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8 E-mail Marketing Tips for Financial and Insurance Advisors

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E-mail marketing is all about communicating important messages, updates, tips and promotions to recipients that have opted into receiving such emails.  E-mail marketing is an essential element of any marketing strategy and an efficient way to stay connected with your clients while also promoting your business. Despite the rise in popularity of social media, e-mail is still alive and kicking. Email marketing helps to communicate and build relationships with prospects and clients, and helps boost marketing ROI.

The objective of e-mail campaigns is to help connect you with your clients, drive more traffic to your website, and ultimately lead to new business.   Sounds simple enough, right? With the amount of e-mail people receive daily, it can be difficult to make your email stand out from the crowd. Getting people to open your e-mail is a hurdle many marketers find hard to overcome. So, what are some tactics that you can do to get more eyeballs reading your e-mail content? Let’s take a look at some techniques to improve the results of your campaigns:

1) If you know their name, use it!

Studies have shown that if people see their name in the subject line of an e-mail, they are more likely to open it. If they see their name in the body of the email, they are less likely to unsubscribe. People appreciate messages even more when they are personalized.

2) Send your email from a person, not the company.

When you send e-mail from a real person, your email open rate increases. During several tests with over 50, 000 recipients, Hubspot found that personalizing the sender name and email address increased the open rate an average of 3%.

3) Design for today’s devices

Create your e-mails so that they look just as good when opened on a mobile device. Responsive design provides a better experience no matter what device your visitor is on. Approximately 65% of e-mails get opened first on mobile devices so it is important to deliver a great user experience from the start.

4) Don’t include the entire message in your email

Include just enough in your e-mail to explain the value and benefit to them if they click the link. Try to look for opportunities to break your content up into smaller chunks and point readers back to your website, blog or landing page to read more.

5) Consistency

Send your e-mail campaigns at roughly the same times and on the same days so that your audience starts to expect an e-mail from you.

6) Educate first, sell second.

Send content that is meant to help your audience, rather then sell to them. When you freely give your audience something valuable that they’d be willing to pay for, it helps to build trust which can be a powerful selling tool.

7) Place a small headshot next to your signature.

This helps to infuse some more personality into your e-mail and puts a face to your name.

8) Create a catchy subject line

Be specific enough to explain what your newsletter is about but also creative enough to give your e-mail some personality and help it stand out from other e-mails sitting in your audiences’ inbox. Don’t be afraid to do some testing and refining around your subject lines, content and formatting to see what works best for your audience.

Despite all the marketing talk these days about social media, e-mail is still effective in building relationships and attracting customers to your business. E-mail marketing can help nurture leads and pull them through the buyer journey for you.  Try implementing these 8 techniques to help engage your audience and improve the performance of your e-mail marketing campaigns.

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What are some of the tips that you’ve followed to increase your e-mail marketing open rates?

 

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The Healing Power of Coffee

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We can debate the health merits of coffee and tea but there is no doubt that its availability and consumption is connected to employee satisfaction, culture and, to a lesser degree, performance. The office coffee ecosystem is simple and sometimes appears way too vital to the daily operation.

Like many companies we have a coffee service that keeps our shelves loaded and these days delivers almost every week. We have grown to trust that just as the boxes start to empty and all that remains is the decaf and green tea supply (no offense to those who subscribe to those flavours). The next day, our trusty coffee vendor will arrive with a fully loaded shipment to fill the shelves once again.

These routines for most of us are so entrenched that significant disruptions and distress is most noticeable when our coffee supplies are low, and we all forgot that Helen was on vacation. You see Helen has assumed the unofficial responsibility of coffee orderer for our office. Even though she is a talented developer and a very senior member of our team one of her most critical connections to our organization is the coffee monitoring work that she does. Our team unknowingly depends on her to keep a close watch on the coffee pod inventory so they can maintain their morning or hourly routines.

Active monitoring and business continuity planning are a key component of our service delivery model that we provide to our customers. We have actually developed the same technique to provide coffee in the event of us forgetting that Helen is away. You see we have a secret stash of coffee and generic pod system that provides 3 days emergency rations so we can survive while one of us manages to place an urgent order with our supplier. So, while not a perfect system, it preserves a critical piece of our operation.

 

Customer Love

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One of my all time favourite movies is Field of Dreams. I can watch this movie over and movie again because it works on so many levels….it’s a great baseball movie for sure, but it’s also a movie about family, about risk taking and about commitment to a dream.

If you are in business for yourself you absolutely have a dream and you definitely then have to think about your commitment to customer service.

The background voice from “Field of Dreams” says it all on this topic: “Go the Distance!”

