Today’s connected world requires businesses to include an active digital presence as part of their B2B or B2C marketing plan. Yet, unlike many professionals, advisors in the financial services industry must incorporate one little extra step with that activity: Compliance. Okay, little may be an understatement!
Not to worry. I feel your pain. I get the need for qualifiers, and I know sometimes source material needs a footnote and other times it requires a full compliance review.
However, the process isn’t scary. It just takes some basic know-how and advance planning. To move from a state of paralysis to active digital marketing engagement, just keep these seven tips in mind to navigate compliance:
- Public and Accessible – Internet communication is typically open and easily searchable. As such, compliance considers all web content and social media posts to be the same as in-person or written communication. Be mindful and discerning with your communication content and tone.
- Fixed or Evolving – Digital content is considered either static or interactive. Static content requires pre-approval for fixed content such as your website copy, blogs, newsletters and LinkedIn profiles. Interactive content typically does not require compliance approval and includes evolving commentary and conversations in social media posts, tweets, and updates.
- Just Like Scrapbooking – Compliance regulations require all social media activity and contact be supervised and archived by your firm or a third party for three years. Archiving requirements are dictated by your broker-dealer or firm’s compliance department and can also include stipulations set forth by the SEC, FINRA, FFIEC and/or CFTC.
- Best Advice is NO Advice – Avoid giving advice or making investment recommendations on any of your digital content, be it social media or website copy. The best advice is personal and personalized; neither is possible with online content.
- Not a Popularity Contest – Although likes, recommendations, and endorsements may seem nice and make you feel popular, they are considered client testimonials and are prohibited by the SEC. Fortunately with LinkedIn, you can hide “endorsements” and “recommendations” with the click of a button. Keep in mind, advisors can include third-party review sites, but it’s best to make these hyperlinks so the information is current (which means it can include negative commentary).
- Mind Your Links – Curating and sharing third party content on your social media sites and in your blogs or newsletters has many perks. You don’t have to create everything and you can pass along newsy or noteworthy information within a personalized context. However, you must know your source, and realize you can be liable for the content if it is false or misleading. Because of this liability, some compliance departments may need to review any linked content.
- Create a Policy – Every company, be it in financial services or not, should have a digital communication or social media policy. This can be done as a stand-alone policy or as part of your general HR documentation. In either case, the policy should define all aspects of your online presence by covering website content (and blogs) plus all social media interactions. You can have your employees help draft one if your company doesn’t yet have a policy. Or, if you do, make sure your employees are comfortable and engaged with the policy. A digital communication policy-literate workforce, is a compliant one.
Compliance and regulatory rules and stipulations should not keep you from participating in online engagement. You just need to keep in mind the rules of the game, and when necessary, allow time for compliance to review content. We are well into the digital age of marketing and communication; make sure you’re a savvy participant!
If you’re a financial advisor, be aware that starting April 21, your website will need to be optimized for mobile devices to rank high in Google search results.
That’s because Google’s new algorithm will have a preference for mobile-friendly websites, which will help Google filter through an enormous amount of content on the web every day. The change will impact mobile searches worldwide, and will affect how easily customers can find and view your website on a tablet, mobile phone or other mobile device.
Get Ready to Update Your Web Presence
Many advisory and lending firms haven’t kept up with recent mobile technologies and have websites that were designed for desktop computers.
However, you likely have many customers (and prospects!) who access websites from their mobile devices. It’s time for your business to accommodate for that, so people can easily find your business in search results, and have a frustration-free experience navigating your site from their tablet or phone.
There’s no need to worry too much about the Google search change. Since you’re probably already updating your website every few years (or even more often), you can incorporate the move to a mobile-friendly format in your next refresh.
Here are three key steps you can take to ensure your website is mobile-friendly:
- Figure out what your customers want from your website. Do your customers want to gain insight and ideas from your blog posts, quickly find your telephone number or address, or set up an online consultation with you? Help your customers accomplish their objectives by first and foremost designing your website to help them complete tasks.
- Outline the specific stages in your customers’ journey to make sure the precise steps to accomplish a task on your website are simple to follow on a mobile device. How quickly can mobile customers accomplish their goals? Focus on ease of use and consistency on your website interface here. Having website content that is easy to find on search engines is also a major plus.
- Use responsive web design. This means that your website pages use the same URL and code, whether a customer is using a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile phone. The display and text adjust according to the screen size. A big benefit to responsive web design is that you only need to perform upkeep for one version of your site rather than two (you can do away with having one for mobile, and one for desktop).
