Marketing Failures and Fixes

All marketers make mistakes; wise marketers learn from them

Journal of Financial Planning: July 2018


Marketing is never easy—especially when it’s not your specialty. But successful marketing is essential to grow and maintain your business.

Marketing doesn’t live in a silo, and it’s not going to be a quick, overnight success story.

“There is a tendency to believe that success is going to happen overnight,” Zoë Meggert, founder of Perfectly Planned Content, told the Journal. “You have to be willing to throw some stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Patience is a factor.”

Successful marketing takes time, according to Dan Martin, director of marketing for FPA, who wrote in a recent Twenty Over Ten blog post that it’s not something you can just buy.

“Marketing is the very definition of the long game,” Martin wrote. “And those who succeed are those who are willing to put in the work over time.”

Along the way, you’ll probably make some mistakes. Some of your marketing efforts may be deemed downright failures. Here, fellow planning professionals and marketing experts share mistakes and failures, and remedies for them, so we can learn from experience.

Spending Big for Small Returns

Some planners have wasted big money on marketing efforts for limited returns.

For Taylor Schulte, CFP®, founder and CEO of Define Financial, that was turning a previously successful print advertising campaign in a local magazine into a bigger, unsuccessful campaign. Define Financial placed a one-page advertorial in the magazine. The first year, the firm realized one client from a few thousand-dollar spend. Over the three years that the firm took out the one-page ad, they got about 10 to 20 inquiries and several good clients.

“This last year I decided to really ramp things up,” Schulte said. Instead of just the one-page, Define Financial splurged on a two-page spread and additional one-pagers throughout the magazine that cost about $12,000. It didn’t yield one phone call or inquiry.

“I think it was too much,” he said. “We overdid it and people could see through what we were trying to do.”

The fix: Schulte is going to try again in January 2019, this time going back to basics. In this realm, learning what works and sticking to it until it doesn’t work anymore is key, Schulte said.

For Bill Harris, CFP®, co-founder of WH Cornerstone Investments, spending thousands on radio ads during peak drive times to promote a college planning seminar with dinner at a local restaurant was a mistake.

“On the night of the event, just two people showed up and one was a close friend,” Harris said in an email to the Journal. He committed the marketing dollars to these radio ads without knowing the demographics of the station’s audience, and he admits his decision lacked common sense: “People driving to and from work are probably too tired to go to a seminar on college planning after a long, hard day at work.”

With the all-in cost of the seminar very high, a loss was inevitable for Harris. “Had I done some break-even analysis, I would have put the brakes on very early,” he said.

The fix: Harris now markets various events on multiple channels—including print, mail, social media, and peer to peer—and he has a much better understanding of demographics and psychographics. And he’s very attuned to the calendar. For example, marketing a January event can be difficult if your messages are getting lost in the busyness of the holiday season.

Timing of events was a lesson learned for Chris Boyd, CFP®, CASL®, founder and chief investment officer of Asset Management Resources. Boyd spent time and money to plan dinner seminars in the aftermath of market declines.

“We planned some great events at very nice restaurants,” but despite solid attendance at these events, no new clients. “Many came just to scam a free meal.”

He also planned a seminar on long-term care topics at a local hotel, which had no attendees.

“Those were the most expensive pens I ever acquired,” Boyd said.

Buying leads is another high-cost/low-return marketing mistake some planners have made, said Ryan Fuchs, J.D., LL.M., CFP®, financial planner at Ifrah Financial Services.

About eight years ago, Fuchs said his team bought leads from a company that claimed they’d gotten the contact information directly from people who’d expressed interest in switching financial planners.

“We started calling the names on the list and ran into a lot of various issues,” Fuchs said in an email to the Journal. Some were fax numbers, other people said they’d never expressed any such interest in changing financial planners, and others were deceased. They decided not to risk potentially damaging their reputation by continuing to call the people on the list.

“In my opinion, cold calling, or even something like we tried here … just seems to work less and less in this day and age,” Fuchs said.

Not Having a Niche

Mychal Eagleson, CFP®, president of An Exceptional Life Financial, said his biggest marketing failure was not having a marketing plan and not knowing who he was serving when he opened his now-defunct independent RIA firm in 2013.

“I ended up trying to cast a really wide net,” Eagleson said. “What I didn’t take into consideration was the wider you cast your net, the bigger your holes are, and your fish are just going to swim right through.”

He learned from this experience and tried again, opening another RIA firm in 2017. He clearly identified his ideal client, developed a marketing plan, and now creates marketing content specifically for that client. In Eagleson’s case, that client is a married schoolteacher with a few kids in college.

“I always go back to these sample clients and critique what I’ve created in terms of marketing,” Eagleson said. “Having a niche has helped me incredibly this time. I may have a smaller net, but the holes are smaller. Yeah, a lot of fish swim by but the ones I’m looking for are going to reach out and, maybe, become clients.”

The fix: In addition to identifying your ideal client, Kali Roberge, founder of Creative Advisor Marketing, said planners should identify their purpose, outline their goals (which should be measurable to track success), and explain what they can do for this ideal client.

Also, make your marketing messages unique to your target market, rather than generic.

Sonya Dreizler, CFP®, founder of Solutions with Sonya, a consulting firm for RIAs and broker-dealers, said do not fall into the trap of putting out content similar to your peers; rather, put out the content that is specific and interesting to your clients.

“You don’t have to be just like other financial services professionals,” Dreizler said. “It’s OK to show your personality. Clients connect with people; they don’t connect with an industry, they connect with individual people.”

