Posted on

How to Get Ahead of 99% of Financial Advisors – Get a Big Brand

No doubt, financial advisor marketing is one of the toughest games around. Unfortunately with the pressures of running your practice, the brand is something most financial advisors put last. The reality is that 99% of financial advisors (RIA firms, insurance agents, wealth managers, financial planners) are saying the same exact thing. If you want to make it in this business, the only choice, the only way to go, is to lay a solid foundation with a nice, big brand. This article is going to discuss why relying on your referral sources (as most financial advisors do) for leads is not viable, what exactly a big brand is, examples of good and bad financial advisor branding, and how to go about letting that fierce brand roar.

This is a No-BS Article about financial advisor branding

Sara Grillo, CFA is a highly fun and slightly crazy marketing consultant based in NYC.

I am an insightful and fun marketing consultant for financial advisors.

By the way, thanks for joining me.

For those of you who are new to my blog/podcast, my name is Sara. I am a CFA® charterholder and I used to be a financial advisor. I have a weekly newsletter in which I talk about financial advisor lead generation topics and it is best described as “fun and irreverent.” So please subscribe!

So if you’re looking for some straight up talk then you’ve come to the right place!

Cold vs. Warm Market

Time and time again, financial advisors struggle to find a solid sustainable source of leads for their practice. And that’s perfectly understandable; marketing by any means other than referrals is hard to do in this business. The industry is notorious for its high turnover and the heinous crimes that some financial professionals have committed against their innocent clients, so you’ve got a reputational strike against you before you even open your mouth.

The result?

Most financial advisors do not even attempt to actively market themselves into “cold markets.”

The unfortunate reality is that you’re going to have some skinny kids  and a low financial advisor salary if the only leads you get come from client referrals or introductions from people in your network such as accountants and attorneys. Here’s why.

  • It’s the most market sensitive, cyclical source of leads. In a down market, very few clients are going to refer anyone to a financial advisor who they resent because they have to pay your fee while you’re losing their money. Sometimes losing the client’s money is unavoidable, but in the eyes of the client you are still to blame. Every client has that one friend who loves shooting their mouth off every cocktail party about how they’re getting 35% a month while the market is in a down spiral. You’d be better off marketing to someone who knows nothing about you than a current client in a down market.
  • Referrals are a myth anyways. They can never be relied upon. They should be considered a bonus for hard work. Would you rely on your annual bonus to pay your daily bills? No. They are a way of saying “thank you.” Would you ever try to force someone to say thank you? No. You can ask all you want, but at the end of the day there is no way to guarantee referrals.
  • Attorney, prop/cas insurance, and accountant leads are the most competitive market you could possibly participate in. They’re also intrinsically not aligned with growing your practice for the following reasons.
  • Many accountants already provide wealth management services as an ancillary offering. They also tend to be very risk averse and every dollar counts! Every single one! They love counting dollars which is why they are accountants. They are hesitant to trust any financial advisor who is going to potentially sour their relationship with their client by losing a dollar of their money.
  • Property/casualty agents. Just as in the case of accountants, most prop cas agents are already licensed to sell life and disability insurance.
  • Attorneys are the worst referral sources you could possibly have. Expect zero reciprocity. They get all their business from financial advisors and other attorneys. It never goes your way. They may have one financial advisor that they refer business to once in a blue moon but if you’re not that person then you can probably forget it. They’d love to take your estate planning leads, though!

Having an empty pipeline stinks.

The Cold Market Isn’t That Cold If You Have a Big Financial Advisor Brand

So the warm market isn’t reliable. The only market you can really control is the cold market. Financial advisors hate the cold market, though. Now, when most financial advisors hear the word “cold market”, they think of cold calling. You don’t have to go out there and start dialing for dollars like this is 1976. Nowadays there are many strategies to use, including:

I wrote an e-book called, “47 Financial Advisor LinkedIn Messages and Sequences that will NOT make you look Stupid. “ If you are a financial advisor trying to meet new clients over LinkedIn or other social media sites and you need some scripts, you can download it here.

