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What Happens in the Field, Stays in the Field: Why head office marketing campaigns have limits

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Enterprises are spending large budgets in attempts to build trust with consumers, but consumers interact with the field agents in which they have not built a relationship with. This model of trust building is wasted effort as customers care more about trusting the advisors with whom they interact with.  There are many benefits for financial enterprise marketers to include field teams in their marketing distribution.

  • Messaging amplification
  • Additional content creators
  • Increased advisor visibility

The one key benefit of advisor marketing programs is the unique positive impact on customer relationships. Just as we all do not answer phone calls from unknown callers, customers do not respond to brands outside of their trusted networks. Companies outside of that trust network, have to work much harder to gain the attention of the customer. If you can tap into the trust network of your customers using your employees as conduits, you are going to build stronger long-term connections.

As an enterprise marketer, you oversee a department and have a budget that is dedicated to programs to create customer engagement – how can you make valuable connections? The traditional approach would be to deliver messaging at the brand level; this method, however, creates a disconnect. All engagement will happen between you the brand and the customer, but the revenue comes from the field level, not the brand level. So only focusing on the brand-customer relationship will mean the customer may trust the brand but does not have a relationship with the field agent with whom they are supposed to trust their money with.

To build this trust, customers look for the personal connections and credibility in their advisor. As they are publishing their own connect, there is a stronger chance of customers connecting with the content because it will be written by a person that a customer can speak with in person. Also,  the advisor will write about subjects that are relevant to their client base. They will have a better understanding of their micro-segment and what financial information will be beneficial to them. Another benefit to advisors producing their own content is to build credibility. Credibility is no longer measured simply by just education and title. Credibility is built when the advisor clearly understands the needs of the client, the difficulties they may face, and having a plan to meet client objectives.

The final element to establish credibility is a proven track record. This will validate expertise and the plan set forth by the advisor. Several elements that establish credibility can be done through marketing content. If website, email, or blog content, speaks to the needs and problems of the potential client, they will self-identify and begin to trust the expertise of the advisor. Additionally, if the marketing content provides a few actionable tips for free, this helps to build trust as it is not hidden behind a wall.

While a head office marketing department may have the resources to create engagement with the customers, it has its limitations. The programs would not be able to provide the same level of personalization for customers. Tailoring messaging that mean the needs of specific micro-segments. Furthermore, enterprise marketers need to leave room to allow for the field teams to engage with the customers and build relationships at that level. In this way, the engagement and relationships build between customer and enterprise will result in the customer being loyal to the brand. And the engagement and relationships built at the same time between the customer and advisor will establish trust and confidence in the management of the customer’s finances.

How Budgeting Impacts Digital Transformation

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Traditional budgeting in large enterprises interferes with digital transformation success. When projects are approved for a limited budget cycle (say 1 or 2 periods), the project’s value and potential to bring digital transformation begins to diminish as soon as funding stops. On the other hand, if the projects are funded with adequate sustained investment value can be maintained and increased over time. This consistent budgetary support brings about digital transformation. Technology projects have been operating for over fifty years and the lessons learned in that time will help us create better long-term solutions moving forward. For businesses looking to transition into more agile operating models, allowing for creating software operating models will greatly enhance business value and agility.

The Problem with Traditional Funding

The classic funding model for technology projects, that has been the norm for the past fifty years, starts with a business case for change. The project includes requirements, function points, an estimating model, and a work plan all rolled up into a budget request for funds allocation. When the project is approved, resources are provisioned and the work plan is initiated, working toward a completion date. What is missing from this scenario is the impetus for change. Most of these large projects resulted from a long period of dormant activity with the existing technology. Even though maintenance may have been performed on the original solution, this will not promote digital transformation. Without a sustained reinvestment plan, a gradual obsolescence turns into a mountain of “technical debt”. This debt will eventually interfere with business agility and competitiveness.

Moving Toward Agile Business Models

For businesses that desire agility and want to promote digital transformation need to not only speak about it but weave it into the overall strategy. A part of this new strategy is a reimagining on budgeting. A better alternative to the traditional project-based funding is to consider a sustained development program for the long-term, which emphasizes continuous development or “agile” methods. By reorienting the organization toward an operations funding model of this type, organizations reduce business risk associated with technical obsolescence and increase the lifetime utility of their software assets. Any budgeting strategy has its potential downsides. In the case of this agile funding and management approach, software investments can be greater on a net present value basis and it firmly places the software development program as an operations concern to be managed effectively. This potential downside is reduced when the organization and its stakeholders have the vision of digital transformation.

