Throughout much of 2015, I have been hammering home the importance of relationship building, and guess what, marketing gurus across all industries are pointing to “relationship marketing” as the number one strategy for 2016!
Pretty funny, actually, when you sit back and think about how impersonal technology makes a good portion of our day. For instance, how often do you see people with their heads down tapping away on a smartphone or tablet? (Yes, I know that means you have to look up from your digital device to see what’s happening around you!)
According to recent Pew Research Center reports, 68 percent of Americans have smartphones today compared with just 35 percent in 2011, and 60 percent of Americans earning over $75K own a smartphone, tablet and computer.
So, how can you possibly conduct “relationship marketing” with all that noise? According to a Hubspot blog: “The goal of relationship marketing is to focus on building stronger loyalty and long-term customer engagement.“ Hubspot goes on to note that companies need to create “meaningful customer relationships and conversations” by using data-driven marketing technology.
Yet, how do you make that strategy work in the financial services industry? Sure, you have some data on your customer relationship management (CRM) infrastructure, but how do you expand that knowledge to build a relationship? And, how do you find new prospects and start to build a genuine relationship with them as well?
Start by answering these questions about some of your current clients:
- How do they summarize their roles in the companies where they work?
- What content approach do they prefer? Meaning, do they like to keep things in short bullet-type lists, or do they prefer to expound on topics?
- What did they do prior to their current jobs and how might these previous positions impact their current ones?
- Do they belong to any business or industry organizations?
- What do they do for fun?
- What charities do they support?
- When are their birthdays?
Impossible, you say? How could you know all this and why does it matter? Remember, relationships matter, as they are the key to ongoing and future sales. Let me repeat that: relationships equal sales.
To cut through the digital noise, you actually need to use some of that digital data to help you ferret out the information that can help you make and build relationships. One of the best places to start is by conducting a little cyber sleuthing using social media.
My favorite resource is LinkedIn, as the social media platform is a mecca for all types of business professionals, companies and industry groups. With just a little Social Selling know-how, you can tap into the information that will help you answer all those questions I posed.
What’s more, you can also use LinkedIn to search for new, quality leads, and the information that can help you get your foot in the door. Just imagine an introductory email that is not generic, but speaks to the recipient’s interest and business perspective.
As you look to close some of your key 2015 business and start strategizing for 2016, use LinkedIn and other social selling techniques to build your relationship marketing. Don’t get lost in the digital noise!
By now, many of you know I really appreciate the brand consistency and customer experience I enjoy (nearly every day) at Starbucks. However, few people realize one of my favorite features of the coffee giant is the pay-it-forward phenomenon.
In case you have not heard of pay-it-forward, it’s the act of kindness most often associated with the Starbucks drive-thru service whereby someone pays for the next person’s drink. This concept can lead to hundreds if not thousands of people paying it forward.
Sometimes the campaign starts with Starbucks giving away free drinks to launch a new location or promote a special drink, but most often it just begins when a customer feels gracious. During one pay-it-forward cycle last year, some 750 drive-thru customers at a St. Petersburg, Fla. Starbucks participated in the impromptu event over a two-day period, and nearly two years ago, over 1,500 people did the same at a Connecticut Starbucks location.
So why am I telling you all this? Because the pay-it-forward concept is not unique to Starbucks; it’s something we can all do to show kindness and generosity. In fact, much of marketing today is about giving rather than getting.
Today, with all the competition from robo-advisors, and the general onslaught of e-noise, you need to separate yourself from the crowd. One of the best ways to carve out your niche is by giving your smarts away.
Yep, this may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s vital to creating a difference between them and you. Instead of saying here’s my service at this fee, you can say here’s my value add, my insight, my acknowledgement and understanding of your needs, and my service strategy. (See Do Your Clients Feel Warm and Fuzzy? for more ways to differentiate yourself.)
The pay-it-forward cycle is also a key way you can grow your business through centers of influence and industry associates. Provide references and leads to professionals and firms who support your business and clients, and chances are, you will start your own pay-it-forward campaign.
Oh sure, you may not reap the rewards right away, but give the process time to unfold and, to use a coffee metaphor, percolate. I love making that pay-it-forward gesture in the Starbucks drive-thru line. It makes me feel good, and I hope the person behind me enjoys their free drink, whether or not they pass the goodwill onto the next customer.
