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Thursday
Apr242014

Email, Banner Ads, Webinars And A New Kind Of Hangout For Independent Advisors

Advisor Perspectives, the Website that no asset management marketer can ignore if he or she is interested in better understanding independent financial advisors/RIAs, is making news this week with two items of interest.

Online Marketing Campaigns

First are a few results from Advisor Perspectives’ recent survey of advisors on their response to fund company email, banner ads and Webinars. This follows a comparable survey last year, the results of which were reported on in a whitepaper and blog post, and I offered my take on them, too. This year, Director of Marketing Jeff Briskin says the plan is to distribute the insights in an ongoing campaign throughout the year.        

Independent advisors are no pushovers, as most mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketers already know. But, the first of the survey results, made available in a two-page whitepaper emailed this week, confirm that.

Less than one-third of advisors will respond to a Webinar invitation, according to the survey. And, those who do say that a marquee name (speaker or sponsor) is the top way to entice them. Product-focused content? It's the least interesting Webinar "hook" you can offer. 

Banner advertising has limited appeal. The fund company name or reputation matters most to one-quarter of survey respondents (the largest percentage of those responding to banner ad questions!).

But even if you work for a little known firm and don’t have the wherewithal to book a big-time Webinar speaker, there’s hope for you in the survey results about what it takes to get an email opened. Investment whitepapers/research and other thought leadership deliverables sit at the top of the chart and offer the greatest potential as a gateway to show advisors a little bit more about your firm and what you know.

In fact, most investment firm marketers make the assumption that “marketing” to independent advisors/RIAs requires just fresh, solid ideas versus bright, shiny other stuff.

A Forum Of Insights: APViewpoint

To facilitate the exchange of ideas between advisors—something that doesn’t take place on AdvisorPerspectives.com—the mothership tomorrow is launching a new site: APViewpoint.

There are LinkedIn groups and other advisor communities online, but this site is different in a few ways, according to Briskin. There's nothing unique about the structure or its capabilities, the design isn't flashy. Instead, Advisor Perspectives is hoping that the depth of participation and debate will distinguish the forum.

Thirty thought leaders, including Bob Veres, Harold Evensky and Michael Kitces, have committed to take part. Registration is being monitored to assure that only advisors sign up. To date, 500 advisors have been admitted during the beta process. An email invitation goes out to Advisor Perspectives’ list of 400,000 names starting next week.

“The biggest selling point is that this will be a community of elite advisors,” Briskin says. "These are advisors who are the cream of the crop, people who interested in learning." Advisor Perspectives readers tend to be "more sophisticated" and have higher AUMs, he says.

This video provides additional detail on the forum. 

Briskin gave me guest access and, sure enough, there is a lot of substantive debate and exchange going on in APViewpoint. Responses to the conversations I scanned were longish, reasoned, almost academic.

As of yesterday afternoon, the most commented on post was about using bond ladders for retirement income. A post seeking feedback on some retirement research published by GMO was the most viewed. In the course of one conversation, an advisor commented on the “packaging and marketing attributes” of the "JP Morgan Dynamic Retirement Income Withdrawal Strategy/Breaking the 4% Rule" executive summary. He'd liked it and uploaded the Adobe Acrobat file.

You can see how this could develop into a fascinating way to follow hot buttons and track what’s resonating with advisors.

Fund Companies Will Have To Wait

...Except that for now participation by fund company employees won’t be allowed. Here’s where the conversation with Briskin turned awkward.

“We want the site to live and breathe and blossom,” Briskin says. Advisor Perspectives intends to provide a "haven" for advisors who want to be free to criticize fund companies (and I did spot at least one post drilling into a firm’s performance) and not need to navigate their way through product pitches.

If you’ve spent any time in standard-issue LinkedIn groups, you know what Briskin means. In its early state, the forum is refreshingly free of self-promotional posts masquerading as engagement.

Hope you don’t mind me using space in this blog to describe a community that would not have you as a member. The restriction will lift soon enough.