Business agility, as supported by software investments, is a key reason for the popularity of software as a service model. These organizations have converted to operational budget models, and have outsourced the ongoing development and maintenance. Business agility strategies see results from the continuous gain of utility delivered by new software features and the organization’s ability to take advantage of these features. These enhancements will avoid the organization from becoming a laggard and can provide a competitive advantage through the constant digital transformations.

Lower Your Lead Generation Costs by Rebalancing your Marketing Budget

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To effectively engage customers in this digital age, you need to support their buyers’ journey. Supporting this journey will require content distribution and authoring strategies that help your field teams connect with customers in a more human way. As marketers, we are all trying to get leads. Except budgets and teams are not growing. So, marketers must produce more with less. How can marketing budgets be stretched to deliver growth while reducing the cost of acquiring new customers?

Traditional budget allocation is heavily focused at the enterprise level. Content is created by the enterprise and broadcasted to all customers and potential clients. As we discussed in our previous article, Three Opportunities Enterprise Marketers are Missing Out On, This means that micro-segments and customers in local markets are less engaged with the content. Those missed opportunities include personalized email engagement, hyper-localized content, and the customers to connect with advisors.

Rebalancing the marketing budget to have a larger focus on distribution will empower field employees. Using a content distribution platform, enterprises can access the field to leverage them for marketing efforts. This allows messaging to reach a larger number of customers that will be provided better value and results in stronger engagement.

By empowering advisors allows for the engagement activities closer to the clients and prospects. By doing so, advisors will be able to create valuable personalized content that is relevant to local markets. When financial advisors are actively involved in the distribution of marketing content there is significant growth in online engagement and more qualified leads for the advisor. So why aren’t more companies implementing this kind of strategy and rebalancing for favor distribution?

  1. They couldn’t if they wanted too.
  2. Platform vendors aren’t developing this strategy. The major vendors are designed for the head office marketing teams. These vendors cannot provide these platforms to all their field agents, both because it would be too costly, and it wouldn’t allow to ensure compliance and brand consistency.
  3. It’s hard to break tradition
  4. As mentioned, budgets are small, and requirements of marketers are growing. So, changing up is “working” can be worrying.
  5. Fear of change
  6. Changing the way funds are allocated can cause fear for marketers. As shifting around budgets and implementing new processes and platforms will involve other major stakeholders. The new changes will need to be justified as a better approach than the traditional budget.  

Who is Doing This Already?

While most organizations know the importance of providing valuable content to their customers. However, fewer companies have implemented the proper tools to leverage a successful distribution strategy. Some of these companies include RBC, American National, UBS, Mortgage Master, Manulife, CIBC, Morgan Stanley, and others.

With the realization of this problem and the opportunity that exists, what can you do? First, begin by re-examining your marketing budget. Where can distribution benefit you? Than explore possible vendors and run a pilot to test your new thesis. Remember, not all vendors are created equal, while the goal may be similar, certain platforms focus on social media, emails, legacy systems, or integrated solutions. Finally, find a vendor that offers internal distribution platforms that best suits your needs.Our product, Digital Agent is one of the platforms that allows enterprise marketers to achieve that distribution strategy and empower advisors while ensuring content and brand compliance.We hope you find the platform that will allow you to transform your advisor marketing programs. If you wish, we’d love to speak with you further about how you can lower your cost for lead generation.

Five Digital Marketing Trends for Organizations with Advisors To Take Advantage

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The Business Case for Transforming Your Advisor Marketing. Part 2 Research Phase BannerYoung and creative start-up team discussing ideas in board room. Group of multi ethnic people during business meeting.

What customers want, how customers think, and how customers interact is changing – constantly. Every year we see the rise and fall of certain platforms, trends and memes that explode, and changes in customer preferences that force the evolution of marketing channels, strategies, and tactics. These conditions and our new awareness of buyer journeys are creating new marketing opportunities where advisor networks can deliver breadth and depth to head office marketing programs.

New tech and new trends will keep you on your toes. It can be easy for some opportunities to slip past, and it’s sometimes hard to predict exactly what trends will manifest in the near future.

So to help prepare for the changes to come in 2018, we’ve put together a list of the top digital marketing trends to keep an eye on.

Advisor Blogging

Blogging is a great way to strengthen digital presence by developing and distributing content that will help customers find your brands. Advisors who blog receive 97% more leads to their websites. Organizations need to develop strategies to train, incent and create regular blogging growth within their advisor community. Doing so will increase customer engagement and drive business growth in a unique way. Whether starting to produce a blog or long-time blogger, there are some tweaks that should make to blogging strategies in 2018.