Since the cold market gives most of us the shivers, you can’t cold market all the time. Don’t get me wrong; it’s demoralizing, embittering, and humbling all the time, even for the best of us. But that’s no reason for you to have to suffer through living in what I call the Small RIA Firm Poverty Trap.

Here’s my golden rule of cold marketing based upon over a decade of financial experience. Don’t go there unless you have a big brand. The next section will discuss what a big brand is and how to get one.

What is a Financial Advisor Big Brand?

A financial advisor big brand can be defined as a big bold line that allows you to be seen as different from all the other financial advisors out there, you have to draw the line somewhere. Many financial advisors hesitate to do this because they don’t want to leave money on the table by going into a niche and excluding prospects.

In reality you are too busy to serve all prospects. Remember, everyone has a brother in law who works at Morgan Stanley.

Better to go deep than wide because they are so many advisors out there with ties to the people you want to reach. Unless you really hit them over the head with a reason to work with you instead of their uncle or sister in law who just so happens to work at Merrill Lynch, you’ll end up with excuses like, “I’m really busy at work which is why I can’t roll over my IRA right now” but the reality is their uncle got to them at last week’s family Fourth of July party.

You have to draw the line somewhere to separate yourself. The most common branding mistakes I see financial advisors making are:

1) Not drawing a bold enough line that really differentiates you

2) Presenting a brand with too many ideas which subconsciously distracts and confuses the audience or

3) Inconsistently presenting the brand. For example, referring to yourself as “Chairman of XY Company” in some places rather than “CEO of XY Company.” Consistency matters because the audience doesn’t have time to sit there and figure you out. Make it so easy a three year old could understand it.

Moreover, a brand isn’t just about the logo and tagline looking good. It should clearly and quickly speak to the fundamental purpose of what you’re doing and why somebody should work with you rather than the next one.

Examples of Bad Financial Advisor Branding

The following examples typify financial advisor branding and are considered weak brands. These do not represent any one brand in particular but rather a compilation. Does this sound like your marketing copy at all?

We are independent fee-based advisors who fall under the fiduciary standard and always put our clients’ needs before our own. We do not accept commissions.

First of all, every single financial advisor who is a registered investment advisor representative uses this line. It’s the most tired pick up line in the history of the industry. There are some RIA firms that are ripping people off just as much as broker-dealers supposedly do, and with DOL changes most brokers are going to be fiduciaries soon anyways.

Second of all, it’s a negative marketing pitch to throw every commission based broker dealer under the bus. Do you realize that most financial advisors nowadays aren’t just broker dealers anymore? Seeking to avoid this scrutiny, most of them became “hybrid” RIA and broker dealer.

Third of all, the problem isn’t the commission it’s the churning. Do you think the client really cares that much as long as you do a good job? I mean, at the end of the day the client wants their money cared for prudently. They want to be treated right, but at the end of the day if you are doing right by them, does it really matter how you are getting paid? People don’t want their portfolios churned or to suffer wrongdoing. But paying a commission once in a while instead of a regular fee could be very attractive for a passive investor, for example.

We are dedicated to maximizing return while minimizing risk and have a 99% retention rate over our tenure. We do this by focusing on your unique needs, and our advice is customized to your goals and preferences.

This is so generic and it’s BS. It’s not a unique aspect of your brand, it’s the definition of what an investment advisor does and the clients are tired of hearing about it. Even the ones who don’t customize say that they customize. There’s no empirical evidence that customized portfolios or actively managed portfolios outperform the index, by the way. The customized portfolios go down in bad market just like the cookie cutter ones do.

We empower our clients with financial education and knowledge and help them make the right decisions to maximize wealth, reduce taxes, and improve savings for their families.

I’m so sweet. See my halo?

Finance is known for being the most ethically flawed and arrogant industry on the planet. You realize that that’s how people see you, right? It is seen as the least altruistic business in the world. That is always in the back of every client’s mind when they think of you. This warm and fuzzy approach can’t help but come off as disingenuous, yet every single financial advisor uses it as their motto.

