In my last post, I talked about why your story needs a good villain. About why you need tension, and conflict, and a reason for your clients and prospects to cheer for you.

Now I want to share two examples of relevant, real-world companies with stories that feature great villains.

First: Advisor Group. It’s one of the largest networks of independent financial advisors. They recently revamped their entire brand strategy with a new website, logo, social media campaign, advertising—everything. They also launched a new brand campaign called “Moments,” which features real-life client photos of events like a wedding anniversary, a father/son fishing trip, coloring time with grandkids—all moments made possible by sound financial planning. Their new tagline celebrates the impact that advisors make on their clients’ lives, and pledges the firm’s complete loyalty and support. The tagline reads: “In Your Corner.”

Did you spot the unspoken villain?

Here’s a clue. Notice the defiant tone of the tagline: “In Your Corner.” Who’s in the opposing corner? Who are they up against? Why, the villain, of course. That villain is the state of the industry today. Right now, advisors are struggling to find their way in a fragmented market with serious regulatory and pricing uncertainty. The whole industry has been gearing up for the fiduciary rule even as the ground shifts beneath its feet. Advisor Group’s story is all about overcoming uncertainty with courage and boldness and confidence. Their brand strategy says: “We still believe in you—we still believe in this model—because of everything you make possible for your clients.”

Advisor Group did not choose to play it safe or pretend everything is awesome. It acknowledges the threat to advisors is real and promises to help them fight back. In fact, the tagline—”In Your Corner”—comes from boxing. They’re literally fighting words.

And those words are backed up by actions.  As part of the brand revamp, Advisor Group made serious investments in lower pricing, a revamped platform, new educational tools, and more. They’re muscled up for the fight.

You can see why advisors cheer for them. They’re going to the mat against an extremely dangerous villain. They’re true heroes!

A second example: wealth management firm Halbert Hargrove. Their tagline is, “Serving the quietly wealthy.” They work with business owners, managers and professionals—millionaire-next-door types who earned their money through years of hard work. Check out their home page message:

It’s still true:
Hard work,
perseverance
and good advice
still pay off.

Notice how the word “still” appears twice in the same sentence. That choice was intentional, I’m sure; not a typo.

The villain in this story is defeatism—growing anger and sadness that, after years of sweat, saving and self-denial, these people were about to watch their retirement dreams slip through their fingers. Their kids would squander their legacy. Healthcare costs would eat up their savings. Volatility would wash away their hard-earned wealth, while some fourteen-year-old kid with an app became a billionaire.

Halbert Hargrove confronts this defeatism directly. “No. Don’t listen to what other people say. Your hard work really will pay off. You will get what you deserve.” It’s a powerful, emotionally engaging story.

I want to point out, a nasty villain won’t make your story sound negative or pessimistic. Far from it. Both Advisor Group and Halbert Hargrove keep their tone uplifting, optimistic and confident. Nor do you have to beat people over the head to scare them. In fact, villains can be more frightening if they’re just out of your field of vision, like the monster in Alien or the shark in Jaws. You just have to know the villain is out there.

Does your story have a good villain? If not, it’s probably falling flat. You need to make bold storytelling choices if you want to stand out. Don’t try to tone things down, smooth things out, or turn everything that could possibly sound controversial into inoffensive mush. The scarier your villain, the greater a hero you will be when you kick its butt.

Right this minute, we are watching the collision of two forces that are shaking advisor firms to their foundations.

The first is the commoditization of advice, driven in part by technology. Face it: investment performance is no longer a credible differentiator. Between the popularity of passive investing and the convenience of robo-advisors, few prospects are likely to be persuaded that your firm is really, truly, reliably a better stock-picker than your competitors. Most advisors recognize this fact, even if they aren’t sure what to do about it.

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This is the story of how we lost an account. It was a painful lesson, but one that’s worth reading whether you’re an agency, vendor or advisor—really, anyone who’s invested in the growth of advisor firms.

Of course, I’ve changed the story to the point where it’s now completely fictional and no longer resembles anything that happened in real life. Only the lesson remains the same.

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These days, every advisor is looking to buy a marketing tool. Which explains why every vendor is trying to sell one—whether they actually have anything to sell or not.

As I’ve written before, the whole industry now understands that the golden era of organic growth has come to an end. Advisors know they can’t sustain themselves on referrals alone. Any firm that sticks to its old formula of rainmaking, pressing the flesh and relying on word of mouth is going to find itself eating the dust of its faster, more modern competitors. Digital marketing is critical. This is why advisors are finally, finally investing in future growth and ramping up their marketing budgets.

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Why did you go originally into business with your partners? And as a follow up: how long did it take you to think of an answer to that question?

I’ve worked with some advisor teams that seem like a natural fit. They finish each other’s sentences. Complement each other’s expertise. And even use the same words to tell their story. It’s usually a clean, simple story, too. One was a quant head, the other a people person, but they both served the same kind of clients. Or maybe they both have a special interest in eldercare issues, SRI or some other specialty. It’s relatively easy to walk them through the process of developing their brand and honing their value proposition. They already believe in their purpose; they just need help articulating it.

Then there’s the other kind of team.

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If you want to build your business, become a Ghostbuster. I’m not referring to the movie, exactly (I didn’t even see the sequel.) I’m talking about the theme song.

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood 
Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!

If that song were a real advertising jingle as opposed to a fictional one, it would rank right up there as among the best of all time. Its message is simple. If you have this specific problem—say, a slimy green ball of ectoplasm living in your fridge—then you know exactly whom to call. The song builds an instant connection between a customer need and a brand. You couldn’t ask for better marketing.

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As I said in my earlier post, some advisors are running on empty—and don’t even know it yet. They might be cruising smoothly for now. But if they aren’t adding enough prospects to the top of their sales funnels, they won’t be able to fuel their businesses over the long run.

I don’t want that to happen to you. So I am going to share a few ideas for keeping your sales funnel filled—automatically.

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There’s a looming marketing crisis the industry isn’t acknowledging. I encourage you to pay attention to it so that you can maintain sustainable growth for years to come.

In February, I attended the 2017 T3 Advisor Conference. As you would expect, the floor was chockfull of vendors promoting the latest advisor technology tools. To be honest, I was blown away by some of the tool’s available today to help advisors engage with clients. The client video resources alone were amazing; I suggest you check out the vendor presentations and follow the T3 TechHub for highlights.

The question is, who is going to watch the videos, or interact with these cool new tools?

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Simple Sells

The financial industry overcomplicates things.

Marketers across the industry will sympathize with me, we’ve all seen firms take more than a year to approve one 12-page brochure. It is not unusual for firms to appoint committees who meet to go over every single word of marketing copy with a fine-toothed comb. Of course, every part of the firm has to be involved, each contributing its own two cents. Every competing vision of the firm goes to war with every other—debating whom it serves, what its unique value proposition is, and even how it works. The brochure turns into a battleground where good ideas wind up dead and buried.

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