  • A lot of people with small to medium-sized businesses think they need to match the blogging frequencies of big brands. Unless you have a team of dedicated content developers to produce and promote content all day long, this just isn’t feasible. Instead, choose a frequency that allows for creating high-quality content on a consistent basis. After all, it’s high-quality content that’s going to help you stand out among your competitors, not the number of content pieces that gets published.
  • Engagement on blogs used to mean getting readers to leave comments. However, now that social media is a world of its own, comments on blog posts have declined. They’ve been replaced by shares, likes, and follows. Add social share and social follow buttons on your blog that makes it easy to share.

Advisor Content Distribution Network  

Content Marketing has become widespread and there is a lot of noise that customers will need to cut through before they find your content. This shouldn’t discourage you from producing and publishing high-quality content. Instead, make sure your content distribution strategy is performing to get the best possible results on your content. Accessing an advisor network to distribute content can create both greater reach and ability to integrate content testing and data-driven strategies for customer engagement

  • Old post can be repurposed into a variety of content such as podcasts,  infographics,  short videos, ect. Video sees great metrics. For example, one-third of online activity is spent watching video and generates 1200% more shares than text and images. This allows for a refresh of all content without having to always come up with something new. Additionally, these formats are easily consumable and easily shareable on many different channels – such as email and social media, as well as infographic and video sites.
  • Share content with your email list. These people have already shown an interest and have given you access to their inbox. Utilize this to present the high-quality content to them. As this content meets their needs, they will become more engaged customers. Lead nurturing emails get 4-10 times the response rate compared to standalone email blasts.

Brand Personification

There is a lack of connection between brands and customers because head offices have limited ability to connect in a human way. And, social networks illustrate a model of human connection that organizations should aspire to. Corporations with distributed service and sales organizations like advisors have a built-in advantage because that extended human channel can create warmer connections with customers.  In financial services, customers don’t want to be limited to a 100% transactional relationship. Sensitive and higher value transactions require a more human engagement and a strong sense of trust. When you connect customers to your people your brand is warmer more likely to engage with..

Aligning your brand persona with key customer contacts ensures that more of your content and engagement models build more personal client engagement. Furthermore strategically automating the human component to personalized engagements such as email will add a warmer touch and better results in building connections with customers.

Advanced Find and Advisor Search Criteria

A find an advisor search model is an opportunity for organizations to support multiple stages of a buyer’s journey, but assuming that customers only want location and contact information bypasses some of these stages.  As customers progress their research into financial products and services they will look for specialists and local advisors. Reducing friction in their research process by providing flexible search capability across a diverse set of criteria will reduce abandonment and increase engagement. Organizations need to think carefully about buyer journeys and so customers can find what they’re looking for easily and quickly. Examples include retirement and estate planning specialists along with insurance, small business, and family trusts.

You have created high-quality content that creates a personal connection between the brand and the customer, but all the work in building these personal relationships may be a waste if customers are not given every opportunity to contact advisors. Some financial organizations offer limited search ability to find an advisor. Implementing advanced search criteria will allow customers to connect with advisors very quickly and not require them to jump through hoops to find what they need.

Personalization

Getting customers the right content specifically designed for them is a challenge for any organization and even more so for large organizations. So in addition to automating content delivery by client selection, organizations with advisors can access a personalization model that has much more awareness of micro-segments and specific needs of customers in their local markets. Examples of this personalization strategy is both the advisor micro-sites and email campaigns.  

With individual micro-sites, advisors can provide to their customers with highly targeted content. Empowering field agents to create their own content will result in content that meets the needs of the hyperlocalized customers. Email campaigns are another marketing program that advisors can action with great success. As customers prefer personalized messaging; a mass email from a faceless enterprise does not meet the desires of the customers. When advisors contact the customers directly, there is a person behind the email and customers recognize that. This means that customers will be more receptive to the messaging and will feel that the content is personalized for them.

Three Opportunities Enterprise Marketers Are Missing Out On

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The Business Case for Transforming your Advisor marketing. Identify Section Banner

Balancing business quality versus quantity balance conceptual graphic for business and marketing concept 3D illustration.

The problem with most organizations is that they spend too much of their marketing budget on head office programs. This means that micro-segments and customers in local markets don’t engage with content. I believe that a more effective strategy requires marketing teams to rebalance digital marketing investments appropriately between head office and the field. There a number of symptoms organizations can readily identify to determine if they need to rebalance.

Email Engagement Model

If more than 90% of your email engagement comes from head office with no personal connection to the receiver you need to rethink your approach. People are much more likely to open an email from someone they know, rather than a corporate brand. Using name personalization in email results in a 26% increase in open rates. While 100% email personalization/personification is a “nice to have”, it can require special technology or too many resources to apply properly at an enterprise level. This may be why you are not taking advantage of this opportunity. The biggest problem with the head office driven model is engagement – how to conduct thousands of individual dialogues to properly connect with customers is not practical for a head office marketing team. So you may be inadvertently be driving traffic to inefficient service such as the customer walking into the local branch. We have discussed in a previous article, why this is not effective, and that lack of trust is a reason why AUM is not growing.