And yes, I have been the recipient of a free drink, too, however the take-away goes way beyond that one drink. Indeed, it endears me that much more to Starbucks. To help explain this idea, here’s a quote from the USA Today article about the Florida pay-it-forward event:
“Starbucks is that gathering place where people are coming in for that break in their day, for a little pick-me- up, so they do want to extend it to somebody else in their community. They want to pass it on,” she (Linda Mills, a Starbucks corporate spokeswoman) said. “And for us, it’s super exciting to watch and were humbled that people would do that in our store.”
So, make some magic happen in the fourth quarter. Pay-it-forward. Your clients, contacts, and random strangers will notice. And, don’t be surprised if this leads to more business and sales in the New Year.
I love reading a good book or in depth report—when I have the time. However, on most days, I just want the facts in short, understandable bites, and without a lot of jargon. The saying that less is more is often true when it comes to explaining complex ideas or ones with lots of statistics and data.
People are busy and our digital world dumps a ton of information at their virtual doorstep every day (sometimes every hour!). So how are we dealing with this onslaught? By increasingly turning to visuals for a way to quickly decipher if we want to even learn more about a subject, and then for the information itself.
One of the best ways to provide the visual cue and the valuable information is with infographics. By now, you’ve seen these wonderful communication gems—they’re everywhere, for good reason!
Consider an infographic I created to explain the history of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Sure, I could have written an article, but how many people would want to slog through 40 years of historical data, government enactments, and amendments?
Instead of overwhelming people, the Evolution of ERISA starts with a brief intro paragraph and then switches over to an easy-to-follow timeline. Color, graphic icons, a dotted line, and bulleted text all work together to create readable chunks. If someone wants to skip a date, fine; they can jump down to the next entry, or bounce around as much as they want.
In a previous AdvisorTweet, I discussed the growing importance of visual imagery, and not surprisingly, this trend continues. Today, visuals show up in emails, social media posts, eNewsletters, websites, and online brochures and handouts.
Infographics are especially helpful in the financial services industry. Why? Let’s face it; our world can be a little dry at times! Moreover, we often need to communicate involved concepts, but we want to do so without turning off clients and prospects.
For a complex or lengthy subject, I suggest hiring a marketing firm or graphic designer to create your infographic. However, for less cumbersome subjects, you can actually create your own graphics using one of several great online tools.
My current favorite is Canva. The company offers a standard 800 pixels X 2000 pixels infographic template (in the Create a design heading, just click on More to find infographic under Blogging & Books). Even the free service Canva version offers 19 infographic templates (you can purchase other templates for $1 apiece). Find one that comes close to what you have in mind, and then enter your content. You can even change the colors and fonts to match your company style guide.
I also like Piktochart, and the free version of this online app also comes with 12 infographic templates. Rather than referring to pixel sizes, this app uses paper size (which you can easily adjust if necessary).
There are other, more involved online apps, such as Ceros, but this one does not offer a free version, and it’s probably best used by someone with a little graphic design background. This app is also big on interactive visuals, which are cool, but probably not as applicable to the average financial services advisor or firm.
The bottom line: try to start infusing your content with some infographics to help people better understand your world and your products. Skip the jargon and the fluff, and get straight to the point with easy-to-read text that’s broken up with helpful charts and icons. In no time, you’ll be an infographic expert!
Have you been standing at the edge of the social media pool waiting for the water to get just a wee bit warmer? Are you now ready to take the plunge? Well, before you throw off your towel and jump in, take a moment to outline your social media goals.
Goals? Yes, goals. Sure, everyone (including me) keeps telling you to add social media to your marketing efforts, but the nagging comes with a caveat: you need a plan!
Your goals should take several key factors into account, and all of them should align with your overall marketing objectives.
7 Keys to Establishing Your Social Media Goals
- Brand perception. What do you want to say about yourself and your services? What makes you special among other advisors in the industry? Your social media brand message goal must be consistent with all your other communication formats so you don’t confuse your customers.
- Brand awareness. Social media provides multiple touch points and opportunities for showcasing your brand, so what sites best meet your needs? Consider your clients and prospects and the platforms they use, and how they use them. For many business people today, the two most popular channels are Twitter and LinkedIn, but do a quick analysis of your customer usage. If your goal is to increase awareness, you need to be present on the right sites.
- Public Relations. Think only big companies need public relations? Think again. You can use social media for PR; just make sure you have something to say (see Thought Leadership below). Industry news is always more interesting for your followers and local media with a personal, real-world perspective. If you do issue press releases, promote them on your social media sites and provide a “why should someone care” introduction in addition to the link.