As advertisers and Webinar sponsors, asset managers are a significant source of Advisor Perspectives revenue. Briskin says the firm's early plans to monetize APViewpoint envision giving firms some kind of access. At some point, he says, Advisor Perspectives may bundle up comments and sell them as market intelligence. Or, firms may have the opportunity to pay to feature a portfolio manager's presence on the site for a week.  

Whatever, the offer will have to work for both sides.

The business of reaching financial advisors online was fragmented when I wrote about it four years ago and it’s even more so now. APViewpoint has a long road ahead not just to build up its registrations but to drive good word-of-mouth among members and repeat visits. Social media will go only so far in raising visibility—promotional posts will link to a registration page. And, search can’t help a site whose content is behind a wall.

The more active users (defined by vibrant, helpful conversations, subsequent log-ins, posting, following, etc.) the more appealing this will be as a forum to get in front of, on a paid basis, or even—assuming fund companies and their Sales staff can promise to behave—in read-only mode. 

I wish Advisor Perspectives team success with this. By the way, the Advisor Perspectives newsletter will start to include excerpts of what’s being discussed in APViewpoint. For the time being, that will be one way to keep an eye on what’s going on in there. It has a brand new Twitter account to follow, too: @APViewpoint.

Thursday
Apr172014

Heartbleed Bug: The Less Said, The Better?

I want to tread carefully on this. Online account security is nothing to trifle with. In all likelihood, concern over the Heartbleed security bug has seized the attention of the very highest levels of your mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) organization.

The timeliness, frequency and depth of what your firm communicates about your own and third parties’ systems’ status, including vulnerabilities and patches, is a function of your culture and of your executive management including your IT, Legal and Communications leadership.

Understood. At the same time, I’m guessing that your Sales and telephone staffs have been armed with scripts for institutional investors, financial advisors and individual investors since the hole in Internet security was revealed in late March/early April. The relationship managers who serve those constituencies no doubt demanded “something to tell them,” and they’ve received what they asked for.

Why haven’t more communications appeared on Websites and in social media account updates? Two weeks after the initial report, I’ve seen just a handful of communications. Not all are on Website home pages, and even fewer have been part of the Twitter or Facebook update streams. 

The media has been continuously warning people to change the passwords on their financial accounts and other accounts where they may have used passwords also used on financial accounts.

Two-thirds of all Websites are reportedly affected. Among fund companies specifically, no less than American Funds has disclosed that it had an issue.

In the screenshot below, you’ll see that one person asked about Heartbleed in an April 10 comment on an American Funds' Facebook update about something else. And, you’ll see the April 14 note that American Funds posted on its Website acknowledging a “very narrow of risk.” According to reports yesterday, American has emailed clients suggesting that they change their user information, password, security image and questions, and delete their browsing history and cookies.

This is unfortunate and, American Funds was obliged to communicate the risk to its clients.

If your firm hasn't already fielded calls about Heartbleed, American Funds' notification to its 800,000 mutual fund shareholders and their advisors likely will heighten concern and result in questions.

At times we've all wondered, “What do our clients really want from us?” In this instance, isn’t it predictable? Isn’t it logical to expect that clients arrived at mutual fund and ETF Websites or checked Twitter feeds looking for Heartbleed information?

Even if your firm's systems have not been compromised. Even if you don't operate a brokerage business. Even if your firm uses a third-party transfer agent for shareholder servicing and all your site does is provide a link to that site. Even if IT scoffs at the question whether the passwords to your advisor Website could have been hacked.

Your client is not likely to be making these distinctions. 

'Controlling The Message'

At one time, brands sought to control the size of the attention given to an issue by limiting what they said. That’s not available anymore, if it ever was. And, there's the false security in believing that an offline communication can remain under the radar just because it isn’t made available on the Web.

