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Stick to a theme to make communications effective

By Stephen Wershing

Kim called frustrated. I had helped her with her firm’s branding. We clarified its message, updated some of the text on her website, and created a checklist related to the firm’s unique expertise that visitors could download.

But after several months, she was not seeing much traffic. Few people had accessed the resource. What did we get wrong? Was the market not responding to their unique proposition?

What went wrong?

Using a free resource to build a list of prospects is a staple of internet marketing. Once the download is created, the next goal is to attract attention to it. I realized that the problem might be the messages Kim was sending to provoke interest in the download.

Kim had been diligent about publishing to the firm’s blog and posting to social media. Reviewing the posts, I discovered the articles spanned many financial topics: the power of diversification, tips on saving for college, and your investing personality. That was the clue. The scope of the articles was too broad.

Based on our discussions, Kim had decided to build the company’s brand on legacy planning. We hoped to engage interest in philanthropy, estate planning, and doing good by doing well. Unfortunately, the content Kim was publishing did not consistently connect with the vision of making a mark on the world and transmitting values to subsequent generations. (The postings did not contain a call to action either, which is a separate problem.) The firm’s marketing was not congruent with the brand’s theme.

Consistent messaging matters

Effective marketing delivers a consistent message. It reinforces a unique offer and expertise. It connects an audience with a particular interest or challenge. But without focus, the message doesn’t come through a firm’s array of marketing communications.

Speak to your client persona (the profile of your ideal client). Begin a relationship with prospects before you meet them, through issues and topics that interest them. Position yourself as an advisor who engages with those issues. A prospect may not contact you until they experience a life event that drives a search for an advisor. But if they already see you as having expertise and an interesting point of view on financial issues that relate specifically to them, it increases the likelihood that they will reach out. But you need to be speaking to them, not to everyone. A message to everyone connects with no one. You need to be on topic.

Communicating with current clients

Even with current clients, staying on message will deepen the relationship. Straying from it will diminish the value of your messages.

When we conduct client advisory boards, evaluating the communications program is a standard part of the process. In one meeting I facilitated, we discussed the advisor’s email blasts and newsletters. One participant neatly summarized a message I frequently hear in those meetings. “You might send a message to 100 people,” he said. “If it looks like a personal message to me on a topic I care about, I’ll read it. I don’t know or care how many other people you have sent it to. Anything that looks like a newsletter gets deleted.”

Another firm failed to recognize this when it decided to communicate more frequently with clients and to provide more “touches” throughout the year. The firm signed up with a popular content provider. Each week, this advisor sent an article from the provider’s library. Unfortunately, the provider recommended articles that were popular across a wide range of topics without regard to the needs of that firm’s clients. Distributing prewritten, evergreen content is inferior to creating—or at least customizing—your own messages.

One of the articles the firm sent emphasized the importance of systematic saving. Clients of this firm were federal employees, near or in retirement. Saving was not their challenge; preservation and distribution were. The firm was differentiated by tax planning and estate planning. The articles the firm distributed had no relation to those specialized skills or the needs they addressed. After a couple of emails, almost no one was opening the mailings.

Of course, I understand that the time commitment of creating messages can make that difficult to do consistently. Here’s a solution: If you tap into prewritten content, choose messages that address the specific needs of your target client.

Focus on target clients

Effective content reinforces that you understand the concerns and circumstances of your target clients. It offers insights into how your expertise relates to them. It builds authority. Distributing articles on a wide variety of financial topics does not.

Think of it this way—financial planning is not a specialty, it is a way of solving problems. What are the specific problems your ideal prospective client is looking to solve? How does your practice of financial planning solve them? That is your theme.

Sticking to the theme also reinforces your differentiator with clients, increasing the likelihood of referrals. The more examples you can provide for how your unique services or expertise address their concerns, the more likely it is that when your client hears a friend describe that challenge, they will think of you.

Narrowing your focus makes it easier to create compelling messages. Timeliness, urgency, and specificity help make messages more interesting. Thinking too broadly can lead to bland content that fails to attract attention. There is a good reason that periodicals run headlines like “the portfolio moves you need to make now” and “10 year-end tax moves.” They demand attention. They speak to an urgent need.

Remarkable is referable. If your focus, like that of Kim’s firm, is leaving a legacy, which headline is more likely to stimulate a comment: “5 unexpected ways you can make a difference” or “The benefits of asset allocation”? The more likely an article is to provoke a conversation, the more likely it will result in a referral or inquiry.

As you execute your communications strategy, whether it be articles for your local press, blog posts for your website, or comments on social media, keep these principles in mind to help you attract the kind of attention you seek:

  • Discuss topics that highlight your unique perspective or expertise.
  • Refer back to your brand story. Does the item relate to the problems your ideal client is looking to solve?
  • Emphasize timely messages over evergreen.
  • Make it specific.

Kim’s revised approach

Kim and I reviewed current stories in the business and financial press. Scanning the news can be a great way to get ideas for content. Some may inspire you to write an article or a post, but you can also comment on an article as an alternative to writing an article. Your particular perspective on a news item can promote your expertise without having to create content from scratch. We identified a collection that related to her firm’s brand story.

Time will tell whether this reorientation of Kim’s firm’s messages stimulates more downloads of their resource or inquiries from prospective clients. However, even if we need to try something different to persuade people to exchange their email address for a report or checklist, her firm is systematically building a library with a consistent theme that emphasizes its unique perspective and expertise.

Stephen Wershing, CFP®, is a speaker, blogger, author of Stop Asking For Referrals, and president of The Client Driven Practice, a consulting firm that conducts client advisory boards for financial advisors to enhance value and attract referrals.

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