Going the Distance when it comes to Customer Service means simply you have to work diligently at helping to solve your customers problems, being respectful and professional in all of your interactions and going that one bit further each and every day to separate yourself from the competition.

Going the Distance when it comes to Customer Service does not mean that you have to do everything for your customer. It simply means you have to think about every interaction you have with them and make those interactions, consistent, efficient and effective.

If you Go the Distance, then as Terence Mann stated: “Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Bottom line is your customers will come and they will stay!

How to Manage Dozens of Themes?

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In the world of web applications, there is a clear divide between the front-end (client) and the back-end (server); In the last several years, frameworks have emerged for both areas that offer substantial time savings in development and design. Libraries like jQuery, Backbone.js, and Underscore.js make life in the front-end much easier, and technologies like Spring, Hibernate, and Jersey reduce tedious rework and ease integration in the back-end.

It’s only logical that tools would evolve also for creating stylesheets, which can grow to gargantuan sizes in an enterprise portal environment. Enter LESS (and other CSS pre-processors), which provides JavaScript-like functionality to CSS – the ability to define variables, create functions, and nest rules, which results in being able to write better code, faster. In a Liferay portal with dozens of themes, the time savings achieved by using a pre-processor can grow to be substantial.

Variables

The attention to the styling of a website can often be eclipsed by the attention to the functional specs; how a website *works* is more important than how a website *looks*. If the styles are ignored for too long, however, especially in a Liferay portal environment with lots of themes, performing edits or upgrades can become hard to manage.

LESS allows for the declaration of variables, which greatly simplifies the reuse of colors, dimensions, and properties. Want to change the entire color palette of the site? Change 2 or 3 variables. Want to add a layout for large, widescreen monitors? Add a single variable and re-use logic for containers and columns. Want to change the size of every piece of text on the site? Define a base font-size and scale all other elements from that.

Variables also allow for consistency between themes – common elements like fonts, banners, and logos can be changed across dozens of themes by altering a single variable.

Functions

The use of functions (or mixins) in CSS pre-processors is well-documented; it’s easy to find libraries that will provide multiple vendor prefixes (-moz-, -webkit-, -o-, -ms-) or adjust multiple properties with a single parameter (border-radius, text-shadow). What about a function that will allow you to use different versions of images based on the style of the theme? By passing in parameters like size and color, it’s possible to create themes that are ‘aware’ of their layout and color palette and can provide corresponding images.

Here’s an example of a logo that can adjust its color and width, with a default of 280px:

.logo (@color, @size: 280px){
background:url('../images/logos/example-@{color}-logo-@{size}.png') center center no-repeat;
}

To use this in a LESS file, this function simply needs to appear along with any other CSS properties:

#my-logo {
position:absolute;
top:25px;
left:50px;
.logo("black", 200)
}

This would output a logo with background image source:

‘../images/logos/example-black-logo-200.png’

Again, the use of LESS allows for more efficient, more flexible code that reduces rework, enabling common elements between themes that can easily be changed to match the overall aesthetic of the theme.

Nesting

The benefits of a CSS pre-processor that allows nesting are two-fold. First, it saves time and keystrokes by not having to re-type selectors. For example:

#my-section {
border:none;
background-color:#000;
  a {
  color:#FFF;
  }
}

Is rewritten by LESS into:

#my-section {
border:none;
background-color:#000;
}
#my-section a {
color:#FFF;
}

Second, nesting ensures that all of the style definitions have the proper top-level selector. This is especially important in a portal environment, where there is no guarantee that a given class is not in use. From the example above, if ‘#my-section’ contained all of the edits, there is no chance that another, more specific selector (from either the Liferay portal or the browser styles) will take precedence. Avoiding these conflicting CSS rules is a huge time saver and prevents the front-end team from having to play ‘CSS Detective’ more than necessary.

In conclusion, the addition of a CSS pre-processor to any development environment can be a great quality-of-life improvement by increasing the productivity and consistency of the front-end development team while simultaneously decreasing maintenance overhead. When applied to Liferay portal, a pre-processor can assist in ease of re-use between themes and avoiding collisions and overwrites from existing styles.

New Feature Announcement: Blogging and Event Promotion

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Advisors with Digital Agent websites can now use two new features to attract new visitors to their website; blogging and event promotion. They will now have the ability to blog on their website and the ability to promote upcoming client-facing events they are hosting. These two new features will help extend the capabilities of Digital Agent into an effective content marketing platform for financial and insurance advisors.