The truth is that no financial advisor is in the game to educate the people who truly need the financial education. That would mean serving the broke people who don’t have a penny and need  debt counseling, giving them the rigorous attention and care to help them save $100. Those are the people with real financial problems. It’s so pandering to say that we care so much about people’s financial education when in reality we only care about educating them so that they do what we want them to do with their $500k of investable assets or more.

Let’s be real. You’re really not there to improve their knowledge of how the markets work, because if you had that as your life goal you would have been a college professor earning $25k per year. Most of the time the financial advisor’s definition of “educating the client” means telling the client what strategy you recommend and helping them understand it well enough to agree to it. You’re there to make them believe that it’s okay to invest their large sums of money for a fee in the vehicles that financially reward you, so you can pay your own mortgage.

The other thing is that I’m not sure people want to be educated. Finance is the only industry that does this. When I go to the dentist, he doesn’t whip out a dental school book and try to teach me about how he’s going to x-ray my teeth. I’ve found that anyone who doesn’t have his or her head in the sand is just looking for you to validate the hair-brained ideas they got from their friends or from CNBC. Most people with $500k or more know a thing or two about stocks, and if they don’t they are surrounded by wealthy people who do. Plus if they’re that wealthy they probably earned it somehow by being really successful at their jobs and don’t have time to sit around and learn about finance as a hobby. They’re not chomping at the bit to become students anytime soon.

Here’s one for a financial advisor who is in charge of recruiting other advisors.

Are you an experienced advisor whose needs have been neglected by broker-dealer? If so, then let’s discuss opportunities on our team to see if we may be the right fit for each other. We have over 70 years in the business.

This is the recruiting language used by every recruiting financial advisor in the world. Here’s why it fails. There’s no real “why” given here. The only compelling thing is that I know you’re not a fly by night organization because you mentioned you’ve been in business for 70 years. What benefit does that create for me? Does that give me access to the best mentors? Training? Facilities? Products? Better payouts? Why why why?

The callout is also very weak here. It doesn’t “agitate” enough. It mentions that your needs might be neglected, but what does that mean? Broker dealers might neglect you by not getting your proposals generated quickly enough, not passing your advertising through compliance quickly enough, not subsidizing your licenses, etc. None of those are mentioned here and I’m not agitated at my boss enough as a result of reading your copy to feel motivated to reach out to you.

Example of Good Financial Advisor Branding

Here’s a financial advisor that I think has done branding right.

Jeff Landers is an advisor who focuses sheerly on divorced women. It’s a great niche to focus on, as the problems someone encounters after divorce can be quite stressing and lead them to seek advice. He’s got a great tagline “think financially, not emotionally” that ties right into the idea of him being a beacon of light during a confusing time. The “why” of why work with Jeff is very clear. His copy centers around the subject of women, money, and divorce and it’s so clear from visiting his website that if you are a divorced woman than there is no better source of counsel.

And there are countless other examples. I discuss some of them on my podcast that you can subscribe to here.

Create Your Own Financial Advisor Big Brand

Thanks for reading!

And if you like my ideas there’s more of them where they came from – consider joining my membership here. It will teach you the basics of financial advisor online marketing.

Or, you could also subscribe to my podcast which goes into the subject of financial advisor LinkedIn messages and sequences in fuller detail.

You could sign up for my weekly newsletter about financial advisor lead generation.

Or you could dive in and start trying to meet new clients using social media. I wrote an e-book called, “47 Financial Advisor LinkedIn Messages and Sequences that will NOT make you look Stupid. “ If you are a financial advisor trying to meet new clients over LinkedIn or other social media sites and you need some scripts, you can download it here.

Thanks for reading and please stay with me for the next one!


Posted on

Is Your Online Brand Breaking the Walls Down? Take this Survey.

Sara Grillo - Brand Survey Breaking Down Walls

As old-fashioned as certain industries may be (e.g. finance), there’s no stopping the digital revolution.  Financial advisors should take this quick 8 question Sara Purple Survey to get a good honest look at whether or not your online financial advisor brand is strong enough to break down walls that are preventing you from reaching your customers online.