If you want to test a few pages of your current site to see how it performs on a mobile device, try out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
If the results show your website has a lot of room for improvement, it may be time to move to a site that will lend itself to more interaction with your customers.
On a recent road trip, I spoke with a business analyst for Target Stores who repeatedly used the term “guest” when referring to the retailer’s customers. I had never considered myself a guest at my local Target, but admittedly, I like the term and it makes me feel a little more warm and fuzzy about the chain.
This made me think about the relationship we have with customers in the financial services industry. Do you call your clients and prospects guests? More importantly, do you treat them as guests, and make them feel wanted and appreciated (or, warm and fuzzy)?
A friendly customer-oriented approach is not new (think Walmart greeters), however, the concept is being elevated to a higher level as businesses in all industries scrutinize the entire Customer Journey beyond the front door.
What exactly is a Customer Journey? Also referred to as Customer Lifecycle or Customer Relationship Management, the Customer Journey is the entire experience your clients encounter with you and your firm. As customers dictate more and more of the sales process, it’s not surprising to learn the bulk of your future sales revenue rests in the hands of your current customers and so their experience has a huge ripple effect.
Some 80 percent of future profits come from 20 percent of existing customers, according to Aria. Moreover, the decision to do business with you and your firm is becoming less about price and more about customer service.
So, it’s important to consider your Customer Journey by creating a map or outline that takes into account all the various points in the process. Interestingly, a recent report by Gleanster Research notes these steps are often divided between marketing, sales, and service, which can lead to a “hand-off” approach rather than a holistic focus. You’re much better off when you have all departments working to map and strategize the following:
Awareness – How your prospects find out about you, your services and products. This step is multifaceted and includes:
- Referrals from existing clients, industry contacts, and centers of influence
- Event participation and sponsorship
- Searchable content on your website, blogs, social media sites and profiles
- Marketing collateral
Triggers – The reasons behind your prospects’ desire to seek out your firm, such as portfolio reviews, benchmarking, and dissatisfaction with a current financial services firm.
Acquisition – Both new and existing clients typically require numerous steps during the selling phase. Be sure to consider all points of contact, and remember to do this from a client perspective.
Retention – One of the most often overlooked steps in the journey, particularly beyond the first point of service or training. Client retention steps can include:
- Training and education
- First use or implementation
- Ongoing use and support
- Value-adds or sharing of your smarts
- Thank yous
Satisfaction – Marketing objectives and promises are often long forgotten when it comes to customer satisfaction. Worse yet, many firms lack satisfaction measurement tools and methods.
Renewal – Just as with initial acquisition, this process requires you to put yourself in the clients’ shoes and demonstrate how your products and services help address their worries and concerns.
Whether you call them guests, friends, clients or another name, your customers require care and nurturing. In today’s noisy digital world, your firm can easily be ignored if you don’t recognize the value of the entire Customer Journey and work hard to maximize every step along the path.
Remember the days of cellular flip phones and how happy you were to have access to your email? Granted, getting to your mail was often cumbersome and the small screen only let you see a sentence or two at a time. Yet, the capability was cool and helpful.
Fast-forward to 2015 and now you can do nearly everything with your smartphone that you can manage on a laptop. You can easily read your emails, open attachments, surf the web, and watch videos.
Whew! The technology advancements are truly amazing! While you may be enjoying the latest smartphone capabilities, are your clients? What do they see when they access your website, apps, attachments, and email?
According to a recent report by Salesforce, businesses must plan “with a mobile-first mindset” this year.
Yep, just when you thought you had everything figured out for digital communication, now you need to adjust your thinking toward an increasing necessity for mobile responsive designs! Just what does that mean?
Well, with mobile responsive design, a website easily adjusts or scales for viewing on a phone or tablet. If your website doesn’t have this capability then mobile viewers have a difficult time navigating and pages can take a long time to load. (On the techy side, there are a couple ways a website can adjust—responsive or adaptive—but don’t worry about the difference; just make sure your website creator understands the best option for you.)
Beyond your webpage, you need to think about the emails (which might include your newsletters) that you send clients and prospects since some 75 percent of adults now read and send email via their smartphones. For instance, consider the following:
- Subject line. Make them short and to the point so a mobile viewer can quickly determine if they want to open your emails. Listen in to my recent podcast with Susan Weiner for more tips about email subject lines and structure.
