Category Archives for "Management"

7 Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

It was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with an assortment of treats and trinkets. Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial planner.

First gift ever. The crux of most financial planner marketing.

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Seven-story corporate headquarters of Longaberger's Basket Company, Newark Ohio.

Apparently, the stock market’s spiraling decline inspired her to do a little preemptive marketing.

Like most small, professional service firms, her marketing efforts are inversely related to her current cash flow. When the markets are up and she’s riding high, her marketing expenses are low. She’s too busy — and content— to worry about it. When things are tough, it’s time to turn on the charm. It’s human nature.

Unfortunately, her current clients see the effort for what it is. (Just buttering us up for the bad news to come.) And new prospects aren’t swayed because her personal brand isn’t strong enough to weather the whims of Wall Street.

Her brand has no credibility right now. No differentiation. And little visibility. The only good thing you can say is she didn’t work for WaMu or one of the big investments banks.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing plan for an independent financial advisor.

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

• Christmas card to all clients. (Gift baskets are typically reserved for only the top three or four clients.)

• One-page, off-the shelf website, never to be touched once it’s up.

• Annual guest speaker luncheon. (Bring in a so-called “expert” spokesperson, book a room at a local hotel, cater lunch and then bore us to tears. If I wanted to know all that stuff, I’d do my own trading.)

It’s more of a tactical to-do list than an actual marketing plan. In the past it might have worked. She could get by on her good looks and good news from a bull market.

Not any more.

Compensation for independent financial advisors is typically based either on a flat fee, or on a percentage of the total assets under management (AUM). If it’s $100 million of other people’s money, they typically make 1% of that. A million bucks gross. The problem is, they’ve all seen a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they’re scrambling to find new clients.

Most are just ratcheting-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

It’s pretty simple. Advisors sign up with an independent web directory and they pay only for highly qualified referrals. Very little effort for financial advisors. Very big ROI.

Independent, third-party directories also fill a vital role for consumers: They help simplify the search and match prospects with a financial advisor who fits. It’s a vexing decision, choosing someone to handle your life savings. And most financial advisor web sites have the same, stock-photo look, and the same brochure-style copy.

On-line directories have been done successfully in the education market, travel, real estate, and the auto industry. So why not financial advisors?

When prospects go on line to research “financial advisors” they begin with Google. But Google can’t sort or organize the category in a helpful way. That’s where directories come in… they categorize advisors, provide details on specific services and nudge prospects along in the decision making process. So independent advisors get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization they could never achieve on their own.

In this day and age, having a web presence beyond just a static website is a marketing no-brainer. If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge by writing a blog. Create a Facebook page. Join a social network like Linked In or Triiibes. Establish a presence for you and your personal brand in places where your direct competitors aren’t. Do something, ANYTHING, that’s different from what you’ve always done.

Most professionals who run small service businesses believe networking is enough. But that’s not the case right now for financial advisors. There’s no gift basket big enough for the job ahead. It’s time to start employing some new marketing tactics.

If you want an idea that will dramatically differentiate you from all the other hungry advisors and help you retain clients without the use of lavish gifts, send me an e-mail: johnf@bnbranding.com.

3 Brands that are built to last.

Built To Last, by Jim Collins, is commonly known as one of the most influential business books ever written. It’s on every consultant’s bookshelf and should be required reading for any executive, business owner or budding entrepreneur.

It’s also one of the best branding books you’ll ever read.

built_to_lastYou have to read between the lines though, because Collins never used the words “brand” or “branding.” Back in 1994 it just wasn’t on his radar. Collins and his co-author Jerry Porras focused instead on “visionary” companies and compared them, head-to-head, with not-so-visionary competitors.

They found that “core ideology” is a common element of success among all visionary companies. Those organizations have strong, enduring principles that go beyond just profits. Call it a cause. A purpose. A set of principles… Whatever. The point is, if you want to build a visionary company or a great, enduring brand, you have to start by knowing who you are, what you stand for, and why you exist.

Collins used this equation: Core Values + Purpose = Core Ideology. The Brand Insight spin: Core Values + Purpose = the foundation of your branding efforts.

If you’re launching a new brand or reevaluating an existing one, start with that equation. Dig below the surface and ask yourself this fundamental question: “What business are we really in?”

Sounds simple enough, but there are millions of business owners and entrepreneurs who never give that a second thought. (Too much navel-gazing, I suppose.)

These are the people who figure “success” is enough of a purpose and you shouldn’t waste time or resources on things like branding. But as Collins proved, it’s those core values that set great companies apart from also-rans. And the great brands from wannabes.

