Slow Down, Rise Above the Noise and Find Your Own Way
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” – George Orwell, 1984
I read a fascinating article in New York magazine about what happens when a lie hits your brain. It wasn’t new information—Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert presented his findings more than 20 years ago—but it was new to me. And it just may be more important now than ever.
What Gilbert proposed was that our brains are forced to do some stunning acrobatics whenever we hear a lie. First, the lie is told. And when that happens, our brains have to accept that information as true to understand and make sense of it. That means that even if we know something is a lie, in that first critical moment, our brains tells us the information is true. Thankfully, we’re usually able to take the next step, which is to certify mentally whether the information is true—or not. According to Gilbert, the challenge is that the first step of mental processing is easy and effortless. The second? Not so much. It takes time and energy. Which means if we become distracted or overloaded, it’s all too easy for us to never take that second step. Suddenly, something we knew to be a lie begins to sound more and more reasonable. In fact, in a more recent study, researchers tested this hypothesis, asking people to repeat the phrase “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.” After repeating it enough times, the participants started to believe the statement to be true. Why? Their brains just took the easier route to closing the loop on processing new information. Scary, but true.
I’m embarrassed to say that I can think of too many examples in my own life when I’ve done the same thing. You probably can too. Every one of us is guilty. But in our defense, it’s not our fault. As humans, we all have a limit to our “cognitive load”—or how much our brains can process at one time. When we’re hit with a constant stream of information, our brains reach that limit, and we’re no longer able to take that important second step of mental certification. And, boy, is that cognitive load being challenged lately! Every day we’re inundated with noise on every topic. Television. Radio. Newspapers. Magazines. Facebook. Twitter. Every outlet is screaming for us to pay attention, and whether it’s the media or our friends flooding our brains with information, we’re spending an incredible amount of time trying to discern facts from “alternative truths.” The result: our brains are overloaded… and downright exhausted.
As an advisor, my mission is to help my clients rise above the noise to make careful, thoughtful financial decisions. In this environment, it isn’t easy! The media and everyone’s well-meaning friends are overflowing with information. Unfortunately, some of that information can be misleading. For example, the media has focused on the market indices for years. As a result, so do investors—even if they know that the fact that the Dow hit 20,000 yesterday has nothing to do with their long-term financial outlook. But for the media, this magic number is an easy target. They can report on it. They can speculate on it. They can create headline-grabbing sound bites about it. The result: a whole lot of noise that carries about as much importance as reporting on the path of a rollercoaster when all that matters (really!) is where the ride ends.
What’s the solution? We need to lessen our cognitive load. We need to slow down the noise, slow down our brains, and regain our mental strength. For me, that means turning off the television and the radio. I’m able to slow down and think more clearly when I read written information rather than listening to “talking heads.” This is true in finance and every aspect of my life. And when that doesn’t work? I meditate. (For more on how our brains can inhibit or ensure our own happiness, check out Daniel Gilbert’s bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness.)
Whenever I feel challenged by the noisy world around me, I remember Viktor Frankl’s famous quote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Perhaps by taking the time to slow down and rise above the noise, we can each make that choice and, indeed, choose our own way.
Capturing the Attention of Millennials: Be Relevant and Digital
I know Gen Y are stereotyped as being transient, digital natives who are impossible to capture, but that is just the world we live in today. Technology has caused a proliferation of advancements and the financial services industry is (or should be) feeling the pressure. We have seen the rise of the robos, fee compression, virtual advisors, and various regulatory changes, all culminating to challenge financial advisors to find ways to cut through the noise to demonstrate their value.
Developing an effective marketing and lead generation process that’s tailored to millennials is vital for two key reasons:
- It’s the only way you’re ever going to capture their attention
- It’s the only way your business can remain profitable serving this demographic
Let’s be honest; there is a bit of an over-hype and obsession with millennials right now (don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously a fan). Nearly every business is starting to ask itself, “How do we capture this next generation?” And they’re spending tons of time and resources devoted to this one demographic. So think about all the different emails, social media and digital advertising you’re competing with, even beyond just the financial services industry. Whatever you put out there will have to be niche to their needs in order to capture their attention – and will have to feel authentic if you want to build enough trust to get them to engage.
As you begin to assess your ability (or desire) to serve younger investors, the question about profitability will inevitably come up. The traditional marketing advisors do today for their HNW investors is just not an effective or profitable way to target millennials. No COIs, business networking, client events, newsletters – that takes up way too much of your time. Instead, you should take a more scalable approach using digital marketing and messaging that actually resonates with your intended target market. Serving millennials should not be a loss leader; that’s exactly why segmenting and tailoring your marketing will be vital with this demographic.