If you’re not sure how to create content that is relevant to your clients, Meggert of Perfectly Planned Content simply suggests: ask them.

“Ask clients at meetings, ‘What can I solve for you?’ or ‘Before you started working with me, what was your biggest concern?’” Meggert said.

Lack of Consistency, Editing, and Promotion

You have a blog, and that’s fantastic. But not updating it regularly, letting typos and grammatical errors creep in, and not promoting the blog are some of the biggest marketing mistakes Susan Kornegay and Adam Kornegay with Pathfinder Strategic Solutions say financial planners make.

Inconsistency in updating your blog could communicate to clients and prospects that you are unreliable, according to Adam and Susan.

“I can’t think of how many times I’ve looked at an adviser’s website and they have a blog and there are four posts—all from a couple of years ago, then it stops,” Adam Kornegay said. “If you don’t update [your blog], then take it down.”

Typos—whether in your blog or on your LinkedIn or other social media accounts—also send a negative message about you.

“Think of what this looks like from the client mindset,” Adam Kornegay said. “What I’m seeing is somebody who doesn’t know how to pay attention to the details.”

The fix: Set a regular schedule for your blog and stick to it. Prioritize it, and have a colleague keep you accountable.

When it comes to promotion of content, many planners are dropping the ball, according to Meggert, because they share one piece of content once and consider it a wrap. Instead, reduce, reuse, and recycle your content, she said.

Dreizler agrees. “A lot of people are uncomfortable saying something more than once,” she said, “but you have to promote [your content] more than once.” To this end, promote the content you publish multiple times across your social platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

As for typos, use spell check, hire an editor, or make sure there are a few sets of eyeballs on each piece of content before you publish it.

Using Technical Jargon

After years of writing for B2B marketing purposes, Jan Schalkwijk, CFA, lead investment manager and founder of JPS Global Investments, said he’d gotten used to throwing around technical financial jargon.

But that didn’t fly so well with clients and prospects.

“There was some sort of perceived safety in sounding professional in an institutional setting, but it wasn’t the right fit for my clients who wanted a more personal tone from me,” Schalkwijk admitted.

The fix: Try to see the content through the lens of somebody who does not have your expertise and then craft your content accordingly.

“I just remind myself that it’s retail investors who are my clients,” Schalkwijk said. “Even if I like CFA language, I have to tone that down for my audience. They don’t care about all the financial terms that are comfortable for me but uncomfortable for my clients.”

Another fix is to share your content with someone outside the planning profession who will give you an honest opinion; your sister, a friend, a neighbor. Is it reader-friendly, or is it pretentious?

“Create content you know your clients want to read, skipping the financial jargon,” said Courtney McQuade, a consultant for Social Solutions for Financial Services. “Write in a way that’s easy to understand for everyone.”

Being Mechanical on Social Media

Being on social media is a must, and as a result, many busy planners have found ways to automate social media efforts using tools like Hootsuite and Buffer. But be sure to manage that automation to ensure your content doesn’t continually repeat itself or come off as mechanical.

“One of the biggest marketing mistakes I see is too much automation, especially when it comes to social media,” said Kate Dore, director of public relations for FPA of Middle Tennessee and founder of Cashville

The fix: Automation is essential for your social media cadence, but you need more. In addition to automation, sign on to Twitter and share articles from financial publications that might be relevant to your clients, suggests Dreizler of Solutions with Sonya.

Another good fix is to interact with your followers.

“Be sure to engage with your connections,” said McQuade of Social Solutions for Financial Services. “Don’t just post—like, comment, and share.”

Don’t Let Failure Stop You

Don’t let previous marketing mistakes or failures keep you from effectively marketing, because if you’re a small firm owner, you have an advantage over the big firms.

“You can be more personable in your interactions with people than a big company can,” Schalkwijk of JPS Global Investments said. “That’s really powerful because that’s what people are looking for.”

Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal and editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her HERE. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.


Need Help? Tips for Hiring Marketing Pros

Perhaps effective marketing is simply beyond the scope of your abilities. In that case, the biggest mistake you can make is not seeking help, says Courtney McQuade, a consultant with Social Solutions for Financial Services.

Here are some things to consider when hiring marketing professionals:

Go specialized. Don’t hire a general marketing firm; find somebody who specializes in financial planners.

“It’s important to hire someone who not only understands the financial industry, but is also familiar with the compliance regulations in financial services—what you can and cannot say,” McQuade said.

Susan Kornegay of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions agrees. “A generic marketing firm probably isn’t going to be helpful to a financial planner,” she said. “They’re going to find it really difficult to speak the same language.”

Interview multiple firms. Zoë Meggert, founder of Perfectly Planned Content, tells potential clients to interview several other marketing professionals before committing to her; doing so ensures the working relationship is a good fit.

Make sure they understand your brand. The individual or team you hire must understand your personal brand to best tell your story.

“Marketing is storytelling,” said Kali Roberge, founder of Creative Advisor Marketing. “Find a storyteller who can help you deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.”

Ask for references. Just like you would for any professional service provider, Mychal Eagleson, CFP®, president of An Exceptional Life Financial, says ask marketing companies for references. Contact a few current and past clients to see if the company’s content, methods, and results are what you are looking for.

Learn More

Join marketing experts and fellow planners for a continued discussion on marketing 
mistakes and lessons learned.

Who: Coutney McQuade, Sonya Dreizler, and Zoë Meggert

What: Journal in the Round live webinar


When: July 25, 2018, 2 p.m., Eastern

Visit to register (free for FPA members)


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Marketing & Communications