8 Ways to Develop a Messaging Strategy

To put it bluntly, you have to have a message strategy, and you must stay on message. Here's how.

“For those unacquainted with American football, blocking and tackling are two of the most basic skills of the game –- necessary (but not sufficient) ingredients for winning. Teams that can’t block or tackle are doomed. For executives, blocking and tackling represent work that’s not glamorous but is important.”  (This quote is taken from "Blocking and tackling" –- the mother of all sports metaphors” by John Caddell -- and is quoted with permission.)

In financial services practice management, "blocking and tackling" is one thing: contact.

As the definition above states, this is work. It is "not glamorous but is important." It is certainly a "best practice" very simply because those who do not do it or do it well simply do not succeed.

In my upcoming November Research magazine article, I defined the segments necessary for an overall communications strategy. At a minimum, you need to communicate to these segments: mass mail, prospects, people that you know (connections) and clients. A complete contact strategy would embrace these four elements.

1)         What to say—your message.

2)         Who to say it to—your segments.

3)         How often to say it—frequency.

4)         How to deliver the message—channel.

In this post, I'm going to deal with the message component of a contact strategy. By “message” I mean your letters, e-mails, blog, or web posts. To put it bluntly, you have to have a message strategy, and you must stay on message.

The Three Identities

Very broadly, no matter the segment, you're trying to accomplish one thing: Build or sustain an identity of trusted advisor.

With your mass-mailing lists, you are obviously trying to build that identity. With your prospect and connections lists, you probably have a little bit of it. So we need to build more.

With your client list, at least some have granted you trusted advisor status. Those you have to sustain while you build a stronger relationship with those who have not yet granted this status.

In my experience, the "trusted advisor relationship" is built by creating its components. I have referred to these as the "three identities."

A person will not grant trusted advisor status unless they perceive that you are:

1)   An expert financial advisor. You can see in the second that this perception alone is not sufficient. You could be an expert and a jerk. The jerk will never enjoy trusted advisor status except perhaps as granted by another jerk.

2)   A caring and trustworthy, well-mannered individual. A trusted advisor must demonstrate these qualities. But these alone are not sufficient. Suppose you are perceived as an expert financial advisor as well as a caring trustworthy, well-mannered individual. But tomorrow, your clients read in the local paper that you have been arrested for a DUI. Not good. Any "trusted advisor relationship" you had developed will vanish instantly.

3)   A good citizen. Whatever you do, don't forget "the Madoff effect.” It takes time, persistence, and demonstrated good works to drive this perception into the minds of potential or current investors.

Building a Communications Strategy

Here are some specific ideas for your messaging strategy. Other channels — getting published, web and blog posts and telephone calls will be dealt with in subsequent blog entries.

To build or sustain your “expert financial advisor” identity, you should:

1)   Send informational and educational article.

2)   Produce educational seminar, with appropriate invitations.

3)   Offer “white papers” and other informational material people might find of interest.

To enhance your “caring trustworthy, well-mannered individual” identity:

1)   Please get a crisis management strategy in place. I can imagine few actions you can take that demonstrate better that you care than quick action in the face of a crisis. The core of your strategy is a hand-holding letter and/or email that is sent immediately. Your clients and prospects need to hear bad or alarming news from you first.

If you do not have a crisis management plan, do this: a) Read “Lessons Learned in Crisis Management: Sept 11.” Then b) Go to the Bill Good Marketing Crisis Management page and download a free copy of our best hand-holding message. Be prepared.

2)   Acknowledge in writing important dates in people’s lives—birthday, anniversary, retirement date, important awards and recognitions.

3)   Send lots of “etiquette cards and letters.” Some of these should be hand-written. A very recent study from USPS says people only receive a hand-written note by mail about once every seven weeks. You want to get someone’s attention?  Send a hand-written note and exquisite card stock or stationery.

To sustain or build your “good citizen” identity:

1)   Participate in the charitable, religious and social events of your community, and make sure you document this with photos and recognitions posted to club, church and charity websites. If no one knows it happened, it didn’t happen. You can reference your good works in the PS of your letters and emails.

2)   Send patriotic letters on Memorial Day and July 4.

This is a great strategy. How do I know? I’ve helped a few thousand advisors implement it.

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I recently completed a series of articles on going paperless, which are archived on a “Paperless Resource Page” on my website.

Here’s the link to my author page for Research magazine. Bookmark it and check it often for other wisdom.

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