- Thought Leadership. Social media is one of the best ways to establish your “give” or value-add. What type of thought leadership can you provide? Customers can easily delete your emails, posts, and updates, so you need to offer something worthwhile. If your goal is to establish yourself as an “expert” be sure you are giving, not selling.
- Lead Generation. Will you take advantage of the search capabilities on LinkedIn to help drive leads? As a LinkedIn member you have access to an incredible database where you can view your connections’ connections and look for new opportunities. You can also follow your clients and prospects to keep up on their news and identify possible changes or needs that could become business opportunities.
- Competitive Intelligence. Do you want to use social media to keep an eye on the competition? If this is one of your goals, check out your competitors’ social media sites to see what they are saying about themselves and their brands. Likewise, investigate their connections. Don’t forget to look at both personal profiles and company pages.
- Engagement and Time Management. Here’s the biggie: Just how much time are you willing to devote to social media? You need to set up a realistic goal for yourself. Social media is invaluable, but only if you can make a strong commitment and be consistent with your effort. Consider your resources and the resources of those who might help you, and then map out a plan and calendar.
Once you consider these key factors, you should be able to identify your key goals for social media. Maybe you want to clarify and differentiate your brand while amplifying your public relations. Or, perhaps, your goals center on providing more thought leadership with blogs and social media posts.
Social media is now a must for business; don’t be afraid to make the jump. Do it with forethought and a plan, so you know your goals and can reach for them with ease!
Social media can be a double-edged sword. Spend too much time interacting with your network and you don’t get any other work done! Conversely, dabble occasionally and completely defeat the purpose of the tool.
Is there a happy medium? Yes, but with caveats. Clearly only you can best determine how much time to spend on social media, but beyond the clock aspect you must make sure your endeavors are purposeful and well considered.
In marketing we like to throw around ROI numbers to justify our efforts, and while facts are indeed available and helpful, you can also follow some simple steps to make social media work for you and your business.
- First, take a moment to define the purpose of your social media use and how it plays into your networking, sales, and marketing strategies. Even if you have been using social media platforms for years, step back and review your goals.
- Consider which platforms best suit your needs. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest are popular, but which ones best help you connect with your clients and prospects?
- Make your content platform appropriate. See Social Media Posts are not One-Size-Fits-All for a breakdown on the key differences and what type of content works best on each platform.
- Vary your frequency by platform. Just as the content and tone differs, so too does the frequency with which you need to post on the various social media sites. For instance, one or two posts per week is fine on LinkedIn, while you may tweet on Twitter four to six times a day and add content to Facebook once a day.
- Create a weekly content schedule to take some of the guess-work out of what to post and make the process more manageable. Perhaps on Facebook you post or share content about the economy on Monday, financial planning on Tuesday, and so forth throughout the week. Keep in mind, that an important news event might interrupt this schedule, but most weeks you should be able to stay on track.
- Use online management tools and schedulers to help Avoid the Social Media Vortex!
- Use analytics to discover the best times and days to post for your network. Scheduling app Buffer also provides tools for tracking your engagement on the leading social media sites. Other apps are also available for site-specific or general analytics.
Don’t overdo or avoid social media! Just find an appropriate balance and use the sites with purpose and planning.
You can’t be an expert in everything, and you certainly can’t do every task imaginable to run your financial planning business. Instead, you align your strengths with key tasks and seek help where needed. You call on an accountant or attorney for tax and compliance issues, an admin for calendar management and clerical duties, and centers of influence for thought leadership and insight.
But who handles your social media? Do you write and post your own updates, or do you have an intern posting them?
Luckily, there isn’t one and only one way to address your social media needs. However, there is a careful balance to be considered if you delegate the work or seek outside help. Social media is an extension of you and your company; you cannot ignore your role in creating the purpose, content and voice of social media communications in your business.
Here’s why: we’ve all read social media posts that just don’t ring true. The content may be well written and interesting, but the posts just don’t sound like the person you know—and that little doubt makes you wonder what else may not be true. You want to avoid that scenario in your own social media communications.
To set yourself up for success, first determine how social media plays into your entire marketing plan. You cannot think of social media as singular and separate entity. It needs to align with your business value proposition and vision, and share the same voice.
Next you need to consider your audience and how the different social media sites work. Each one has a distinct style and followers tend to expect a certain attitude and form of sharing. You can certainly belong to several sites and target your postings accordingly. Your voice shouldn’t change drastically, but you can be more casual and personal on some sites, while others require more professional positioning.
If you opt to delegate the work of creating social media content (or even just a part of it), you must be prepared to share your social media plan and purpose with the people who will be helping you. Spend time outlining your strategy and discussing content and schedules. Consider creating an editorial calendar to outline and track your various postings.
