Don’t all rush at once, but for reasons I won’t bore you with Mrs Camp and I are in the market for a new adviser.
For a marketing bloke like me this is an interesting and valuable opportunity, because it means I’m experiencing for real something on which I often give theoretical advice to my clients. I thought you might be interested if I shared a few of mine and Judy’s observations.
Recommendations are important, but not as much as you might think
There are several reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is there’s been so much change in the advice market recently that a lot of friends have experienced change in their own situation, and therefore offer more or less caveated recommendations. One friend’s firm was recently acquired by 1825. Another has merged with a bigger firm. A third has seen his long-standing adviser leave and move to St James's Place. An adviser with several clients in my world retired not long ago. What's more, a couple of friends are sufficiently disenchanted either with the advice they’re getting, or with what they’re being asked to pay for it, that they’ve asked if I can let them know if I find anyone who seems any good.
All advice firms’ websites are virtually identical
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. Design standards vary, but content doesn’t vary much. The only interesting thing I can see happening is there is a slow move towards becoming more client-centric and less product-centric. At last, organising the main navigation by product area such as investments, pensions and protection does seem to be on the way out. Thank goodness.
Little things mean a lot
In this exceptionally undifferentiated world, little things matter. A couple of typos are enough to drop a firm from my shortlist. I admit this is pretty unfair of me since there are a few typos on my own website I haven’t got round to fixing but hey, it’s a client’s right to be unfair. On the other hand, any trace of personality, humour, wit or originality is enough to make the firm in question a front-runner.
A lot of so-called 'content marketing' isn't worth the time or effort
Many firms have clearly been advised by marketing people like me that they should regularly present their clients and prospects with fresh, original and engaging 'content' – blogs, newsletters, emails and so on with things to say and points of view on financial planning-related topics. Unfortunately, the authors’ judgement of what is fresh, original and engaging seems to be diametrically opposite to their readers’, and in my experience 99.99 per cent of this stuff can safely be ignored.
Everyone offers exactly the same first meeting experience
This time I do mean everyone. Sure, an initial, cost-free, show and tell, get to know each other meeting makes perfectly good sense. But as soon as I find any situation where everyone’s marketing approach is absolutely identical, I automatically start looking for a different one. Couldn’t we sex that first meeting up a bit and make it a 'workshop' where we aim to identify the client’s key needs? Or vice versa, sex it down a bit (if that's a thing) and just make it a pure get to know each other lunch?
In my big agency days a long time ago, working on advertising campaigns for giant consumer brands, I remember learning a bit of marketing theory which said the giants have all the high cards (money, resources, consumer awareness, distribution etc) except one.
The small brands have a kind of power that comes directly from being small: unlike the big brands, they don’t need to try to be all things to all men and women. They can achieve spectacular success by addressing, and making themselves relevant and attractive to, a mere 1 per cent of the population. If 99 per cent don’t go for it, it doesn’t matter. With 1 per cent, they could increase the size of their business a hundred-fold. The ability to dominate a niche is the one real power that small brands have.
It would be wrong to say no small advice firm uses this power. A few do. I know there are firms, for example, which focus on specific occupational groups – medics, say, or lawyers. Some firms very specifically address particular lifestages, most often retirement and pre-retirement. But the large majority seem keen to lay out their stall towards basically, pretty much anyone who’s got a bob or two.
And as Judy and I can confirm from our experience in recent weeks and months, when you try to be everything to everyone, the danger is you finish up being nothing much to anyone.