Sara’s Purple Online Brand Survey

1. What % of your employees, strategic partners, and clients could recite your company tagline from memory? (Move the decimal point over to the left by one, for example 33.0% means 3.3 points)

2. Is the exact same logo, font, and color scheme applied to each of the following: 1) website 2) email footer 3) social media 4) email newsletter 5) marketing brochures. (award 2 points for each element that was a “yes”).

3. What was the last time you were made aware of the results of your Google Analytics traffic?

  • Last week (10 points)
  • Last month (5 points)
  • Longer than 3 months ago (2 points)
  • Can’t remember or have no idea what Google Analytics does (0 points)

4. Has you ever used a video on your social media or website? (Yes, 10 points. No, 0 points)

5. What % of content is canned and generic (e.g. news articles) versus customized and uniquely created for your brand? (Move the decimal point over to the left by one, for example 33.0% means 3.3 points)

6. Do you know your NPS (Net Promoter Score)? If so, when was the last time you assessed it?

  • Last month (10 points)
  • Last 6 months (5 points)
  • Last year (2 points)
  • Can’t remember or have no idea what an NPS is (0 points)

7. Number of times your brand was featured on another brand’s social media (in an article they wrote, tagged in a post that they made, etc) over last 6 months.

  1. 10 or more (10 points)
  2. 5 to 10 (5 points)
  3. 1 to 5 (2 points)
  4. Zero (0 points)

8. Number of times you have gotten a qualified lead from your website, social media, or newsletter in the last 6 months.

  • 10 or more (10 points)
  • 5 to 10 (5 points)
  • 1 to 5 (2 points)
  • Zero (0 points)

First, Let’s Look at the Survey Questions

Before we tally the results, here are some key concepts you may have noticed interwoven in the survey questions. Behind each question was a strength driver for your brand equity. Read below to learn how the following branding elements break the walls down before moving on to the scoring section.

Question #1

Employees are the #1 source of company branding, way more than anything on a piece of paper or on a website. If your employees (or for a solopreneur, your strategic partners or even clients who are referring you business) don’t know your brand, how can they deliver the sense of anything being unique about you? Remember word of mouth marketing always breaks walls down best.

Question #2

The human mind doesn’t handle inconsistency well. If you’ve got last month’s promotions on the website, last year’s font, and are using three different logos then chances are you’re causing some chaos in the mind of the buyer — not what you want if you’re looking to make an impression in the quick moving world of online media.

>>Read Chaotic Picasso to learn how to streamline the various elements of your brand to break down, not build up, walls in the mind of the buyer.

Question #3

The reason that Google Analytics, which tracks your website traffic for FREE — let me repeat that the basic application COSTS NOTHING — is important because it gives you a sense of how well your website is guiding and controlling the buyer’s experience. If you don’t know what content on your website is attracting attention and provoking action, you have no sense of what the emotional response is to your online brand. Without this knowledge it’s impossible to build brand equity and break down walls.

The other thing you have to realize is that even if you get a qualified lead from your digital marketing, there’s no guarantee you’ll close it right away. I would say I close on maybe 20% of my digital leads within a month and the rest go into my sales funnel. From there, I have to constantly hit these prospects with my branded content and get them to go back to my website, over and over again. It takes sometimes up to 10 attempts before I can close some leads. So needless to say, my ability to understand my web traffic is critical to moving my prospects through my sales funnel. The better branding on the website, the stronger the message and the shorter the sales cycle.

>>Read my Online Branding Conversions blog for more info.

Question #4

Online video is the best way to convey a personalized message that breaks down walls. It can be done inexpensively.

Question #5

As I’ve said before in other blogs, if you use the same content that any of your competitors could use, there’s no way you’re going to stand out from your competitors. This is the problem with 99% of brands. Custom content takes longer but it’s the only way to break down walls.

>Read my blog about truly valuable differences in business branding.

Question #6

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is essentially a measure of how likely your clients are to refer you leads. You assess an NPS through a survey that you administer to all clients, past and present. If you don’t know the NPS then you have no idea how much customer loyalty your brand is creating. More loyalty in the eyes of the consumer signals higher emotional attachment which leads to more walls breaking down.

