Call it content marketing, inbound marketing or progressive marketing. Either way, it means educating customers without direct selling. Sharing content is the new way to market.
Especially for the financial services industry, content marketing makes sense. Your customers want unbiased information, and plenty of it, before they choose a financial advisor. The more you can provide that kind of information, the greater chance you will have of generating sales leads and of converting browsers into buyers. And the more time prospects spend educating themselves on the basics, the more quality time you can spend with them on their specific needs.
Here are some powerful reasons why you should adopt a content marketing strategy. According to global marketing research and advisory firm Demand Metric, content marketing:
- Generates three times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing
- Costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing
- Improves brand loyalty
- Converts more leads into buyers
Understanding Content Marketing
So, what exactly is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content (across digital channels) to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Let’s unpack that definition because it says a lot.
The best place to start is with a clearly defined audience. As with any marketing, in content marketing you must first claim your niche. Identify not only the demographics of age, gender, income and occupation, but also the psychographics of values and beliefs. The more you know your customer, the better you will be at creating compelling content.
Notice they say content should be valuable, relevant and consistent. We would also add that it should be timely. Valuable means consumers literally should be willing to pay for it. Relevant means it must address their wants and needs. Consistency keeps consumers coming back because they know they can count on interesting content. And timely means your content addresses issues on the minds of consumers now, such as changes in the healthcare law or markets.
So let’s discuss content more specifically. By content we mean videos, blog posts, articles, social media, widgets like calculators, case studies, podcasts, and more. If it can be put online, it’s content, from a 140-character tweet to a 20-page white paper.
Developing Content for Financial Services
The best way to develop content is to do a little research. Pinpoint the search terms, keywords and topics consumers type in when they seek a financial advisor. Then make sure your website and content align with those terms. With a strategy known as content targeting, you can then use their search terms to deliver exactly the content they’re looking for. For example, if they find your site using tax planning search terms, you can deliver content to them on tax planning, not estate planning. Think of the questions you often hear from clients. What are their fears, hopes and goals? Let those inspire you for topics. Provide facts and information, but don’t be afraid to inject your own personal story or insights. After all, people make decisions based on logic and emotion.
OK, you might say, I know content is king. But what if I don’t have the time or inclination to develop it? First, you can hire a professional writer to create the content or a professional editor to refine your ideas. Some companies such as Smarsh specialize in creating websites for financial professionals and offer licensed, compliant content as a part of their package. Second, you’re probably already creating content in your work. It’s just a matter of turning it into something useful for the digital world.
For example, say you’re already doing seminars for your clients. Hire a videographer to record and edit your presentation. Then upload it to YouTube and include a link from your website. Or simply make an audio recording of it and turn that into a podcast. Have a video editor turn your PowerPoint presentation into a web seminar, or webinar. Or let someone else do the talking—you can interview intriguing leaders in your field (a great way to network!) and publish the podcasts.
Another common objection to sharing information goes to the heart of content marketing itself. I’ve spent years building my expertise, the comment goes. Why should I just give it away for free? It may feel like you’re giving away your most valuable secrets, but in fact this rich content reinforces your expertise.
When consumers recognize you as an expert, you begin building your credibility. When you build credibility, you expand the consumer’s trust in you. With credibility and trust established, you pave the way for a relationship. In fact, as Demand Metric has observed, 78 percent of consumers already perceive a relationship between themselves and a company using custom content.
And once you create a relationship, you’ve created a customer.
Everyone knows you need a website. It enables people to find you online, elevates your credibility and drives leads. But, is yours as effective as it could be? Here are six ways to build a better website:
1. Customers want to interact with you—anywhere, on any device.
- A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. mobile phone owners use their phone to go online. By 2015, more Americans will access the Web through mobile devices than through PCs.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly by using responsive design. Responsive design ensures your website is easy to read and navigate on a range of devices.
2. It may be a cliché but content is still king.
A content-rich website will attract prospects. For example, your visitors will appreciate reading articles or watching videos with informative investment, retirement and tax information geared to their interests. Some website developers that specialize in the financial industry provide a content library as part of their service. A robust online presence offers your customers and prospects valuable content and resources that motivate them to return whenever they need information, link to your website and make referrals. The more web traffic you get, the higher you’ll turn up on search engines.
3. The world wants to hear what you have to say.
A website allows you to create a blog. Creating, publishing and sharing relevant and valuable content in a blog positions you as an authority, grows your network and helps you build your practice in the age of social media. An effective blog contains links to allow for instant social sharing of your posts, so your message more easily gains a wider audience.