Bringing it back to our friends Marg, Chip and Drew
In order to assess what type of marketing will effectively capture the attention of our three millennial personas, we need to answer these questions:
- What are their aspirations?
- What are their problems?
- When is the best time (in their lives) to capture their attention?
Marg seems to be more reactive and short-sighted, only seeking advice when there’s a triggering event causing her stress. Chip and Drew tend to have relatively similar characteristics, which you’ll notice quite a bit throughout our research. Aside from income, assets and debt levels, Chip and Drew tend to have the same needs and preferences. This means that you can take a relatively similar marketing approach in terms of messaging, but you’ll need a slightly different approach for each party later on, when we get into fees and service models.
Chip and Drew tend to be a little more financially mature than Marg; they look at longer-term goals and aspirations. The only exception would be that, when it comes to how these three define financial success, they all answered, “Having enough savings to retire when I want” as their top choice.
With the goal of tailoring your marketing messaging and approach to effectively engage these different segments, here are our recommended approaches.
Marketing to Marg
Topical blog posts and social media are the way to go. Even though Marg might not be ready for or in need of your professional advice quite yet, you can still find scalable, automated ways to prospect her (with the long-term goal of eventually capturing her once she becomes more like Chip and Drew). The key is to identify those triggers that cause Marg to seek help and find a way to insert yourself into the picture through digital marketing.
Writing a blog with topical posts that address key questions or issues that Marg might Google or research in her time of need is a great starting point. Think of blog titles like: A 5-Step Guide to Building a Budget, What to Do When You Have Credit Card Debt, and How to Improve Your Credit Score. Even though blogging might feel like it takes a lot of initial effort putting together the content, once it’s written, it can be leveraged in so many ways that you can actually realize a return on that investment of your time.
One blog post can be broken down into 10-20 different social media posts, posted on many different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), and can be used for months after the blog goes live. And, over time, that content will accumulate and improve your website’s visibility in search engines (that’s search engine optimization) to increase visitors and visits from people like Marg.
Marketing to Chip and Drew
Build a targeted marketing campaign focused on life event planning. Retirement is still a very important issue when it comes to emerging wealth prospects like Chip and Drew. Not only do they define financial success as the ability to retire when they want, they also cite retirement planning as the top financial issue they want more help with. However, big life events are the key trigger for Chip and Drew to take action on their finances. And so the key to capturing these millennials is by striking at the peak of their interest – when these life events happen.
But before you can market messaging and content specifically focused on life events like marriage, first-home purchase, first child, and change of career, you have to first address any potential branding issues. If you’re serious about wanting to engage this group, your brand and website cannot be hyper-focused on traditional financial advisor themes like retirement, investing and wealth management. Expand your current brand or create a separate brand geared to this demographic that focuses on financial planning for life events (which can still include retirement as one key component). Then build topical messaging and content that plays to each life event, like “3 Financial Musts After Having Your First Child.”
If you’re fully committed, you could even take it a step further by implementing marketing that specifically targets millennials going through specific life events. For example, you could pay to promote social media posts or ads that only target millennials between the ages of 28-30, the average age most millennials are getting married . Maybe you purchase ads on blogs or other websites like The Knot for newlyweds or The Bump for new parents. You could also identify social influencers who blog or speak about life events and other topics affecting your target market and look for cross-promotional opportunities. The more targeted your marketing and content, the more likely you are to cut through the noise and capture millennial attention.
This brings me to a key point
Marg, Chip and Drew are not niches; they are merely personas representing 3 key segments within the millennial cohort. However, niche marketing is a very powerful tool that should not be overlooked when discussing effective ways to market to Gen Y. The more niche your content and targeted your advertising approach, the more effective your marketing will become in grabbing their attention. Case in point: A 33-year-old dentist is much more likely to click on something titled “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Debt from Dentistry School” than a generic title like “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Student Loans.” You want millennials to feel your content to is talking specifically to them – and that you’re a resource who understands the needs and issues of people just like them.
To those advisors who still aren’t really interested in serving millennials, but are using this series as an opportunity to review industry trends – this niche thing is not just for millennials; it can be an effective marketing tactic to use with all generations of all ages. There are so many changes going on right now in financial services that can confusion among investors and muddle your value proposition as a financial advisor. Recent technical innovation has caused a proliferation of many different business models in our industry. You’ve always competed with DIY platforms, but now (whether you like it or not), you’re being compared to robo and virtual advisors who likely spend a lot more on digital marketing and targeting than your traditional advisor. That’s why niche marketing can play a key role in helping you to cut through this noise and grab the attention of potential prospects (no matter what age they might be).
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