Start Blogging to Improve Your Search Results and Online Reputation
Users of Digital Agent can easily add a blog to their Digital Agent website, allowing them to communicate directly with their clients and prospects about relevant thought leadership topics.   According to a recent study conducted by The West Program, 77% of internet users say they read blogs regularly, which makes this feature an excellent way to establish yourself as a trusted advisor on your topics of choice in your industry.

Promote Upcoming Client Events
Hosting a golf tournament, client dinner or seminar?  Create events using Digital Agent, promote the event on your site, and collect RSVPs.  With this feature, your Digital Agent website becomes an even stronger communication tool and asset for your current customers.

“Both of these features align to our long term strategy of making Digital Agent a business asset and content marketing tool for financial and insurance advisors.” says Andrew Chung, VP Products, “With the changing landscape of both a regulated financial services industry and online investor trends, having a content rich website is becoming a requirement for financial advisors. Our goal is to provide them with a platform to follow through with such a strategy without worrying about some of the nuances of website setup and maintenance.”

If you’d like to see a demonstration of these new features or a full demo of Digital Agent, please contact questions@digitalagent.ca

Rich Internet Applications Using Backbone.js and Liferay

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It’s 2014 and your portal needs to get RICH! It’s no longer enough to have a portal that just works and presents information to your end users from multiple different sources. Today, it’s just as important to have a rich and easy to use interface.

The tooling available for the front-end today is the best it’s ever been, so good that the front-end today can finally become a first class citizen on the web. Traditionally, the backe-end influenced how your application’s front-end gets built, what frameworks get used, how the builds and deployments are performed, and so on. In this article I’m going to show you how Veriday super-charged our Liferay portal development practices by using Backbone.js and other front-end tooling.

A little bit of history

Our engineering team at Veriday has been using Liferay for over 7 years now. We have seen Liferay grow from an up and coming player in the enterprise portal space into a best-in-class technology going head to head and winning against incumbents such as Websphere Portal, Oracle Web Logic and Microsoft Sharepoint. 

Hello Backbone.js

Backbone.js is an extremely lightweight Javascript framework with a RESTful JSON interface based on the model-view-presenter design pattern. Today our engineering team has been exclusively using this framework for over 2 years now because it 1) allows us to iterate faster on the front-end and 2) is fairly flexible and integrates well with our web services based architecture.

So far we have used Backbone.js in two different ways. We utilize it when we’re building our products such as MapCMS. We also use it when building Liferay portlets. The pattern we use to integrate it with Liferay portlet diverges from Liferay’s portlet development documentation, but being able to diverge from the patterns described in the Liferay documentation allows us to also bring our own experience and lessons learned to the table.

The hybrid JSF/JSP + Backbone.js approach

We refer to the way we decided to integrate Backbone.js into our portlets the “hybrid” approach. The main reason is we still wanted the portal and portlet infrastructure, but at the same time we wanted the flexibility and richness we gain from single page applications. In this approach we build and deploy our portlet projects in the usual standard way, but the portlet just ends up being a shell for the Backbone application. In this method we also gain the advantage of being able to bootstrap the Backbone application without incurring the delay of performing an initial Ajax request to initialize the portlet. This is a very handy way to provide some contextual information to Backbone, for ex. is there a logged in user or who is the logged in user, or what is the current user’s locale preferences?

How do we load Backbone

So you can’t just use Backbone without drinking the rest of the cool-aid. Before we bring Backbone into the picture, we need to present some other libraries that make things more efficient and easier. The first library we need is Require.js for Javascript module loading and dependency management. Require provides the module ‘import’ mechanism from other programming languages like Java or C for example.

define(
    //The name of this module
    "types/Manager",

    //The array of dependencies
    ["types/Employee"],

    //The function to execute when all dependencies have loaded. The
    //arguments to this function are the array of dependencies mentioned
    //above.
    function (Employee) {
        function Manager () {
            this.reports = [];
        }

        //This will now work
        Manager.prototype = new Employee();

        //return the Manager constructor function so it can be used by
        //other modules.
        return Manager;
    }
);

The Require.js example above shows how it is used to define a module which you can then load using require within your portlets:

require(["some/script.js"], function() {
    //This function is called after some/script.js has loaded.
});

So using the above pattern we can define JavaScript modules, and then load them in asynchronously using Require.js within each portlet’s JSF view or JSP.

What about HTML? Where does that go?

The second part of this puzzle before we get to all the Backbone goodness, is what do we do with our application’s markup? how do we load it? The first thing we decided here is there will absolutely never be any HTML within any JavaScript or event Java code. It’s very important for you to make this decision up front as it will help you avoid a whole lot of headaches as you maintain and enhance your portlets over time.

