Beyond the Numbers Financial Advisor eNewsletter
Content Marketing for Financial Advisors
David Baxter, CEO Life Stage Insights
How content marketing empowers your client lifecycle
Client acquisition remains one of the top challenges for financial advisors, and can be both expensive and hugely time-consuming. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of financial advisors say they spend most of their time on acquiring and onboarding new clients.1 Part of the challenge is that traditional sales and marketing tactics that work in other industries are often ineffective in the financial advice industry: Financial advice is a highly complex product whose value is nearly impossible to convey through more simplistic outreach strategies. To capture the attention and interest of prospects, advisors need an outreach mechanism that can demonstrate their deep expertise, trustworthiness, and ability to deliver on the financial hopes of dreams of their clients.
That’s why content marketing is now being widely adopted and evolved throughout the financial advice industry. Content marketing is ideal for conveying complex and important benefits, and for establishing the right connections with prospects that are likely to result in sales. For the past two decades I have worked with some of the leading financial services companies on initiatives designed to drive exceptional content marketing campaigns. In this article I will share some of my insights from these initiatives.
First, it is important to recognize that content marketing is not a blog or a few articles posted on a website. Instead, it is a concerted campaign to create, adopt, and distribute highly engaging information and insights that both align with your brand and have exceptional relevance to your target client segments. It’s not about selling, but about having important conversations with prospects and clients. Not surprisingly, it is likely the way clients prefer to get to know you: 78% of consumers prefer to learn about a company through articles, newsletters and other content rather than through ads.2 Done right, content marketing can empower every step of your client lifecycle: awareness, engagement, purchase, retention, and advocacy (Figure 1).
Awareness. For financial advisors, building awareness doesn’t mean simply whether your prospects know the name of your company, but rather it’s how well they understand the unique capabilities you offer. Content marketing is a powerful tool for building awareness because, unlike advertising, it packages information that your prospects want to consume and can directly benefit from. That means it can be effectively distributed through social media, email campaigns, or on your website, and its impact can be significantly compounded by sharing. Also unlike advertising, you are not engaging clients with a simple product or price statement, but rather with a rich dialog about your clients’ lives, priorities, and worries, and the solutions you offer.
Onboarding. Because advertising is about selling and can only tee up simplistic messaging, it often starts the conversation at the wrong place. In contrast, prospects responding to content marketing will arrive better informed about your company’s unique offerings, creating the opportunity to develop deeper, more trusted relationships with them from the outset. Content marketing can also inform and facilitate the onboarding process itself. For example, guides that help prospects choose the financial advisor who best meets their needs, checklists and questions they should ask, and other resources that help them understand their planning needs and empower them throughout the engagement and onboarding process can build trust and ultimately ensure you are creating an advisor-client relationship that works for everyone.
As an example, I oversaw the New Retirement Mindscape national investigation that helped establish Ameriprise’s brand position as a retirement resource for boomers following its spin-off from American Express. The study itself generated over 50,000,000 media impressions, and the findings were also leveraged to develop the highly acclaimed Dream Book Guide, a booklet that included provocative questions prospects should consider when planning for retirement. Over one million copies were requested by prospects during the campaign, and the booklet was extremely effective in both educating prospects and beginning productive conversations with Ameriprise advisors. The Dream Book was a success because it not only promoted Ameriprise’s new brand position, but also equipped prospects with a practical starting point when engaging and onboarding with advisors.
Retention. Content marketing can also increase retention through ongoing dialogue on topics that matter most to your clients—through social media, newsletters, and the continued development of research and resources that keep your clients engaged. By mining client data, you can uncover challenges many of your clients confront, and develop content that helps them understand and overcome financial obstacles. Moreover, client segmentation will enable you to send the right content to the right clients at the right time. Continuing to engage and educate your clients will build trust, keep you top-of-mind, and potentially increase wallet-share.
Advocacy. Content marketing can lead to powerful word-of-mouth marketing by creating valuable resources your clients want to share actively with friends and family. And, because you are demonstrating you continually educate, guide, and help clients improve their lives, you are creating a highly positive reputation that will help accelerate referrals.
The Six P’s: a gameplan for content marketing
Through decades of experience working with clients to envision, design, and launch content marketing campaigns, we have identified the following “Six P’s” of successful content marketing (Figure 2).
Plan your content marketing campaign. Before launching a content marketing campaign, clearly identify your business objectives and metrics. Content marketing requires long-term vision, but staying grounded in your business objectives and results will help you build an initiative that benefits both your clients and your company’s bottom line. At the outset, you should identify the role content plays in your organization, what actions you want prospects and clients to take after they have consumed your content, and the value you expect your content marketing initiatives to provide for your business
Position around a topic that will forge a powerful personal connection between your company and your customers. What is most important in your customers’ lives? What is top of mind for them each day? What keeps them up at night? Connecting with your customers around their greatest hopes, dreams, or worries will win their minds, hearts, and loyalty. The topic must also be aligned with your company’s expertise and offerings. You should have the experience and credibility both to be a leading expert on the topic, and to create the best solutions.
