Official launch of 16 Ways from Sunday podcast : Exploring Financial Advisor Marketing From Every Angle

I’m thrilled to share with you the official launch of the 16 Ways from Sunday podcast. This podcast is a podcast for high-performing financial planning professionals that are committed to improving their craft. It takes a rifle-approach with a focus on financial advisor marketing and business building.

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Each episode provides actionable marketing ideas and insights, typically delivered through candid interviews with some of the top thought leaders in marketing and/or the financial advice industry. From digital marketing to traditional direct-response marketing, each episode delivers straight-forward and engaging content that any financial professional can use to improve their bottom line and grow their practice.

You can subscribe via iTunes, Google play, and a number of other podcast apps.

Visit my podcast home page to get all the details and check out past episodes.

The first three episode titles and links are below:

Episode 01: Mark Mersman: On the Sales and Marketing Funnel for High Performing Advisors

Episode 02: Mike Lover: On the Imporance of Process and Elevating the Client Experience

Episode 03: Brian Hart: On Turning Press into Profits: Simplifying Public Relations for Financial Advisors

I’m looking forward to this endeavor and anticipate at least two new podcasts to be released each month.

All the best,

Mark Mersman

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FMG Suite acquires Peter Montoya’s MarketingLibrary & MarketingPro, Platinum Advisor Strategies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Seemingly in the middle of the night, FMG Suite made two significant “competitor” acquisitions last quarter. According to their website, the mission of FMG Suite is as follows:

“At FMG Suite, our business centers on helping you build yours. Through lead-generation websites and digital marketing tools, we help you accomplish more with your marketing, from retaining current clients to gaining more referrals.”

Their first acquisition was that of Platinum Advisor Strategies. This company was established in 2009 by brothers Robert and Thomas Fross. According to their website, their mission statement is “to create the financial industry’s finest branding, practice management, and marketing materials, while adhering to uncompromising levels of professionalism and service, both inside and outside our organization.”

FMG Suite’s second acquisition, which took place approximately a month after acquiring Platinum Advisor Strategies, was that of long time financial advisor marketing “guru” Peter Montoya’s company, MarketingPro. This company had two primary services, a library of marketing content for financial advisors (known as MarketingLibrary) and then a print/email automation solution that helped distribute that conent (known as the MarketingPro upgrade.)

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I’ve spend the past 15 years involved with financial advisor marketing, and have seen each of these companies evolve their business models, especially as the digital age has made its way into the financial services industry. Here’s my take on what this acquisition means to the industry and individual advisors (from the good and the bad to the ugly).

Setting the stage:

  • I don’t know anything about the financial details of the transactions. However, it’s safe to say that the two entities that were acquired are worth more to FMG Suite as a result of cross-selling possibilities than they would to entities that weren’t already entrenched in that space. More on the later
  • Interesting observation – I’ve seen Peter Montoya speak a few times over the years. I’ve always found his talks informative with some good ideas presented. There was, however, one thing that I always questioned about his philosophy (and now I find it extremely ironic). One of the central themes to his talk and his branding approach was “the brand called you.” His main point was that your clients do business with you (a true statement). As as a result, he was a huge proponent of you naming your firm after yourself. If your last name was “Maple,” then your company should be named “Maple Financial Services” or something to that effect. When Montoya named his company, it followed this same thought pattern: Peter Montoya was the brand. A few years back, he slowly faded away from using his name in the brand. He did an initial transition where it was “Marketing Library-Peter Montoya,” and then shifted entirely to “MarketingLibrary,” and then “MarketingPro.” I found a whole lot of irony in it while I watched the brand changes slowly take place. It’s long been my belief that a company is worth more to a buyer when the seller’s name isn’t embedded within it. Who knows how long Montoya had been staging an exit. It begs the question – if asked today, would he give different advice to the hundreds of advisors who he encouraged to use their name in the branding of their firm?
  • I don’t know a whole lot about Platinum Advisor Strategies. I’ve not heard much positive or negative about them, so my review of the impact of the acquisition takes this into account.
  • I’ve had extensive experience with MarketingLibrary and MarketingPro. They’ve been an entity that has been tied into our technology offering for years.
  • My knowledge about FMG Suite comes from a handful of interactions I’ve had with their team, my review of dozens of videos they’ve created, and feedback I’ve received from advisors over the years.