Jeff Bezos at Amazon understands that his brand goes way beyond selling books. And Phil Knight knows it’s not just the shoes at Nike. (Interestingly, both of those brands would probably fit Collins’ criteria of a “visionary” company.)

Here’s another important finding from Built To Last: Ideology must be authentic and integrated seamlessly into everything the company does.

Same with brands. If your core brand values aren’t authentic, consumers will figure it out. They’ll see through the marketing hype and recognize the disconnect every time.

Here’s a good example: Tommy Hilfiger used to be the hottest thing in fashion. His clothing was successfully positioned as a more affordable version of Ralph Lauren. Young, somewhat preppy suburban WASPs were buying lots of Hilfiger outfits that would blend well at any yacht club.

But in the late 90’s the Hilfiger line caught on in the hip-hop community. When that big Hilfiger logo started appearing in rap videos the company saw what was happening and thought, wow, we’re really hot in that market. We should start designing for them.

Donny Deutsch once said it was “the single stupidest blunder in the history of advertising.”

Hilfiger abandoned the brand ideology that made the company so successful and tried to cater to the African American market by adding bling to their clothes.

“We jeweled it, we studded it and we really pushed the envelope,” Hilfiger said in a 2001 interview. They also launched an ad campaign focused on the urban, street culture. But when the advertising went street, he lost the street.

The black community saw right through it and was immediately turned off. Pandering! And Hilfiger’s core audience in the white community saw the ads, said “that’s not me,” and quit buying. Sales plummeted, and that brand’s still suffering. As one wall street analyst put it, “that brand will never again be the hot, flashy, overly talked about, fast-growing company it once was.”

And it would never make it into Collins’s book.

“Stimulate progress, but preserve the core,” it says. Hilfiger abandoned the core in the name of progress, and it backfired on them.

There are many other points from Built To Last that relate to branding… Collins found that visionary companies have “cult-like” corporate cultures. Everyone is indoctrinated into the core ideology and they follow it faithfully. (Ever seen a Wal-Mart sales meeting!)

Great brands work the same way. There are so many parallels I’m tempted to say, just maybe, “Visionary company” is synonymous with “great brand.”

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

By John Furgurson

When it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. At the first sign of an economic downturn they go to the list of tactics and start trimming off the bottom of the spread sheet. Or worse yet, they go for a military-style buzz cut and just chop it all off.

images4First thing to go is ”image” advertising”… anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window. Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Next is community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernable ROI. (It’s too easy to say no to those poor beggars.)

Website upgrades are also on the chopping block. As long as the site still comes up when you type in that URL, it’s all good. Right???

Wrong. The website should probably be the most sacred of all cows, but that’s another story.

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cost cutting. You need more than just the bosses’ orders to “cut 20%, but don’t touch this, and don’t cut that.” You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

Here’s an idea… why not start with the message?

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem. Print ads say one thing, the web site says another. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Reevaluate every marketing message and every “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness.

Then scalp all the wild hairs. If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.” No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

It’s also easy to neglect the messaging process. In my Feb. ?/ post I wrote about an ad for Wales. A classic case of saying the wrong thing. As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.” Even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

Any decent marketing person can choose tactics that will drive traffic and buy media that will reach the desired target audience. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely. Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand image.

2 Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post

Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

Marketing is a very judgmental business. Business owners and CEOs are constantly judging the results of their marketing efforts. Sometimes objectively, sometimes not.

judging your advertising agency's workAd agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.

When it comes to television advertising, everyone’s a critic. TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.

But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgmental.

Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. Critical thinking is a key to good judgement.

You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. But there’s no such thing as constructively judgmental.

For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgmental. Judgmental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgmental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice. When people jump to conclusions about a political candidate, they’re usually being judgmental.

Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgmental.

One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil shysters, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgment to the point of being obstinately ineffective. His poor judgment in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgment, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions. Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment. They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.

Many people who strive to be less judgmental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.

Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.” That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a media schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. They won’t approve any design work that involves IBM blue, blue-green, aqua, teal or any other form of that color. How rational is that?

Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program. In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.

At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypes of the target audience. One sentence cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a group! On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)

Here are three stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with…CMOs can’t possibly be creative. Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work. Art directors don’t know a thing about business. And advertising account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.

Nonsense. Ad agencies perpetuate the stereotype by segregating their creative teams from the rest of the staff, but great ideas can come from anywhere and the best campaigns come from collaboration.

