Marketing to Perfect Strangers

Social media may not be as complicated as people of a certain age had assumed

think I finally understand social media marketing, how it works and the most important ways that it differs from the ways that advisors have traditionally built their client list: via referrals, radio shows, seminars and cold calling.  My goal is to share this with you, because I suspect most of you don’t have a comfortable understanding of social media marketing either.

These insights came from conversations and presentations by Megan Carpenter, co-founder and CEO of FiComm Partners in Los Angeles and New York (https://ficommpartners.com/); Robert Sofia, founder/CEO of Snappy Kraken in Daytona Beach, FL (https://snappykraken.com/); and Matt Ledoux, founder and writer of Captains of Content in Boston (https://www.captainsofcontent.com/).  By way of background, FiComm Partners does social media marketing work for larger advisory firms on a customized basis, while Snappy Kraken is an automated social media marketing solution for advisory firms of all sizes.  Ledoux is a former BBDO creative director and high-level member of the advertising world before specializing as a creator of messaging and content for financial services firms.

Let’s start our tour of this unfamiliar universe with ToFu, MoFu and BoFu—which are the hip shorthand slang for the different stages of a client journey as you gather prospects into your “marketing funnel.”  The terms stand for “top of the funnel” (ToFu); “middle of the funnel” (MoFu); and “bottom of the funnel” (BoFu).  Together, they define the evolving stages of your relationship with a complete stranger who might someday become a client.

Evolving stages?  The first thing to understand about social media marketing is that these prospective clients are coming from a different place than you’re familiar with.  Referrals from existing clients or centers of influence are made aware of your presence, and you already have a certain level of credibility before they ever meet you.

But with social media marketing, you are encountering, virtually and electronically, hundreds or thousands of complete strangers, whose interest you’re catching for the first time, and who have no reason to trust you.

That means that you can’t move forward as quickly with these people as you could with a referral.  You can’t get in touch and say: “Let’s get together for an appointment and fix your problem.”  They don’t know you nearly well enough to want to be in your office.

Sofia, in a presentation at the recent T3 conference, reminded the audience that every human relationship—including professional ones, of course—starts with two strangers and a certain degree of wariness.  “Yet what do we do, routinely, in the very first client appointment?” he asked rhetorically.  Complete this profile.  Give me your age, for spouse’s age, how much you have to invest, the accounts to have, all your statements and tax returns, even though you don’t know me yet.” 

Advisors who are accustomed to working with referrals, he said, move too fast.  They post white papers on their website, and then accompany it with a button that says “click here to schedule an appointment.”  Who schedules an appointment with a total stranger who happened to post a white paper?

Carpenter says that the entire objective here in the top of the funnel is to give other people an opportunity to get to know you at their own pace, and let them gradually let you know more about them, so both sides can reduce the risk of a time-wasting appointment and gradually assess if you’re a fit.  This is the first stage of what Sofia calls the “client journey.” 

Fundamentally, social media marketing is about creating a smooth journey that allows people to get comfortable with you at their own pace through materials you create for them, and either decide to meet with you or self-select out because they don’t fit your ideal client profile.  As you’ll see in a moment, the journey continues even after they’ve signed on to become a client.

Pre-Work

Where do you start?  Carpenter recommends that, before you try to engage clients on social media, you get a number of foundational elements in place, which she refers to as the “brand infrastructure.”  Step one is to define your ideal client.  Who do you want to attract?  If the answer is “anybody who happens to be alive,” then the audience is not likely to find you very compelling, and you will find yourself sitting down for engagement meetings with people who are not a good fit to become clients.

A lot of advisors are somewhat alarmed at the idea that they have to pick favorites among their clients, but Carpenter says this process doesn’t mean that you have to give up existing clients who are outside that profile and destroy your top-line revenues.  Instead, ask yourself: who do you always seem to look forward to working with? If multiple clients come to mind, what do they have in common?   Do they work in a field that interests you, where you’ve learned the idioms of their business or hobby and you understand their challenges at a deep level? 