Let’s get to it:

The Good:

Each of these three entities bring complementary services to the table. In theory, this should provide for a more comprehensive offering made available to advisors. Each of the three entities has certain strengths; if each of these strengths can be harnessed and integrated effectively, it could be an impressive offering for advisors.

Each of the entities likely has relationships and connections with an extensive network of broker-dealers. As a result, this could provide access to new services to an a larger number of broker-dealer affiliated representatives. With that said, it could present new challenges (covered in a bit).

With FMG Suite’s service offering lineup being enhanced, it likely means that competitors will look to step up their games. Regardless of what provider(s) you select for websites, marketing content, and/or marketing automation services, this is a good thing.

The Bad:

Too much : with the higher volume of services being made available, this could invite confusion as to what services make the most sense for you to invest in for your practice. In addition, it will be interesting to see how the merging of three firm’s services and user interfaces come together. Change is difficult, and there’s no doubt the user interface will change soon.

Compliance issues: Our firm owns and operates three RIAs in addition to an independent broker-dealer. Compliance is a big deal to us, and finding marketing tools that are easy for our compliance department to work with make the lives of our advisors easier. MarketingPro’s compliance interface was a tool that was very compliance/advisor friendly system. FMG Suite’s compliance interface leaves A LOT to be desired. Our sense has always been that FMG Suite was built more for the advisor that didn’t have an active entity operating in a compliance review capacity. If they can take a queue from the user interface of MarketingPro, this could be a boon for advisors working with an entity that reviews content from a compliance standpoint (broker-dealers and/or corporate RIAs).

Isolating integrations: Software tools like FMG Suite, MarketingPro, and Platinum Advisor Strategies rely upon their ability to integrate with other software platforms that are used by its customers. One example of this is AdvisorWebsites, one of the leading providers of websites for financial advisors. Prior to the acquisition, there was an integration in place between MarketingLibrary/Pro and AdvisorWebsites. This made the lives of advisors’ easier. Since FMG Suite offers websites, this integration will undoubtedly be shut off. Who knows what other integrations may be discontinued as a result of this acquisition. Advisors lose here.

Volume isn’t always a good thing: typically speaking, volume is a good thing. It can result in lower costs and improved services. My suspicion is that the increased volume could water down the website offering, forcing a more cookie-cutter approach in order to keep up with the higher numbers. As of today, it’s not hard to tell what is an FMG Suite website. That’s not necessarily a knock on them, as they are professionally done, but the amount of unique content vs. “universal” content is pretty limited. In order to differentiate ourselves in the financial services space, unique content is critical.

The Ugly:

Cost: If I were a betting man, costs will go up. Costs for MarketingPro services and Platinum Advisor Services. The’ll also likely be pushing hard to sway advisors who don’t have an FMG website over to use their services, arguing that they need to “bundle” their services. I’ll be curious to see what services they’ll continue to offer a la carte.

Questionable business practices: As an independent broker-dealer and three corporate RIAs, we were shocked that we were given no heads up that this acquisition was taking place. In fact, we didn’t even find out until an advisor of ours brought it to our attention. We immediately worked to have a call with our contacts at the company. We had a conversation with the President of FMG Suite, and were promised that we would be notified in advance before they started to make changes in their offerings. Within two weeks of that phone call, two things took place:

  • One of the critical integrations our advisors relied upon was eliminated, despite us being told that it would take place until 2019. There was no warning or communication made about this.
  • We heard from multiple advisors that FMG Suite’s sales representatives were targeting our advisors pitching them to change their website platforms. To be honest, we expected that. Why else would FMG make the acquisition? However, we didn’t expect them to use our compliance person’s name as a part of their sales pitch, stating that “NAME HERE approved the transition to FMG” and basically implying that it was going to happen anyways. To say that it was a deceptive sales practice is probably being kind. This is the sort of thing that other firms will have a difficult time accepting when they are seeking partners they can trust.

