[What is actually meant by client “engagement” and how best can you attain that elevated positioning with your clients and prospects? Through previous Institute articles, we have revealed that financial services companies that excel in customer engagement – with results measured in more clients, assets, retention and referrals - carefully think-out and orchestrate their client interactions and customer’s experiences with their firm. They go beyond the typical industry platitudes and half-hearted follow-up activities to map out a client journey of many touch points with their firm.
Since these firms have determined that the key to long term success lies in building meaningful relationships with their prospects and clients, they consciously craft an ongoing series of high quality interactions - all specifically geared at converting their initial contacts into a deeper connection. By raising this activity to being a core strategic goal for the firm, it does not allow the effort and results to be left to personality and chance. A carefully thought out, consistent, ongoing process is put into place. This deliberate process of nurturing creates an emotional connection and that’s what relationship marketing is all about.
To better explore and dig deeper into this specialized business building resource and skill set, we talked to Institute member Luke Acree, President of ReminderMedia - a unique relationship marketing firm and client nurturing specialist with their flagship engagement tool being American Lifestyle Magazine. Their advisor-branded publication was meticulously designed to position advisors to stay top-of-mind and build long term relationships with clients, prospects and their community. This discussion provides a great case study on the development of a strategy and tool that showcases the art and science behind building client and community engagement. ]
Hortz: Having carved out a rather unique focus for your marketing offering to advisors, how do you define this niche of relationship marketing?
Acree: Relationship marketing is a focus on building deeper relationships with your clients, rather than focusing on transactions alone. Countless businesses think they only exist to sell a product. That is their goal. It’s a big shift from focusing on the short-term to focusing on the long-term. It takes a deliberate change in mindset to realize you’re actually there to build relationships.
Relationship marketing is focused on helping position advisors and to give people a reason to want to work with them. By focusing their messaging and activities on building a long term relationship with the client, they are going to win in the long run—earning more ongoing business, as well as, greater retention and referrals.
Hortz: Why do you characterize your firm as a follow-up or nurturing specialist?
Acree: Simply put: the fortune is in the follow-up. The money is in the nurturing. Instant gratification never works. Our mission is to empower our advisor clients to close more business and retain more customers. What we have found over 15 years of doing this is that building relationships is the key to generating long-term business.
If you’re serious about your continued success, you need to be an expert at keeping in touch. Our specialty is in figuring out when and how to follow up with prospects and clients in a way that drives more business. We create engagement strategies off of proven research and studies like this neuromarketing study from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) which revealed that, while consumers processed digital ad content quicker, they spent more time, had stronger emotional responses and longer lasting recall with physical direct mail items. We built and designed a soft touch solution from research that will help you nurture relationships with your clients—without giving the impression that you’re constantly asking them to buy something.
Hortz: Tell us about your flagship offering, American Lifestyle Magazine, and what went behind actually designing it to become an effective engagement tool for helping build relationships. What were your initial goals and design decisions that you made?
Acree: The main principle behind the design of American Lifestyle was quality. The key to the magazine’s lasting success is that recipients perceive it as a gift. The other motivating factor was that the magazine shouldn’t be perceived as a sales gimmick. That’s why it features articles about art, interior design, travel, and food, with practically no sales content.
This is great for advisors, because it makes compliance approval easy. But, most importantly, this magazine is about the client and their enjoyment. The design goal was showing clients you didn’t just send something to them, but for them. If you offer things of value to your clients, it will get them to know, like, and trust you. It is designed to make you memorable, thoughtful, and positively reinforce your brand.
Unlike so many other marketing materials, which get thrown away, American Lifestyle has an average shelf-life of four weeks. It was designed so it stays on the coffee table, where it keeps businesses top of mind and triggers what we call the reciprocity effect.
Hortz: How did you decide on the exact topics and stories for your magazine that would be most engaging to advisor client readers?
Acree: What we’ve found is that people engage with lifestyle content. We haven’t met anybody yet who doesn’t enjoy talking about travel or food. We wanted to appeal to a wide audience and connect with a multitude of people and personalities. That approach has really resonated with readers—the magazine has a little bit of something for everybody.
Hortz: What research did you do to further develop your engagement tool and ensure it was providing a strong engagement experience?