Carpenter will ask advisors which of their clients have the highest propensity to benefit from their services.  Then she’ll dig deeper.  How did they come to find you?  What type of research would they do to find an advisor?  Where do they go to learn?  What are some of the pain points and financial concerns that are keeping them up at night?

This exercise becomes very important when you’re creating content to attract similar people in your market.  “Clients aren’t likely to come to you and say, hey, I need a financial plan,” Carpenter says.  “They come to you because they have a burning need. I need to set up a SEP-IRA for my small business.  I am about to retire and I have no idea if I have enough money to retire.”  When you identify the financial concerns your target clients have in common, you can develop educational materials around them.

Once you’ve defined what you do for these target clients that’s special and unique, write this into a messaging document which defines your “why”—a powerful story about why you do what you do, who you enjoy working with and the results you routinely achieve. 

With an ideal client profile and messaging document in hand, look for ways you can stand out from the crowd.  Ledoux, who has worked with major brands during his advertising career, says he has never seen a group of competitors so tightly bunched when it comes to their website messaging. 

“Twenty six of the Barron’s Top 100 Advisors’ websites claim they provide comprehensive portfolio management,” he says.  “When you look at advisor websites, they all sound the same.” 

Sofia said essentially the same thing: the last thing you want to do is blend in when you’re trying to attract clients—but that’s what everybody does.  “A lot of times when we talk with founders, we find that standing out makes them a little bit uncomfortable,” he says.  “You have to be willing to be a little bit uncomfortable if you want to be different.”

Standing out can actually be simpler than you probably imagine.  Ledoux says that his first step is to redefine an advisory firm’s online messaging (website and social media accounts) from “me-oriented” (this is who I am, my credentials, my team, my office) to “you-oriented” (here’s how we help you and why you’ll benefit from our relationship).  After all, perfect strangers have little motivation to learn more about you until they start to suspect that there might be ways you can help them.  Put the horse before the cart.

In addition, your website and social media accounts should be scrubbed of jargon, because industry jargon is a big turn-off to prospective clients.  That, too, will help you stand out.

How does Ledoux know that these things are important?  For three years of his advertising career, he worked with a large financial services firm, testing different messages to see which of them connected with financial consumers better than others.  “The company had 13 million people coming to their website every month,” he says.  “When those people would log in, we’d try different messages to interest them in rollovers, 529 plans, ETFs and any other product, and see what they clicked on and how often.  We would rewrite and try again, year after year, and see what worked and what didn’t.  It was,” he says, “just like grad school for learning what investors are most inclined to click on.”

The execution can be tricky.  Ledoux offers the example of the most powerful headline he wrote during his experimentation, which was simply “Will You Have Enough?”  “You can talk about ETFs, or investments or returns,” he says, “but that one line gets to the heart of what people are really thinking about.  And,” he adds, “I had to fight everyone at the company to say it, because they all wanted to push their products and use their own terminology.” 

That illustrates, he says, the two most important issues: “keep it simple, and talk TO them, not ABOUT you.”

The next step is somewhat harder.  Once you know who you want to attract, and now that your website differentiates you from the herd, you need to build a system that takes in and organizes the data you’re collecting via social media marketing.  Carpenter and Sophia both recommend that you create separate landing pages for each white paper or video you offer, with a BFB (the hip term for “big friggin’ button”) that prospects will click to download the materials. 

Why the separate page?  “If you make your website your landing page, there is too much going on.  You have headers, menus, videos, stuff happening that can easily distract the prospect,” said Sofia.  “You don’t want anything that distracts their attention away from the BFB.”

The most sophisticated marketing programs will run different advertisements and see what works (more on that in a minute) and each of them will have a different landing page.  “You have your branding, the BFB and not much else,” said Sofia.  “All you’re asking for at this stage is first name, last name and email address.  Sometimes we don’t even ask for the last name.  We don’t ask them how much money they have or to let us review their accounts, because they don’t trust us yet.  We haven’t given them enough reason to.  So we only ask for a little bit.”