 

There’s a lot that we’ll want to keep an eye on in the months to come with this acquisition. My personal opinion is that it could be a good thing for the industry, but has been poorly executed thus far, and there’s a long way to go before trust and confidence can be restored.

 

 

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The three questions you must answer for prospective clients (and the two questions to answer to keep them as clients)

The three questions you must answer for prospective clients (and the two questions to answer to keep them as clients)

Many will argue that “sales is sales.” I’ll contend that the financial services industry has two paths that professionals can take when approaching new client acquisition (sales): the transaction-based sales path or the consultative sales path.

In a transactional sales model, the value is found within the product and price is often the focus. The consultative approach to sales puts the value emphasis on the planning services offered, with the product and price being secondary.

The transactional relies more on emotion and solving “a problem.” In the financial services world, it tends to be very short sighted and singularly focused. People who do business with these types of financial services providers tend to be customers, not clients.

The consultative approach tends to have a much longer sales cycle, puts a heavier focus on a the relationship, and results in a relationship that is more aptly categorized as a client.

Prospective clients who follow an advisor-driven consultative approach to sales have three primary questions they want answered from an advisor:

  1. Do I like this person? It sounds simple, but a prospective client needs to like you if they plan to do business with you from a consultative standpoint. A transaction customer puts far less importance on the answer to this question. Think about it like this… when I go to buy a new stove or pair of jeans, I don’t really care that much about whether I like the salesperson. Don’t get me wrong, it helps… but it’s not the basis for my decision
  2. Do I trust this person? Trust is at the core of any relationship, especially when it has to do with money. There are plenty of things you can do to earn one’s trust. Third party validation and credibility are one. Quality time is another. Study after study suggests that you need to spend a certain number of hours with somebody before you can trust them. Translation: the one or two call close just ain’t gonna get it done.
  3. Do I think they can get me to the bright, sunny future that I hope for? This is far more important than you may realize. This is where honesty is important. You can tell them that it can happen, but if you aren’t being honest with them, they won’t remain a client for long (keep reading to find out way. Show them how to help them reach their future goals… but don’t start doing this until questions number one and two have been answered yes.

 

Once they’ve become a client… they need you to continually answer two questions:

  1. Am I still OK? 
  2. Is my bright, sunny future still in tact?

Those two questions have plenty of overlap, but those need to be the focus of every review you have with your clients if you want them to remain clients. I’ve oversimplified things a bit, but if you can put your focus on being able to continually answer these questions for prospective clients and existing clients, you’ll be in a much better spot to continue to build a referral culture within your practice. At the end of the day, a clearly defined sales process can be one of the most important marketing tools you possess.

Enjoy!

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Cutting through the noise part 2 – the best marketing email I’ve received in the past 12 months

If you haven’t had the chance to read my previous post about the best direct mail piece I’ve seen this year, I invite you do so, as it ties in closely with why I loved this email.

The subject line was as follows: Michigan State vs. the Buckeyes.. Friendly wager?

This email came from a gentleman I had never heard of, nor did I know of his company. He sent it on the Wednesday before a big football game between my alma mater (Michigan State) and Ohio State. Here was the first paragraph of his email to me:

Hey Mark,

As a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I wanted to reach out with a friendly wager. I’ll give you the Spartans to cover the spread as of game time Saturday and I’ll take the Ohio State to beat it. If you win, I’ll send you some Michigan State swag or make a donation to a charity of your choice. If I win, I’d like the chance to have a short call to introduce Tenfold.

He then shared a quick sentence about his company, and then above his signature, he signed off by saying:

Let me know if we have a bet!

