A Little Less Automation, A Little More Personalization

Journal of Financial Planning: July 2013


Everywhere you turn these days, there is a technology or service that can help you automate your marketing. Terms like turnkey, automated, streamlined, and systematized are the buzz words in financial adviser marketing. Although every adviser is looking for ways to be a more efficient and effective marketer, it’s important to ask, are we taking automation too far in the interest of time and convenience? Are we automating our way out of relationships?

The adviser-client relationship is a deeply personal one. When a client comes to you to discuss his or her finances, it’s not just about how they should invest their money. It’s about providing reassurance that their family is going to be okay. It’s about helping them achieve their lifelong dreams. It’s about making them face their fears and issues surrounding money. It’s about the most important issues your clients face in life. Your marketing should reflect the personal nature of this relationship and that may preclude you from automating all aspects of your marketing.

Marketing automation is not a bad thing in and of itself. And many times it makes sense to automate aspects of your marketing. Automation provides a quick and efficient way to reach large numbers of people. It reduces the chance you or your staff will drop the ball with a client or prospect, and it provides a way to frequently stay top of mind with your contacts with little effort on your part. But oftentimes it is generic and fails to create a connection with a prospect or client. So when should you automate and when should you personalize?

When to Automate

As a general rule of thumb, marketing automation should be used for lead generation activities, when dealing with large numbers of people, or when it facilitates a personalized experience. In other words, automation should be used for those activities where relationship-building is not the primary goal. Here are just a few examples of when marketing automation makes sense.

Large or public events. If you are hosting a large event (anything more than 15 people) or a public workshop, you should automate this process as much as possible. Schedule email or print invitations to go out at regular predetermined intervals. Use an online registration system or a toll-free reservation line to register attendees. Send automated emails or use a calling service to remind registrants about the event. When dealing with large numbers of people at once, systemization and automation is a key to executing successfully.

Website lead generation tools. If you have a call to action on your website for someone to fill out a form to download a resource such as a white paper, ebook, or other tool, it is a good idea to automate the follow-up marketing messages. You will find that many people downloading these tools will not be qualified for or interested in your services. It is better to automate the follow-up emails so you can better spend your time elsewhere, and let those who are truly interested in your services reach out to you.

Scheduling social media posts. Using RSS feeds and scheduling tools such as HootSuite or Buffer to post original content you have created or have found interesting to your various social media profiles helps facilitate an otherwise time-consuming process. It’s also smart to schedule messages in advance if you know you are going to want to promote an upcoming event such as a workshop, TV appearance, or radio show. This way you won’t drop the ball on promoting these things when you get busy. It also makes sense to schedule the automatic posting of content in advance to ensure consistent interactions throughout the month.

When Not to Automate

It’s important not to automate those aspects of marketing that are truly relationship-building activities. Here are a few examples of when you should focus on the personal touch.

Intimate events. If you are hosting a small event (fewer than 15 people), such as box seats at a sporting event, a table at a charity ball or gala, or tickets to the opera, you should pick up the phone to invite your guests, or at the very least, send a personal email. You’ll find your response rate will be higher than that of a mass invitation and it helps deepen the relationship.

Most aspects of social media. To stand out in social media, you have to be different in some way. Setting up automatic feeds of canned content is not going to get you noticed. Create and post personalized content as often as possible, such as original articles, photos, and original videos. Add your own commentary to your profile statuses as appropriate and engage in one-on-one interactions with your followers, friends, and connections.

Major milestones. When a client or prospect reaches a major milestone such as retirement, a wedding anniversary, or significant birthday, you should take this opportunity to send a card, flowers, a gift, or even a phone call with a personal message. Avoid using generic cards, gifts, and messages that could apply to anyone just because it is more efficient and convenient.

Automate the Personalization Process

Although individual interaction is a key component to adviser marketing, even personalization can benefit from some automation. Focus on creating the processes to facilitate a personalized experience as much as possible.

One example is to set up reminders when a client is approaching a major milestone so that you can reach out to them individually. Another example is to create a high-touch client on-boarding process that uses standard communication templates that also allow for some customization for each client or prospect. Keep good notes regarding the interests and preferences of your clients so that you can personalize your processes.

Automation is an important aspect of marketing and should be used as often as appropriate and as long as it is effective. The technology and the tools are available and you should take advantage of them. Just don’t become overly impressed with automation and turnkey solutions.

At the end of the day, financial advisers are in the relationship business and the one thing marketing automation can’t do is build relationships. As the world around us becomes more automated and less genuinely personalized, you have the opportunity to use personalization as a way to stand out from the crowd.

Kristen Luke is president and CEO of Wealth Management Marketing Inc. (www.wealthmanagement
), a firm dedicated to providing marketing strategies and support for independent advisers. 

General Financial Planning Principles