In delivering the self-publishing capabilities that enable individuals to share brands’ marketing news, Web 2.0 has also empowered individuals to share a full range of information with each other. In this space, we know that financial advisors tweet advisor-only conference calls and upload to their blogs images from restricted distribution publications, for instance. Shareholders regularly complain about firms' password protocols on Twitter.

On the subject of Heartbleed, citizen contributors to both Bogleheads.org and a Morningstar forum took it upon themselves to check some fund Websites on a Heartbleed hacker checker. One result, according to the posters’ claims, was that TIAA-CREF failed the test of its site. See this and this. In fact, according to a syndicated press release that appears on this Web page, TIAA-CREF at one point issued a statement denying online reports of Heartbleed vulnerability.

Like it or not, there is no such thing as keeping something quiet or controlling who or what is going to pass a communication or even an observation on. There is no flushing search engine results.

In your organization, nobody knows this better than Digital Marketing. Even when there’s nothing to report, say something because your clients want to hear from you and you know that the Website or your Twitter or Facebook page is where they’ll come to. A clear, adequate communication on the Web will keep the call volume under control, and will facilitate the peer-to-peer online communication already underway.

Marginalizing A Digital Presence

Less important for your clients but important to the contribution your work can make: A de facto policy that reserves Web and social communications for only what’s required (fund updates) or marketing-based (commentaries, appearances, announcements) marginalizes the potential value of having an open, 24/7 digital presence.

Every once in a while I hear from someone who asks why I haven’t adopted the term “social business” instead of “social media”—the implication being that brands have evolved beyond social media. I disagree. The pages of the calendar may have flipped, but this has yet to become a social business.  

Four years ago, I was surprised when more financial Twitter accounts didn’t use their Twitter accounts to communicate about the flash crash. But that was too early in the history of asset managers and social media, the news itself was confusing, firms weren’t ready.

Little more than a year ago, PBS ran a documentary about retirement funding and the expense of retirement plans. Most asset managers chose not to comment, despite the fact that the show consumed online commentary for a while. It was controversial and complex, and no firm was compelled to jump in the fray.

This slower developing Heartbleed issue, on which few fund firms were directly impacted apparently, was an opportunity for a firm to demonstrate the attributes of being social—transparency, accountability and authenticity among them.

The relevant, financial services-focused online conversation these last two weeks has been about Heartbleed and the security of financial assets. Others have had plenty to contribute, and more firms could have joined in, even if only in an informational/educational (change your passwords!) role.

It's strange to land on a financial site with no front-and-center acknowledgment of Heartbleed. Forgive me. But even to someone who knows better, the firm seems out of touch, at best.   

The topic is too hot right now for you the digital marketer to call the question internally and advocate for your “constituency.” But if you agree that it’s time to challenge those who believe “the less publicly said, the better,” you might start to think about what it will take to get your firm to think more expansively.   

To help you make your case, here are a few examples of firms that have communicated something. 

Fidelity Pop-up

T. Rowe Price Splash Page Violator

OppenheimerFunds Timely Topic

Vanguard Home Page News Item

Thursday
Apr102014

The Less Hyped Twitter News: Now You Can Search Twitter Lists

Twitter is making the news this week with its planned changes to account profile pages.

But the focus of this post is a change that Twitter has made with little to no fanfare: the capability to search for Twitter lists.

Since I’ve been paying attention to Twitter and doing my part to introduce people to all that Twitter can lead to, there have been two recurring questions: 1. How do we get people to follow us? (And sometimes, who do we follow?) 2. How do we find relevant tweets? This change helps with both.

Twitter List Background

First, some background.

Whether you work for a firm with a chatty Twitter account or a firm interested just in what’s being said on Twitter but not maintaining a Twitter presence, Twitter lists can be useful. 

Things can look pretty messy on Twitter.com. Twitter lists are what enable an account to organize who it follows (example: Investment Managers on Twitter) or why it follows them (example: Marketing Technology).

Actually, you don’t even need to follow an account in order to add it to a Twitter list. This helps when you need to be stealth about who and what you're "listening" to.

