Customer engagement is a moving target and a hard one to execute on as consumers continue to lose trust in brands and are increasingly resistant to the flood of marketing messages they are being besieged with. Added to that are the challenges of customer data management with weaknesses in data collection, integration, protection, and new tracking barriers employed by tech companies.
Doing a deeper dive on these issues reveals apparent shifts beginning to develop from random content sharing into a highly strategic exercise that drives business impact. This enhanced approach opens up a plethora of issues to grapple with including the concept of relevance versus personalization and the need of building your own first-party data source to power this type of program. In the wake of data privacy changes by mobile platforms last year, the enterprise tech world is suddenly very interested in customer-data platforms (CDPs). The writing on the wall to these new trends comes from sources like a recent Gartner study that expects 80% of marketers who have invested in personalization will abandon these efforts by 2025.
To learn further about these issues, we reached out to Institute members Scott Rogerson, CEO of UpContent – a powerful content curation platform built for advisors – and Brendan Kenalty, partner and CMO of Reachstack – an innovative enterprise-level, data-driven email and marketing automation platform for advisors and wealth management firms. We asked them to explain their shared view of “why relevance beats personalization every time in forming relationships that result in action” and the best use of technology married with strategy to make it easier for advisors to truly engage their clients and prospects to generate demand for their services.
Hortz: From your perspectives, what do you see as the greatest challenges and issues that need to be addressed in current financial services marketing and engagement efforts?
Kenalty: Advisors need to be much more visible and proactive in client communication. Time constraints make it hard, but, with studies reporting 85% of clients indicate that advisor communication is the #1 reason to leave or refer an advisor, it is vital for both retention and growth. Today people receive financial information and advice 24/7 right to their phone. Advisors should be active in this process by being visible and constantly reinforcing value as the trusted place for financial advice. I see that advisors who embrace this are winning, and those who do not are at real risk.
Rogerson: The gap in financial literacy is widening. Pew Research Center found that over 80% of U.S. adults rely “a lot” on their own research before making major life decisions. However, FINRA and GFLEC found that only 25% of U.S. adults have participated in some form of formal financial literacy education and 60% indicate they are “financially anxious”. Advisors can find a unique position to provide value by addressing this fact that, while many individuals want to rely on their own research, they are not confident, nor have had the training to appropriately conduct this research.
A 2020 study by NFCC reinforces this in its finding that 78% of U.S. adults indicated that they “could still benefit from financial advice and answers” from a professional. The real question today is how the advisor community can provide this advice in a way that aids the client in their research process rather than dictating what decisions they should make. Sound familiar? This is the exact realization that was made when the concept of “inbound marketing” was first coined.
Hortz: Why the need to differentiate between Personalization versus Relevance?
Rogerson: There is a lot of froth around the desire to personalize content to the needs of the individual, but personalization can quickly lead to recipients only receiving what they are looking for rather than what they should be learning or thinking about. Instead of being like Facebook where the goal is to show things like what you have already engaged with, be more like Netflix, and rather than choosing titles specifically for the individual, leverage the preferences of the individual, and individuals similar to them, to predict what the individual should learn about next.
Kenalty: As Scott points out, our focus is delivering relevant, data-based communications in a broader context to personalization. Relevance adds a layer of strategy around understanding and satisfying both known and unknown interests and needs. Content sharing should be a strategic exercise for advisors versus a random walk of distributing articles and information based on what people indicate they like.
The goal is building awareness and demand for your services. This is accomplished by understanding, educating, and satisfying your audience’s need for information and education before they know they want it. For instance, making sure new parents understand when, what, and how saving for college education works, or what inflation will mean to their family in the coming months and changes they should start to make. Lifestyle and other interest-based content should be part of the mix as a great way to connect and build rapport, but always have a point. Are you adding value as their financial advisor by sharing it?
Sharing random information and content is not how you build a sales funnel. Advisors and all sales professionals need to deliver an organized, high value experience that generates demand by understanding audience needs, then demonstrating value by informing, educating, and sharing results.