Pioneer a differentiated way of thinking about a topic of high importance to your customers. Sometimes this requires original research that uncovers new dimensions, trends, challenges, and solutions. But often you can leverage existing research and data to develop a meaningful story for your prospects and clients. The point is to outshine your competition with a powerful narrative that is clear, compelling, and even changes the way your clients think about their lives.
As an example, Allianz Life was seeking to further establish its brand as a lead resource in estate planning. To help this achieve this objective, I oversaw the American Legacies initiative to understand how clients think about inheritance. We discovered that, when considering what was most important to pass on to the next generation, money was not the top priority for most Americans across all wealth levels. Instead, we found there were “four pillars” of legacy, which included (1) values and life lessons, (2) personal possessions of emotional value, (3) wishes and directions to be fulfilled, and (4) financial assets/real estate. Older adults most prioritized passing on “values and life lessons.” With this knowledge, we created content and resources that helped both advisors and clients rethink their “legacy planning,” leading to far better and more productive client engagements and discussions. The campaign was a great success because it pioneered a new way to think about an emotionally challenging topic, and provided better ways for clients and advisors to discuss priorities and develop solutions that met the clients’ top needs and wishes.
Promote your content to your prospects, clients, and key stakeholders, who may include company leadership, advisor team, and your partners. Many companies go right to external promotion, but internal buy-in and education is a necessary first step before external outreach. Identify, educate, and empower your advisor team to be adept with the content points. Be creative and aggressive during your external outreach, whether active social media engagement, prominent website placement, PR campaigns, or advertising that points to your content. But remember that the first rule of content marketing is to sell without selling. Never appear to be self-serving. In a content marketing campaign, you are promoting groundbreaking content to improve your clients’ lives. Done right, and customer loyalty, engagement, and sales will follow.
Practice what you promote. If your content marketing campaign identifies and addresses a pressing consumer need, be ready to talk to the solutions you are putting in place. If the content resources you promote uncover client passions, priorities, and beliefs, look for ways to reflect these attitudes in your company culture and way of doing business. Over time, insights from your content marketing campaigns can be ingrained into your company DNA to create even deeper understanding, connections, and communication with your clients about what matters most to them and their lives.
Persist. Creating thought leadership requires commitment and dedication. If your content marketing effort is perceived as brief and half-hearted, you will lose credibility with your clients. Establishing an authoritative position is often a multi-year effort and can build powerful momentum.
The Merrill Seven Life Priorities initiative is a great example of how persistence can pay impressive dividends. Merrill was seeking to strengthen its brand as a company attuned to the life goals and needs of its clients throughout retirement. Between 2011 and 2015 I oversaw national investigations into each of the seven life priorities of retirement: family, home, health, work, giving, leisure, and finances. By continually developing and providing new content for clients that helped them navigate their retirement life priorities, Merrill was able to create a wide range of effective resources for its advisors, and firmly establish its reputation as a resource and guide for clients’ dreams and goals.
Content Marketing Tools and Resources
A successful content marketing campaign requires the creation and distribution of new and high quality content. However, creating original content is extremely time-consuming. Increasingly, financial advisors are turning to third-party resources to bolster their content offerings. Companies like Broadridge and FMG Suite offer websites with pre-loaded content. Advisorstream provides a platform to distribute current financial news. Our product, Life Stage Insights, provides content targeted to clients’ life stages and events.
When selecting content marketing resources, some criteria to consider include:
How well does the content align with your brand and positioning? Consistency is very important for your client experience. Look for content that speaks in a similar tone and complements your current content offerings.
Does the type and style of content resonate with your most important client segments? Identify your most important types of clients and their most pressing needs and interests. Look for content providers that can provide a stream of content that will continually resonate with these clients and their priorities.
Does the content differentiate you from your competition? Studies show too many advisors have websites and content that look very similar to those of their competition. Look for content that makes you stand out and demonstrate unique value.
Is it easy to implement and distribute across multiple channels (e.g. your website, social media, email campaigns)? Content is only useful if it can be readily implemented to reach your prospects and clients. If the resources is cumbersome to use, even the best content will add limited value to your business.
Is the content compliance-friendly? Look for compliance-approved content or content that steers clear of topics that can trigger compliance problems.
As content marketing becomes more widely adopted in the financial advice industry, look for more, better, and smarter content marketing systems to become available. These systems will make your job easier, connect you with more prospects, reduce acquisition costs, and help you build deeper, more productive relationships with your clients.
1. Barron's, Get Personal With Clients and Prospects, July 2018
2. Lyfe Marketing, Best Ideas for Content Marketing for Financial Advisors