Twitter lists can be either public or private. From what’s able to be observed (i.e., public lists) and from my experience, my sense is that asset management firms and Twitter lists could be better acquainted.

Here’s a look at some of the largest firms and their Twitter list membership and activity. Not only does @PIMCO have the most followers, it appears on the most public lists relative to others. And—to anticipate a question—the high list membership of Vanguard's advisor account (@Vanguard_FA) relative to the number of its followers suggests that Twitter-using advisors use Twitter lists.

iShares and Putnam are the only firms that have created and/or subscribed to public lists. It's possible they and others may be creating private lists. 

What To Learn From Twitter Lists

At the minimum, I recommend that you: 

  • Track the number of Twitter lists that your account has been added to over time. The number of a Twitter account’s followers can be artificially inflated by advertising and other automated means. It’s an incomplete measure of the value of an account.

The Twitter list count is meaningful because a list creator needs to manually add each account to it. It’s a reflection of the resonance of your content. Also, inclusion on a Twitter list implies that your tweets have a better chance of being paid attention to.

  • Note the names of the Twitter lists that your account appears on. This will show you how your content is being received. For example, it feels like all is in order when @RockTheBoatMKTG is added to an Investment Marketing Twitter list, and not so much when the account is added to a Boat Shipping list. 

To see the lists that others have added your account to, just go to your Twitter account Settings/Lists. The lists that your account has created and/or subscribed to is the default view, click on the Member of tab.

When your account is added to a list, it's reported through the Twitter Notifications tab.


For a total of the lists that your account is on, however, you’ll need to go to Twitonomy.com, the source of the data shown in the table above. 

  • Create Twitter lists (private, probably) to isolate the individuals or topics you care most about. Tweets from your curated lists can then be monitored on Twitter.com or using third-party apps (HootSuite, Feedly, Flipboard, etc.)

Surfacing Relevant Accounts, Content

A few additional opportunities open up, now that Twitter lists can be searched. As an example, let’s say that your firm is positioning itself as a 401(k) thought leader.

A Twitter list search will expose you to who’s so focused on 401(k)s that they’ve created a list for the topic, and you’ll be able to track the tweets and accounts added to the list for your own content development inspiration.

If your firm is permitted by Compliance to follow others, Twitter list search will help vet which accounts and lists to subscribe to or follow. Your following activity will make the list creator and other accounts aware that you’re out there, and that your interests are aligned. This should lead to more followers for your account.

Greater visibility via the new search capability should also stimulate usage of Twitter lists. Hope so, I consider Twitter lists one of Twitter’s most awesome, configurable features. The absence of an easy way to search for them has been a drawback in others' adoption.

Where To Find Twitter List Search

Without any further ado, these screenshots show where to find the Twitter list search. These are from desktop Twitter. It's also possible to get to List search from the Twitter Android and iOS apps.

Start by entering your term in the Search box, which will produce timeline search results.

Click on Timelines in the left-hand column and you'll see two tabs displayed: One for Lists and one for Timelines. Lists is the default view. This shows just a partial view of the available 401k lists.

It’s not as intuitive as one might hope. For example, I expected to access list search via Twitter's Advanced Search but that’s not available. And, there’s no knowing the order that the lists are displayed in—it’s not by number of members, as you’ll see in the screenshot.

While we’re on the topic of Twitter search, did you know that you can also search within only the tweets of the people you follow (boxed on the screenshot above)? This can be quite helpful, too.

Thursday
Apr032014

Where's The Fun In The Investment Business?

In real-life some of us can be quite the cut-up. Do investment marketers, and other communicators at investment firms, really have to check their humor at the door?

Before digital, before social, the answer was uh-huh, yes. On a rare telephone conversation a few weeks ago (who needs to talk when you can tweet?), InvestmentWriting’s Susan Weiner and I laughed about the days when something as informal as contractions were frowned upon in investment commentary.

