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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Marketing that builds trust

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In a world where consumers are literally overwhelmed by marketing images – from the flashing ads on their Internet browsers to the fistful of flyers and direct mail pieces that choke our mailboxes every day – financial advisors often find themselves fighting an uphill battle as they craft their own marketing strategies.

What’s worse, the advertising onslaught has filtered down to a point where consumers question the motives of even those who offer perfectly worthwhile and honorable products and services.

“People’s attitudes have changed since the 1970s and ’80s – they’ve become much more skeptical about marketing efforts,” says Brad Whitmore, president of Greensboro, N.C.-based Identity Branding. “The whole ‘do not call’ list has spawned a ‘do not trust’ movement, it sometimes seems. People are more guarded and skeptical than any time in history … we know that many of these people need our products, but they simply don’t want to be sold to any more.”

Given the seemingly insurmountable odds against finding new prospects and starting to build those all-important one-on-one relationships, what can an advisor do to create a sense of trust in potential clients? Here are four suggestions that are certain to help set you apart from the crowd – and assure new clients that you are indeed a good person to do business with.

Join the team

You can’t imagine a football or basketball player being able to deliver the goods without the help of his teammates. In the same fashion, aligning yourself (and your sales and marketing efforts) with a larger group of individuals, all fighting for the same cause, can be an easy way to let clients know that you mean business.

Mike Steranka, RFC, president of Retirement Planning Services Inc. in Crofton, Md., discovered that offering his own products in conjunction with the matched services of a close-knit set of like-minded experts and specialists was a fast route to instant client trust.

“I decided to seek out a group of credible, respectable professionals in the area and work to establish relationships with them. I wanted to match up with professionals who serve and complement what I do,” Steranka says. “I had a friend of mine, the largest estate planner working around here, and after I’d made a private presentation to him, he said that my offerings were phenomenal and he asked if I could do a couple of seminars on his behalf. That turned out to be very good for both of us – his clients are happy and we’ve both picked up a lot of business.”

Since then, Steranka says that he’s expanded his professional net to include a local real estate agent, a mortgage broker and a CPA, all of whom can benefit from the interconnected nature of their services and clients.

“It’s really a value-added prospect for all of their businesses. I know these guys and trust them, and we’re able to help our clients meet all of their retirement goals.”

A remarkable approach

Confronted with a seemingly cynical culture full of people who have learned to be wary of every marketing message in the book, Whitmore says advisors need to take a few steps to make themselves stand out from the crowd.

“How do you convey your message to people who don’t know you, don’t know your business and are pressed for time, with all the busy things going on in their lives?” he asks. “You can do it by being remarkable. By taking efforts to position yourself in the community as someone who is constantly visible and offers services that are relevant and beneficial, you can begin to establish a characteristic uniqueness to your business.”

Rather than deluging a skeptical public with marketing pieces or even media advertising, Whitmore suggests that personalized and very public tactics – none of which will even promote your products in an explicit fashion, in many cases – may be the best solution to building trust.

Across the Southeast, Whitmore has helped advisors coordinate community events such as child ID days, which help parents and law enforcement agents work together to build a database of information which can be used in case a child goes missing. It’s an emotional, beneficial public service that draws potential prospects from a wide variety of backgrounds; by taking a very active role in the program (or similar community efforts), Whitmore says the public will instantly associate a participant with a new level of credibility.

“Visibility is the very foundation of attraction, so events that make an advisor visible are absolutely crucial,” he explains.

The roofer’s referrals … and a personal touch

There’s a certain subtlety involved in crafting direct marketing materials that cross the line between those instantly tossed in the trash, and those which existing clients (or good prospects) linger on for a second … and actually absorb.

Mixed in with those literally thousands of instantly discarded flyers, a high-quality piece which acknowledges the importance of your clients’ referrals and testimonials helps send a message that you trust (and need) them as much as they trust you. A personal letter that spreads that message will be even more well-received.

Jeffrey Dobkin, noted marketing speaker and author of “Uncommon Marketing Techniques,” says he’s learned that just a simple dose of “thank you” will help build respect and encourage future business while at the same time being a great instigator for referrals.

“This is something that I learned from a roofer … if you send out a personal letter, not just a postcard or advertising piece, and you include the line, ‘Thank you for all your referrals,’ you’d be surprised the response you’ll get,” Dobkin explains. “When you send out something that thanks all of your clients and friends for being so good to you over the year, people know that you’re sending it out to everyone … and that spreads the message that you’re looking for referrals.”

Dobkin says that by patting your clients on the back, the result will often be a litany of referrals in exchange. As an added notion, Dobkin says that an equally successful strategy is the idea of crafting a small gift for clients that recognizes the importance of their business and, in turn, further emphasizes your credibility.

“I’ve suggested that rather than sending out stuff with your own name on it, send your clients a Cross pen with their name engraved on it. If it’s got their name on it, it won’t go in the drawer and disappear, and they’ll think about you every time they use it. It might cost $25, but think how many thousands of dollars in business they’ve given you as an agent. It’s something that absolutely makes you look great for a few bucks, but will ultimately make your clients refer more business in your direction.”

Branding yourself

In the same way that simple sales images have been turned into an indelible part of our collective psyche – is there anyone in North America who couldn’t identify the Aflac duck or the Geico gecko? – establishing a simple but unforgettable branding icon can also work to create a trustworthy, exclusive touchstone for your business.

Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, a Libertyville, Ill.-based marketing consultant and personal coach, defines the art of establishing a brand for yourself in her book, “Red Zone Marketing.” Kuzmeski says your goal should be “to own your market by creating a consistent image around your product or service … differentiate you from your competitors by the extraordinary business image you have.”

To that end, Kuzmeski is a big advocate of specialized business names which convey who you are and why you’re different, as well as a professionally designed logo or company icon that will immediately be associated with your business.

Steranka also sought to find a brand that works for him. “I was reading the book ‘Chasing Cool’ and they talk about finding something that can serve as an iPod of your individuality, something that’s as unique and different as that product was when it came out. I thought, what can I do to create an image that’s easily recognizable?” Steranka says. “For me, it was something as simple as a stuffed toy swan. I’d always been an advocate of the SWAN approach – sleep well at night – and this was a tangible symbol that I’m able to share at seminars. It’s cute, it’s memorable and it’s a hit with grandmothers.”

While your marketing efforts will still have to compete against a public attitude that dismisses even the most positive of pitches, blending together a few of these ideas may help you cut through the clutter and help open some doors.

Andy Stonehouse is associate editor for Senior Market Advisor.

If you’re looking for more in-depth information on truly effective marketing strategies from some of this story’s references, be sure to attend next month’s Senior Market Advisor Expo, Aug. 22-24 in Las Vegas. Mike Steranka will speak on creating your own cheap, effective marketing machine for addressing senior clients, while Brad Whitmore will present “Branding Your Identity: Please Make Me a Little Bit Famous.” For more information on registration, please visit


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