Acree: We’ve created surveys, both for our advisor clients and for their recipients which greatly helped us further develop and iterate the magazine to be more engaging. We’ve also hired the marketing research firm, GfK, to conduct audits.
Between the two ongoing feedback efforts we have determined that 81% of recipients appreciate the professional for sending the magazine, 84% of readers save the customized tear-out cards in magazine that highlight the advisor and their business partners, 76% of readers are more likely to contact a professional mentioned, 53% of recipients were inﬂuenced to conduct repeat business, and 38% of recipients have referred friends and family to the professional. It was also determined that readers spend an average of 44 minutes reading each edition and the magazine (and advisor) has exposure to at least 3.2 people in and out of the recipient household…. for every magazine issue. Designing for these types of outcomes, we feel, helped us create a very sophisticated and effective form of direct mail and relationship marketing strategy.
Hortz: There is another dimension to your engagement tool that can help advisors build community relationships and proactively work with other firms and centers-of-influence in their community. Can you speak to how advisors can use an engagement tool like your magazine to partner with local businesses and organizations?
Acree: To take advantage of the magazine’s customization options, a lot of our advisors will partner with a local business partner, center-of-influence, or community organization and can feature them in three places in your magazine: tear out cards, back inside cover, back cover - so up to 3 partners per issue. Partnering allows you to cross-pollinate databases, marketing, share referrals and gain new clients.
What’s really important is to feature businesses that are relevant to your clients. For example, if you’ve got a client who’s a doctor or medical group, how great would it be to feature them in your magazine? The benefits here are two-fold: you’re building a relationship with this client, while also letting your community know about a local doctor’s services.
If your firm or one of your key clients supports a local charity, you can create a back cover ad to spotlight that charity. Again, this will mean the world to your client, while doing good for the community. It also triggers the halo effect—meaning that, by associating yourself with something positive, you will be perceived more favorably.
Hortz: What are some of the more interesting case studies on creative applications you have seen by advisors using your magazine?
Acree: We have 45 relationship management coaches working across the US with advisors on creating successful community partnerships ranging across estate planners, attorneys, plastic surgeons, restaurants (a gfk study found that 90% of recipients of the magazine dine out regularly). A key element to partnerships is to develop them to share and access client/prospect databases.
One effective tactic we’ve seen is viewing the magazine as a referral tool, with the advisor’s current book of business as a grid. First, you separate your clients out by industry. Then, consider the connections the people in each of those industries have. From there, it becomes a natural game of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Send the magazine to the professionals your clients know or work with. Then, you can go the extra mile by featuring those people in your magazine.
Another effective technique is using the magazine for seminars. Advisors will customize the magazine to send out after seminars (as a follow-up tool) or even give it out as an item of value at the event itself. There are a lot of options for adding relevant, seminar-related content to the outside covers of the magazine.
We’ve seen clients find success by putting their magazines in high traffic areas. If you’re seeking high-net-worth clients, try partnering with luxury car dealerships. Spotlight the dealership on your magazine’s back cover, with the agreement that everyone who buys a car gets a promotional copy of the magazine. You can also leave your magazine in doctor’s offices, lawyer’s offices, or in other businesses around town. The flexibility of a value-added tool like an upscale magazine allows for creative possibilities that are endless in ways to engage clients and your community.
Hortz: Any advice or suggestions you would like to share with advisors from your experience on building engagement?
Acree: There are a lot of issues facing advisors—from the threat of robo-advisors, to the massive intergenerational wealth transfer set to take place, to advisors losing business by not being connected with both heads of the household. Here’s the thing: advisors can not only survive these changes, but actually thrive. In order to do so, they need to focus more on relationships than on individual transactions or technical expertise. In the digital age, knowledge is easy to obtain. That’s why you need to be able to do more than simply manage money.
You must create raving fans from the clients you already have. Know your clients authentically. Keep in touch with them consistently. We have an advisor client who schedules 30+ different touch points a year (six being from our bi-monthly magazine) with his top clients. Those kinds of client relationships are recession-proof.
At the end of the day, you shouldn’t think of building and maintaining relationships as extra work. Instead, think of these things as an insurance policy for your business. When you remain committed to your clients on a genuine, human level, you’ll be rewarded with increased retention rates and plenty of referrals that will grow your book of business significantly.
The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors - Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). For more information click here.