In my November Investment Advisor column, Growing an Advisory Business in a Rapidly Changing Industry, I addressed how the advisory business is rapidly changing. Growth and profitability of advisory firms are big issues right now, with profitability of firms continuing to fall, due to regulation changes and more competition entering the marketplace. As I wrote, the profitability and growth issue in the advisory business today is not a marketing issue or a sales issue at all—it’s a communication issue.
Following publication of that column, I received many emails from both advisory firms and marketing consultants suggesting that to solve the communication issue we as an industry or an advisory firm can simply create better “elevator speeches.” We’ve all heard that every financial advisory firm needs a 30-second elevator speech that they can recite whenever someone wants to know about their firm. And there’s an army of consultants who are more than willing to help advisors “craft” their speech and messaging and work on their delivery.
Given these advisory industry changes, with my clients, I’ve found focusing on developing communications plans to solve this issue is a much more effective solution. For their firms to solve this problem, I outsource this work to FiComm Partners in Los Angeles and New York City—who have done a lot of thinking and working about advisor communication strategies.
What I like about FiComm’s work is that it approaches the building of communications strategies based not on what advisors want to say about their firms, but rather on what we want the client, prospective, strategic partner and/or employee (really anyone you talk to about your business) to say about you.
Megan Carpenter, one of the FiComm partners, explained the approach this way. “The key to an elevator speech, or marketing story, as we call them, is what happens afterward. Specifically, what does the person who heard it do? If you just tell them about yourself and your firm, and if they remember some of it, they might pass it along if your firm comes up in conversation. We find that advisors get a much better result if they start by thinking about what they want people to tell other people about them and their firm, and then create a ‘story’ about their firm that people will not only want to hear, but one that they’ll want to tell other people.”
To help advisors create their ‘story,’ the FiComm folks work with them on five key elements:
1) Who You Work With
Although there are a number of advisory firms that have been very successful targeting one niche, Megan (and I) are not a big fans of niche marketing for two reasons: it unnecessarily narrows the number of potential clients; and potential clients are most interested in getting help dealing with their financial challenges. Consequently, they tend to be more likely to share an affinity for others who have the same challenges—and for an advisor who helps to solve those challenges. So FiComm suggests that advisors focus on people who are looking for help with similar financial issues: retirement, college, philanthropy, healthcare, etc.
2) Who You Are
This is what you offer to help clients or prospects solve their problem(s). Megan says the key here is understanding what’s most important to your target clients, which includes how they make buying decisions. Then, advisors need to “key into that in their story.” When you do this right, clients will “self identify,” which is another way of saying they’ll want to become your clients. So you won’t have “sell,” and you’ll get a lot more introductions and referrals.
3) Reasons to Believe
Megan says these are the “Prove It!” statements: that allow advisors to bridge from who they help to how you do it. This gives validity to all your other messaging. How do you identify their needs, deliver comprehensive financial planning, and/or tailor investment portfolios to meet those needs? She cautions that in today’s advisory world, descriptions such as “fiduciary,” “independent advisor,” and “financial planner” can be—and often are—used by advisors of all kinds, regardless of their accuracy. To use those terms effectively, advisors who truly meet these definitions need to educate clients a little about the financial services industry, and how they really do meet these standards.
Megan points out that “the attention span of a modern, digital, consumer is incredibly limited.” The result, she says, is that advisors “have about eight seconds to capture the attention of prospects.” To do that, FiComm uses “well written” headlines/taglines (that is, a statement and a follow-up description) For instance: “We are truly an independent advisory firm: We are owned by our advisors, and our only revenue comes from our clients.”
5) Story Line
This is a relatively short narrative that brings together all of the above messaging components into a story about your firm: Who you help, how you help them, what that help looks and feels like, and how your firm can be described in memorable phrases. The key is to hit your highlights in simple terms that will resonate with clients and prospective clients.
Finally, your “story,” or appropriate parts of it, need to be woven through all your communications to clients, prospective clients and strategic partners. That means your website, market commentaries, newsletters and other communications (of which FiComm’s creative division then helps my clients implement.) The story needs to be learned, and repeated, by everyone in your firm.
If your story is well crafted to resonate with your target clients, and is repeated by employees, clients, affiliates and friends, it will become the communication tool that produces the greatest result It will also remove the need for you to ever consider taking the riskier and scary option of doubling down on your costs with expensive marketing plans, ineffective marketing services and tools and, of course, salespeople.