And creative teams pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully and working with clients in a wide variety of business categories.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. It’s also ingrained in American culture. You hear it in post-game interviews… a ball player or track star or golfer comes in second, and immediately concludes that the winner was a “better person.”

No he isn’t. He just performed a little better that one time.

Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgmental.

Blogs are inherently judgmental. The whole idea of an on-line soapbox lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I addressed the soapbox syndrome in my very first post, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.

I urge you to do the same. Use good judgement.

Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.

Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project.

Oregon advertising agency blog post on stereotypesMake sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something.

Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution.

And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Do ads that break stereotypes, rather than reinforce them.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, try THIS post.

1 How to survive when the economy tanks.

There’s a lot of economic doom and gloom in the news these days; Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard about the housing market, the unemployment rate and the rising price of groceries and gas.

For many business owners, it’s frightening. The fortune-teller economists are predicting even more “belt tightening” as the year goes on, and if you let it, all the crummy forecasts might scare you into doing something totally rash. Like nothing at all.

It’s pretty common, actually. When the leading economic indicators start heading south, many business owners go into immediate survival mode. Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover!

The natural tendency is to adopt a siege mentality and hunker down until “things get better.” So they pull the plug on marketing and branding. Then P.R and charitable giving. Then training and customer service initiatives. They stop doing the things that helped them succeed in the first place.

It’s a strategy of inaction, and it never works. Not in the long run.

Studies of life and death survival struggles prove that action is the antidote for despair. You see it in cancer patients, in soldiers, castaways, mountaineers and disaster victims. Those who let despair take over, sit down and die. Survivors, on the other hand, take action.

Determination and a disciplined, almost clinical approach seem to be the secret. Survivors don’t place blame, make excuses or wallow in self pity. They accept their current circumstances and start working on a solution immediately by setting small, achievable goals. They don’t waste a lot of energy running around in circles, doing things that won’t get them to the goal.

For a climber in the Andes, it meant extricating himself from a crevasse and literally dragging his starving body and shattered leg 10 miles down a glacier. All the way back to camp. For one hiker in the canyonlands of Utah, it meant amputating his own arm with his pocket knife.

Makes surviving a recession seem like a cake walk.

Make no mistake about it, a significant economic downturn can be fatal to a small business. But businesses fail all the time, regardless of what the economy is doing.

The fact is, if you have a clearly defined strategy, and the discipline to stick with it, there’s no reason you can’t do much more than just survive a recession. You can thrive. You can gain ground on the competition. You launch new products and improve your entire operation. The history of American commerce if full of war stories that prove the point.

Post and Kellog’s were battling head-to-head in the breakfast cereal category when the Great Depression hit. W.C. Kellogg plowed ahead, doubled his advertising budget and even introduced the world’s first vitamin-enriched product cereal. Post cut back and Kellogg’s has been the market leader ever since. (Kellogg also cut hours in his plant for three of his shifts and added a fourth, just to spread his payroll among more workers. But that’s another story.)

But forget about the 1930’s. Here are some things you can do, right now, to survive the perfect, economic storm.

1. Use downtime to your advantage. Most managers have so many fires to put out they never get around to long-term strategic thinking. If things are slow, do it! Clarify your objectives and fine-tune your elevator pitch. Revisit your value proposition. Make sure you can communicate your strategy clearly and succinctly. (Few CEOs can.)

2. Get your bearings and refocus your efforts. In the woods, the last thing you want to do is wander around in circles. Same thing in business. Don’t waste precious energy and money chasing business that doesn’t really fit your model. (see item #1)

3. Renegoiate your media contracts. When it comes to print ad space and broadcast spots, you should be able to get a lot more for your money right now. So play hardball. Insist that your advertising salespeople work up innovative new schedules.

4. Get creative. Brainstorm new strategic alliances, sponsorship opportunities or marketing initiatives. Look for ways to leverage your existing partnerships. Do something! And keep this in mind: When times are tough even small initiatives can have a big impact. Because everyone else is sitting around waiting for the rescue helicopters.

5. Recycle one of your favorite, old ad campaigns. A lot of people kill campaigns way too soon, before the public has ever been thoroughly exposed to the messages. So instead of creating a whole new campaign, go through your archives and dust off the advertising that’s worked for you in the past.

6. Spend a little extra time listening to your best customers. Forget about you, and find out what their problems are. Then help devise a solution.

7. Take extra care of your people. They’re reading all the bad news in the paper too, and it’s unsettling. So step up, and be a leader. As the CEO, you have to be an optimist. Because nobody follows a pessimist.