Here’s what I know…  he probably sent that same email to a list of other MSU grads in a similar business/job capacity. As you can see from his email, he didn’t even go to school there… so it could have even been totally made up that he was a fan. BUT… he got my attention. I replied to him and explored what his company did. Here’s what I loved about this strategy:

  • Highly personalized. I’m an MSU alum and football fan. He did his homework (that homework isn’t that hard to do, especially with LinkedIn and all the other data sources out there).
  • It was different. It was completely outside the box and not the same old company pitch I get ALL THE TIME.
  • The subject line FORCED me to open it. Enough said. That’s the name of the game.
  • It was a win-win for him. Even if he had to send me “swag” as he put it, it was a drop in the bucket for his company to continue engagement with a potential client.
  • His signature line had a direct link where I could schedule a call with him. Highly effective use of his time and I’d betcha he got a bunch of calls scheduled as a result of it.
  • It was time sensitive and highly opportunistic – I responded to him before the game (within a day or two of his email being sent). He capitalized on a big event.
  • It gave him an immediate icebreaker conversation that wasn’t about business. Let’s face it, people prefer to do business with people they enjoy talking with (especially things that aren’t business related).
  • It’s highly repeatable. His favorite school has a dozen football games a year and even more basketball games.

So… can you get creative with something like this in your practice?

Here’s my action steps/thoughts for you:

  1. Find your team/sport/passion. It helps to be genuine with this one.
  2. Have fun with the offer/challenge/bet (and make sure your compliance folks are OK with it).
  3. Use Linkedin as a starting point for finding the people you may want to do this with. (Translation: don’t buy an email list).

If I can be of any assistance to you with your efforts, feel free to contact me.

In the meantime… GO GREEN!

All the best!

Mark

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Cutting through the noise part 2 – the best marketing email I’ve received in the past 12 months

If you haven’t had the chance to read my previous post about the best direct mail piece I’ve seen this year, I invite you do so, as it ties in closely with why I loved this email.

The subject line was as follows: Michigan State vs. the Buckeyes.. Friendly wager?

This email came from a gentleman I had never heard of, nor did I know of his company. He sent it on the Wednesday before a big football game between my alma mater (Michigan State) and Ohio State. Here was the first paragraph of his email to me:

Hey Mark,

As a lifelong Buckeyes fan, I wanted to reach out with a friendly wager. I’ll give you the Spartans to cover the spread as of game time Saturday and I’ll take the Ohio State to beat it. If you win, I’ll send you some Michigan State swag or make a donation to a charity of your choice. If I win, I’d like the chance to have a short call to introduce Tenfold.

He then shared a quick sentence about his company, and then above his signature, he signed off by saying:

Let me know if we have a bet!

Here’s what I know…  he probably sent that same email to a list of other MSU grads in a similar business/job capacity. As you can see from his email, he didn’t even go to school there… so it could have even been totally made up that he was a fan. BUT… he got my attention. I replied to him and explored what his company did. Here’s what I loved about this strategy:

  • Highly personalized. I’m an MSU alum and football fan. He did his homework (that homework isn’t that hard to do, especially with LinkedIn and all the other data sources out there).
  • It was different. It was completely outside the box and not the same old company pitch I get ALL THE TIME.
  • The subject line FORCED me to open it. Enough said. That’s the name of the game.
  • It was a win-win for him. Even if he had to send me “swag” as he put it, it was a drop in the bucket for his company to continue engagement with a potential client.
  • His signature line had a direct link where I could schedule a call with him. Highly effective use of his time and I’d betcha he got a bunch of calls scheduled as a result of it.
  • It was time sensitive and highly opportunistic – I responded to him before the game (within a day or two of his email being sent). He capitalized on a big event.
  • It gave him an immediate icebreaker conversation that wasn’t about business. Let’s face it, people prefer to do business with people they enjoy talking with (especially things that aren’t business related).
  • It’s highly repeatable. His favorite school has a dozen football games a year and even more basketball games.

So… can you get creative with something like this in your practice?