Just as you wouldn’t send an intern to run a meeting with one of your best clients, don’t ask someone who isn’t yet qualified to manage your social media posts. You’re more likely to take an intern or new employee with you to a meeting or event to offer guidance and a learning opportunity. So adopt that same approach with your social media needs. Don’t put someone in a position they aren’t qualified to do; instead, help and train them first.
Make sure your guidance also includes a social media policy so your employees understand what is and isn’t okay when posting to social media on your behalf. Pay special attention to compliance issues and rules regarding monitoring and archiving, too.
Also, if you have an outside company helping you with content, just be sure to personalize the posts with a sentence or two introducing the subject, and note why you think it’s important.
Last, provide oversight and review of content once you do hand off some of the work. Remember, you are probably most in-tune with what your clients and prospects think and want to know via social media. Pay attention to those nuances, trends, and other industry cues—and make sure they are built into you social media conversations, no matter who creates and posts updates.
How is your social media strategy working for you? Driving lots of sales? No, I’m not surprised. Social media is not about selling; it is about creating relationships. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise!
Social media may seem like the perfect way to pitch your financial planning services, but it is not the place to sell. Instead, social media is the place to develop and make new connections, find centers of influence, and exchange ideas and information.
Social media does not replace traditional face-to-face networking and referrals, it just provides you with another way to reach people. Sure, setting up profiles and remaining active on your chosen sites takes time, but the work is well worth the expanded engagement opportunities.
Just make sure your social media use is strategic and a part of your overall marketing plan. Your content and voice should align with your other marketing efforts and you must participate consistently and with purpose. Likewise, remember your manners and be polite!
Want some specific strategies? Try these methods for improving your connections:
Conduct background research — Before you meet with a prospect spend five minutes reviewing their profile on LinkedIn to learn a bit more about their background and interests. You don’t have to reveal this knowledge, just keep it in mind when addressing their needs and how best to offer solutions.
Follow company activity — Companies are increasingly using social media to communicate with their employees. By following your clients and prospects on Facebook and Twitter you can learn about the company culture, benefit changes, and other nuances. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, “Social networkers can help business leaders, HR and ethics professionals improve workplace culture.”
Access your clients’ rolodex — Check out your current LinkedIn connections for new prospects by seeing and sorting their contact lists. Simply go to a client’s profile page and click on Connections in the lower right-hand corner of the main box. From here you can use key search words, like HR manager or CEO, find good prospects and then ask your contact for a personal introduction. Granted, some people are not as intentional as others with their connection lists, but never under estimate the power of a second-degree connection.
Find Centers of Influence — Search for industry experts, local business groups, and relevant thought leaders on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and follow their sites and posts. Consider joining a few LinkedIn groups, as well, to expand your knowledge base and share your expertise.
Well done, social media can provide meaningful connections and help build relationships. Granted, you will expose your connections to competitors, but remember your clients and prospects will judge you by the company you keep.
I was perusing my Twitter feed the other day when my eye caught a particularly off-the-cuff status. One entity I follow harshly criticized a rival. I couldn’t help but be put off. Friendly banter between competitors is normal and expected, but malicious conduct is not. A code of etiquette exists on all social media platforms—it mirrors what we would expect to observe in a face to face setting. The behavior I witnessed can result in a loss of followers, but more importantly, it can cost the trust of clients and partners.
As financial advisors, FINRA regulations add another layer of complexity to social media conduct. Here is a list of Top 10 Twitter Taboos for financial advisors:
1. Tweet Advice Twitter is great for establishing initial connections and maintaining those connections. It’s not the venue to transmit sensitive information such as stock tips.
2. Tweet Blindly Twitter is interactive and published content doesn’t require FINRA pre-approval, but every financial company should have its own social media policy in place. Always consult with your company’s policy before participating in any social media activity.
3. Ignore the dissenters. Twitter used for business is about respectful engagement. Don’t shy away from people who offer different opinions or insights. Use this platform to acknowledge them; you can always request offline time to address an issue.
4. Post when tired or otherwise not yourself Chances are, there’s a more opportune time to post on Twitter than before going to bed. If you’re tired, in an emotional state, or relaxing with a glass of wine after dinner, you may not be in prime Twitter form. There’s no harm in waiting to tweet.
5. Tweet someone’s product Posting about someone’s product or service may be viewed as an endorsement, which can cross the line with FINRA regulations.