4. Get listed and get found by your Main Street neighbors.
A website expands your marketing reach. But, if you build it, will they come? Not necessarily. Once you establish your website, make it easier for prospects to find you by registering with the local business sections on online search engines such as Google and Bing. Basic listings are free and include contact information and a list of products and services. Belong to an association or carry a professional certification? Make sure you register with their directory. Ensure your site also has tools that make it easy to improve your search engine rankings and help you get found.
5. Consider your compliance obligations.
As you make updates to your site, it will likely need to be approved by someone from the compliance team. Make sure your website has an easy way to help manage the process. Compliance should be able to easily view and approve or reject content to ensure it is getting reviewed and out to customers as quickly as possible.
6. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Interactivity allows for feedback and response. Online contact and quote request forms allow customers and prospects to contact you directly. When you drive traffic to your website, you capture rich web analytics about your prospects and existing customers. You build a list of leads. You find what is and isn’t working with your site, and how you can improve it. You also gain insights to add value to your services and create targeted marketing campaigns that speak to your clients’ wishes and needs. Your website should have tools that allow for a variety of analytics and other widgets that will make it as effective as possible.
Ready to build a better website? Smarsh offers financial website development packages with modern designs, cutting-edge tools and built-in compliance safeguards. For more information, visit smarsh.com/smarshsites.
Most financial advisers and investment professionals agree on the need for a well-designed website. It’s the virtual equivalent of a well-designed office. For better or worse, it makes a statement about your practice that influences the perceptions of clients and prospective clients.
Which is why it’s important to make your website reflect your brand. So when it’s time for a website refresh or re-do, should you outsource the project or do it yourself? It depends. The keys are to decide what kind of site you want, whether you have the resources to dedicate to the project, and how much you want to spend.
Form follows function
Website types range from a simple brochure template to a completely customized, highly interactive and content-rich design. Decide on the purpose of the website: Is it a marketing tool? An information resource? How important is it to distinguish you from your competitors? Who will provide and update the content? How often? The more you want from your site, the more customized it should be.
Even a brochure-type site should offer a choice of design templates as well as simple marketing tools such as contact links, map finders, information-request forms and limited site statistics. A step up from the brochure approach allows users to access dynamic content such as informative newsletter articles, financial calculators, stock quotes and other research tools. More sophisticated sites are built to reflect your corporate identity and may include custom-designed banners, backgrounds, forms and animation.
Examine your staff resources
Building a website from the ground up takes expertise. It involves strategic planning, project management, web design and development. It also requires database development, website hosting, domain name registration, online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).
Those things take time, too. You could spend hours doing things that a skilled web professional could do in minutes. That’s not only more expensive. It’s also time away from serving clients.
So unless you have a web development team on staff, your time is probably best invested by outsourcing from a professional website supplier.
Choose a vendor
If you decide to go the outsourcing route, your next step will be to choose a vendor. In your research, ask if they provide a range of choices, including budget-friendly options. Does the price include such things as hosting, domain registration, content, forms, maintenance and SEO? How long have they been in business? How many websites have they produced?
Websites are not a once-and-done thing. So it’s important to work with a vendor that provides good continuing service and an easy-to-use product. Updating the content should be simple, fast and intuitive.
Another consideration is financial-industry expertise. Instead of supplying generic website templates, some suppliers specialize in websites for the financial services industry. These vendors may offer online tools for investors to conduct research, access their portfolios and read FINRA-approved articles on investment and finance.
Set your budget
Prices vary depending on project size and functionality. At the low end, you can use online site-building services and get a professional-looking, if not unique, site set up for $300-$500. More-customized designs for small firms start at $2,000-$3,000. Factor in monthly maintenance fees, too.
Not surprisingly, most financial advisers and investment consultants choose to outsource. They’d rather pay an expert to do what they do best. And that makes sense. After all, that’s why your clients hire you.
More and more interactions with clients and prospects these days happen online. So, whether you outsource or insource, whether you choose a simple or more full-featured site, make sure your virtual office makes visitors feel welcome, engaged and maybe even a little impressed. Consider the money spent on a website not just as an expense but as an investment that, managed properly, will yield a return.
To see a menu of SEC- and FINRA-compliant website plans for financial professionals, check out Smarsh Sites, a service of Smarsh, a technology leader in the financial-services industry since 2001.