From the October 2009 Issue of Senior Market Advisor Magazine

Bill Losey might be on to something. The tech-savvy CFP from upstate New York started distributing an e-mail newsletter three years ago, to a whopping 120 people. Since then, Bill Losey’s Retirement Intelligence has grown its subscriber list to 6,500, and it’s adding three or more people nearly every day. In fact, says Losey, founder of Wilton, N.Y.-based Bill Losey Retirement Solutions (and its marketing arm, SavvyAdvisorMarketing.com), he’s getting phone calls from potential clients based on the e-newsletter, and nothing else.

“Now,” Losey says, “instead of asking for referrals or conducting seminars, I’m doing pull marketing. My newsletters, my blog, the articles I write … they all link back to my Web site.”

What Losey is doing, especially with the e-newsletter, points to the future of marketing and sales. For marketing purposes, electronic communication reaches more and more people all of the time–at a fraction of the cost of print. For sales, by the time people come to you, they’re ready to work with you. They’ve seen what you can offer and they trust you. While it may be longer in the overall scheme of things with all of the unseen touches, the sales process is shorter once you finally meet the prospect.

Losey counts his e-newsletter, and his “high-content, high-value” Web site as the biggest reasons his marketing efforts–and reputation–have taken off. And that’s a piece of the future that senior advisors are going to have to embrace, without treating it like a cactus.

Advisors will absolutely need an online presence, but not just as a space filler. Their online image has to be a reflection of who they are and what they can offer. Why? Well, for one, how else are people going to find them? “Google” is now a verb, folks. That’s an indication of how ubiquitous it is. Even if people use another search engine, they almost always say they’re going to Google what they need. Nobody ever said he was going to “Yellow Page” something. Seniors are going online in larger and larger numbers, and boomers, well, they’re accustomed to the Internet. They’ve been working on computers for most of their careers, and they know how to surf.

When it comes to Web sites–which, let’s face it, are going to be a marketing force 365 days a year–advisors have to keep them up to date and populate them with information, not sales pitches and product. Content is king.
Losey, for example, puts up one new article each week, in addition to sending his e-newsletter and blogging. The reason: You have to give people a reason to come back. When they come back, they get to know you a little better each time. Losey swears by the formula, calling it a key driver to his business.

Something else advisors are doing on their sites, something that helps build relationships with people who haven’t even called the advisor yet, is video. Whether it’s a big production or a video shot with a Webcam, a video allows an advisor to comment on relevant topics, get his face in front of prospects and build that trust that is mandatory for boomers.

Michael Poirot, marketing director for GamePlan Financial (gameplanfinancial.com) in Woodstock, Ga., says there’s a big difference between static pictures and video. Video can build trust in a way that photos can’t. It actually lets an advisor’s personality come through and allows him to speak authoritatively on a subject that matters to consumers.

Voice of authority

Another medium that allows advisors to speak knowledgably is radio.

“Radio marketing will be huge,” Poirot says, adding that for many advisors, radio shows will replace seminars. “Radio will be that go-to tool. Five years from now, people are still going to be listening to AM talk radio.” Whether they’re listening to it in flying cars with robot chauffeurs remains to be seen.

Bill Smith, RFC, is another firm believer in the future power of radio. Smith takes to the Cleveland-area airwaves every week as part of the marketing plan for his Sandusky, Ohio-based practice, Great Lakes Retirement Group (greatlakesretirement.com). He says being on the radio is the best way to accomplish what he sees as the definition of marketing: Creating a perception of you that makes people decide they have to do business with you.

The radio show allows Smith to create an air of authority around him and positions him as an expert on the topics he covers, which are the things important to retirees and pre-retirees: legacy and tax planning, long term care and income planning. An added benefit, from Smith’s viewpoint, is the fact that he builds his own knowledge all of the time, having to stay up on the topics he covers.

However, Smith says advisors can’t count on immediate returns from radio. It’s a long-term process that establishes the advisor as an expert and engenders trust as a result. In fact, Smith says he was on the radio for 42 weeks before he got his first bit of business that he could attribute directly to the show. I started, if I’d gone by sales,” Smith says, “I would have thought I’d failed miserably. The reality was, we had listeners we didn’t know about. Over time, the show established me as an expert. The goal is to establish credibility. That’s what the show does.”

It’s also hard work, as is any marketing program that’s done right. Smith swears by radio, though, and he also swears it has made the sales process shorter–at least once the clients have made first contact. And that’s coming from a guy who was on the radio for 10 months before it led to a sale.

“They come to you ready to do business,” Smith says.

What you know

OK, so there’s definitely new marketing tactics on their way (or already here). The good news for many advisors is this: At least one tried-and-true method won’t go away. Direct-mail postcards are here to stay. They will undergo change, however, to remain relevant and catch boomers’ attention. The funny thing is, the change they will have to undergo mirrors what’s happening on the Internet.

“Direct mail is going to be very niche,” Poirot says, in what sounds like a redundancy. But it’s not. Seniors used to be a niche, but that’s not good enough anymore. That niche has to be segmented–niched, if you will. Niches within the niche include doctors, teachers, unions, firemen, police, you name it. “Specialization is the key. People want to talk to an expert.”

Smith offers an anecdote in specificity. A local pension fund was taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Smith secured an actuary from the American Society of Actuaries for his radio show and sent a mailing to everyone affected by the pension transfer, informing them of the time and date the actuary would be the guest on his show. Smith didn’t use the show as a sales pitch. He informed everyone what their options were and what the future might hold.

“I knew it was timely,” Smith said. “So we targeted the people affected by it.”

Niche? Absolutely. Very niche? You bet. And again, from a sales standpoint, prospects with targeted needs are going to come to your office with specific goals in mind, goals you will be ready to help them reach because you know ahead of time why they’re coming to your office. Which will be doubly important as boomer clients come to outnumber current seniors. Everyone seems to agree that using fear as a sales motivator is done. Boomers won’t buy in. They’re too savvy.

“The sales process isn’t going to be built on scaring someone into doing something,” Poirot says. “It’s going to require a balance between education and sales. It will be built on trust.”

Oh, and the last bit of advice from the folks already doing some of these things: Don’t rely on just one. Poirot says you can’t be a one-trick pony. Losey says multiple marketing strategies have to be working together. Smith’s use of a hyper-targeted mailing to drive people to his radio show is an example of that, and then on the radio he points people to his Web site. It all works together. And that’s not necessarily a way of thinking reserved for the future, but it certainly is the way to get there.