Question #7 and #8

Results never lie. It’s this simple: strong brands get attention, online leads, and conversions.  Higher attention, higher conversions as long as you’re getting the right attention. You may be getting attention and getting nowhere and this is because you might be focusing on the wrong customer niche for your brand, or you may be failing to motivate your audience to take action.

Don’t forget to give the visitor a friendly nudge once you get their attention. I can’t tell you how many times I see so many companies messing up the completion once they get the attention. You already did the hard work! It’s not being pushy to clearly articulate what the next steps are to result in the customer being helped by your service. Brands that do not understand that get nowhere online. They are essentially what I call “order takers” who fail to actively create new business and must resort to either referrals, lead generation services (highly competitive – read my blog to find out why), or the 2% of deals that just close on their own with no sales work needed.

For those of you who debate that it’s the right thing to do to ask the customer for the sale, yes, in fact, you do need to lead the horse to water! You have to spell out exactly what you want the customer to do in a targeted call to action. People don’t just seek you out and ask you where to send the check because they think you’re great. When it comes time to shell out the cash and make the decision, 99% of consumers need a little push. It doesn’t mean you bulldoze them. There are ways to apply pressure that go over well with customers. Skilled marketing consultants know how to do this.

Make it easy for the customer to contact you, for example, by including your phone number or email on every page of your website. Have your social media buttons prominently displayed on the top of bottom banners of your site if you want them to follow you. Make it hard and in the fast paced world of the Internet people will move on in a matter of seconds and there goes your lead out the window!

Now, Let’s Tally the Results and Go Purple!

So how does your brand stack up? Tally the points according to the prompts included with each questions, and read on to find out how your brand stacks up.

0 to 2 points: You’ve made a great start by reading this blog – now let’s color that brand in Purple! Please refer to my blogs on the fundamentals of branding. O

3 to 6 points: You’re medium Purple. You’ve paid attention to your brand, but it’s not the Picasso that it could be. In fact, it may be a Chaotic Picasso,which is probably the biggest mistake I see small to medium sized businesses making. Most of the time, a few simple tweaks can realign and strength the brand.

6 to 8 points: Nice job, you’re in the Purple as they say. Are you getting three new leads a day yet? If you’ve got a strong brand, lead generation should be happening. If not, it’s likely there are some brand issues getting in your way. These aren’t the easy ones to fix– most likely they are not those rookie type issues that will be obvious to fix. You may need to make an investment in some intellectual capital to get that brand the Purplest it could be. Whether it’s serving up some highly customized content, revamping the website copy or social media, or even running some online ads, a qualified marketing consultant is a great resource to add to the roster.

Sara’s Upshot

Authenticity is what matters most in any financial advisor who wants to get new clients. Learn the no BS way to use social media to get new clients by joining my membership here.

Posted on

3 Reasons Business Brands Fail to Break Through Walls

Sara Grillo - Business Branding Challenges

Financial advisors, raise your hand if you want to rank on Google page one. Ah, if it were only so easy. SEO is one way to get attention for your website, but it can cost a fortune and results tend to happen over months not days.

A faster and more natural way for companies to break barriers and get attention from the audience they want is by using the business brand. This is a concept that’s been around for decades and the problem for most businesses is that they are using an old definition of branding in a new digital age. Here’s what companies need to know about becoming a barrier-breaking business brand.

The Shocking Truth about Business Branding Strength

The truth is that strong brands sell themselves and weak brands fail to overcome barriers to growth. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the strength of the brand. Even the best SEO in the world won’t help if the brand isn’t fortified. Most small and midsize business brands fall short in the following three ways.

Sloppy Business Brand Consistency

Small businesses who operate on limited resources are notorious for having what I call sloppy brand consistency. You can’t expect consumers to spend much time, more than a few seconds, really, trying to figure out what your company represents – or figuring our anything about your company, for that matter. Here are some examples of sloppy business branding that I’ve seen.