Now we introduce another library called Underscore.js – this library provides dozens of utility functions that we will need. One of these is the _.template() function.

define([
    "text!templates/map-store-result.html",
], function(StoreResultTemplate){
...
renderStoreResult: function(store){

                var templateHtml = _.template(StoreResultTemplate, {
                        store: store
                    }
                );
                this.$el.find("#location-result").html(templateHtml);

            },
...

In the example above we use Require to load a plain simple html file called map-store-result.html, and we use Underscore’s template method to parse the template and populate it with values – ex. a “store”.

<h3>{{store.getStoreName()}}</h3>
<div class="span6">
    Dealer: {{store.getOperatorName()}} <br />
    Phone: {{store.getStorePhone()}} <br />
    Fax: {{store.getStoreFax()}} <br />
    Auto Service: {{store.getStoreAutoService()}}
</div>
<div class="span6">
    {{store.getStoreAddress()}}
</div>

The above HTML snippet is our template code referencing different attributes of a “store”.

Let’s take a look at some Backbone.js already

We now have all the pieces of the puzzle and can get Backbone loaded into a Liferay portlet, we know how to load our modules, and finally  we also know where our actual application markup will live.

Models and Collections

Backbone provides the basis for models and collections that will store your data on the front-end, communicate with your back-end web service endpoints, and provide you with a mechanism to build event-driven front-end applications.

Views

The last piece is the Backbone View which handles all the front-end logic and business rules. View respond to user actions such as clicks, manage models on the front-end and synchronize them with the back-end. A typical view would 1) fetch some models or collections from your back-end, 2) allow the user to update the model and finally 3) send the model to the back-end to get saved all while keeping the actual view in sync with the model.

Event Driven User Interfaces

The key to a successful view pattern is to fully embrace event driven development. One pattern we use, is we introduce a “dummy” model for the client’s state. We then use that model to track and listen to state changes. The end result is a completely event driven. The event-driven approach also allows us to easily re-wire the events and callbacks to create a completely different user experience at a reduced effort.

var DocumentView = Backbone.View.extend({

  events: {
    "dblclick"                : "open",
    "click .icon.doc"         : "select",
    "contextmenu .icon.doc"   : "showMenu",
    "click .show_notes"       : "toggleNotes",
    "click .title .lock"      : "editAccessLevel",
    "mouseover .title .date"  : "showTooltip"
  },

  render: function() {
    this.$el.html(this.template(this.model.attributes));
    return this;
  },

  open: function() {
    window.open(this.model.get("viewer_url"));
  },

  select: function() {
    this.model.set({selected: true});
  },

  ...

});

The above code sample illustrates how simple it is to define an event-driven view. Furthermore, by simply altering the event callbacks or trigger we can easily  change the user experience in our Liferay application.

Liferay is a powerful platform for deploying your rich applications on to, it is also pretty flexible in how you build your applications so don’t be afraid to diverge from their tutorials and documentations and include your own technologies and frameworks; especially when it comes to your portlet’s front-end.

New Features: Pre-Approved Pages

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As of today, enterprise marketing users can continue to support their advisors web presence by using our newest authoring feature for Pre-approved pages. Yes, that’s right. With the help of enterprise marketing, advisor users can add fully populated pages to their website in 2 easy steps. Enterprise marketing support teams will create these pages with an easy-to-use drag and drop interface to design a web page and populate the page with content from the pre-approved content library.

This feature will go a long way in supporting an advisors journey through the creation and maintenance of their website and will also help to reduce the content review workload for enterprise compliance groups as this new feature requires the use of pre-approved content.

Pre-approved pages example

 

Acquiring the Young Investor as Your Client

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I recently came across an interesting article discussing a current trend occurring in the investment advisor business arena. In short, the article warns advisors who have practices consisting mostly of either wealthy baby boomers on the verge of retirement or in retirement; “… the retirement-age population is expected to rise to nearly 20% of the U.S. population by 2025, according to Census Bureau projections, and they demand more service from their advisors…”. Wow, 20%.

So, what are some of the facts about retirement-age investors and what does it mean from an advisor practice management standpoint?

  1. Investors in the retirement-age population require more attention. This impacts and potentially changes the way an advisor spends their time. How can advisors create value for this type of investor while growing their practice?
  2. Retirement-age investors tend to be more risk-averse with their money restricting the amount of lucrative product an advisor can sell
  3. Let’s not forget the increasing trend in fee-based advisors vs. commission-based advisors which has also affected the industry and the way advisors generate income.

In short, if you believe points 1 to 3, there’s a clear case to state that having a book consisting mostly of the retirement-age or on the brink of retirement-age is not a good thing if you want a book that grows or a book you can sell.