There are some cautions in implementing more personalized engagement programs to be aware of. Privacy is an increasing concern for people. 86% of people aim to control and hide their digital footprint. Personalisation can negatively impact marketers as well. 85% of those surveyed say that their audience segments are too large to create effective personalization. Additionally, nearly 33% of marketers say they have limited to no capacity to personalize marketing messages.

Digital Marketing Distribution Gap

If the vast majority of your writing comes from head office you are likely not reaching all of your customers and your content will not be diverse enough to engage with them. Your organization is likely distributed across regions and focused on different economic and socio-economic clusters. This focus also produces unique perspectives that are brand consistent and represents years of real-world experience. These viewpoints and the way they can frame and introduce content in the field to customers through content marketing is extremely valuable. Enterprise-level marketers are experts in marketing; however, they do not have the same local or specialty market knowledge that a field representative like a financial advisor will have. This knowledge gap means that content created exclusively at the head office may fit a generalized buyer journey but not a more specific one. And we know that more specific content resonates with unique segments in more human and powerful ways.  

Centralizing Contact Us.

A very common mistake in attracting new customers is not providing choice for who, how and when they engage with your firm. So most financial services firms in an effort to provide a consistent engagement experience for customers provide a central clearing function for contact us. This does not necessarily match the buyer journey where customers are researching products services and people before they make decisions. While there is a need for centralized contact this on its own may add friction to the buying process. Considering how to effectively balance choice with standards is an important element of customer engagement and may make the difference between a more locally focused firm and yours.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, to engage with customers more personally and match their unique buyer journey organizations need to consider how rebalancing their content marketing programs may create new growth opportunities. The constraints and challenges presented with exclusively head office driven programs are going to interfere with building a strong micro-segment and localized digital marketing programs. Now that this problem has been acknowledged, let’s discuss how to solve it.

Follow us in the coming weeks as we will cover The Business Case for Transforming Your Advisor Marketing, and Part 2: The Solution to this article.

 

How to leverage human interaction to improve digital experiences

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In a survey about improving business processes, the improvement that customers requested most from businesses was better human service. Even in the digital age, consumers prefer human interaction and personal experiences.  

 How to leverage human interaction to improve your digital experiences

A key challenge for brands moving forward is finding ways to offer personalized human service in the broader context of an omnichannel engagement strategy. To learn more about this ongoing development, our Marketing Coordinator, Rob Glenn, sat down with Veriday CEO, Marc Lamoureux, to pick his brain about the importance of human interactions in business. Marc has years of experience helping financial services firms improve their customer engagement by implementing more humanized, personal digital marketing programs.

Rob Glenn: When should human interactions be incorporated as part of the overall digital experience?

Marc Lamoureux: I think an intrinsic part of the digital experience is trying to create human interaction. The world is completely digital now. Everyone has access to some sort of device that connects digitally. People still want human connections. Whenever you can integrate a personal connection, whether in the form of content or by associating an individual with that content, it’s a great way to engage. You should do that 100% of the time if you can manage that.

Rob Glenn: What does human interaction bring to a great digital experience?

Marc Lamoureux: It brings that personal touch, which develops trust and loyalty with the customer. Take Facebook as an example. It works so well because it’s a trusted area where you’re connecting only with your friends. You have let them into your world, and that functions as a protected, lively, social engagement system. For business, the process can work the same way. You should be trying to establish those personal relationships with your customers. And if you do it well, you’re going to develop a trusted ecosystem and have a long future with your customer.

Rob Glenn: How would you plan human touch points in a broader digital engagement strategy?

Marc Lamoureux: There are two main activities that need to be completed when planning human touch points.

1. Don’t limit your segments

Think about the maximum amount of engagement you can get with customers, which is one-to-one. You’re reducing your dependence on a broadcast connection model, giving you the ability accurately target your campaigns.

2. People mapping

The second thing you’ll want to ask is: “who can make the best connection with our customers?” Is it someone in sales? A product expert? Is it someone on the service team who the customers have an affinity with? Try to identify those mappings the same way you map content; you can map your people.

Rob Glenn: How can you use data and other by-products from digital marketing to improve human interactions in a meaningful way?

Marc Lamoureux: Marketing departments today spend a lot of time analyzing data and how content and campaigns perform with customers. You can take the same data, and once you associate people with that content and those customers, you can start to identify data trends with your human interactions. You can experiment with the matching of people with customers just the same as you can experiment with matching your content or campaigns with certain customer segments.

Rob Glenn: What are transactional relationships without a personal connection lacking from a customer’s perspective?

