Since the fallout from the Hayne Royal Commission, it has been generally accepted that financial planning, as a profession, needs to find ways to better communicate the value of what it does and how it helps Australians achieve financial wellbeing.
The good news is that multiple surveys have shown that most clients trust their financial planner and recognise the value they add. But it is also true that there is a significant proportion of Australians who know they would benefit from advice, but don’t seek it.
While much of the work to improve understanding and enhance reputation can and will be achieved by the various associations and industry bodies, there is still a lot that can be done by individual firms.
It doesn’t need a huge budget or even a lot of time to put in place a simple marketing and communications approach; taking some simple steps will go a long way. They include:
Have clear messages
Work out two or three simple key messages about the benefits of financial planning and the services offered. Think along the lines of the classic “elevator pitch” – the points that are most important to get across to potential clients. These should then be used as the basis of any marketing activity undertaken – be it on websites, client newsletters, social media platforms, presentations and the like.
Come up with a plan
Some questions to ask include: What are your communications aims? What do your client newsletters say about you? Do you send market updates or product reviews, or comment on issues of the day? Is there a regular client contact program? Do you hold events? How do you use social media?
Often it is just a case of formalising existing activities but for some firms it may mean starting with a blank sheet of paper.
Know who you are talking to
Key to success is knowing who your target audience is. For a practice in a suburb or small town, most of the clients will be locals. Other practices may specialise in particular demographics such as millennials or pre-retirees. Understanding who you are talking to will help ensure both messages and activities are appropriate and always on point.
A common mistake made in communications is to focus on what you want to talk about – but this isn’t usually what people want to hear. Instead, what they want to hear about is the issues, challenges or opportunities ahead, and how to respond to them. Therefore the most successful communications approaches are those that identify the issues of interest, and find ways to talk about them that implicitly showcases knowledge and expertise.
For example, rather than write a blog about how fantastic your estate planning services are, write a blog about an important issue or misunderstanding in estate planning – such as what happens to social media accounts after death. An interesting topic like this will draw people in, and your expertise will be immediately recognised and accepted.
Third party endorsement is an effective way of showing the trust and value placed on financial planning services. For example; client testimonals on marketing material or websites, blogs that attract positive comments and referrals. Another form of third party endorsement is through media relations – being quoted by journalists means being seen as an expert by those who read publications and blogs on investment and personal finance matters. Getting others to say good things about you is always better than saying it yourself.
Websites are probably the primary marketing tool for most financial planning practices. When researching a financial adviser, people usually turn online first, checking out the websites of various practices. It’s therefore a useful exercise to review what people learn about you from your website – perhaps by asking friends and family to act as “shadow shoppers”. What does the website say about your practice? Does it properly explain the services available, in language the layperson would understand? Does it communicate your philosophy or values? And when was it last updated – is there a blog, media release or insight from the past week or two?
Take advantage of social media
One of the best networks that most people have is the people they are connected to on LinkedIn. Using this platform sensibly to build a profile and share knowledge is an easy – and inexpensive – way of communicating with a wide audience. Other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can also be useful tools – the latter may be especially valuable to practices servicing a local area. But it’s important to be careful as well – avoid being too self-aggrandising, and above all steer clear of any controversial debates that could turn nasty or personal.
*Claudia Pritchitt is the co-founder of financial services PR and communications specialists PritchittBland Communications.