6. Use auto-responses. Canned replies feel impersonal and sometimes they don’t accurately apply to the situation. Twitter is an interactive platform, intended for social connection. Bottom line: There’s no replacement for a human being.
7. Tweet whatever comes to mind. Akin to tweeting when tired or in an emotional state, tweeting from the hip can backfire. Carve out time in your schedule for social media so you can really consider your tweets prior to posting. Even though it’s a social forum, you’re still using Twitter to represent yourself as a business professional.
8. Talk to yourself. Twitter encourages dialogue, often with individuals or brands you may not have access to otherwise. Don’t make the conversation one-sided; take time to learn about the people you connect with.
9. Retweet if you like it. Know what and whose information you are retweeting. Retweeting is often seen as an endorsement of content. As the head of a company, if you retweet an article you and your company are essentially blessing everything in that article, even its speculative commentary. Investigate prior to passing it along.
10. Stir the pot. This may seem pretty straightforward but you’d be surprised at how often this gets people into trouble. Retweeting content can proliferate speculative or false information if you don’t have a full understanding of the information you’re sharing. Also, remember that sarcastic undertones are often missed via the written word. A joke can be easily misunderstood.
Here is one thing you can do, whether on Twitter or any other social media network to provide value to your followers and define yourself as an expert in your field: provide unbiased education about various financial concepts.
- What is a 529 or gift tax?
- What is the cap you can put into your 401k plan this year?
- Tips on financial budgeting
- What is the general economic outlook for 2014?
Finally, don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of appropriate humor and personality so people can easily relate to you. Never lose sight of the reality that people buy from people. Your clients want to know there is a real person behind the tweet or status update.
Remember, if you’re interested in using social media, you’ll need a solid archiving & compliance solution in place. www.smarsh.com/socialmedia
Even on my best writing days, I may find myself staring at a blank computer screen; developing truly engaging content can be so challenging. I’ve learned that, although an editorial calendar can keep me on track, it’s pretty useless if it doesn’t have any content in it. Creating fresh ideas and content is important.
If I can grab ahold of even a general concept or topic, mind mapping is an ideal tool to develop that kernel into a complete body of work—because it mirrors the architecture of how our brains naturally function. (Though the human brain is still a mystery, research has identified that our brains search for information and process data in branch-like patterns.) The mind map method encourages and captures our organic thought processes in efficient and visual ways, flexing our right and left side of the brain. You can work out a map on good ol’ scratch paper or save some trees and use software instead. Working on a computer provides added benefits such as an endless work area and easy editing capabilities.
I’ve developed a quick how-to guide to get you started brainstorming on your mind map journey:
- Start in the middle of a blank page, writing or drawing the main idea you’ll explore. I suggest you work with your paper or screen in landscape orientation.
- Develop subdivisions, subtopics, and facts related around this central concept, connecting them to the center with broad lines.
- Repeat the same process for the subtopics, branching individual facts off subtopics when appropriate. Connect each of those to the corresponding subtopic, using thin lines.
- Let your right brain go crazy. Use lots of colors, drawings, and symbols. Be as visual as you can; the more effort you make, the more brain reward you’ll receive. Mind mapping awakens memory power and information processing, as well as cortical skills of logic, rhythm, lines, color, lists, daydreaming, numbers, imagination, word, and gestalt (meaning: seeing the whole picture).
- Keep idea labels short. Use a single word if possible—or better yet, just a picture. When you start mind mapping, it’s tempting to write blocks of text, but it will be much more effective if you represent your ideas with a single word or figure.
- Vary text size, color, and alignment. Draw connective lines in different lengths and widths. Provide as many visual cues as you can to emphasize important points.
Mind Maps: Colorful and Cool, But Useful, Too!
Once you have a mind map in place, it’s important to know how to transform all the sensational ideas you’ve developed into a cohesive piece of writing. The large center hub of your mind map represents the main idea of your article or blog post. Create a double-spaced bulleted list of each sub topic. Under your subtopics, incorporate indented bullets for any additional details and facts you may have included on your original mind map. In just minutes, you’ll have an ordered list of every point you’ll want to cover in your written piece.
The mind map is a replacement of the outlines we’re familiar with when we need to organize thoughts and ideas. Truthfully, we aren’t linear, left-to-right thinkers (though traditionally, we cultivate our ideas in these directions) and mind maps really push us to think in radial ways.
This process probably won’t feel intuitive initially, but push beyond the awkward in search of the reward of previously unconsidered perspectives. There’s no time like the present to try a new methodology. Now that you’re motivated with all this fractal brain talk, get mapping!