Here’s where the tech infrastructure comes in.  When people type in their email address, your landing page needs to hook that information back into your CRM program.  Your email marketing program (MailChimp or something like it) needs to automatically tell your CRM program which people clicked on which messages—which lets you know who’s interested in what and what level of engagement you’re getting.  Toward the middle of the funnel, this also lets you sort out people who are not the right fit.

Finally, Carpenter says you need to have the right people in place to handle the influx of new inquiries.  “Does the receptionist know what to do when somebody calls in?” she asks.  “Can the person who answers the phone look up the caller in the CRM system?  Can they see how many times this person has interacted with your website?  Do they have a script that they follow, and a followup package they can send out immediately?”

Interestingly, Carpenter does not go so far as to recommend that you put your online scheduler in front of prospects—no matter how efficient that might sound.

“You don’t want to be open to meeting with everybody, because time is everyone’s most precious asset,” she says.  “If you allow people who aren’t qualified to get on your calendar, you’ll end up wasting your time.” 

Better for the receptionist or advisor to take that initial phone call, and then, if there seems to be the potential for a fit, send the prospect, as part of the welcoming package, a link to your scheduler.  You save time without giving it away to anybody who might simply want to kick your tires.

If you want help getting past these first steps, FiComm Partners has developers on contract who can build the relevant CRM connections, and the firm will help you go through the sometimes-messy process of identifying your target market.  If you don’t want to mess around with developers, Snappy Kraken offers a full automated platform that tracks who clicked on what and schedules the delivery of content.

ToFu Marketing

Let’s say that the hard work of building your brand infrastructure has been completed.  You stand out from the crowd, you have a variety of landing pages that are ready to provide downloads of whatever you might want to offer prospects.  Millions of prospects are out there somewhere beyond the top edge of your funnel.  How do you draw them in?

You create specialized content that speaks directly to the concerns of your ideal target client—a white paper or video that they’ll click over to when they come to your landing page.  But if you put up a landing page that leads to great content, who’s going to know it’s there? 

Marketing at the top of the funnel, Sofia told the T3 audience, is about getting the attention of people who wouldn’t otherwise know you exist.

That means social media marketing; putting targeted advertisement messages or video on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter.  “Targeted” means that you get to choose a profile of the type of person you want to see the advertisement, including age range, net worth, location—and with Facebook you can even get fancy and specify things like favorite TV show or hobbies.  You can also buy advertisements on Google, where if somebody clicks on something on Amazon that might be related to financial advice, your advertisement will appear somewhere on their screen as they browse the web. 

In all cases, you pay per click, and although the prices-per-click can vary widely, you can set a daily budget that cannot be exceeded.

Buying the ads is probably best left to a professional, though you can click on this link: https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-advertising/ to get an idea of the demographics of the different platforms and the differences between bumper ads on YouTube and carousel ads on Facebook.

What do you say in this advertisement?  Ledoux’s direct experience with what works and doesn’t get clicks can be immensely helpful.  He offers some sample headlines, like “Get professional money management” vs. “Sometimes savings just isn’t enough.”  The second headline generated half again more clicks than the first one, because it was free of jargon. 

“Want to reduce your debt and save more?”  vs. “Ditch your debt in seven steps.”  “We got almost twice as many clicks with the second headline,” says Ledoux.  “Why?  For one thing, it’s specific, with the number “7” in there.  For another, it’s written in simpler human language.” 

Later in the interview, Ledoux noted that most advisors write in 12th grade (or above) English.  But his testing has shown that consumers are more responsive to text written in 7th grade English—and no higher. 

Most advisors would be comfortable with the headline: “Tell us about your goals and we’ll invest for you.”  But an alternative headline: “Is your money working hard enough?” conveyed the same basic message, while generating significantly more clicks. 

Consumers are not interested in products; only solutions. “Interested in an annuity?” generated fewer than half the clicks of “Learn about generating income in retirement.”

The most effective marketing messages will offer something for free—an explanatory video, an article, guide or white paper.  Sofia said that it’s important to make those messages as targeted as possible.  He told the story of a firm that had to be broken of the habit of creating content whenever somebody thought of something and then putting it out on every platform.  “When your firm is communicating with the outside world,” he said, “it’s important that you know who you want to communicate with.  It’s important to talk with somebody, not everybody.”