Marc Lamoureux: There are some transactions where personal interactions aren’t necessarily important. In banking, for example, making a payment is not a big, important transaction. But a larger transaction, such as getting a mortgage or making a remittance overseas, may require personal interactions. With high-value transactions, where the customer needs support or help, human interactions are very important. You will want to know who you can contact when help is needed.

Content is another situation where human relationships are important. When people are looking for advice or information, they like to know that there is a person behind the content. They want to know who the author is, and what their perspectives are. Associating content with individuals is a great opportunity for businesses to build trust and loyalty with their customers.

Rob Glenn: How can the financial services industry improve the quality of human interactions in the context of their overall omnichannel experience?

Marc Lamoureux: I think if you map out a traditional customer journey and identify how customers go through the process of engaging and buying with you, but also where your own people come in during journey, you will see where your people are engaged with customers in various parts of the journey. That’s going to help you create a better strategy for mapping and planning your human interactions.

The other thing you can do is an audit of your current engagement processes. For example, a lot of organizations have “find us” pages on their websites. When a client wants to engage and arrange a meeting, oftentimes it’s a black box. They don’t know who they will speak with or who will call them back. In our experience, if a financial services organization can associate people with the purchase process or engagement model, they will get better results with customers.

Rob Glenn: How can technology facilitate human interaction?

Marc Lamoureux: Technology, in some way, provides every person with a broadcast medium. Platforms such as Facebook and Youtube have created these one-to-one, or one-to-ten, or one-to-one-hundred type relationships. Technology has created these micro-broadcast relationships all over the internet through digital mediums. I think that same technology principle can be applied to financial services. Instead of a mass media broadcasted marketing campaign, you can start to think about creating more focused messaging, creating one-to-one-thousand, one-to-one-hundred and ultimately one-to-one marketing relationships.

When I think about how technology can be applied to creating better customer connections and more personal experiences, I think of the typical email process for a large financial services organization. If you send an email to a customer from only the brand, with no people attached to it, a lot of people won’t open it, even if there is high-value content in it. If you take the same content and associate it with somebody they know, they are way more likely to open the email. This will give you a second chance to get them to engage with your content. That’s a really good example of a successful strategy of applying technology to create more human connections in your business.

 

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this conversation, please follow us on Twitter @VeridayHQ for more top-notch content about digital marketing and making the most out of digital channels!

The Irony of Social Selling in the Digital Area

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Social selling in the digital area occurs when salespeople use social media to interact directly with prospects. It involves developing relationships by interacting with prospects on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social selling and digital marketing are different things, although they work well in tandem. Digital marketing focuses on sending out messages to many people, whereas social selling is focused on cultivating one-to-one relationships.

Social selling has been used long before the advent of digital platforms. Starting in the 1940’s and 1950’s, salespeople started building connections with their clients. They built these connections by taking prospects golfing, to the country club or to an exclusive event. By building a relationship, and highlighting common interests, you will increase the likelihood that a purchase will be made.

Social selling has made a comeback in recent years for two main reasons:

1)  Due to the connectivity brought about by advances in digital platforms, it is now easy to communicate with prospects using the internet.

2) Social selling is making a comeback because of changes in the way people buy products and services. Now, 60% of the buyer’s journey takes place before a salesperson is contacted. This means that before a prospect reaches out, they’ve already done most of their research which means a salesperson is less likely to be able to influence their knowledge.

How can digital channels create human connections?

One clear way that digital social selling parallels social selling of the past, is through the growth of digital connections. This mirrors the concept of growing your network, meeting people at the country club and industry events. This was the way social selling was originally completed.

A good salesperson needed to be part of the right social groups to get a meeting with a warm lead. To get your message across, you needed to know somebody in order to work your way into an organization. Simply getting your message in front of somebody who may be interested in purchasing your products or services was extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.

Today, it is easier than ever before to make connections with people. There are many ways to find qualified leads, both digitally and in the physical world. Social media is leading the revival of social selling and is one of the most effective digital methods for generating leads.

Using social media to make connections

Social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, are a clear indicator that social selling is back like never before. These platforms allow businesses to build connections with potential leads by following and engaging with them on the platform. This parallels the way in which salespeople network in the physical world. In the original wave of social selling, salespeople connected with potential leads by taking them to lunch or some other form of social interaction.

Social networks are more effective at creating these connections for a few reasons.

1. Social media websites have no cost to sign up.

This is a clear cost-savings because you can interact with potential leads at no expense.

2. Social media is a quick way to make a connection

In the original wave of social selling, an invitation to dinner, golf or some event was practically required to get in front of a lead. The prospect might not humor you if the offer does not seem worth the time. That constraint is no more, which takes a burden off company expense accounts.

