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Marketing with a Tech Twist

If you need help with client communication, it's out there.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 09/10/2009

The most successful advisors share a number of traits. One of them, which was clearly demonstrated during the market turmoil in late 2008 and early 2009, was their ability to communicate effectively with clients. As technology marches forward, advisors are presented with an ever-increasing collection of communication tools, and some are trying to broaden their communications approach. For example, over the past year, I noticed that a significant number of advisors claimed to have conducted conference calls and/or webinars involving groups of clients for the first time. Adding variety to the communications program is an excellent idea because some people respond better to one medium than another. In some cases the same person may be more or less receptive to a message delivered through one medium or another, so variety is good.

While it is a good idea to make use of new communication tools, it would be a mistake to drop older, tried-and-true methods of communication such as the written word. As we shall discuss shortly, letters, documents, newsletters, and other writings can be distributed using both traditional and electronic means. Whatever distribution channel(s) you choose, one of the greatest challenges facing advisors with regard to written communications is the development of appropriate content.

Producing good content takes time and skill. Some advisors have the time and expertise to develop their own content, but many do not. For the latter group, there have long been a number of resources they can turn to. These include firms like AdvisorProducts, Forefield, and StoneRiver Emerald, to name just a few. I recently became aware of another interesting content offering for advisors: Marketing Library.net by Peter Montoya, Inc., and it occurred to me that now might be a particularly opportune time to discuss this product.

An examination of MarketingLibrary.net is timely now for a number of reasons. With margins being squeezed at many firms, advisors have to increase their productivity. This means they have to spend their time doing what they do best. So, unless the advisor was a professional writer in a previous life, creating letters, articles, and market commentary writing is probably not the highest, best use of their time. The need for well written communications, however, has never been greater.

The recent market turmoil has unsettled many clients. As a result, they need reassurance from their advisors. A number of recent surveys indicate that client's dissatisfaction with their advisors is the highest it has been in recent memory. Among the most often cited complaints among dissatisfied clients: lack of communication from their advisor. Furthermore, studies have shown that frequent communications are a key client retention tool. The MarketingLibrary Web site cites a study by Prince and Associates indicating that "highly satisfied" affluent investors received, on average, 14 contacts from their primary advisor within the last six months. Other studies have come to similar conclusions.

As a result of the recession, financial advisors must place a renewed emphasis on prospecting too. During the boom years, organic growth sustained many firms. Now, with asset values down, firms must attract new business to grow revenues. One way to initiate a marketing campaign is a product such as MarketingLibrary.

The standard MarketingLibrary offering consists of three main components. The library, the "newsletters" and a compliance component. Let's discuss each in turn. The standard library currently consists of over 1,500 written pieces, and more are being added all the time. When you first log on, you are taken to the dashboard or "browse" view. Here, the content is grouped in various ways to help you rapidly find what you need. For example, there is a section of new and relevant content, a "stay the course" section that educates nervous clients and urges patience, a grouping by topic (retirement planning, estate planning, insurance, etc.), a most popular keywords section (so you can see what types of articles other subscribers are viewing the most) and a grouping of articles written at the request of other subscribers. The listings within each section are hotlinks that drill down to the list of actual content related to a given term. So, for example, if you click on the name of an article in the new content section, you will be taken to the individual article. If you click on "retirement planning" under the list of topics, you'll be taken to a listing of all articles in that category. When you locate an article within the list that you want to view or use, you click on the link and the article is displayed.

Important information relating to a document can be viewed along with the document itself. This includes the message status (whether it is compliance approved or not), the type of document (letter, article, etc.), the author, the intended use, and, in most cases, a short description of the content. The intended use listing can be particularly helpful to novice advisors because many of the documents can be used for more than one purpose. For example, an article about Roth conversions in a down market might be used to educate existing clients, but it can also be used for prospecting, reaching out to other professionals, or perhaps pitching a story idea to the local newspaper.