If writing or creating videos is not your thing, Captains of Content, Snappy Kraken and FiComm Partners all create social media advertisements.  Captains of Content and FiComm Partners provide customized content for you to offer on your landing page.  Snappy Kraken offers less-expensive “exclusively-licensed content,” which means you’re the only firm in your area with access to it. 

Of course, you have to pay for all of these services.  But Carpenter says that there’s a good chance you have more content in your head than you realize.  “You’re working with clients all the time,” she says.  “You’re answering their questions.  You’re reading up on client situations that might be unfamiliar.  You may not realize how much content you’re creating on the fly.”

Ledoux says that his process for creating content is simply to brainstorm with the advisor.  “Chances are we can pretty quickly come up with five ideas over the next five weeks that they can blast out,” he says.  “And those ideas become five articles that they can offer.”

MoFu marketing

Let’s suppose that a few people have have clicked on something, and downloaded a video or article, and you have their contact information and at least their first names.  Congratulations!  You now have prospects in the middle of the funnel, though still in an early stage of the journey toward becoming a client. 

What do you do now?

You can start sending them more messages, and you can ask for a little more.

Sofia talked about having a “trip-wire” on the landing pages where you are inviting traffic from people in the middle of your funnel.  You invite them to take a second action, where they can watch a video, which they can download instantly.  You can ask for a little more information, and you might even allow them to request a free meeting, so long as that’s not the only option on the landing page. 

Why not simply invite them to request an appointment, the way you would a referral?  This early in the “journey,” it will seem presumptuous if that’s the only option you offer, kind of like saying: “Hey, it was nice to meet you.  Let’s get married.”  A face-to-face meeting comes at a risk at this stage of the relationship—for both parties.

Because your CRM system is capturing the date when each of the prospects downloaded your information, and what was downloaded or clicked on, you can now initiate an automated middle-of-the-funnel process of sending out timed email messages that look customized.  Sofia recommends creating three months of pre-written, automatically-sent followup emails that might say something like:

Hi; this is Bob.  I hope you’re doing well. 

I know it’s been a few weeks since you downloaded my paper on [ABC].  I don’t want to bug you by any means; I just want you to know we’re here. 

By the way, I thought you might find this information useful: Did you know [X], [Y] and [Z]?  If you’re interested, I’ve attached something you might find useful.

If you have any questions, call me.

A week later, these middle-of-the-funnel prospects will receive an automated email saying:

Hi; it’s Bob again. 

Just checking in.  I know you’re busy.  Please don’t feel obligated to respond, but here’s a question I get asked all the time by my clients.  [Q], [R] and [S].  If you want to see more, click this link.

Have you ever asked that question?  Shoot me back a message any time.

Of course, the CRM tracks whether they opened the attachment or clicked on the link, and that can trigger a different type of message.  Over time, you start building a profile of how engaged the prospect is, and what types of things he/she is interested in.

BoFu marketing

If all goes well, you have a steady stream of prospects beginning their client journey with you, and you are encouraging them to get to know you better and what you can do for them.  Now it’s time to start winnowing down the list to the people who fit your ideal client profile.

How?  Carpenter tells the story of a firm with several billion dollars under management, which was actually, in her opinion, doing a pretty good job of marketing.  “They have an awesome website, and they’ve been collecting thousands of leads,” she says.  “They produce really great content.  When people give their contact information on a landing page, it actually goes straight into their CRM system.”

So what’s wrong?

“When they called us, they had collected thousands of names over a number of years, that were never again marketed to,” she says.

Carpenter says that the most important thing this firm had been missing was capturing profile information in the middle of the funnel.  Therefore, she and her team could not determine whether all, some or none of these potentially interested parties were appropriate for the firm.

Her first step was to put all of these prospects back in the middle of the funnel, and make new content offers that specifically related to the services and expertise that the firm was interested in providing.  If prospects didn’t seem interested in this more targeted information offer, the names would go into a slow drip marketing program that still offered information, but those names didn’t fall to the bottom of the funnel until and unless they suddenly showed an interest in the content the firm was providing.  “We were helping them self-select out,” Carpenter explains.