On social networks, people provide a description of themselves along with their likes. You can also see members of their network. Depending on the platform, different information will be provided. On LinkedIn, for example, people will provide information about their current position, previous jobs, and their professional skill set. That is one of the reasons why B2B sales use LinkedIn to prospect clients. Depending on your niche, who you are prospecting, and what their interests are, you can use different social networks to target leads.

Ratings and Reviews: Connecting the World

Another way that modern social selling mirrors social selling of the past is the growth in popularity of customer reviews. It has never been easier to see what other people think about a business or their product. Websites like Yelp and Google+ have hundreds of millions of users. Yelp users post 26,380 reviews per minute. So, it is likely that your business has already been reviewed many, many times. Reviews are significant because 92% of consumers read online reviews in 2016, up from 2015.  These reviews are important because they can be prospect’s’ first impression of you.

The online review ecosystem reflects another aspect of social selling from the past. Word-of-mouth reviews used to be the only way for leads to get an unfiltered opinion of your business. There are several limitations of word-of-mouth reviews, including the inability to verify the truthfulness of the review. Another limitation is the fact that you must already know (or work hard to seek out) somebody who has done business with the company in question.

Online reviews have given consumers access to more information than ever before. While the truthfulness of reviews is still open to question, brands now have an opportunity to respond. The size of your personal network is no longer a factor in accessing reviews. This means that a potential lead can get opinions on your business from all different customers, regardless of their locations. While these reviews are done online, they are still done by real people and should be considered. There is a good chance your prospective customer will have seen the review.

So how can you combat bad reviews? This article does a great job of examining what to do and what not to do about bad customer reviews.

Content has become less complicated to produce

Another reason that social selling is making a comeback is because reality-based content and entertainment can be easily produced. Digital channels crave content. It’s the fuel that keeps the cycle running smoothly. Without quality, engaging content, digital channels would slow down to a crawl, due to a void of information. For business purposes, content can come in many forms, but for most industries, the content must be based in reality.

Reality-based entertainment and reality-based content have become much easier to produce thanks to improved digital tools. Thanks to a variety of web applications, every picture can look beautiful. Stock photos are high quality and available in droves to ensure engaging images can be added to your content. Video and audio have never been easier to produce. People can create any form of content they want. They no longer need the level of expertise required before technological advances made content creation more accessible.

Today, creating content has never been easier. With improvements in technologies such as cameras, monitors, and editing software, video has become prolific. 78% of people watch online videos every week, 55% watch every day. This form of media has become extremely important in today’s digital environment, partially because it is very engaging, partially because it is easy to create.

It has never been easier to produce content and get it out to the masses. Content allows you to share, comment and otherwise interact with prospects in the digital space by presenting a talking point. This content revolution is changing the way social selling takes place.

How can brands use digital social selling?

There has been an undeniable culture shift over the last decade, with social selling becoming a key linchpin for salespeople. This shift has lead to several brands wondering: “What do we do now?”

There are several key activities for brands to manage when implementing social selling in the digital area.

  • Creating content for your team to disseminate.

Content is one of the most important aspects of social selling. As a form of inbound marketing, social selling should involve building confidence through education. By educating prospects, they will grow to trust you, and when the time is ripe they will seek your business out.

  • Keep Conversations Local

Social selling is most effective when used on a local level. If salespeople have tools that allow them to geo-target their prospects, keeping the conversation local is much easier. These tools are available as part of many larger suites and are immensely valuable to salespeople. Another way to help target local leads is to have location-specific campaigns that speak to common pain-points of the local demographics.

By targeting locally and creating educational material for salespeople to use when social selling, it allows them to limit their conversations to the most qualified prospects possible. This will increase the ROI of your sales efforts by limiting the number of interactions your sales team has with cold leads.

Conclusion

It’s almost ironic that the digital area was once thought to be the domain of isolationist hermits who didn’t want human interaction. Now, it is the place where billions of people go to share information, review products, converse with businesses and make purchase decisions. The landscape has changed, and just like in the 1950’s, social selling is a key tool for any business.

Before the transformation of the digital landscape, golf trips and exclusive events dominated social selling. If you didn’t have a membership at the best local country club or tickets to a hockey game, you would have a very difficult time getting in front of a warm lead. Today, those barriers have become less important. All you need is a digital platform, informational material and the willingness to start a conversation. Social selling today mirrors social selling of the past in many ways and is a tactic that should be considered by financial service professionals.

Do you use social selling to generate leads for your financial service business? Is it still golf trips and hockey tickets or do you use digital platforms? What is your favorite way to use social selling techniques? Do you use Twitter or LinkedIn? If you do follow us on those platforms to hear more news about selling in the digital space!