Here’s my action steps/thoughts for you:

  1. Find your team/sport/passion. It helps to be genuine with this one.
  2. Have fun with the offer/challenge/bet (and make sure your compliance folks are OK with it).
  3. Use Linkedin as a starting point for finding the people you may want to do this with. (Translation: don’t buy an email list).

If I can be of any assistance to you with your efforts, feel free to contact me.

In the meantime… GO GREEN!

All the best!

Mark

The post Cutting through the noise part 2 – the best marketing email I’ve received in the past 12 months appeared first on 16 Ways from Sunday.

Cutting through the noise – The best direct mail marketing I’ve received this year

At least once a week I hear expressions like “direct mail is dead” or “there is so much junk mail.”

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a fan of direct mail. If there is one thing that I focus on when it comes to direct mail (regardless of quantity or the call to action) is that a message to market match is the most critical aspect to direct response marketing. This is true whether you’re a financial advisor or an automobile dealership.

I love receiving mail and reviewing the “gut impact” it has on me (and others). Frankly, most of it sucks. And the reason why people may utter the words “direct mail is dead” is because there is a lot more noise today and far more people and things vying for our attention than there was 20 years ago (on top of the fact that we all have shorter attention spans nowadays).

So when I receive something that stands out amidst the sea of mail, it warms my marketing heart. Earlier this week I received a piece of direct mail marketing that is currently sitting atop my personal list of impactful marketing efforts for 2018.

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I received this in a UPS box, so it certainly made it to my desk. It came from somebody who had sent me a couple of emails previously, but I had not responded to him. My guess is that he knew that I opened them, and he may have even known that I forwarded one of his emails to a colleague of mine. This is likely what triggered in his system that I might be a somewhat interested prospect (even though I hadn’t reached out to him).

Inside the UPS box was a hand written envelope with my name on it, along with a short note to me. The gentleman is selling suite packages for concerts and sports events being held in New York City. He likely targeted me as the CMO of a financial institution that may host events where we would use suites to entertain clients and/or prospective clients.

The really cool part of this was that he included an autographed picture of Magic Johnson dunking in the NCAA championship game. What makes that particularly impactful is that I’m a Michigan State Alum and a fairly big MSU sports fan. This immediately increased the perceived value of the “gift.” He even included the certificate of authenticity.

Talk about cool. In the grand scheme of things, the autographed picture wasn’t likely that expensive (I found them online for around $50-100). But because of who I am, the value is far higher… and I certainly shared the story with colleagues of mine.

You might be asking… will we do business with him? I have no idea. To be honest, we don’t do that much in the way of suites (especially not in NYC). But I can assure you that I feel a sense of obligation to reply to his next email or call. I’m likely even going to send him a thank you note, and may even keep my eyes peeled for a way to “repay” him in some way.

I realize you won’t spend this kind of money for a big group of people, but I would encourage you to think about creative ways that can break through the noise of all the junk mail your ideal clients receive.

And since it’s football season, there’s only one fitting way to end this post… GO GREEN!

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DOL Fiduciary Rule Dies… Introduces a new opportunity for financial advisors.

So it’s official. The DOL Fiduciary rule is a thing of the past. For many of us in the financial industry, it consumed a lot of our time, energy and resources for the the better part of three years. You couldn’t turn anywhere in the financial news media without seeing it. Yet, its ultimate demise was rather anti-climactic. It died rather quietly compared to all of the noise it made early on.

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I had written a piece for Investment News a while back titled DOL Rule: What’s wrong with the Financial Advice Industry. The point of the piece was to share a few simple thoughts about what I felt was right and wrong about the rule. I still feel the same today as I did then. Hopefully the SEC will introduce a rule that is workable for the industry while addressing the heart of the matter: do what’s best for clients.

The Heart of the Matter

Do what is best for clients. Seems simple, right?

