Do you market now or wait until things get better? I know that marketing is the last thing on your mind at this moment in time. But the worst thing you can do is cut your marketing. We are witnessing a financial catastrophe which may have peaked but still is highly disruptive. The public is looking for answers, and that alone may be the biggest marketing bonanza ever.
So what can you do? First, you're going to have formulate some answers to the tough questions, and you have got to keep cutting expenses. I certainly am. That being said, here are some low-cost marketing suggestions that you can put to work now.
o Maximize chance encounters. Don't hide away in your office. Get out and walk around town. Let people know what is going on with you. Go to as many parties or events as possible. A casual chance discussion at a cocktail party could lead to something unexpected.
o Think different! When Steve Jobs returned to a shattered Apple Computer in 1997, his first move was to launch a marketing campaign to hammer home one simple message: thinking different.
o Write up your unique story into a concise statement. This should clearly and concisely capture the essence of what differentiates you from the competition. Communicating your value should not be self-aggrandizing, bragging, or displaying a list of your credentials or achievements. You can't list values such as honesty or integrity, or qualities you may possess such as talent, competence, reliability, resourcefulness, preparedness, etc. You need to find a way to show these qualities without using words. For example, instead of saying "I'm a valuable member of the team," tell a story that documents or demonstrates your value, but your stories must ring true and authentic, without sounding egotistical.
Find stories that have an application in your client's world. Recall real-life events of how structuring wealth or assets, educating clients, assessing business risks, conducting succession planning, uncovering insurance issues, and estate planning helped real people.
Your stories should have a central theme of "problem solver." This theme should resonate in everything you do.
o Identify your deliverable. Study how your services can best be used in various scenarios. Continually ask yourself: Why would anyone hire me and use my service today?
o Target sub-tribes, not markets. Nothing is more frustrating than having a number of physician clients, but not being able to further penetrate their market. Instead of targeting a market, use your time to identity a sub-tribe within a much larger market. Especially in difficult times, people find support from and comfort in tribal relationships.
Transform Your Marketing Materials
Most everyone in every industry looks alike, represents themselves alike, and even uses the same language. Due to the substantially similar choices available, it has become even more difficult to objectively select one product, service, or person over another. The public can't tell who is competent and who isn't. Since the alternatives appear to be basically alike to the average consumer, there are no obvious wrong choices, only unfamiliar ones.
But here is the conundrum of a look-alike world: Research shows that our minds are engineered to ignore sameness and respond to differences. We remember mostly what is unique, sensory, creative, out of the ordinary. This simple table shows what traits attract people, and which repels them.
(For more on this topic, try the works of Edward Tufte, a professor emeritus at Yale University, particularly his book Beautiful Evidence (Graphics Press, 2006), available at www.edwardtufte.com)
To transform your marketing materials, you have to repackage your "stuff." Most advisors think of packaging as the least important aspect of their business, according to Dan Sullivan, the co-founder of Strategic Coach (www.strategiccoach.com), but working on your packaging will help you see things from the client's point-of-view. (A disclaimer: while I'm in the third year of the Strategic Coach program, I'm not being paid to write nice things about it.)
As we move deeper into a globally commoditized look-alike world, one of the few areas where you can differentiate yourselves from your competition is in repackaging what you do.
Sullivan boldly proclaims that our real competition is not the people providing similar services to ours, but all those companies that leave us with a positive experience, the way Disney did; or more recently The Four Seasons (the luxury resort chain), Starbucks, or Lexus; those few companies that have transformed their services and their products into a positive experience. Success does leave clues.
Go Traditional Media, and New
Get help in your marketing from unlikely sources. For example, I recommend calling your local newspaper reporter who covers business or finance. Be genuine. Explain what is happening with your clients. Talk about the article you just wrote, offer your insights. Most journalists have never been in your shoes and don't understand your industry the way you do. This sets up future relationships and they will call you back when they need a financial source.
Even editors love genuine recognition. Troy Kestner, an advisor with Arvest Private Banking in Michigan, sent an e-mail complementing the editor of a local business magazine on an article she'd written. The next day Kestner had a phone call from the editor. They discussed the article and what the editor was trying to accomplish. Troy offered himself as a resource and told her he would help network with people in his part of the state and she was thrilled. He also offered (if she ever needed) to help her interview successful business leaders. She asked Kestner if he knew anyone with his background that might be able to write a financial article each month and now he might get the gig.
But in addition to networking among traditional media, you should conduct social networking online. Go to LinkedIn.com. It's a networking site for business people and is an easy way to track and leverage your real-world network of connections. You create a business profile, add your contacts or upload them from Outlook, and send an automatic although customizable e-mail that invites them to join your network.
Create a FaceBook page at FaceBook.com, including your profile and picture to establish familiarity and visibility.
You should also learn more about Search Engine Marketing (SEM), a unique way to reach a customer at the exact moment they are seeking knowledge. According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, it's "Just-in-Time Marketing" (the group's Web site is helpful, go to Sempo.org). Since many advisors' Web sites are little more than online business cards, SEM can open a huge opportunity to outpace your local competition.
There are three main types of SEM strategies available to increase traffic to your website:
o Search engine optimization (SEO)
o Paid inclusion
o Paid placement or pay-per-click (PPC)
PPC is online advertising in which the advertiser pays a predetermined price every time an ad is clicked. Ads often get immediate results and take less than an hour to set up. If the ad fails, it can be replaced just as fast. PPC is trackable so you can see your return on investment. Go to www.softinsite.com and under the "Product" tab, download the free Search Engine Marketing Tutorial.
You should also use the Web for teleconference calls, which are inexpensive to produce and can be a good channel for client and prospect communications. Jim Lunney, a planner who is president of Wealth Strategies Group in Littleton, Colorado, is finding success doing his "Surviving the Storm" conference calls; he gets attendees by using e-mail blasts before the call. Participants simply dial in to join Lunney and his host who asks questions concerning the economy followed by questions from the participants. "We started slow," Lunney said, "But we have between 50 and 200 people on each call." Remember, this is marketing, not sales. Lunney doesn't try to sell anything on the calls, the goal is to dbuild confidence in him as an expert who can help clients bullet-proof their retirement plans.
Refocus Your Focus
Here are my final thoughts on how and why you should be increasing your marketing efforts right now. First, set aside that book you want to write. Instead of pounding out 50,000 words, shift your focus and write a 1,000-word local magazine article instead.
Do those things that you can accomplish yourself that put you high on a Google search by using the secrets of search engine marketing and search engine optimization. I know everything today is claimed as advertising by your compliance departments, but ask your marketing police what happens when a prospect runs a Web search and your name pops up first because you wrote something of value on a specific topic. Heck, neither FINRA nor the SEC can claim that as an act of advertising.
Larry Chambers, president of Chambers & Associates, Ojai, California, is the author of Crediblity Marketing and Separate Account Management, among other works. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.