There are three cardinal sins when it comes to communicating with your clients: being inaccurate and misleading; being inappropriate and offensive; and being dull and boring.
Even if you don’t mislead or offend clients, if you bore them, your time and effort are wasted.
Here are six components to a successful e-newsletter. Although some financial advisors get two or three components right, almost no one nails all six. As a result, most advisors probably aren’t getting the return that they could.
– LENGTH AND FREQUENCY
Most advisors were slow to move to the e-newsletters that replaced the paper versions that were mailed out in the past. Today, almost every advisor has moved to the online format.
But here’s the problem: if you look at many e-newsletters, the way they’re delivered is all that’s changed. The text-heavy quality of most e-newsletters is exactly the same as their paper-based predecessors. That tendency misses the reality of our attention- challenged online world, which obeys three distinct rules:
– Shorter communication beats longer communication.
– Pictures beat words.
– More frequent beats less frequent.
Another change that can tap into the potential of the online medium is to build in interactive components, including instant polls that allow clients to compare their views or knowledge with other readers. For e-newsletters to deliver on their potential, the first thing that has to happen is fundamentally rethinking their structure and design.
– FORMAT: A “MOBILE FIRST” MINDSET
Smartphones are becoming the primary (and sometimes the only) way clientsinteract online. Mobile purchases (referred to as m-commerce) represent more than half of online purchases. Although this trend is more pronounced among younger consumers, smartphones also are becoming the dominant way older consumers get information.
The CEO of American Express Canada (Amex) said in a recent talk that an astonishing 80% of online applications for new credit cards are coming through mobile devices, something that would’ve been inconceivable a few years ago. As a result, mobile is becoming the gateway to Amex and the manifestation of its brand. That’s why Amex aims to make the mobile experience responsive and intuitive, and why every new app is mobile-enabled and mobile-optimized.
By comparison, all too many advisors’ websites are developed with the mobile experience as an afterthought. Even if you get the format of your online communication right, if your clients can’t access it quickly and easily on their smartphones, they’ll move elsewhere quickly. (If you haven’t logged into your website on your smartphone, give that a try. You may be shocked at how clunky the experience feels.)
– LANGUAGE AND TONE: LET YOUR PERSONALITY SHINE THROUGH
Some e-newsletters are filled with financial jargon that is impenetrable. I know of one advisor who gets his mother-in-law to read a draft of his newsletter and circle all the words she doesn’t understand.
But even if you get the level of complexity right, there’s a second issue that often arises.
A compliment you sometimes hear these days is to describe someone as “authentic.” Authenticity means that you are honest and candid in your views and that people can be confident that what you say is what you mean. (In fact, candour was one of the characteristics that attracted many voters to U.S. President Donald Trump.)
In a world in which people sometimes seem to be constantly hedging, the need for authenticity obviously is important to clients. But many e-newsletters look sanitized and are devoid of any sense of the advisor’s personality. All too many e-newsletters read as if they could have been written by the advisor’s compliance officer, with any semblance of individual identity removed. Instead, your written communication should read the way you talk.
To keep your clients’ attention, don’t hesitate to make fun of yourself. People like it when you don’t take yourself too seriously.
And don’t be afraid to include occasional personal references to your family and charitable causes. For example, for Thanksgiving last year, several advisors sent cards containing a family photo to their clients, thanking them for the opportunity to work together and letting them know that as a small thank you, the advisor made a donation on each client’s behalf to a children’s home in Africa.
All the cards were well received, but the more personal the picture, the better the response was. Cards featuring pictures of advisors with their teams got a response that was good, but not great. Cards with pictures of the advisors and their families in a posed photograph fared somewhat better. But the card that got the best response was one sent by an advisor who had visited New York recently with his wife and young children. The card showed a spontaneous picture of the family of four riding bicycles through Central Park with big smiles on their faces.
The message is simple: the language and tone of your client communication should feel genuine – as if it’s you talking. And don’t take yourself too seriously.
– SUBJECT LINES: CAPTURE CLIENTS’ INTEREST
Even if you get the length, format and tone right, you have not succeeded if clients don’t open your email. We know from research that an email’s subject line is the most important factor in getting clients to open that email. There are a couple of ways I’ve seen advisors go wrong here.
First, some advisors use long, convoluted subject lines. Others use subject lines that simply are boring. For example, “This Month’s Newsletter” or “December Newsletter.”
Research on the qualities of an effective subject line suggest that it should be short – ideally, no more than three words. To maximize readership, those two or three words must grab your clients’ attention and entice them to click “open” to find out more.
– TOPICS: HIT CLIENTS’ “HOT BUTTONS”
Perhaps the best way to get clients to read your e-newsletters is to deal with the issues they’re most concerned about.
For example, if you ask your clients about their biggest questions or what concerns them most, chances are the answers will refer to issues such as the impact of NAFTA negotiations, a potential trade war and bitcoin.
Many advisors are reluctant to tackle these topics because taking a firm stand on such complex issues can be difficult. Yet, that uncertainty and complexity are the reasons why clients want to hear from you. Here’s one structure a veteran advisor has used to address a contentious topic:
– Here’s what we know.
– Here’s what we don’t know.
– Here’s what I’ll be watching and where I’m going for more information.
To get clients to read your e-newsletters, you have to focus on the topics that are hot buttons for them, even if you don’t have as much information as you’d like. The tendency for some advisors is to wait for more information – at which point, the crisis has passed and clients are no longer interested in your views.
– BROADEN YOUR CONTENT SOURCES
Twenty years ago, we were all scrambling to get an information advantage. Today, the challenge for us and our clients isn’t getting information; it’s navigating the overwhelming volume of information that hits our screens daily.
That’s why some advisors who send out very successful and well-read e-newsletters do comparatively little writing themselves. Instead, they view their role as pointing clients toward a few key articles, videos or podcasts from credible sources.
I’ve talked to some advisors who are concerned that not writing their e-newsletter themselves undermines their credibility. But, in truth, by becoming the conduit that provides clients with access to expert voices, you don’t undermine your credibility – rather, you enhance it.
You could include videos from outlets such as CNBC that feature experts such as Warren Buffett or articles from the New York Times by financial experts such as Jeremy Siegel. Just be sure to credit the source to honour copyright.
For non-investment-related topics, you might include articles on the challenges of estate planning; why seniors resist home care; or how the wealthy talk to their children about money.
Finally, some advisors occasionally include links to lighter viewing in their e-newsletters and report that these links result in some of the best feedback from clients. To view examples, search online for “Two little girls describe their worst haircut ever,” “Dancing around the world” and a TED Talk on “The surprising science of happiness.”
Many advisors put lots of time and effort into their e-newsletters. By examining every aspect of how your clients view your e-newsletters, you will increase your return on that investment dramatically.
Dan Richards is CEO of Clientinsights (www.clientinsights.ca). For more of Dan’s columns and informative videos, visit www.investmentexecutive.com.