It’s far more complex than that. It’s the reason that the DOL rule (R.I.P.) and the newly proposed SEC rule required more than 1,000 pages each as they struggled to define “best for clients.” It appears as though that definition is fuzzy. The problem is that rule makers want something black and white,  which (in my opinion) is the reason that the “lowest/cheapest fee” argument was the easiest thing for them to attach themselves to when attempting to define “best interests.” Anybody who understands the complexity of the financial industry knows how problematic this can be.

What do Groceries Have to do with this?

I frequently shop at a local grocery store around the corner from my house. We don’t do all of our grocery shopping there, but for quick trips to get many of the basics, this is where my family turns. We do this for a couple of reasons. We happen to like some of the produce there, and the convenience of it being really close to the house (with easy parking) makes it simple.

The big regional/national grocers are an extra 10 minutes away. We do some of our big shopping trips there, but it tends to be something that is planned out in advance (considering we have two little girls that need to be factored into the equation).

Once in a great while, I’m tasked with running out late to get milk or one of the household “necessities.” The gas station on the corner tends to be my “go-to” solution. It’s a quick and easy stop with the added benefit of actually being open at 11 PM.

In each of the above examples, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to purchase milk during those grocery trips. Our girls are turning into milk-junkies. The cost for a gallon of milk at each of those places varies dramatically. One could argue that the gallon that costs the most (from the gas station), may be the least fresh. But that doesn’t stop me from making that purchase when I need to.

As a consumer, I’m making those purchases based upon something other than price. I’m placing a value on convenience, flexibility, service, and the added benefit of buying local vs. a national chain. Sometimes I think about and look at the price I’ll be paying, but I’ve got enough experience and knowledge to understand that I’ll be paying more in exchange for things that are more important to me at that moment than dollars and cents.

The Opportunity

After the tax reform bill passed, my team created a seminar focused on some of the most recent changes affecting the financial lives of those 50 years and older. I wrote about the opportunity that it presented in a blog post titled 6 Ways to leverage tax reform in your marketing strategy. The focus of the seminar was on three recent law changes:

  1. The Social Security claiming strategy changes
  2. The DOL Fiduciary rule
  3. Tax reform bill

When the DOL rule officially became a thing of the past, I was immediately asked “well are we going to pull that from the presentation?” The question was a valid one that I had received from a number of advisors. I think the expectation was to simply remove that section and just go back to doing things the way we always had.

BUT…

The death of the DOL Fiduciary rule gives advisors an incredible opportunity. We’re provided with the opportunity to educate consumers about how the financial industry works. And while it’s a bizarre analogy, we can share with them the difference between the gas stations, the local grocers and markets, and the national chains. ALL of them have their place within the industry.

We simply need to do a better job of helping consumers arrive at their buying decisions logically, regardless of whether they are buying an investment or a gallon of milk.

Explain what a fiduciary is. Explain why your clients see value in doing business with you. Be transparent. Help them to understand a little bit about the industry and where you fit in. In a world that is going increasingly digital, I’m firmly convinced that there will always be a strong need and desire for financial professionals that want to build relationships with their clients, while helping to hold them accountable for the things that need to be done to help them reach their goals.

We’ll get a fiduciary rule someday. For now, we’ll have to rely on the financial professionals that can objectively explain how the different aspects of the financial industry impact to the very consumers it is there to serve.

 

 

 

 

Moving a Few Miles can be as Difficult as Going Cross-Country…

Target Readers:

  1. Advisors struggling with change in their business.
  2. Advisors who are friends with Mike.
  3. Advisors who work with USA Financial.

Talking Points:

  1. Once you begin, you might as well keep the momentum going.
  2. Short-cuts are seldom short-cuts.
  3. Pruning & purging are liberating.

Here’s the Skinny,

I apologize for my recent absence.  Very unexpectedly, we have moved homes.

My two oldest are in college (so mostly out of the house), which leaves just me, my wife, and our youngest.  We had been halfheartedly (read as lackadaisically) looking for a new home over the past two years.  We were in no rush.  But then my wife stumbled onto a home she really liked and we could “see” ourselves in for many years to come.