Besides browsing through the library, there are three other methods of quickly locating the content you need. You can type a term into the search box, you can use the "message type" drop down search list, or you can use the "author" drop down list. Since the vast majority of the content is supplied by Peter Montoya, Inc., this last method is only helpful if you are trying to located content developed by another author. Currently, other content providers include Bill Cates, Marc Anderson, J. J. Williams, and Howard McEwan.  All third-party content is in addition to the above cited 1,500 plus documents included in the standard subscription, and it is supplied at an additional charge. The prices range from $5 for a single Bill Cates letter to $995 for multidocument packages from Anderson, Williams, and McEwan.
The second component of the service is the "newsletter." I think this somewhat of a misnomer. The service provides weekly, monthly, and quarterly newsletters. The weekly pieces are more like news summaries or news briefs, in the 400-500 word range. They are best suited for weekly e-mails to clients. You could print them (they are formatted for printing) and mail them to clients, but by time you did that, the news would be kind of stale. The monthly economic updates run closer to 1,500 words (2-3 pages). I think these too are best suited for e-mail, but it would make a bit more sense delivering these by snail mail. The quarterly updates are similar in length to the monthly ones. They are available in article format or in letter format. My suggestion would be to e-mail weekly and monthly updates and to mail the quarterly ones to mix things up.

The third component of the service is a compliance component. This portion of the offering is targeted primarily at reps and IAs that work through a broker/dealer. MarketingLibrary already has agreements with a large number of broker/dealers. Broker/dealers that sign up with MarketingLibrary have the option of pre-approving some or all of the content for all or a portion of their reps and IAs. So, when a broker/dealer signs up to work with MarketingLibrary, it might approve all the content for all of their reps and advisors, or they might approve all content for more senior reps and only a limited number for junior reps. In each instance, based on one's stated firm affiliation when they sign up for MarketingLibrary, users can clearly see which documents are already approved by their compliance department for use. If a document is not yet approved by your compliance department, you can submit it electronically for approval. In most cases, participating broker/dealers will review submissions within 24-48 hours at no charge to the rep. Once a document is reviewed and approved, the broker/dealer will state who at the broker/dealer can use the document in the future. Of course all documents can be edited by users to suit their needs. If a rep makes extensive customization to a document, it must be resubmitted to compliance. Under those circumstances, the rep will still receive a quick turnaround, but normal review charges imposed by the broker/dealer may apply.

Once a document is approved, it can be downloaded by the advisor so it can be incorporated into the advisor's letter or e-mail template, mail merged, and delivered. To further automate the distribution process, MarketingLibrary offers integration with three popular CRM applications used by advisors: E-Z Data SmartOffice, Junxure, and Redtail CRM.
The standard MarketingLibrary offering described above retails for $25 per month with a one-time $295 setup fee. If you work with one of the many broker/dealers that have an existing agreement with MarketingLibrary, your costs will be less. While details vary, under atypical arrangement, reps will pay $10 to $15 per month for the service, with either reduced or waived setup fees.

There is also a Pro version of the MarketingLibrary offering. The Pro version essentially allows you to outsource the delivery of your documents to Peter Montoya, Inc. With Pro, you get an e-mail listserver. You can upload all your clients and prospects to the server, select a document, and have the server deliver do the mail merge and delivery to all those on your list. You can also create drip marketing campaigns. In addition, for a fee, Peter Montoya, Inc. will print letter, birthday cards, news, etc. and mail them out based upon your specifications. The retail price of the Pro service is $45 per month with a one-time $495 setup fee. Reps at approved broker/dealers receive a discount on both the setup fee and the monthly fee. I did not test the Pro features--that part of the site is undergoing an upgrade.

It is very difficult to evaluate the quality of the content here, because the ideal content varies on the nature of your practice and the sophistication of your audience. This particular offering tries to appeal to a broad audience, so it may not be suitable for a highly sophisticated clientele. Having said that, if you are not currently communicating enough with your clients and prospects, any communication may be better than no communication. One should also bear in mind that just because someone has a large net worth, does not necessarily mean that they have a high financial IQ. Many of our clients excel in their field of expertise, but not at financial planning; so perhaps shorter, less-sophisticated communications will be well received.

I believe that a marketing system such as this one is a good investment. It can help you communicate more frequently with existing clients, and it can help you attract new ones. If you do not currently have a standardized, proactive communications program in place, this is an inexpensive way to get one fast. If you already have an in house program, you should evaluate its cost and effectiveness when compared with a platform like this. MarketingLibrary is not the only provider of good content out there, but its relatively low cost, combined with its compliance, integration and distribution capabilities make it an appealing option.

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