Influencing the Influencers

influencingI was reading a new study from LPL Financial, “Cultivating the Next Generation” about how important it is for Financial Advisors to include children of current clients in their outreach efforts.  In many cases, these children don’t have enough assets to make it worthwhile to the advisor, but as the piece points out, they probably will at some point, and you’ll be making your current client happy.  So why don’t 50% of Advisors do it?  Shortsightedness, I guess. The solution?  Influencing the influencers.

When I was in charge of marketing retirement solutions at Morgan Stanley, we knew that all our marketing efforts were aimed at two different targets.  First, we had to convince the FA that they should pay attention to whatever product we were marketing, and then to pass that information along to their client.  A classic B-to-B-to-C model – with a twist. We were dealing not so much with indifference, but with outright reluctance. Advisors were more interested in shorter-sell activities like recommending equity transactions.  Retirement, while important, was a long-sell and sometimes complicated.  So we not only had to understand what levers we needed to press with our investor clients, but what we needed to do to convince the advisors.

One year, we did some research and realized that if all eligible clients contributed the annual maximum to their IRA accounts, we were looking at an aggregate increase in AUM well into the billions.  But on a client-by-client basis, it was small potatoes – too small in fact for FAs to even get paid a commission.  So we had ourselves a dilemma – how to convince FAs to market IRAs to their clients when they weren’t getting paid a cent to do it.  Now, I should stop to say that almost all FAs really do have their client’s best interests at heart, but also like to be paid.

We came up with a solution that brought a huge increase in retirement assets and had our FAs thanking us in the process.  You can read about it in this case study, but in a nutshell, we reached out directly to clients with a letter – over the FA’s digitized signature – encouraging clients to use the handy-dandy attached coupon to make their annual contribution.  You can read the case study to see how it went, but here’s the upshot – we increased contributions from $1.7 million to $49 million.  In one year.

What’s the lesson, and how does it apply to the generational investing dilemma in the LPL article?  It’s basic marketing – understand what motivates your audience; determine their needs; solve their problem and make it incredibly easy to act.


Transcendent Advertising

Have you seen the most recent spot for Thai Life?  I saw it on Facebook and a quick search reveals millions of views and shares.  And with good reason – it’s brilliant.  It’s the third in a series of work by Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok and it depicts, like the other two, “ordinary” people doing extraordinary acts of kindness – not for acclaim, remuneration or anything self-serving, but out of love and the opportunity to transcend.  “What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world more beautiful.”

Over the years, I’ve worked on life insurance campaigns – both as a marketer and a copywriter – and while it’s not hard to communicate the need for life insurance  in financial terms (which by the way these spots adroitly avoid doing) – it’s pretty hard to get people to feel emotional about it without feeling manipulated.  In my first job as a copywriter, I was assigned a brochure selling life insurance to women.  It was an interesting proposition, and after reading all the research that tells us women have interrupted, often shorter careers and earn less then men, it struck me that we were talking less about money and more about value.  I think the admittedly pedestrian headline I came up with was, “For all you do.”


I’m always a little uncomfortable using intensely emotional triggers in advertising because it can very quickly become maudlin, crass, and manipulative.  And while people may reach for the tissues, I reckon that deep down they know they’re being put through the wringer all in the name of selling a product. But the Thai Life ads feel different to me.

I’m sure these ads began life as a creative brief somewhere with specifications around how they wanted people to feel after seeing it, and how that supported the stated goal of the advertising.  I’m also sure that there are success metrics behind these campaigns around policies opened and premiums generated.  It is after all an insurance ad.

But I think Ogilvy succeeded on a higher level with these ads.  They raised the bar for all of us in marketing and remind us to connect with our customers, understand what motivates and moves them, and develop creative concepts that do that respectfully and with great humanity.

And not a little green lizard in sight.


P.S. – Can you imagine if we had 3:00 commercials in the US?


Middle School Marketing Mavens

I was listening to my teenage daughters the other day as they recounted all the followers, likes and forwards they have on the social media platforms they use.  I noticed the similarity of their comments to recent discussions we’ve had at work about engagement stats for our social media initiatives.  We’re both concerned about likes, followers, and re-tweets, and how they reflect on us.  Of course, we use fancy software to measure these things and tie them to business goals, but they’re remarkably similar.

First off, they’re results-oriented.  They know what they want – recognition.  Whether it’s through the number of followers on Wanolo and Twitter or friends on Facebook and Instagram, they’re all about the metrics.  Secondly, given the amount of time they spend on social, and the corresponding activity, they know what works – and what doesn’t.  They’ve learned that if they post a picture along with a tweet, more people will re-tweet, which will lead to more followers. (My younger daughter informed me that posting a picture of a puppy raises response rates even more, but I’m not sure we’ll emulate that particular tactic). And if they name their friends in Facebook updates, they’re effectively engaging an influencer network and they’ve just extended the reach of their content.

And speaking of content, despite the lack of conventional punctuation and spelling (which drives this traditional parent a little nuts) kids are learning to communicate concisely, compellingly and insightfully. When I was a copywriter, the hardest things by far to write were headlines.  The challenge of squeezing features and benefits into 8 words was daunting.  So the discipline of writing within 120 characters provides a similar challenge.

My kids used to have a vague idea of what I did, and with the frankness that only a child can muster, wondered out loud how boring it must be.  But now that we’re all engaged in social media – albeit for different reasons – I’ve suddenly developed some cred. As a marketer, I’m intrigued to see how kids intuitively model classic marketing activities, and as a parent, I’m happy to be able to connect with my kids on a different level.