In our last article we looked at why all advice firms should have both a marketing strategy and a marketing plan. If you missed it you may want to catch up here before continuing.

    Here, I want to explain more about the steps needed to build the solid foundations necessary to support both your strategy and plan.

    That means developing a deep understanding of:

    • What you do
    • Who you do it for
    • Why someone should choose to work with you

    I can already feel a few readers shuffling in their seats, folding their arms and adopting a more defensive pose. You may be thinking: “I already know my business”, “I don’t need to be told to understand my clients”, or “I don’t have time for this.”

    And you may be right. Yet in my experience the understanding I usually see from advisers and planners is (and I’m choosing my words very carefully here) sometimes rather superficial.

    Let me give an example, which will hopefully go some way to proving the point; social media. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram et al are all hugely useful ways of engaging with and distributing content such as blogs and podcasts to both existing and prospective clients.

    Unfortunately, in my experience too many advisers and planners assume their clients don’t use social media. However, in the UK there’s 44 million social media users, nearly eight million 25 –44 year olds on Instagram, and 7.8 million over-55s on Facebook.

    This high-level data is often backed up by client surveys, which show a higher than assumed level of social media usage. It’s clear the evidence shows a very different picture compared to the assumptions of many advisers and planners, demonstrating why developing a deep understanding, based on evidence, is so important.

    In many respects this lack of deep understanding is to be expected and is in no way meant as a criticism. After all, the calls on advisers and planner’s time are immense, while most aren’t experienced marketers.

    But the fact remains that from a marketing perspective, truly understanding your business means knowing what you do, who you do it for, and why someone should choose to work with you and not a competitor.

    So, taking each in turn…

    What you do

    Chris Budd of The Eternal Business Consultancy and Ovation Finance has a wonderful phrase: “Know thyself.”

    It’s particularly apt in respect of your marketing; if you don’t know yourself (and in this case your business) how can you explain what it is you do to others? You can’t.

    Taking time out to truly understand what it is you do and how to explain it is crucially important. For example, do you offer goals based financial planning supported by technology and cashflow forecasting software? Perhaps you’re an adviser focusing on investment products and tax.

    There’s no right or wrong answers, no utopia to aim for, just the confidence and sound foundation that comes from a deep understanding of yourself and your business.

    Who do you do it for?

    Identifying and understanding your target market runs in parallel to understanding what it is you do. It’s a crucial, yet often overlooked, step. After all, if you don’t understand these people, how do you know how to attract them?

    Building client personas for each of your target markets is a key investment of time and perhaps resources. They will serve as a reference point, informing your marketing strategy and the tactics you employ in the plan, for months and years to come. They will assist with content production, social media strategy, content distribution, directories, your website; in fact, every element of your marketing. To embark on a significant project such as a marketing strategy or website without doing this work simply increases costs elsewhere and reduces the effectiveness of other tactics.

    Your client personas should include information such as:

    • Simple demographics, including gender, age, location, income, employment status as well as information about their background, job, career path, family.
    • A summary of their problems and concerns (usually the trigger for seeking advice in the first place), and their ambitions and aspirations
    • Identifiers; what are their concerns and anxieties, how do they make decisions, what’s important to them?
    • Communication preferences; considering both method and frequency
    • How can you help? What can be done to help clients/ prospects solve their problems and address their goals?
    • Common objections; what are their objections to taking advice? Why might they not become clients? Why might they choose another adviser rather than you?

    We recommend producing a detailed client persona for each of your target markets with information accumulated through your own knowledge, client surveys and client focus groups; a combination of all three probably works best.

    Why do clients choose you?

    There are any number of reasons why a client may choose to work with you; from you simply being in the right place at the right time, to a carefully made selection following detailed due diligence on their part.

    Either way, you need to understand what it is about you, your business and the service you offer which differentiates you from others.

    That doesn’t mean spending hours in an ultimately unsuccessful and needless search for a unique selling point (USP). I realise that’s possibly heresy from a marketer, but how many advisers and planners do something truly unique, which isn’t replicated anywhere else?

    With so many people requiring advice right now, particularly in light of pension freedoms and defined benefit pension transfers (to name just two reasons) the need to find a USP, even if it were possible, is frankly non-existent.

    However while the search for a USP may be unnecessary, understanding what makes you different to the majority, recognising your strengths and weaknesses, while highlighting the differences between you and others is vitally important.

    You will know many of these things already, though I’d also recommend asking your clients via a survey or focus groups. However, some of the reasons could include:

    • Your specialist or superior qualifications; for example, your chartered or certified status
    • The social proof, demonstrating through the thoughts and words of others the high levels of existing client satisfaction
    • Your independence
    • The fact you specialise in working with certain types of people
    • That you can advise on safeguarded benefits
    • Your locality; many clients want to deal with a local adviser or planner
    • How you charge for your services

    We also recommend looking at your peers and competitors locally:

    • What do you do that’s different?
    • Where do you hold the edge?
    • Where are they stronger than you? And how can you improve?

    Once you know the reasons why clients choose to initially contact and ultimately engage, you can start to embed them into every element of your marketing.

    In many respects the foundations are the most important part of a building; the same is true with your marketing strategy and plan. Without putting in the hard yards at the beginning, both will effectively be built on sand.

    By truly understanding these three elements you will lay solid foundations for an effective marketing strategy and plan, and consequently, a stronger and more sustainable business.

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