- Content. Engaging and worthwhile content is imperative regardless of the vehicle, but is especially important with mobile devices.
- Design 1. Keep the file size relatively small for your headers, photos and other graphics so they don’t bog down the time it takes to load your email.
- Design 2. For newsletters in an HTML format, consider multiple columns rather than one, so when viewers zoom in they don’t have to scroll left and right to see the content. Also make sure they are coded to adjust for screen size with media queries.
- Links. Your phone number, social media sites, website, and calls to action should be hotlinks or buttons that are easy to use and launch with a thumb.
Thankfully, some mobile marketing features are more B2C oriented, so you don’t have to worry too much about SMS (Short Message Service—those promo text messages/reminders we agree to receive from companies), website personalization, or location-based mobile tracking.
The technical capabilities of smartphones and tablets are only bound to keep improving. Make sure you don’t get left behind; remember, the days of the flip phone are long gone!
Did you stop at Starbucks, Caribou, or Dunkin this morning for your caffeine fix? More importantly, do you know why those coffee purveyors and other companies like Disney, Apple, and Nike are so successful at establishing and keeping customer loyalty?
In today’s world of constant visual imagery and digital dominance we are bombarded by an onslaught of websites, emails, texts, photos, videos, infographics, billboards, ads and more. While this overload may seem too much to handle, our brains are wired to sort through the chaos and create order or at least a hierarchy of information.
Our brains sift through this data and make decisions based on several factors with one of the most important being influence, according to Robert Cialdini, professor at Arizona State University and author of numerous books including Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Cialdini says understanding influence and the power of persuasion is critically important in competitive markets (and we all know that’s the case in the financial services arena).
Cialdini breaks down what he calls the “weapons of influence” into several categories: consistency, reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, and scarcity. I find many of these useful in our business, but I’ll just cover the first two in this blog.
Consistency could very well be what drove you to your favorite coffee spot today. I know it works for me! When I head to Starbucks I rest assured that my coffee will be hot and not burnt, and my dog, aBoo, will receive her consistently delicious puppaccino (check out this short video to see her enjoying one).
Clients and customers love consistency. They enjoy knowing what to expect, plus it means their brains can run a little bit on auto-pilot. The big mega companies understand consistency and apply it at every customer touchpoint. Their brand and why is clear, and permeates everything they do.
While your may not have the power of these conglomerates, that doesn’t mean you cannot provide your clients with a well defined mission and value statement that is consistently implemented throughout your firm.
Take a look at your touchpoints—everything from your business cards, to the chairs in your office, to your website content, to your social media posts—and evaluate your consistency. If you find a lapse, fix it.
Consider extending consistency to the scheduling of your events, newsletters, blogs, and other communication vehicles. An editorial and marketing calendar can simplify the process, make your life easier, and help your readers know when to expect something from you as well.
In fact, your value-adds, like informative articles and industry news also establishes a reciprocity cycle of giving. While reciprocal obligations may not be immediately realized, Cialdini says the reach is powerful and can extend well into the future. The key is to be genuine and considerate.
Beyond the value-adds you provide clients, think about extending the reciprocity cycle to your centers of influence by giving them a piece of business. An industry CPA or attorney will be much more likely to provide you with a referral if you are the first to give and bring them a client.
Building up others, whether they are centers of influence or just general contacts, builds you up in the eyes of others. Just make sure your referrals are well considered and include personal introductions, phone calls, or email.
Don’t forget to keep the reciprocity cycle in play when others extend you a referral or piece of business. Thank you gestures should be meaningful, and consider what’s important to the recipient.
Influence factors such as reciprocity and consistency are often at the heart of both B2B and B2C decision-making. As financial services entrepreneurs, be sure to understand and harness them to help market your products and build business.
The New Year is fast approaching, and as you make that last big push to book business, make sure you also finalize your 2015 digital marketing plan. The growing role of connective technology and marketing is not slowing down. If anything, the pace will only pick up in 2015.
While you might have been able to get away with a little digital marketing this year, you need to be ready with a rich offering and well-planned strategy going forward. So, just where do you start, and how? Take a few minutes to review these crucial steps to create your 2015 digital marketing plan:
- Goals—As mentioned in What are Your Social Media Goals?, clearly define your digital marketing goals within the context of your overall marketing plan. Be sure to also include an outline of your resource allocations, execution methods and evaluation guidelines.