Social Selling is Not the Same as Social Media

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Social selling is defined by LinkedIn as:

“leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.”

Now, for many salespeople this seems intuitive, “How else are you going to make sales?” You need a way to meet potential buyers, and cold-calling is a waste of time and money. Therefore, your network is the best way to make sales.

With the way that social media has gained popularity over the past decade, communicating with your network has never been easier. Like Dale Carnegie said in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Social selling follows that theory and applies it to brands. You can get more customers by taking interest in them, building relationships and developing trust than by using interruptive marketing techniques to ingrain your brand name in their head. 

Today, we will discuss several misconceptions about social selling. First, we will examine the misconception that social selling only takes place on social networks. Email, websites, and other forums can be used for social selling as well. Then we will discuss how social selling involves building personal relationships with the prospect. Finally, we will discuss the risks associated with selling on social networks.

1. Social selling does not only take place on social networks

While social selling involves leveraging your social network, it is not exclusively done on social media. Social selling is about building connections with your network, and these connections can be built in many ways. Many interactions will take place on social media, but email, websites, and forums are also great places to engage with your network.

Email
  • Email has its challenges because you first must build a contact list. This list can include clients, but in order to grow your network, you will need people to sign up for your newsletter:
    • You can get people to sign up for your newsletter by putting signup forms in various locations online.
    • To motivate people to sign up, outline the value proposition for your newsletter.
    • Offer subscriber-only incentives for signing up.
  • Once you have a contact list, email is one of the best methods of engagement for a few reasons:
    • Email has the highest ROI of all digital channels.
    • Emails are very personalized.
    • Results from email marketing are easily measurable.
  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.
Websites
  • Publishing content to your website will increase your search rankings. Engaging, informative content draws people to your website (and keeps them engaged). Without content, your website will be nearly undiscoverable for those without the URL.
  • You can engage with your clients on your website or blog. Simply offering a comments section on your blog and asking people to comment their opinions is an effective way to build relationships and engagement.
  • New ways of engagement, such as chat (or chatbots) can entice people to visit and spend more time on your website.
Forums
  • An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
  • There are many forums online, the largest of which is reddit.com
    • Reddit has many subject-specific forums, from NBA basketball to macrame.
    • Brands can even start a forum about themselves, inviting people to engage in a conversation with you
  • Other forums are focused on a specific subject, you will need to search for an active forum that meets your niche.

Regardless of where you choose to engage, the end goal is to start a conversation and build connections. Each channel you choose to use has their own strengths and weaknesses, so consider your end goals when creating an engagement strategy.

2. Social aspects of selling and customer engagement are about personal connections

To be successful at social selling, you will need to engage your customers in order to build a personal connection. People are far more likely to do business with an entity that they trust. This trust is best built through personifying your brand and putting a human face on your business.

Developing trust with consumers will lead to increased customer loyalty, which in turn will lead to improved customer engagement. Engagement, loyalty, and trust will lead to a more profitable audience, leading to more sales. We see companies who have improved engagement increase cross-sell revenue by 22% and drive up-sell revenue from 13% to 51%.

Social selling involves putting the customer first. Putting the customer first means meeting their needs, listening to their concerns, building a relationship with them and doing what you can to simplify their life. If you can achieve those goals, you will create a personal connection. You no longer will just be “the financial advisor” to your customers. You will be known on a first-name basis. Become part of their network and they will grow to trust you.

3. Social networks may be a lower value place for engagement, viewed as risky or an unsafe place for commerce

Engagement from social media can sometimes be seen as having less value than engagement from other channels. Some brands view social media as risky or an unsafe place for commerce because they cannot control the conversation.

On social media, you have to “go with the flow”. Anyone can say anything, at any time and it’s up to the brand to respond how they see fit. This can lead to some awkward and uncomfortable situations that require a response. The risk of public negative feedback can scare some brands away from using social media.

Some brands also view the engagement from social media to be “cheap”. These brands believe the engagement from social media does not lead to sales. 56% of businesses said they are unable to tie social media to business outcomes for one reason or another. Recently, various platforms such as Facebook have come under attack for having misleading analytics. The recent controversies have made the platforms even more questionable for marketers. At the end of the day, social media still is an excellent way to reach younger demographics, share content and engage with your audience.

While some brands feel social media is of low-value, it cannot be ignored that several brands have done an excellent job leveraging social media for their businesses. Dove, Netflix, and Coca-Cola are just three examples of brands who have successfully leveraged social media to start a conversation. There is absolutely nothing stopping a brand in finance from doing the same and becoming a social media superstar.

Implications: Firms need to consider broader context for social engagement strategies

You will need to consider a very wide-reaching strategy to get the most out of social selling.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are an excellent way to grow your network and share content. Email is a great method to re-engage with previous customers, keep prospective clients updated on new information, and maintain brand awareness in the minds of your readers. Forums, such as Reddit, can be used to find like-minded individuals and build connections with them, drawing them into your network.