And if you know the Walters, once a decision is made, we hit the gas pedal and get to high gear as quickly as possible.

Bang – bang real estate conditions in our area had a bit to do with the speed of things, but in a nutshell, we bought a new home in 24 hours and sold our existing home (of 15 years) in under 48 hours.  Bang – bang – done.  And to make things even more interesting, the previous owners of the home we purchased were relocating to Hawaii, so we bought their furniture as well.  Then the buyers of our home expressed a desire to buy our furniture as they were relocating from Chicago.  Bang – bang – done.

Its like we were in college all over again, throw the cloths in the car, bang – bang – done.

Or so I thought.  We soon learned, the traditional moving companies were not interested in “our small job” as there was no furniture involved.  That left us to do all the packing (not something we had anticipated) ourselves.  But the good news is that we were able to prune & purge 15 years of accumulated clutter.  This cut the moving job in half, literally.

In the end…

  1. It turned out that once we determined we were moving, it would have been just as easy (or easier) to tackle a full-on move, including the furniture.  I think many businesses underestimate this truth in managing their projects.  Once you green light a project, often times the small to mid-sized project isn’t any easier than the big monster project.  The hardest part is just starting and gaining momentum.
  2. Getting rid of clutter is good for EVERYONE.  Its liberating.  It increases productivity.  Satisfaction skyrockets.  And efficiency becomes the norm.  Again, I think many businesses (and advisors/executives/staff) overlook the need to prune & purge in order to keep focused on what really matters.

In that vein, below is a link to a great article from John Jones, Digital Marketing & Communication Manager at USA Financial.  He shares great insight on using Facebook as a marketing & seminar tool.  May I suggest you focus on John’s article while thinking how you could revamp, streamline and enhance your seminar/event marketing?

Here is the article link from July 24, 2018, Investment News, “Why advisors are turning to Facebook ads to fill seminar seats”.

I’ll be back at it with regular blogs and podcasts in August.

That’s the Skinny, 

 

 

 

The World We Live In: How Yelp, YouTube and other platforms can land you in hot water

Marketing 101 will teach you that third-party validation is one of the strongest trust-builders available as you seek to grow your customer/client base. This is true for every industry. Small businesses will often rely on testimonials and endorsements from satisfied customers. In fact, small business turn to social media platforms every day to help them accomplish this.

The unfortunate reality is that the financial advice industry has to be extra careful when it comes to testimonials and endorsements, even if they appear to be on the up and up and out of your control.

Just this past week, the Securities and Exchange Commission censured and fined three investment advisers for violating the testimonial rule by promoting their business on Yelp, as well as for advertising testimonials on their website and YouTube channel.

InvestmentNews broke the story earlier this week. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into how this happened (and I’d like to share in the frustration that I’m sure many of you reading this will also have).

From what I’ve gathered, these advisors hired Dr. Len Schwartz, the owner of a marketing consultancy firm Create Your Fate. The story suggests that they hired him for one of his services called “Squeaky Clean Reputation.” The irony is unbelievably laughable if it weren’t such an unfortunate conclusion. (The end result of them hiring him to improve their reputation resulted in the exact opposite). I digress.

Full disclosure: I don’t know Dr. Len Schwartz. I’ve been solicited by him a few different times on LinkedIn, but I’ve never taken the bait. For all I know he could be an incredibly upstanding professional.

With that said, there is some danger in hiring outside consultants/professionals. The liability they have for the work they do for you is FAR LESS than the liability you have. According to the story, Leonard Schwartz and his firm would reach out to the clients of the advisors and solicit testimonials, specifically on Yelp (who knows if the clients were encouraged to provide testimonials elsewhere).