  • Using an old logo. Updating the logo on social media and the website, but neglecting to do so on ancillary websites that may just come up in your search results, such as Glass Door. I also see companies making mistakes with search engines. If the old logo comes up in search results on Yahoo but not Google, it shows the consumer that your company didn’t take the time to update your information with these search engines. If you’re a small business with limited resources, asking a consultant like me to help you with this is a great way to get it done and clean up your business branding.
  • Unclear affiliations. If you have subsidiaries, be clear about whether or not they fall under this brand strategy or not. If they do not, then create logical divisions in how you present them. For example, don’t have the website url in your email signature of the parent company if the entity is not a branded affiliate.
  • Out of date pictures of company personnel. As I’ll discuss later, the people who work at the company are the largest symbols of its brand, way more than any logo can represent. Ditch the outdated pictures of the company president where it’s obvious he or she was a decade younger. Looking a few years older or more seasoned isn’t a bad thing. Put the ego aside.

Lack of Competitor Business Brand Awareness

Most companies have only a slight idea of what the competition is doing. If they do know, it’s a wishy washy and generic understanding that reflects what you see on their website rather than what the consumer experience is. Or, if they do have that information, they make the mistake of focusing too much on competitors and not enough on differentiating themselves. The true question isn’t what the competition is doing but rather what I call Sara’s Golden Rule of Branding:

How is my company presenting itself as drastically different from its closest competitor? Is this difference obvious to a consumer within only a few seconds?

I call this distinction “truly valuable difference” and it is the reason that you hear companies complaining about losing sales to the lowest price competitor. If this is you, then listen up because I’m going to tell you how to change your whole sales game. The biggest problem I see with online marketing is that everyone seems to be saying the same thing. Focus on how your company’s mission is unique and adjust the messaging to articular that. If there is nothing unique, then you are essentially offering a commodity product and in the absence of truly valuable difference, why wouldn’t a shrewd consumer go with the lowest price tag? See it from the buyer’s eyes. Sometimes building a unique brand means pushing the envelope or taking some risk, but this can done in a careful way that involves trial and error. This will minimize risk.

Having a Mute Business Brand Carrier

That’s right. The definition of mute is lacking a voice. The most common misunderstanding of business branding is that it involves the logo, website, and brochure when in reality the strongest carrier is the people who work at the company. The second strongest carrier of branding are the company’s customers, or better said, what the company’s customers say about the company online. This shows up in places such as written or video testimonials, Yelp reviews, Google reviews, and even the reviews on FaceBook.

What people say about you is what you are. Period. It’s a strange, almost illogical concept but people will trust what they read online before they trust what their friends and family say. Think about the last time you went to a new restaurant you checked out beforehand.

Small and midsize businesses consistently miss the opportunity to market their CEO as the #1 carrier of the brand. Some small and midsize CEO’s are mute when it comes to articulating the company’s mission in a consistent and highly visible manner. The CEO should be touting the tagline in his or her sleep. The CEO should carry around a cardboard picture of the company’s logo and pull it out every time somebody takes a picture of him or her. The CEO should have the company’s logo printed on a shirt that he or she consistently wears. Get the point? To bring voice of the brand alive, the best strategy is to mobilize the people that represent the brand.

Some companies try to have more than one voice for the brand. It should be one person otherwise the audience gets confused unless the two people are scripted to say the same things.

A critical part of social media marketing is actually being social. Most marketing consultants miss this. As a marketing consulting, when I’m charge of managing a company’s social media strategy, I make it a point to respond to each and every meaningful interaction that a follower posts onto a company’s social media page. A retweet, for example, may get a thank you if time allows, but not all the time. What does get acknowledged 100% of the time for my clients is any time somebody makes a comment, posts a review, or asks a question on any of my clients’ social media pages. This happens within 24-48 hours of the interaction. Just having a flat social media page for people to admire is where business branding fails. Bring it alive by giving it a voice that is welcoming and delivering value impacting messaging every single time a consumer touches you.

The Bottom Line on Business Branding for Financial Advisors

Authenticity is what matters most in any financial advisor who wants to get new clients. Learn the no BS way to use social media to get new clients by joining my membership here.