Think of the visuals associated with financial services marketing and you will likely come up with these images: a compass, chess pieces, a sailboat, two people shaking hands.
“These images have been used by financial services companies since financial brochures were invented,” says Jay Nagdeman, president of Suasion Resources in Fairfield, N.J. “It’s everything that’s been done forever more. It’s become totally trite.”
Nagdeman has worked as a financial services marketing expert for decades and his focus has always been forward-thinking—not backwards. His chief complaint today? Despite significant structural changes in the industry over the last decade, financial services marketing has remained—as he puts it—conservative, relatively undisciplined and expensive. Also in the mix: a shift in client behavior.
“Today, people are hyper informed. They don’t need an advisor to tell them their stock earnings aren’t what they should be. They’ve already gotten an alert on their phone, on their tablet. They are able to reference anything they want to reference,” notes Nagdeman, author of The Professional’s Guide to Financial Services Marketing. “Financial services clients have changed more rapidly than financial services providers. From a marketing standpoint, you need to make sure that current marketing practices are refreshed and resources focused on what will get the highest returns. Doing things the same way as others creates no competitive advantage.”
What makes Suasion Resources stand apart from many others like it is that the 30-year-old firm is research-driven. At the start of his process, Nagdeman, who has a team of 16 consultants, interviews the advisor, the team, clients and prospects to determine how a firm is perceived.
“You need that perspective before you pour everything into a kettle and start stirring. The trouble is very, very few advisors or firms really understand how they are perceived in the marketplace. If you don’t understand that, you’re not able to shape how you want to be perceived,” says Nagdeman, who worked on Wall Street for several major investment organizations before starting Suasion.
Deb Boedicker, a partner in Strategic Investment Group in Arlington, Va., approached Nagdeman at an important juncture in the investment management firm’s development. “We really needed to do some self-reflection to answer the question: Who are we and who do we want to be when we grow up? In a competitive landscape, one of the most important objectives is to differentiate why us versus them,” she notes. “It’s not necessarily that one is better than the other, but how are you different and what’s your special sauce?”
Nagdeman, she says, helped the firm realize that innovation and creativity are the firm’s hallmarks—and shape the way the partners build and manage portfolios. The result? A comprehensive branding campaign called “We’re Wired Differently.”
“We talked with clients and what they said was that Strategic Investment Group was wired differently than any other investment management firm they’d been involved with,” Nagdeman says. “That’s a huge value proposition.”
Shirley Quackenbush heads Quackenbush Wealth Management Group, a Merrill Lynch team in Newport Beach, Calif. She had used the standard Merrill Lynch marketing materials for years and called on Nagdeman when she decided she wanted to deliver a message that was less institutional and more personal.
“Merrill Lynch materials talk about Merrill Lynch and your financial advisor. Our new materials talk about our personal and attentive service, our service model, and our commitment to that approach along with the strength of Merrill Lynch. It’s not about investments, investments, investments,” says Quackenbush. “I wasn’t looking for something that looked a little prettier. I wanted something that identified who we are.”
Part of Nagdeman’s playbook includes three fundamentals that often get short shrift: the advisor’s website, online marketing and the elevator speech. An effective website has to be navigable and the content simple and fresh. Search engine optimization should be employed so that the advisor figures prominently in local searches. And every single person on an advisor’s team should have the same elevator speech down pat.
“Everyone should know it and understand it. Put it in a cube on everyone’s desk. Post it in the break room. It’s this whole idea of synthesizing why it is people should be doing business with you,” he adds. “You have to be able to tell who you are and what you do in a compelling way.”
Going forward, Nagdeman says, the gap between financial services brands and social media will narrow. Mobile marketing is going to become a factor and video will grow in prominence. Conventional channels like print advertising, direct marketing and even email will be reevaluated. And a dynamic and competitive environment will give rise to consumer-centric marketing.
“The voice of the client is going to become louder,” according to Nagdeman. “What that means is firms and advisors are going to start asking for feedback and getting more input from the marketplace.”
Marketing strategies will focus on relationship-building with clients and developing touch points that build loyalty. As an example, Nagdeman says: “If you have a client who has purchased something, you’re going to take a look at that purchase and think about what’s the next logical thing they need. It’s offering French fries with your hamburger.”
The importance of marketing analytics will be recognized so that advisors can figure out what works and what doesn’t. And, Nagdeman adds, financial services providers will begin to understand that marketing matters.
“Good marketing pays,” he says. “It doesn’t cost.”