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Interview: Sheri Fitts, ShoeFitts Marketing

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I’ve always said that marketing is one of the things out there that can help retirement plan providers stand out, it’s the only thing that probably got me to where my practice is now.

One of the best experts in marketing for retirement plan providers is Sheri Fitts and I thank her for sharing a lot of information that can help any financial advisor, auditor, or third party administrator out there.

Q: How did you decide to get into marketing? Why did you decide to get involved in the retirement plan space?

A: My background in the world of financial services began as a graphic designer. I was working for an insurance company in the early 90s designing worker’s compensation brochures, annual reports and such. In addition, I also helped with some PR and advertising. There was an RIA in the same building – and we eventually began talking. I had two other job offers at the same time—both for more money. However, I decided to head into the retirement plan arena because, as a single mom, I knew I needed to know as much as I possibly could about the world of saving and investing.

My first assignment at that firm was to design employee education and communication materials; think newsletters, workbooks, etc. Later, I stepped into selling those materials to providers, advisors and TPAs. When you’re in sales – you need marketing. I love that I know about both. n a way I just landed in marketing.

Q: Good retirement plan providers focus on their work, how can they better themselves by getting help in marketing?

A: Many firms continue to grow via referrals. And that is just dandy. However, marketing can sweep the path for sales – and create intentional growth. Growth that is focused on a specific type of client, rather than just the clients that arrive at the door step.

If there were two things I’d recommend for advisors and TPAs, I’d say make certain you have an excellent website and an ongoing email newsletter. Those are foundational pieces of a marketing effort and can provide a fairly easy way to stay in front of suspects and prospects.

Q: How important is branding and what entails a successful brand for plan providers?

A: Frankly, we see the power of branding in our consumer driven lives every day. What we fail to realize is that a strong brand for our businesses can be a powerful differentiator. Recently, I’ve been speaking on the subject of branding in my presentation called, Your Brand. Your Business. Your Bottom Line. In one section of the presentation, I discuss how a well-executed brand and brand experience increases the perceived value of the services one provides.

A successful brand starts with three things: A vision or purpose statement – more specifically a firm’s why. A super clear idea of the niche a firm intends to serve. Put together with some type of messaging map – a starting point for the words a firm will use in communicating with the world

I wrote a blog post, It’s Not Business, It’s Personal. that discusses branding and the need for intentional branding in detail. In addition, earlier this year, I offered up a live webcast, How To Create a Killer Digital Brand. Both might be helpful resources for firms wanting to step up their branding and brand messages.

As a very important side note: I think the fiduciary rule will make many advisors look even more vanilla and similar. There are huge opportunities to jump ahead of the competition by being a bit bolder with one’s brand.

Q: What are the benefits of a retirement plan provider using social media?

A: Social media is a component of an overall digital strategy. It isn’t a silver bullet on its own. Marketing, and digital marketing, provide an avenue to scale one’s sales efforts. Social media can help amplify that scale. In addition social media can provide a great way for sales people to cybersleuth prior to picking up the phone or heading into a meeting.

When teaching the concept of social selling, I actually give folks permission NOT to do the chit chat and updates of social – if they feel overwhelmed or are still concerned about compliance. However, no one should miss out on the research and information that the social platforms can provide for one’s sales efforts. (Compliance, is no longer an excuse; but that is a whole article in itself.)

My book, Deconstructing Digital, as a simple primer to help get retirement plan providers – and pretty much anyone else in the financial services world — into the social sphere. (Yes, I know. Shameless self promotion.)

Q: What is disruptive marketing?

A: Disruptive marketing is a term I used to explain courageous, transparent, authentic, human-based branding and marketing. Rather than taking a buttoned up and logical approach, I advocate for emotionally connecting with people. The more human we are, the more we stand out above the noise. People do business with people, not sterile, unavailable, businesses. And when I see a business taking those steps, I see an opportunity for disruption in our industry.

Q: A hard part for a retirement plan provider in marketing their services is that plan sponsors don’t have the attention span to care about their plan, so how can providers make that connection?

A: People buy what they want, not what they need. All too often the sales and marketing conversation tries to force the NEED down plan sponsor’s throats. We can likely guess that many plan sponsors are concerned about the increasing benefits costs – or finding the right people for a particular position. Perhaps some are concerned about the risks they take on when offering a plan. But – do we know for certain? Marketing based in the reality of the client’s world works best.

When I work with firms on their marketing strategy, I always advocate for interviews with existing clients. Why did they select you? Why do they stick with you? What is the singular most helpful thing you do for them? These help get to the core of the clients’ wishes and concerns. Armed with this information, marketing should provide a way to teach and help prospects with similar wishes and concerns.

Q: Is there such a thing as bad marketing?

A: I’d say YES! Let me just list three that are fairly easy to correct.

  1. Outdated websites. Research shows over and over again that people judge a business via its website. What if it is slow to load? What if it has outdated imagery or information? What does this say about an organization’s awareness of trending technology?
  2. Inconsistent content. As an example, I see websites with one blog post from July 2014. Or LinkedIn Profiles with two articles – both dated 2015. I would imagine that this inconsistency might create questions in the prospects mind about the ability of a firm to be consistent in their work together.
  3. Lazy social media profiles. If you are who Google says you are, then attending to how you show up in the social sphere is an important piece of a providers’ digital marketing strategy.

 

Q: Is getting quoted as an expert in the media an effective marketing tool?

A: Yes absolutely! So, first, thank you for this opportunity, Ary. In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini offers six different principals of building influence. One of them is the principal of authority. Being quoted in the media helps build authority in addition to brand awareness and inbound links to one’s website – helping with search engine optimization.

Q: How important is search engine optimization for a retirement plan provider?

A: This really depends on the marketplace and the organization’s budget. Paying for search engine optimization (SEO) can be quite expensive. There are so many ways to stand out without paying. The first – and best way – is to create valuable, helpful content.

In fact, you’ll note a variety of hyperlinks to valuable and helpful content that I create in this article. I’m practicing what I preach in this area. One of the best things that I can do for my brand and my marketing is to create valuable content.  As a starting point, I know that interesting content on my website:

  • Validates my expertise
  • Creates “sticky” visitors. Google really likes to see visitors to stick around a site. (My average website visit is just under three minutes.)
  • Provides an opportunity for social and inbound links – which Google also likes.
  • Serves the Google beast. (Google likes fresh content.)

One caveat here. A website should absolutely be set up to appeal to search engines; the term is on-page SEO. (On-page SEO is a way to optimize both content and code.)

Q: How can retirement plan providers know more about your services?

A: In addition to consulting and strategy work, I’m doing quite a bit of speaking and training these days. (Which is also an intentional effort of my marketing outreach.) Folks can learn about those topics and the various value-add services we create at ShoeFitts.com or SheriFitts.com.

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