According to one of the advisor’s administrative proceeding notes, Dr. Schwartz was contracted to solicit and compile and post the testimonials on various websites and YouTube.  It goes without saying that this is in direct violation of the testimonial rules. If you’re so inclined, the PDF link below is guidance from the SEC regarding the testimonial rule and social media.

im-guidance-2014-04-1

Stop

Some Guidance and a short rant (I’m sure many of you have the same frustration)

The basic rule regarding testimonials applies to investment advisor representatives. Unfortunately, it does not apply to financial professionals who are only registered representatives and/or insurance agents. This is one of the many flaws with the regulatory nature of our industry. The playing field is not level. For those of you that operate in a fiduciary capacity as investment advisors, I’m sure there is nothing more frustrating than to see other advisors websites littered with testimonials. As a marketer, it irks the heck out of me since establishing third-party credibility/validation is a foundational marketing activity.

Here’s the quick actionable guidance I’ll give you:

  1. Re-assess who you have helping you with your marketing. Evaluate whether they truly know the industry you are in and whether they truly have your best interests at heart. As somebody who builds marketing systems and programs for advisors, compliance with the rules is my number one priority. And yes, it occasionally results in us not being able to do/say some of the things I’d like to be able to say.
  2. Rid yourself of testimonials. I hate it. You hate it. But it needs to be done.
  3. Build third-party credibility in other ways. EARN yourself media opportunities. This is far easier than you may think. There is a little bit of detail regarding this here: Turning Press Into Profits
  4. If your clients are truly willing to give you a testimonial, then they are worthy of cultivating into a referral source in other ways. I call the program “From Clients to Partners.” At the core of the program is a focus on client experience and creating professional contrast. Shoot me a note if you’d like to find out more.

That’s all for now.

Be smart out there! Clients first. No shortcuts.

All the best,

Mark Mersman

 

 

Direct Mail Marketing & Undeliverable Rates: What to Expect

There’s nothing more frustrating than wasted marketing dollars. It’s one thing if the message isn’t effective. It’s another thing if it reaches the wrong audience. It’s an entirely different issue if it never even makes it to anybody at all.

I’m referring to the dreaded undeliverable mail. Last year alone, our firm sent out more than 5 million pieces of direct mail to promote events. The post office likes us, what can I say. The lion’s share of that mail is assisting independent financial advisors promote educational events. However, WHAT is being promoted has no bearing on undeliverability rates.

We use a number of different types of mail to promote events, including postcards, tri-fold and bi-fold pieces, as well as envelope style mailings. What we mail usually determines whether we will send it first-class or standard-class with the USPS. When we use small postcards, we’ll typically mail them using first-class postage since the price difference is nominal for that size mailing.

We do this marketing as a service for the financial professionals with whom we work. It’s a means to an end for us. At least once a month, I’m sent a note expressing frustration with somebody receiving a bunch of pieces of returned mail. I get the frustration. The most recent note I received included a picture of the stack of returned mail with the note “that’s a lot of money being thrown in the toilet.”

mailers

Here were the stats centered around this mailing and then we’ll dive into what should be expected:

There were approximately 9,000 postcards mailed. There were 144 pieces of mail returned as undeliverable. That represents a 1.6% undeliverable rate. I don’t love it any more than the next guy, but here’s what the industry gurus will say (and then I’ll share our experience):

Data provider infoUSA says:

InfoUSA

Online postcard print company PostcardMania says:

PostcardMania.PNG

Mailing Systems Technology quoted some USPS stats and stated:

Mailing Systems technology.PNG

Our data historically has shown anywhere from a .5% – 2% undeliverable rate. We run every list through the NCOA (National Change of Address) directory with the USPS AND we purchase a new list for EVERY mailing we conduct. The other thing to point out is this: Many novice marketers will say something like, “I’ve never had this happen before.” There’s a good chance that your marketing efforts in the past didn’t mail using first-class postage. Keep in mind that the USPS isn’t obligated to return undeliverable mail to the sender.

While I understand the frustration, before you go on a rant at your marketing firm, lead list company, or mail house, make sure you know the facts about undeliverable rates. With that said, there are certainly plenty of list resellers that have “old” data. Do your homework in finding reputable data providers.

 

All the best,

Mark