and pet peeves like red, yellow or any shade of orange.

How rational is that?

Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program.

In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.

At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypes of the target audience. One sentence on a creative brief cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a group.

On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)

Here are a few stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with…

  1. CMOs can’t possibly be creative.
  2. Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work.
  3. Art directors don’t know a thing about business.
  4. Account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.
  5. Anyone over 40 can’t be trusted to manage social media or digital advertising.

Nonsense. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Writers and art directors pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully to clients in a wide variety of business categories. And creativity is not something you lose as you get older.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. And it’s so ingrained in American culture you even hear it in post-game interviews… athletes who come in second openly admit that the winner was a “better person.”

No he isn’t. He just performed a little better that one time.

Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgemental.

Blogs are inherently judgemental. The whole idea of an on-line soapbox lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I addressed the soapbox syndrome in my very first post, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.

I urge you to do the same. Use good judgement.

Oregon advertising agency blog post on stereotypes

• Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.

• Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project. Just because you didn’t like one idea, or one campaign concept, doesn’t mean the team is a failure.

• Make sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something. That’s a prerequisite for good judgement.

• Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution. Even though you may not personally like orange doesn’t mean it should be eliminated entirely from the brand design guidelines.

• Remember that your creative team is constantly judging  their own work against the best in the business.  And if they’re any good, they’re probably quite hard on themselves.

• And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Don’t reinforce stereotypes, break them.

Click here for an unbiased, non-judgemental assessment of all your marketing efforts. 

Try this post if you want good judgement when it comes to website design. 

 

a new approach to website design BNBranding

1 How to survive when the economy tanks.

 There’s a lot of economic doom and gloom in the news these days; Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard about the housing market, the unemployment rate and the rising price of groceries and gas.

For many business owners, it’s frightening. The fortune-teller economists are predicting even more “belt tightening” as the year goes on, and if you let it, all the crummy forecasts might scare you into doing something totally rash. Like nothing at all.

It’s pretty common, actually. When the leading economic indicators start heading south, many business owners go into immediate survival mode. Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover!

The natural tendency is to adopt a siege mentality and hunker down until “things get better.” So they pull the plug on marketing and branding. Then P.R and charitable giving. Then training and customer service initiatives. They stop doing the things that helped them succeed in the first place.

It’s a strategy of inaction, and it never works. Not in the long run.

Studies of life and death survival struggles prove that action is the antidote for despair. You see it in cancer patients, in soldiers, castaways, mountaineers and disaster victims. Those who let despair take over, sit down and die. Survivors, on the other hand, take action.

Determination and a disciplined, almost clinical approach seem to be the secret. Survivors don’t place blame, make excuses or wallow in self pity. They accept their current circumstances and start working on a solution immediately by setting small, achievable goals. They don’t waste a lot of energy running around in circles, doing things that won’t get them to the goal.

For a climber in the Andes, it meant extricating himself from a crevasse and literally dragging his starving body and shattered leg 10 miles down a glacier. All the way back to camp. For one hiker in the canyonlands of Utah, it meant amputating his own arm with his pocket knife.

Makes surviving a recession seem like a cake walk.

Make no mistake about it, a significant economic downturn can be fatal to a small business. But businesses fail all the time, regardless of what the economy is doing.

The fact is, if you have a clearly defined strategy, and the discipline to stick with it, there’s no reason you can’t do much more than just survive a recession. You can thrive. You can gain ground on the competition. You launch new products and improve your entire operation. The history of American commerce if full of war stories that prove the point.

Post and Kellog’s were battling head-to-head in the breakfast cereal category when the Great Depression hit. W.C. Kellogg plowed ahead, doubled his advertising budget and even introduced the world’s first vitamin-enriched product cereal. Post cut back and Kellogg’s has been the market leader ever since. (Kellogg also cut hours in his plant for three of his shifts and added a fourth, just to spread his payroll among more workers. But that’s another story.)

But forget about the 1930’s. Here are some things you can do, right now, to survive the perfect, economic storm.

1. Use downtime to your advantage. Most managers have so many fires to put out they never get around to long-term strategic thinking. If things are slow, do it! Clarify your objectives and fine-tune your elevator pitch. Revisit your value proposition. Make sure you can communicate your strategy clearly and succinctly. (Few CEOs can.)

2. Get your bearings and refocus your efforts. In the woods, the last thing you want to do is wander around in circles. Same thing in business. Don’t waste precious energy and money chasing business that doesn’t really fit your model. (see item #1)

3. Renegoiate your media contracts. When it comes to print ad space and broadcast spots, you should be able to get a lot more for your money right now. So play hardball. Insist that your advertising salespeople work up innovative new schedules.

4. Get creative. Brainstorm new strategic alliances, sponsorship opportunities or marketing initiatives. Look for ways to leverage your existing partnerships. Do something! And keep this in mind: When times are tough even small initiatives can have a big impact. Because everyone else is sitting around waiting for the rescue helicopters.

5. Recycle one of your favorite, old ad campaigns. A lot of people kill campaigns way too soon, before the public has ever been thoroughly exposed to the messages. So instead of creating a whole new campaign, go through your archives and dust off the advertising that’s worked for you in the past.

6. Spend a little extra time listening to your best customers. Forget about you, and find out what their problems are. Then help devise a solution.

7. Take extra care of your people. They’re reading all the bad news in the paper too, and it’s unsettling. So step up, and be a leader. As the CEO, you have to be an optimist. Because nobody follows a pessimist.