- Map—A digital marketing plan is great, but it may fall flat unless you commit by mapping out a schedule. Force yourself to pick days or weeks when you will write blogs, send newsletters, post social media updates, and so forth. Include a reminder (or several), and work ahead when possible so you’re not always scrambling to meet deadlines.
- Delivery—Digital noise is deafening and the proper delivery is now incredibly important with marketing. The days of outbound marketing dumps are nearly a thing of the past. Today, you must think inbound. How do your customers want to receive information from you and how often? A traditional email, infographic, twitter post, or in person meeting?
- Engagement—Unlike many other marketing methods, digital marketing lets you carry on conversations with your customers. Your 2015 plan should include engagement activities to get people talking and sharing. If you read an interesting article try this method of engagement:
- Share the news on your social media sites
- Add your thoughts or insight
- Ask others what they think
- Ask your followers to comment, continue the conversation and pay attention to the responses (look for cues that might point to useful in-person follow-up opportunities)
- Action Items—While much of your digital marketing focus should center on giving rather than getting, be sure to include some action items that create leads and help you book business.
Don’t start the New Year with tired, old school thinking. Today’s connected world requires a strong digital marketing plan to be heard above the noise and meet the needs of your clients and prospects.
Digital marketing is poised to truly come of age in 2015. No longer a marketing nice-to-have or a trendy add-on, digital marketing moves into the necessary category for businesses of all sizes in the New Year.
Driving this change is the growing attraction of the Internet for all things consumer- and business-oriented, plus the increasing access by mobile devices. Traditional mediums are becoming passé and dollars and attention are now shifting towards digital marketing. Indeed, it’s no longer just us marketing types who are pointing at the power of the Internet; now, many leading c-suite execs are seeing the value as well.
While you may not have the resources the mega companies of the world can use, you do have the ability to realign your marketing dollars to better focus on digital marketing. Plus, unlike those huge companies, you know your clients and prospects really well so you can better target your efforts.
To keep pace with this growing phenomenon, apply these top 2015 digital marketing trends to your business:
Customer experience—The giving doesn’t stop after the holiday season! Focus on giving rather than getting in 2015 to put the needs of your clients and prospects at the forefront of your digital marketing. The inbound marketing approach that began to gain momentum in 2014 will explode in 2015 as businesses really turn their attention on the customer and the customer experience.
Write and write some more—Yes, this sounds simple, but good, crisp writing is becoming an increasingly important marketing tool. Your clients and prospects want to know what you think; they want you to help them understand the issues and news that affects them most. Stale website content, old blogs, and minimal social postings are now viewed with disdain. Learn how to write engaging content and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Storytelling—Your followers also want content that is relatable interesting, and personal. The secret to storytelling is getting your readers to picture themselves right in the midst of your tale. This means your words need to address their interests, concerns, and fears— and do so in a friendly and understanding tone.
Visuals—The saying may be old, but it’s still applicable: a picture is worth a thousand words. Alongside your compelling content, include photos, graphs, illustrations, videos and infographics to help better communicate your points. Sometimes, the best way to tell a story is without any traditional copy; check out my infographic on ERISA. It provides a historical perspective on a complex subject that could easily have become overwhelming with just words alone.
Podcasts and videos—Round out your digital marketing reach by pursuing voice and video, particularly if you feel comfortable in this environment. Every morning I listen to podcasts and obtain information that I would frankly not get otherwise. Just this month I launched my Women Rocking Wall Street podcast series, and I plan to continue my live and recorded webcasts as well.
Analytics—Track your digital marketing efforts on the leading social media sites. Services such as Google Analytics help you understand what platforms work best with your followers, plus what types of posts and campaigns drive the most traffic back to your website to help you book business.
Mobile communication—Smart phones and tablets are now the norm for many people using the Internet, so make sure your sites and postings are mobile-friendly. This is particularly important with websites, which if not designed to accommodate mobile devices, can be hard to load or show strange layouts and make page access difficult (use your phone to check out your website). Granted, you may have to hire some pros to update your website, but it’s well worth the resources.
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!
With today’s increased focus on digital marketing and automation technology, the continual push for better access to goods and services through the Internet is inevitable. Equally understandable is the growing role of robo-advisors in the financial services arena.
The term robo-advisor brings to mind the futuristic scenes from RoboCop and creates an ominous worry for traditional advisors. How real is the worry, and what can you, as a seasoned advisor, do about it? Plenty!
