Andrew Gluck was moderating a panel about retirement at an advisory conference recently when he came to a stunning realization. The idea of asking clients when they plan to retire isn't only bad, it's insulting.
The better question: How do you plan to spend your 60s, 70s and 80s?
Gluck, the CEO of Advisor Products, rushed back to his office and rethought an online brochure he's currently producing for the advisory community. Deleted: the term "retirement planning." In its place: a headline that says, "Planning for the Best Years of Your Life" with a subhead that states, "Financial Planning for Your 60s, 70s and 80s."
Gluck's response nicely frames what top thinkers, marketing experts and advisors alike, are saying about the marketing message today's sharpest advisors ought to be delivering.
First, the message must be client-focused. As At Ease consultant Brigid O'Connor notes, "Advisors are taking time to consider the client's perspective and this is a stellar step in the right direction." It's about articulating the benefits of your practice, not just the features.
Yet far too few advisors put the time [and money] into creating a winning marketing program: brochures, a website, newsletters, events. In fact, two years ago, O'Connor judged a contest of about 50 advisor brochures, representing tens of thousands of dollars. None passed her "smell test:" that the message be client-based rather than advisor-based.
One advisor who has gotten it right: Mark Thompson, an advisor for over 20 years, has a very deep marketing program, including newsletters, brochures, e-mail correspondence, cards and topical reports. With $155 million in assets under management, the Raymond James & Associates certified financial planner has a thriving practice.
But Thompson, based in Melbourne, Fla., is currently sharpening his marketing message after realizing that 10 percent to 20 percent of the referrals he was getting were people who weren't the right fit for him.
At the moment, Thompson, 44, is investing up to $10,000 in new brochures that will more clearly align his marketing message with his ideal practice.
"This was an awakening," says Thompson. "I don't want to have to cull through clients; I'm trying to only have the appropriate ones come to me. My client-based message is that I want to work with more people like my clients. So I need to make sure that my referral sources -- CPAs, tax attorneys and clients -- know exactly who my target market is. The marketing package needs to say the same thing that the referral source said."
Creating a marketing message is a good exercise if for no other reason than it triggers reflection: What's my business model? What makes it special? What kind of advisor do I want to be? What kind of clients do I wish to attract?
"One of the biggest issues is: How does an advisor best present himself/herself in terms of their value proposition? What is the advisor's value to a prospect? Inherent in this is that so many people are out there offering services. Let's face it. You have to give a potential client a good reason to work with you versus the rest of the world," observes Howard Gendel, an industrial psychologist who serves as Advisor Products' research director. "What is it that makes you valuable?"
Yet when Gendel -- who has conducted focus groups for Merrill Lynch and many other firms -- asks advisors just what it is they do, many come up short.
"They're not necessarily aware, then suddenly they'll say: We do all of our money management internally through a committee, and -- boom -- the light bulb goes on. Suddenly, they realize not everyone in the world does this and you build a value proposition around their unique delivery," he adds.
Gregory Powell, president and CEO of Fi-Plan Partners in Birmingham, Ala., has built his marketing message around a financial planning process he designed known as "Your Financial House." With $200 million in assets under management, the 47-year-old LPL fee advisor is now marketing the concept through his chief contacts: clients, estate planning attorneys and CPAs.
In particular, Powell is pushing his website, which he calls "today's business card." On the site is information about his planning process; bios that show his team's educational and professional credentials as well as non-profit and community involvements; company news and updates; and his stated goal: to make a difference in the lives of his clients, his team and his industry.
The website is part of a marketing program that includes brochures, a monthly newsletter that Powell outsources and get-togethers in his Birmingham Barons skybox, always outfitted with the firm's marketing materials.
"I just don't believe an advisor today can make it without marketing support. And it's a wonderful way [for prospects] to get to know us without feeling like they're being sold. And once your marketing is laid out, there is this momentum effect," says Powell. "And as long as your marketing backs up the true client experience, your business just continues to grow and grow."
Simple and Sincere
Where to start? From the top down.
As Gluck puts it, "You need an elevator speech but you don't start with an elevator speech or a four-word slogan. You start by writing 1,000 words about who you are and what you do and you boil it down to the most important concepts. You get it to 500 words, then boil it down again into a version that could fit a brochure nicely. Then boil it down again into a slogan and an elevator speech."
As for brochures, Advisor Products research suggests that a four-page, 11-inch by 17-inch brochure is by far the most effective and efficient. The so-called Slim Jim, or pocket brochure, is considered downscale and lengthy brochures too weighty. Ideally, they should be professionally written and designed. Charts, diagrams and photographs should all play a part.
"They're deadly unless done well," says O'Connor. "By done well I think brochures should be light on text and easy on the eye. Limited text means what's there might actually get read so the text needs to speak clearly and with great impact."