Money management is serious business. Tomfoolery isn’t something that endears a brand to financial advisors or investors. But here and there it is possible to spot some signs of lightening up. Over the last few years (!), I’ve been bookmarking some noteworthy examples. Finally, a few items surfaced this week, bringing my collection to enough of a critical mass to share.

Enjoy these now and I will continue my life's work of funspotting in the investment business.

ETF Tickers That Tickle

Not taking oneself too seriously is a sign of a contemporary communicator. As exchange-traded funds (ETFs) positioned themselves as mutual fund challengers/disruptors early on, it was natural to show a little sass in the selection of their ticker symbols.

MOO (Van Eck Global Market Vectors Agribusiness), DUST (Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bear 3X) and TAN (Guggenheim Solar ETF) are just three ETF tickers representative of the naming creativity among issuers. 

One of my all-time favorite product names was from the now-defunct Claymore Securities (a former employer but this naming predated my stint): the Claymore/Zacks Yield Hog ETF, which perfectly communicated the fund’s objective to traders. Sadly, it was later renamed to Guggenheim Multi-Asset income ETF, defaulting to words believed to appeal to a broader audience.

When A Cartoon Can Capture The Culture

We're all familiar with the difficulties of finding imagery to communicate the features and benefits of the non-tangible investment business. This can be a significant obstacle when faced with the need to provide some visual relief on a Website.

Branding that relies on illustration is rare on the Web. Even rarer is the investment firm that turns to humorous cartoons. The cartoon below is from Ajo Partners’ Philosophy page. I also like the cartoon on the Contact Us page, too. It's a bit edgy for this space.

The Fun In Being Interactive

For some, fun comes wrapped in a quiz. Quizzes have been the rage online for a while now (of all the content published by The New York Times in 2013, a quiz ranked as the most popular).

In this category, there’s no more prolific fund company than U.S. Global Investors. This commodity producer quiz suggests the fun and educational experience provided.

In its award-winning FutureMoves iPhone app released in 2011 (followed with a Website), MassMutual stepped out a little with irreverent messaging intended to focus Gen X and Gen Y on possible retirement scenarios. As shown in the video below, the app involves the addition of a photo of someone and then ages the image, making some predictions—see the first at 0:52.

It’s funny (“hilarious,” according to one iTunes reviewer) and makes the point.

#TBT

As you can tell by now, a fun communication doesn’t require belly laughs. People who consume investment content all day every day appreciate any effort. An unexpected reason to chuckle, smile, even snicker is all we’re looking for to mix things up. It will be remembered, if not always shared.

Let’s start with a fairly new, social-initiated holiday—#ThrowbackThursday or #TBT—and work our way to the high holy day last celebrated Tuesday.

There’s nothing to bring a community together like taking part in a hashtag. #TBT involves the very specific task of sharing an old image (read more about the meme here), and every Thursday brings a new set of updates from brands and individuals, all clustered together by the use of the hashtag.

A handful of investment firms can be counted on to post #TBT updates on Twitter, Facebook or both some Thursdays.

Here are a few recent #TBT posts from Northwestern Mutual, Fidelity and Scottrade.

Obviously, there's room for more firms to take part in Throwback Thursday and with even more imagination. If your firm has any story to tell whatsoever, you can come up with some image-based reminiscences that will both entertain and give your followers a glimpse of your firm's roots.

Not Just For Lovers

Valentine’s Day-related social updates from firms are quite common. But I still LOL when I look back at some 2012 tweets that resulted from a #FedValentines groundswell. They were loosely related to the U.S. economy and Fed policy. (It was what Business Insider called one of the Internet’s nerdiest memes yet.)

The iShares #FedValentines tweets (two examples are shown below) were mostly self-serving, didn’t drive a lick of Website traffic but c’mon, don't you like iShares just a little more because of them?

3 Takes On April Fools'

The April Fools’ celebrations this year started slow.

Fidelity offered a Popsicle-stick quality joke on Twitter and Facebook.

