From the August 2008 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

The power of personalization: Direct marketing done right

Think direct marketing is dead in the advisor space? Think again. Advancements in client management touch points and resources put advisors on the path to prosperity.

Direct marketing is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. Without it, mail carriers would be delivering nothing but bills and greeting cards on motor scooters. Consumers are inundated with offers for the latest and greatest products and services, from catalogs and plastic surgery brochures to lawn service flyers and offers for credit cards made of moon rocks. According to the Direct Marketing Association, financial services institutions alone spent $13.4 billion in 2007 on direct marketing, more than 40 percent of which was for direct mail.

Financial advisors find their marketing materials caught up in the flood of direct mail their clients and prospects receive every day. All that effort and money is wasted if the materials are unceremoniously dumped into the round file before they are even read. Fortunately, advisors, broker/dealers and third-party direct marketers know this and are constantly improving their direct mail efforts and the database systems that support direct marketing endeavors.

The DMA goes on to say that those marketing efforts - $13.4 billion worth - paid off to the tune of $178 billion in sales. Direct mail works when done well.

It's got the look
The mantra fast taking over in direct marketing is, "Direct marketing can't look like direct marketing." Even traditional postcards - and it's a mistake to think postcards are the only way to go - can stand out from the rest. Jason Taylor, chief technology officer at Ink 2 ( in Emeryville, Calif., says it is best to use eye catching images on direct mail.

"Show something they identify with," Taylor encourages.

He says real estate agents personalize their direct mail by using their photos, but many do something new. Using a service like Google, agents insert satellite images of the recipients' street. Now it isn't just another piece of direct mail, it's a photo of their neighborhood from space. Even if those people aren't in the market at that moment, they'll remember that piece of marketing and - with any luck - the person who sent it.

Financial advisors can do the same kind of thing. A mailing for college planning and 529 plans might use a photo of the ivy-covered walls of Harvard or Yale. An investment update might use a stock market graph or a simulated stock ticker. The possibilities are limitless, and a powerful message can be delivered with minimal clutter.

To make matters even better, when advisors want to send brochures and packets, they can choose the material from a library of provided information, but it doesn't have to look like canned content. Broker/dealers want their advisors to be the stars of the show.

"We provide customizable tools," says Jerry Lezynski, director of marketing at SEI (, based in Oaks, Pa., whose Marketing Resource Center is the go-to portal for its 6,500 financial professionals. "Advisors can put their private label on the material and send it to investors. Producers have different needs, and our technology has the added flexibility to meet those needs."

Five years ago, advisors could have provided the same kinds of information to their clients, but the material wouldn't have looked as personal. That's the key to keeping direct mail from looking like direct mail.

One feature that gives advisors a great chance at increasing their marketing ROI - besides creating great-looking direct marketing pieces - is database segmentation. It's how those real estate agents can send thousands of pieces of mail and get the right satellite street shot on each one. Financial professionals don't have to settle for sending a mailing to a certain ZIP code because that area has many of the right prospects. Advisors can drill deeper and get at the exact audience they want to target. Taylor says advisors can request "males between the ages of 40 and 45 who own their home and have incomes above $80,000."

But it isn't just outside mailing lists that can be segmented and hit with the right message. The platforms broker/dealers are offering give advisors the opportunity to segment their own client populations to provide the levels of service demanded and expected by different levels of client. Broker/dealer Cadaret, Grant ( in Syracuse, N.Y., provides its advisors with the Pareto Platform, which is one example of a business development relationship management tool. BDRMs go beyond what client relationship management tools provide.

An advisor wants to contact his best clients more often? No problem. A BDRM system can be set up to remind him to do just that. Paul Rubacka, project manager of business development at Cadaret, Grant, calls it a service matrix.

"Advisors can identify what services to offer each level of client," Rubacka says. "It can be automated so AAA clients get called more. You can call every 90 days for AAA clients, every 120 days for AA clients and every 180 days for A clients."

Plus, in a multi-advisor office, the reminder to call each client is routed to the correct advisor's calendar.

Those personalized commentaries and brochures can be further personalized and segmented. An advisor with 300 clients doesn't have to send the same monthly message to all 300 clients and/or prospects. Messages can be honed for client lists based on risk aversion, age, amount invested - pretty much any way the advisor wants to categorize his book of business.

"They can change the message for each segment of clients," Lezynski says. "We facilitate that for them. We give them the flexibility to choose what they want."

The technology also works for turning prospects into clients. BDRMs are all about processes. Define the steps, enter them into the system and the system makes certain the process is followed.

"Working a qualified referral can lead to X number of steps," Rubacka says. "Once those steps are defined in the BDRM, the process becomes automatic. It can increase the quality of the experience for prospects and clients."

Everyone from administrative assistants to top-level advisors can be on the same page all the way through the process of signing on a new client, which, as Rubacka points out, makes people more comfortable when it comes to providing referrals.

So, the technology is there to provide increasing levels of personalization and more targeted segmentation, but how are advisors supposed to know which is best? The good news is that advisors don't have to become experts in marketing technology; they can remain experts in financial planning. Broker/dealers and third-party providers are there for that. In fact, Lezynski says advisors shouldn't even try to do the hard stuff.

"The real need seems to be to partner with third-party resources where [advisors] don't have to do a lot," he says. "They should outsource a lot of the tasks and rely on firms that provide the heavy lifting."

Taylor says everything on the technology side is becoming more full-service.

"The professionals don't have to have any of the technology themselves," Taylor says. "They can upload a spreadsheet or type in the information and everything else is handled."

It all boils down to advisors spending more time in front of clients and prospects. That's where their efforts should be focused anyway, since their great new direct mail pieces will bring in more qualified prospects, and the ability to segment their clients into service groups will keep the referral stream running. Yes, people are tired of all of the "junk mail" they receive, and yes, other advisors are telling your clients - their best prospects - they can offer a superior level of service. But new technology is making it easier to get important direct mail noticed, and fully automated processes mean clients will have nothing but good things to say about the service they receive.

When the "cost" of well-done direct marketing pays off to the tune of 12 or 13 to one, finding out more about the technology advancements in that area seems like a no-brainer.

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