First, start by accepting and understanding the goodness associated with robo-advisors; chiefly, that more people now have access to the world of investing. Many of the robo-advisor customers are young professionals just getting starte who are attracted to the lower entry minimums, the 24/7 data access, low fee schedule, and the ease of investing. Note that an increased knowledge base now means more savvy investors in the future who could conceivably go beyond this starting point and reach out to financial plan advisors in the future.
Next, realize that you cannot compete on price with these online investment management sites. The fees and the overhead costs are lower. Period.
Instead, you need to recognize the technology aspects you can address, while also differentiating your strengths from the algorithmic portfolio models commonly used by a robo-advisor.
This means you cannot ignore digital marketing! The Internet is not the problem, just as robo-advisors are not the problem. In fact, there really isn’t a problem, merely opportunities.
Your website, blogs, social media presence, and email newsletters must be an integral part of your marketing strategy. Nearly everyone, from Millennials to Gen X to Baby Boomers, wants and expects a solid and rich online presence. If you don’t have one, you’re considered old school (not in a good way) and out of touch, and your abilities are questioned.
How can you be knowledgeable and up-to-date about the latest trends and investment strategies if your digital marketing is suspect? You cannot.
Just as importantly, that digital marketing must say something about your value-add. Pretty pictures and graphics may attract attention, but you won’t keep a customer’s interest for long if you don’t provide a give and showcase your industry knowledge.
Clients and prospects want to know why they should work with you now and in the future. What do you offer that they can’t get from a robo-advisor? What is it about your skills and background that make you special?
Your day-in and day-out relationships matter as well. Yes, an online presence is vital, but do you also take the time to get to know your customers? Do you understand their wants and needs? Do you know what keeps them up at night?
The bottom line is: How can you help your clients and prospects? What can you do for them that no other advisor, and certainly no robo-advisor, can provide?
Craft your value-add, your mission statement, and your give carefully and with your customer in mind, and you will put yourself way beyond the commonplace and futuristic competition.
A strong online presence starts with a well-designed website, especially for financial advisors as more and more people are turning to the web for financial advice and information about firms.
You may already have a website, but it is working as well as it could to effectively market you and your firm? Are you wondering if your site is ready for a refresh? Here’s a good checklist to help determine if it’s time for an upgrade.
Your website doesn’t reflect that you’re keeping up with best practices in web design.
We’ve all seen those websites—outdated fonts, broken images, and confusing navigations. Make sure your site showcases that your firm is equipped to handle the modern-day needs of your clients.
You’re not seeing results from your website. Ever.
Your website should be a tool where you effectively market your business. Whether it’s placing easy call-to-action forms for prospects to get in touch with you, or simply having easy-to-find contact information, your website should help you drive new business and retain existing clients.
Clients can’t find the information they need on your site.
If visitors of your website can’t find what they are looking for quickly, they will become frustrated and ultimately leave your site before contacting you. Ensure your site’s navigation is well thought out and allows users to quickly and efficiently find what they are looking for.
Site optimization is low – meaning your organization is left in the dust when potential clients are searching for providers.
Is your site SEO-friendly? Can you create searchable URLs? If not, you may be missing out on major potential for business growth. For example, a Pew Internet survey found that 91% of online adults use search engines to find information on the web.
Your website lacks valuable tools for your readers.
Are you providing as much value as possible to your readers with tools like financial calculators? Giving your audience helpful tools will keep them on your site longer, increasing the opportunities for conversion.
When viewing on a mobile device or tablet, your website is a mess.
More than 1.2 billion people access the web from their mobile devices, and 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a good mobile experience. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile to give visitors a seamless experience.
Social media is still something you’re considering.
Stop considering—your firm is falling behind if you’re not on social media, and you should be connecting the digital experience for your clients on your website, too. Now that social media can be archived to meet compliance expectations, there is no excuse not to have a social strategy.
You have social media in place, but can’t push your website content to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Financial website platforms make publishing the content from your website to your social networks as easy as the click of a button. Keep your readers engaged and draw in new users with instant social push.
The content on your website is outdated.
Your website should constantly be refreshed with new, relevant content, including videos. Ensure your website platform allows you to have ready-access to fresh content.
Making updates to your website is challenging and time consuming.
Making updates to your website should be a painless process. Consider investing in a website with drag-and-drop functionalities that don’t require complicated coding to make simple updates.
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these scenarios, it may be time to consider updating your website!