A publication has more latitude than an investment firm. Still, there was extra effort shown when The Economist devoted its daily chart to the comparison that all others know to avoid: Apples to oranges. I loved this, actually. The screenshot below is just a slice—be sure to check out the whole piece.

Finally, the imaginary prize in the investment space for celebrating April Fools' 2014 had to go to FMG Suite. The firm, a marketing solution for financial advisors, created a genuine spoof video for a "world where people still have fax machines."

You have to click on the image above to go watch the 1:30 video on the FMG site, which will take you away from this site. That's OK, don't worry about me. Go. Enjoy yourselves. I want you to have fun!

Thursday
Mar272014

Compare Your KPIs To The Best In Financial Services

The “financial services” industry is a big ole bucket. 

But given the other industry possibilities (Retail? Media? Technology?), investment firms have more in common with banks, credit card, insurance and brokerage companies. If you’re a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketer looking for data to measure your firm’s digital performance against, you could do worse than look at “financial services” benchmarks.

Smartphone, Tablet, Website Benchmarks

Specifically, Adobe this week published some benchmark data you might find useful. The Adobe Digital Index “Best Of The Best Benchmark” report is based on 210 billion visits in 2013 to 11,000 mostly large enterprise Websites that are customers of Adobe Analytics. The review set included “a few thousand financial services companies. We don’t break out our samples to any level beyond financial services,” according to Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst, Digital Index.

Adobe reported on the performance of financial services and four other industries (retail, travel and hospitality, high-tech, and media and entertainment) on five key performance indicators (KPIs): 

  • Share of smartphone visits
  • Share of tablet visits
  • “Stick rate” (the percentage of visits that include more than one page)
  • Pages per visit
  • Minutes per visit 

Conversion rate benchmarks are provided for some industries but not for financial services because, Adobe says, “financial organizations all have a different concept of a conversion." This makes it difficult to standardize for.

The data show that there’s a fairly large gap between the performance of the “best of the best”—the top quintile in each industry—and everybody else, aka “the masses.”

“The results of [the research] make it clear that organizations that invest in people, processes, and technology are reaping the benefits” is Adobe’s high-level conclusion.

Where Finserv Outperforms

The report provides an opportunity to see how financial services does relative to other industries and where the top 20% of financial services organizations are outperforming their peers.

You’ll want to download the full report for all the insights and data. Below are a few tables I created to isolate financial services. Just call me Parochial Pat. (No, please don’t.)

In the table above, you’ll see that the best financial services organizations lead other industries in stick rate. Almost eight out of 10 visits to the top quintile financial services sites included visits to more than one page. That’s impressive, according to Gaffney.

“Stick rate is very complicated because there are two factors that drive visitors deeper into a site. First, they must be the right visitor so visitor acquisition targeting needs to be optimized. That requires careful targeting as well as testing multiple approaches to discover which ones provide the best visitors.

“But then,” she says, “those visitors need to land on a page (sometimes from their phone or tablet) that works, is what they expected and has a clear next step. So content, responsive design, personalization and clear paths forward have to be in place.”

Bravo, take a bow!

Unfortunately, the best in this industry trail all other industries in percentage share of tablet visits, and all but high-tech’s best in percentage share of smartphone visits. 

But above see how finserv comes roaring back in the visits measures—the best financial services sites have the highest number of pages per visit, and trail only media and entertainment and high-tech sites in minutes per visit.

This data suggests that the best of financial services have some significant digital chops. Oh and here’s a look at the year-over-year improvement. Note the big gain in share of smartphone visits.

For your benchmarking, the table below may be the most useful. Above-average performance on these dimensions would be between the range set by the best in the industry and the average. 

Wide gaps between the best and the average suggest that the best are pulling away from the competition, which is Adobe’s point in publishing the research. Of course, you'd have a better sense of your relative performance if the research was provided for the asset management subsector.

Take a look at your analytics and see where you stand. Thoughts? Please comment below.