I’ve been in many presentations, calls and face-to-face meetings with advisors and I hear the phrase, quite often “I don’t need to be online, my clients are older and don’t use the internet”. Apart from the fact that there is research to support that our aging population is increasingly visiting websites and using social media, there is yet another reason why being online and digitally connected should be top of mind especially if you have a book consisting of retirement-age or near-retirement-age investors.

Advisors with this book profile need to start seeding their books with younger investors. This will not only positively impact the longevity of the book but it will also affect the long-term viability and most importantly, the valuation of an advisor’s book when they decide to sell.

So, the moral of the story?

Having a book trending towards a composition of mostly retirement-age investors affects the valuation and long-term growth of the book and therefore, acquiring younger investors becomes an important strategy to counter that trend.

Attracting younger investors isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Advisors need to exist where they look for things, which, last time I checked, has been predominantly online.

The Importance of Software Configuration Management for Portal Projects

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Many enterprise organizations treat large scale portal projects like regular application development projects. This potentially leads to many downstream negative impacts affecting the maintainability and stability of a portal environment. A common pitfall that many organizations fall victim to, is the lack of the proper software configuration management (SCM) processes for their portal projects and on going support models. Much of this is due to the perception that the skill sets required for a portal implementation are the same skill sets their current non-portal application implementation teams’ possess, leading to higher downstream costs.
So how can organizations stop themselves from over spending on future maintenance and enhancement costs? Well, aside from replacing your traditional application development team with an expert portal team, there is a rather small investment that can be made up front to help with the transition. Our team’s are strong believers in the proper creation of software configuration processes and practices but let’s not go overboard, there are other factors that play into the successful deployment and maintainability of a portal such as portal governance, but proper software configuration management is most certainly a key success factor.
You may be asking yourself why it’s important to consider the up front investment of the creation of proper SCM processes and when exactly should these processes be created. Typically, once the implementation of a portal project begins, there is a rather substantial amount of time spent configuring the infrastructure that is going to be used to support the portal environment from development, to test, to staging, to production. We strongly recommend that the creation of SCM processes occur as a parallel activity. This provides you with three benefits:
  1. It will help accelerate the return on investment of your portal investment and don’t forget the downstream risk and cost mitigation as a result of the creation of these processes.
  2. By doing these activities in parallel, it will reduce design gaps between the environment configuration and SCM processes. In one of our recent customer scenarios, they had set up their environment prior to establishing SCM standards and began development. When it came time to deploy the solution, they came to the sudden realization that their environment did not match their deployment methodology. This directly impacted the application’s performance and at times rendered the application unusable.
  3. Assuming you are using subject matter experts (SME), you can blend your current environment and software teams with the SMEs. This will help with knowledge transfer and will also help give the SMEs the proper eyes on both the organizational and technical environments within your organization.

What is Software Configuration Management?

So, we’ve established the benefits of why SCM and why create SCM standards early. But what is it? The act of creating SCM standards can be grouped into two primary activities; Release Management and Code Promotion, and the Creation of a High Level Infrastructure Architecture.
Release management and code promotion focuses on code deployment and testing, auditing requirements, business processes and, code and configuration release (note that this is specific to portal).
High level infrastructure architecture focuses on answering questions like:
  1. What database will be used for this portal application?
  2. How will we be performing user access and authentication?
  3. What kind of network infrastructure will be configured?
  4. How will we handle disaster recovery?
Ok, I’m convinced, but what kind of people do I need?
This blog post would not be complete if we did not tell you what kind of team would be required for this crucial step in your portal initiative. We’ve typically provided customers with a team of three. Not all of them would be full time and the time spent would be highly dependent on the complexity of your organizational and technical environment. Here are the profiles of those individuals all of whom should have multiple years of experience with an enterprise portal:
  • Software Architect
  • Knowledgeable and experience in portal implementations
  • Enterprise application design and development experience
  • Portal experience
  • Software Developer
  • Experience working on structured enterprise application development projects
  • Enterprise Portal experience
  • Experience working on enterprise development teams with regimented code and configuration release management processes
  • Integration Architect
  • Experience in network infrastructure
  • Experience with server configuration
  • Experience with setting up enterprise architecture, E.g. Failover, load balancing, etc..
Let’s recap.
  1. Creating proper SCM standards and processes early in your portal project is strategic and can provide you with downstream risk and cost mitigation
  2. This activity should be performed in parallel with the configuration of your technical portal environment to accelerate the ROI of your portal investment
  3. The team performing this task should be subject matter experts and should be blended with your existing non-portal application team to transfer knowledge around best practices and to gain experience with a portal project