JD Carlson’s LinkedIn profile photo looks like a mug shot; long hair, lots of facial hair, no smile. The hero image on his profile is a photo of him surfing. In the world of same same same, he is different. In fact, he is unforgettable.
I’ve followed JD and his firm for some time. Obviously when someone’s profile photo is radically different it stands out. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a mugshot for everyone, but for JD it works.) More importantly, I’ve admired his use of the social world from afar. His firm, Plan Design Consultants, is a content creation powerhouse with a video series, an ongoing blog and a very active social media presence.
Several weeks ago, while at the Excel 401k Conference, I had the opportunity to see JD and his team in action. Video camera, microphone and lights in tow, they marched into the opening night cocktail reception with a ready-made quiz, filming contestants and awarding tickets for winners as a way to drive traffic to their booth. (1. Great idea for some fun content. 2. Great idea to drive booth traffic.)
Their booth was also set up for video – somewhat like an Ellen DeGeneres set – cozy couches, lights, cameras. During the event, they filmed interviews advisors and industry influencers about various topics; likely their favorite one, “Why Your TPA Sucks.”
Here’s the interesting bit, many folks at the conference asked me, “What do you think about them?”
“Frankly,” I said, “Guess what? They’re disruptors. They’re conversation starters. They’re asking different questions. And you’re talking about them.” “That is exactly what marketing should do.”
Obviously I’m a fan. But, let me outline, from a marketing geek perspective, what they’re doing right.
Authentic Branding : Dr. Seuss said it best, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Their brand is true and unique. Absolutely JD could show up in a suit and tie. But that isn’t who he is – or how he chooses to move around in the world. (Note: He did wear a stylishly hip jacket and jeans at the event, he wasn’t in-your-face surfer.)
Tribe Clarity: They are uber clear on their tribe. Financial advisors. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. They aren’t marketing to advisors AND CPAs AND employers. Nope. Only to advisors. And their content and singular intention shows.
Thought Leadership : In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini lists six ways humans influence other humans. Authority, consistency, two of his principles that come into play with a thought leadership strategy. Rather than simply saying they are thought leaders, JD and his team consistently show up in a teaching and smart-sharing capacity; bringing useful information and new ideas to their tribe. (Oh! FYI: There is nothing worse than a singular blog from 2014. What does that say about one’s ability to be consistent in their business dealings?!)
The content they create is valuable and insightful. It isn’t just for show. It is helpful, thoughtful, and credible. And smartly, they distribute their content through a completely separate website, 401kAcademy.com, focused entirely on the most important link in their distribution chain, financial advisors.
In addition, their consistency helps builds upon Cialdini’s similarity principle. Similarity is the “know-like-trust” principle or my favorite word, propinquity ; the more you’re around someone, the more they like you and trust you.
Multichannel Approach: In a nutshell, they are creating content in a variety of formats, a website filled with hands-on resources, videos (which also speak to the second largest search engine in the world, YouTube), a blog and social media activity. Social activity not only in the form of pushing their own content, but supporting others. Their video series, Retireholiks , is equally as authentic and disruptive. The team gathers on a couch, discusses issues facing advisors and the retirement plan industry and drinks beer. (Along with a bit of additional fun and games.)
Sure they could create white papers and webinars. (Yawn.) But those aren’t disruptive or innovative in any way! Sure their efforts take time and energy, and likely a bit of bank. Are they serving their tribe?Are they creating buzz? Are they having fun? Are they appealing to their ideal client? Likely so!
What might you do to shift your marketing to the status of unforgettable? How might you step out and be bolder with your brand and your messaging? Or, how might you show up more human and authentic – as a full person, beard, surfboard and all?