How does this work in the real world?  Suppose your firm’s specialty is helping people prepare for an imminent retirement.  You offer materials on how your retirement date can impact your financial health in retirement, because of sequence of return risk.  The 37-year-old who found your website interesting and clicked on some material will not find this very compelling.  Not clicking on the article will help you determine that she’s not in your ideal client range.  Another firm that focuses on professionals with young families offers a link to an article on protecting your young family with appropriate insurance coverages.  That same prospect would click on this more relevant message and move on with the client journey.

In Carpenter’s case study, the people who made it to the bottom of the funnel received different content from before.  “We created short-form content, including videos, checklists, FAQs and got a little more specific about the firm’s service offering,” says Carpenter.  “There would be information that said directly: “Here’s how we work with clients.”

This illustrates, once again, an important point made earlier in this article: the goal with social media marketing is not to get some fixed number of thousand leads, or to convert a fixed percentage of those leads into clients.  Your goal is to interest a big enough population that there will be some ideal clients in the mix, find the right prospects, and help the right prospects become clients—without you having to do a lot of hands-on work to make it happen.  Think of a funnel with a sieve in the middle, and a somewhat finer sieve toward the bottom, which brings you as many appropriate new clients as you can handle, rather than a lot of unqualified prospects that you know would be better-suited for another firm.

“At the end of our process with this firm,” says Carpenter, “we had narrowed the list down to about 500 people who had a high likelihood of being good potential clients, so we could focus on those.”  At this stage of the client journey, you feel comfortable enough not only to tell the clients what sorts of services you offer, but to invite them to come in the office and explore how you can provide those services for them.

Post-Funnel marketing

Does your marketing stop once a prospect signs on to become a client?  “Absolutely not,” said Sofia.  “Not even close.  Digital marketing is for clients too, because you can build and expand relationships that way.  It helps you retain clients, build loyalty, and finally to help them become an advocate of your firm.”

The journey, in other words, is not from stranger to client, but from stranger to advocate—or as Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement says (see next article), to help clients become fully engaged with you.

Here again, you ask for more information as the relationship deepens.  Carpenter recommends that you eventually gather, in your CRM, such information as how clients want to communicate with you.  Face-to-face in annual or semi-annual meetings?  Via text message?  Emails?  Skype or Google Hangout (or FaceTime on their phones)? 

Do they want regular meetings, or for you to be available whenever they have questions or concerns?

Of course, you also want to provide them with content, just like you’re providing to prospects, and this may be even more targeted, like answering questions that you’ve recently received from clients about the markets or different complex aspects of their financial lives. 

Carpenter says that you should also be on the lookout for what she calls “unforgettable moments,” where you go out of your way to do something, perhaps like sending a gift certificate when a grand baby is born, or a book about the country they’re about to visit on their next international trip.   

In summary, one of the most impressive aspects of social media marketing is how relatively effortless it is.  You have to build your brand and firm infrastructure on the front-end, but you do that once, with some constant refinement thereafter.  Then you have to create content—but chances are you already have a blog or a client newsletter that can be repurposed and distributed on social media.

You have to have a top-of-the-funnel advertising strategy, but creating the defined target audience and buying the ads can (and probably should) be outsourced.  Actually, pretty much all of this can be handled by a marketing consultant whose main job will be helping you dig content out of your brain and write pre-scheduled email messages that look personalized.

And each stage of the journey provides benefits.  When your website is “you-oriented” rather than “me-oriented” and scrubbed of jargon, you’ll stand out from the herd when people check you out online.  You stand out even more if you’re using digital advertising, since this is a relatively new opportunity that few advisors are making use of—yet.  And for some people, creating content is a great exercise in thinking through what you know, what you believe, and what you think consumers should be aware of—sharpening your skills as an advisor.

Who knew?  Social media marketing is not as complicated as it seemed—to me, at least.  I hope this article has demystified it for you as well.