Hortz: What is the importance of building your own first-party understanding of your clients and prospects rather than purchasing third-party information from others?
Kenalty: It is vital to build your own data profile on each contact. Connect all your sources of information together, then analyze and mine it to deliver the most impactful content journey for each contact that keeps them engaged, adds value, and increases demand for your services.
Rogerson: A recent CDP article supports the importance of building first-party data versus purchasing late-funnel lists or other third-party customer data. The key point is that third-party data on prospects and clients is increasingly going away due to privacy choices and blocking access to cookies. Having your own profile data on each contact now becomes highly valuable for advisory firms and advisors, helping them understand their clients’ needs. The focus should be on building relationships early with prospective clients and to continue nurturing current client relationships by serving as an educator and resource through providing the appropriate mix of original and curated content to make every communication valuable.
Hortz: How do you gauge that your efforts are becoming more strategic?
Rogerson: What is often forgotten is that success in these efforts should not be measured alone in open rates and engagements, but how these actions can be translated and brought back to the advisor in a way that helps to inform their next conversation or outreach with the client with a recommendation that meets their interests and financial situation.
Kenalty: Building on Scott’s answer, the industry is evolving from being satisfied with simple digital activity metrics like “clicks” and “sends” to wanting to understand ROI and business impact. As advisors and firms become more knowledgeable with the power of education and engagement programs, they are increasingly looking for data connecting how communication and content investments impact at the contact level.
This is where email has distinct advantages as it enables the deep CRM integration which connects every contact’s communication interactions directly to their account profile. This allows firms and advisors to understand interest and revenue opportunities, build strategic communication programs against those opportunities, then measure the specific business impact with each client or prospect.
A simple example would be identifying that a client has an interest in college education planning, but no account yet. The advisor gets this alert, turns on a prebuilt education planning nurturing automation program, then monitors and closes the business. The communication interactions are connected to new revenue in CRM, illustrating ROI.
Hortz: How do you ensure this result?
Kenalty: Make it easy and efficient for advisors to deliver relevant, impactful content experience at scale. Do not make advisors do heavy lifting searching for the right approved content. Leverage data-driven content recommendations, sourcing, and delivery automations to understand, organize and suggest impactful content for each contact.
Rogerson: There are a number of key elements and mindsets on how you operate that you need to address for success:
First, ensure you are providing a mix of content. The only way to understand the nuances of your clients and prospects is to give them a breadth of content to act upon. If you are only sharing articles on retirement planning, then you can only receive binary feedback. If your communication includes lifestyle, home ownership, savings, and retirement planning, then you are able to see what the recipient naturally engages with to help guide your understanding of what is currently on their mind.
Second, ensure the data is easily accessible and usable by the advisor. Do not hide this data within the communications group but make these insights immediately available to the individual advisor to support their next outreach or communication. Also add communication tools and client interest profiles and revenue “hot lists” right into your Advisor CRM dashboard (Salesforce, Wealthbox, Redtail, etc.).
Third, ensure you can be consistent. The only way to make this work is to build this dataset on a client or prospect over time and leverage trends in engagement not only to build an understanding of your current contacts but also to help inform how best to engage new prospects that are yet to raise their hand indicating interest in your perspective.
Hortz: Any other thoughts or recommendations you would like to share with us?
Kenalty: Improving client communication is an easy and impactful win for advisors and firms with the right technology and strategy. Despite industry data saying how important it is for clients, we continue to see low importance and adoption by advisors due to perceptions of the effort being too labor and time intensive. Affordable technology though is now available making it easy to deliver relevant, proactive, and high-impact communications at scale. It is time to try it before your competitors do.
Rogerson: When developing a financial plan for their clients, advisors innately begin with their client’s goals in mind. However, most marketing and sales campaigns conducted by or on behalf of these same advisors continue to be centered on the promotion of themselves, their services, and their firm – rather than aiding a current or prospective client in their own self-directed research. Collecting this data alone, while helpful, cannot alone solve today’s communication challenge. It is only when one’s understanding is actually used to adjust what content is being delivered and how it is being packaged that advisors can truly take a client-first approach to communication.