Gendel's research has also led him to conclude that prospects want to "click" with a brochure "like it's talking to me about something I care about." A lot of advisors favor images of architecture or nature but both Gendel and O'Connor say the better choices are photos or illustrations of people in situational settings, like the classic shot of an older couple strolling casually on a beach.
"I know of a firm that relies on a pyramid for the brand logo. I suspect it holds great meaning for the partners, but it says nothing to other audiences. This isn't necessarily bad marketing, but it is a missed opportunity to say something simple and sincere about the firm," O'Connor notes.
Adds Gendel: "You must build trust and credibility as step one: Who are you? What's your background? These are all things that can easily be communicated in materials. Ultimately, an advisor wants to use materials that drive the prospect into personal contact with them. In the old days, it was 'Come in and talk.' Today, it's more: 'I'll come in -- but only with some pre-knowledge.'"
Marketing Matters: No two advisors are the same. Here's how two very different advisors make marketing matter.
Eric Kohlmeier, with $150 million in assets under management, works as an advisor in Wachovia Securities' bank channel in affluent Park Ridge, N.J. Licensed at 18, he has two decades in the industry -- including a stint early on as a commercial lender for Citibank, which introduced him to what he calls "the power of marketing."
It wasn't unusual back then for Kohlmeier and his colleagues to take 50 CPAs to dinner by bus or to go fishing. For him, it's always been about doing what the advisor at the bank across the street is not doing.
At the moment, he uses brochures and newsletters customized by Wachovia. He also places a ghost-written article in the local weekly. He attends charity events to socialize with clients. He mails out 10 client letters a year, some business-oriented, others not [a Sept. 11, 2001 remembrance, as an example, and a Mother's Day reminder.]
On top of that, he has one assistant dedicated to marketing. A year ago, he enrolled in Bill Good's marketing program. Just recently, Kohlmeier donated a scoreboard to the Park Ridge Athletic Association. The scoreboard, with his name and Wachovia's logo, has gotten a lot of notice because the old one never worked.
"A lot of advisors are afraid to spend their own money, but it's like opening your own store. You've got to make an investment," he says. "If you want to build to the next level, if you want to be one of the advisors who survive, it's about relationships. This is all about building that relationship."
Judi Rosenthal, 34, doesn't use brochures or a website. This senior financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial uses events and non-traditional professional referral sources to deliver her marketing message.
Rosenthal, an advisor since 1997, launched a new practice four years ago in New York. Her target client: women executives in the fashion and media industries.
"Some people called it a risk. I called it an opportunity. I'd sold a practice in Boston and asked myself: 'If I'm going to do it again, how would I do it?' So I got in touch with the kinds of people I wanted to work with, people compatible with me."
She got a break early when her branch manager asked her to present a 401(k) seminar to Liz Claiborne employees. Later, she joined non-profit groups organized by female executives in the fashion and cosmetics industries.
"It's been a very focused effort. I've tried to put out a message that distinguishes me as someone who understands the unique characteristics of women in this industry," says Rosenthal. Among them: high job turnover, compensation issues, stock option negotiations.
As an active referral-seeker, Rosenthal has organized three special events over the last year to which she has invited selected clients and their guests: a flower-arranging class at a flower studio; a martini and hand-massage party at the Modern Museum of Art's bar; and, for her California constituency, a private party in Beverly Hills at Spago, at which celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck signed cookbooks. The events were funded in part by Ameriprise's corporate marketing department, which also secured a spot for Rosenthal last December as a guest on Dr. Phil for a show on women and finance.
The events have had a huge return. At the flower arranging class, five of the six guests became clients. Now, Rosenthal, who manages $25 million in assets, is reaching out to recruiters and human resources executives who specialize in her target industries.
"Fashion is like baseball. Everybody knows who has what job and what they're getting paid. In my own business planning, I'm looking at how I can leverage relationships with other kinds of professionals my client base uses," says Rosenthal. "It's less traditional [than attorneys and CPAs] but it fits into my long-term strategies." N
Marketing & Science: What's the secret to effective marketing? It comes down to one word: SCIENCE, according to Andrew Gluck, CEO of Advisor Products, a firm that creates marketing solutions for 1,800 advisory firms.
"SCIENCE is an acronym that captures everything an advisor needs to know," says Gluck. Here's his take on the science of marketing:
Simple. If a marketing solution is difficult to implement, you are likely to fail. Make it as simple as you can for people.
Customized. It's got to be about the advisor, your brand standing out through your company colors, logo and personal style.
Intelligent. You're asking people to trust you with their money. You can't just give them fluff.
Economical. Advisors are running small businesses. You must insist on good value.
Newsy. If you send out a newsletter, it's got to be topical -- about what's happening now. Make sure you keep your marketing materials fresh and up to date.
Client-oriented. This isn't about you. We do this. We do that. Your message has got to be about the benefits to clients. It's about them.
Easy to maintain. In a digital world, updating your materials ought to be a cinch.