Look at any advisor website or set of marketing materials, and you will often see some of the same things. Under the obligatory list of "services," for example, many tend to say they specialize in a mix of tax planning, retirement strategies, estate planning and insurance.
The problem with this approach is that it shortchanges the value you offer. Like many advisors, you likely have a set of skills that allow you to navigate complicated planning issues effectively and partner with clients with complex needs. By crowding your website or other marketing materials with generic phrases that fail to convey the breadth of your expertise fully, you weaken your value proposition.
Indeed, vanilla statements like ‘tax planning’ are almost worthless. Put yourself in the shoes of a client or prospect getting ready to retire: Do those two words tell them anything about you or, perhaps more importantly, do they do anything to set you apart from your peers, many of whom say the same thing?
Your marketing approach needs to reflect the entirety of what you are capable of, and if it resembles the list above, it probably does not come close. In other words, tell clients what you actually do. Here’s what that looks like in practice:
- Avoid jargon. Do not use loaded terms that will have very little meaning to the average person. As an example, for many, the term "estate planning" is relevant to only the very wealthy: people who own a mansion, a garage full of sports cars and a couple of vacation homes. Those of us in the industry, however, appreciate that estate planning has relevance to a much broader audience.
The phrase "wealth management" could cause a similar level of confusion. Most clients, even ones with significant assets, do not think of themselves as "wealthy." So, you may turn off a would-be client who may believe "wealth management" is not something they need. "Cash-flow analysis" is more terminology that, by itself, tends to baffle some, sounding more like a task for a corporate accountant, not a financial planning firm.
Look at the terms or phrases on your website or other marketing materials. Have you done everything you can to make them relevant to your target audience? Put in the effort to clarify what your services entail and why most of the public needs them.
- Anticipate questions and explain your processes clearly. Presume for a moment that you are remodeling your kitchen. To start, you do some due diligence on potential contractors, hoping to see examples of past projects and gain clarity on some other important details, like how long the process will take, whether debris will overflow into other parts of your house and what happens if the job fails to live up to your expectations.
Rather than wait to speak to each contractor individually, wouldn’t it be better to have all these questions spelled out for you beforehand? The same concept applies to your business. While it would be difficult to describe your financial planning and wealth management processes in a brochure or a single tab on your website, it is possible to provide enough detail to give prospects assurances that you are competent and trustworthy.
If you are worried about providing too much information or "giving away the store" for competitive reasons, don’t be. If you have genuine expertise, very few of your peers will likely be able to replicate what you do.
- Provide "what-if" scenarios. Clients tend to be calm, happy and satisfied when markets are performing well and tax policy is predictable. As we all know, however, things can change quickly. Still, advisor marketing materials can sometimes ignore the fact that financial planning confronts potentially ruinous events and circumstances.
To properly underscore this point, provide an example of what an event like the financial crisis ("What if the markets dropped 30%?") would do to an investment portfolio and, importantly, a detailed explanation of the actions you might take. You could do something similar for an increase in taxes, a change in Social Security policy and a whole host of other "what-if" scenarios.
Your actual course of action will differ depending on the client. But by acknowledging that bad things do happen, you can convince prospects that not only are you able to stress test plans against a range of worst-case scenarios but that you have a rigorous, well-thought-out process as well.
This kind of approach is far more effective than simply saying "we offer a wide variety of retirement strategies," which yields next to no insight into your firm’s capabilities. Investors only get one chance to retire. Empty language like that provides them no assurances you are the person that can help them do that comfortably.
If you want to stand out in a crowded field of advisors who specialize in retirement planning, show how you create value for your clients. A bullet-pointed list of generic services does not do that. By taking the time to break down your services, you can begin to better differentiate yourself from the competition.
Corey Keltner is a Practice Development Specialist at Securities Service Network LLC, a Knoxville, TN-based subsidiary of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services.