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.”