Market Like an Investor

By Eric Layer

Everything I know about marketing I learned from financial planners. But just like their clients, financial advisors often find good advice tough to swallow.

The more I learn from my clients about their work planning and strategizing with markets and portfolios, the more parallels I notice between their business and mine. The principles behind building a good marketing portfolio are often identical to those that underlie a good retirement plan.

Beware the Craze
Once, in the space of a single month, I had two separate clients – both financial planners – approach me wanting to invest in video. They’d heard at (different!) financial conferences that video is the best way to connect with their current and potential prospects.

I wasn’t so concerned about their tactics (video can certainly be a powerful channel) as their strategy. I was dismayed that these seasoned portfolio managers were chasing fads rather than sticking to their plan. In their own business, they’d know better. I’ve heard countless financial planners remind their clients that there are no silver bullets, and that bonds, or stocks, or mutual funds all have their place.

It’s exactly the same in advertising. There’s nothing magic about video. It has a coveted combination of sight, sound, and motion that makes it inherently appealing and memorable, but at the same time, it’s difficult and expensive to produce – and that goes double if you want to create quality, differentiated video. In fact, at the same time my financial clients were clamoring to jump on the video bandwagon, the publications in my own trade were decrying the video hype as a ploy by Facebook to drum up more ad spending. That’s not to say video is always wrong, but neither is it always right. There are similar tradeoffs for every marketing investment, just as there are for every financial investment.

Stay the Course
Also like investing, consistency in advertising beats just about every trick in the book. A longtime client and friend once related a story about an investment behemoth who reviewed all of their most successful portfolios looking for common denominators. As it turns out, the best indicator of a portfolio’s success is a dead owner. Left to ride the waves of the market without human emotion involved, abandoned accounts have the opportunity to thrive and grow on their own.

I won’t go so far as to say that the best CMOs are deceased, but there certainly is a parallel in marketing. The temptation to change course in branding can be overwhelming. We want to chase the tack a competitor is taking. We grow bored with our marketing (because we, unlike our target, see it every day) and want to switch to something new. We go to a conference or hear about a peer going gangbusters, and fear we’re missing out on the action. But the best brands succeed not through their tricks and fast moves, but through the grit and patience to set a strategy and stick to it, quarter in and quarter out.

Get Advice
Your expertise to your clients is invaluable: you can pay more attention to the markets than they can, and you have far greater knowledge of the business. But even more than your wisdom, your real value lies in the accountability you provide. I’d bet you’ve ever fired a client for being too financially literate. Even your shrewdest clients need you because you give them the discipline and impartial perspective to help them stick to the plan.

Again, it’s the same in my business. My clients are business owners, and successful ones. They don’t need me to explain the four P’s, or to negotiate an ad spend. If they had to, they could figure it out themselves. More than anything else, my value comes from the fact that you can’t do surgery on yourself. I can help my clients see truths about their business that they can’t see from the inside. Your clients might see a vacation or a remodel where you’re reminding them an investment should be. Mine see a big distribution or a new office where I’m telling them a marketing budget should be. In both cases, it sounds easy to self-manage (“heck, I could do that!”) but people come back to us time and again because it isn’t. I’m employed for the same reason you are, and for the same reason personal trainers are: humans are better at meeting goals when we have outside help.

You’re probably running a killer business, and doing good work for your clients. You’ve built your book with blood, sweat, and tears, and you’ve carved out a nice clientele for yourself. But somewhere in the back of your mind, like a 35-year-old without a 401(K), you know that you should be thinking higher than the daily concerns of your business. Maybe it’s a succession plan that never seems closer to coming to fruition. Maybe it’s an AUM figure you’ve never been able to hit. No matter what the metric is, you might think about the similarities between your marketing situation and your clients’ financial situation: you’re not going to get there on your own, and there’s no shame in enlisting an experienced advisor.

Eric Layer

Partner and author, Eric specializes in building things faster and better than mere mortals. Call Eric when you have an impossible mountain to climb. He’ll get you to the top.

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