If you don’t consider the main use case of whatever medium you are using and the context in which you attempt to engage, your social engagement strategy may seem erratic. Your goal is to build a relationship and gain trust. In order to do that, every interaction must feel natural and unforced.

So, what are your favorite strategies for social selling? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @VeridayHQ.

The Human Brand: How Personal Connections Shaped the World

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At Veriday, our team has recently been reading The Human Brand, written by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske. The book looks at branding through the lens of a psychological scientist to see how branding can have an effect on customer loyalty and retention. We believe that personal branding is key to gaining and retaining customers by offering them personalized experiences that establish human relationships in an increasingly digital world. We are striving to facilitate those relationships in financial services through technology solutions that allow personalized marketing to remain compliant.

The introduction of the book is very informative and uses several engaging examples to explain the thesis of the book. Today, we are going to take a look at the first documented brands and why they were needed. We will also look at the status-quo before brands became commonplace and discuss the proliferation of branding, both corporate and personal, in the increasingly digital world.

Trademarks: Branding Post-Industrial Revolution

Brands have been around for a very long time. In 1882, French painter Édouard Manet painted the masterpiece, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. On the right side of the painting, there is a bottle of ale with a trademark for the British brewer Bass & Co. It’s believed that this was the first commercial trademark in a piece of fine art.

It is fitting that the first use of a trademark in fine art took place during the industrial revolution; where for the first time, people were buying goods of unknown origins. Before industrialization, people purchased (or traded) goods from other members of the community. When you bought bread, you knew the baker personally. Maybe you even had a social relationship with them. That relationship meant that there was some level of trust behind the transaction. In the book, it’s framed as “buying the person behind the product along with the product itself.” 

Since the industrial revolution, we do not have relationships with the merchants and manufacturers of our goods. Before the advent of social media, there was no way to hold them accountable. If there is not a way to hold companies accountable, there is less incentive to treat your customers with respect. With no incentive to treat customers well, some businesses feel like they can employ predatory practices. 

Trademarks originated as a way for customers to know where their goods were coming from. They replaced the personal relationship with manufacturers that was the norm pre-industrial revolution.

Social Relationships: What Branding Replaced

Back when everybody knew the people who made their goods, an interesting practice took place. Commercial sales of bread needed to be at least a certain weight or the baker would face grave social consequences. To be safe, bakers would add an extra roll or two into every batch. This is where the term “baker’s dozen” comes from.

In the days when everybody knew their baker, if a baker shorted their customer, the information would be spread around the community, and their reputation would be ruined. The baker who undersold bread would face social humiliation and business consequences. The threat of these consequences provided enough social pressure to keep people honest. The authors of The Human Brand concluded that:

“Merchants accepted that the relationship they had with their customers were critical to survival, and they either learned to nurture those relationships or their business would fail.”

175 years ago, merchants could see the value in building relationships with their customers. Because of the industrial revolution and the rise in manufacturing centers, merchants and customers grew apart. Customer-merchant relationships are no longer as close as they once were.

The authors propose that social networks have made the world more closely connected. Social networks have reestablished the social consequences of providing a low-quality product. Social accountability is here to stay. Customers can now influence outcomes that used to be far beyond their control. Thanks to social networks, there is instant karma. If a company does something dishonest, the whole world will know almost immediately.

Humanization of Brands

The authors introduced a case study of when the Montgomery Ward company tried to humanize their mail-order catalogue. They included pictures of the company’s founders and other executives, with their signatures underneath the pictures. They were trying to humanize the brand by evoking a human connection with the readers. Their attempt to humanize the brand was meant to solve the “unknown hands” issue that was present since the industrial revolution. In the book, the authors showed this note from a Montgomery Ward customer:

“I suppose you wonder why we haven’t ordered anything from you since the fall. Well, the cow kicked my arm and broke it and besides my wife was sick, and there was the doctor bill. But now, thank God, that is paid, and we are all well again, and we have a fat new baby boy, and please send plush bonnet number 29d8077 . . . “

This note clearly illustrates that their efforts to humanize their brand were successful. The customer replied as if they were responding to their local shopkeeper despite the fact that the note was sent in a mass-selling situation. It would be the equivalent of sending a personalized letter to a mass retailer like Wal-Mart or Amazon today. Building relationships with your customers and evoking emotions by providing a human connection can increase customer loyalty.

There need to be consequences for brands when they misbehave. In the days before the industrial revolution, manufacturers had social relationships with their patrons. If they acted dishonestly, word would spread through the community and ruin the merchant’s reputation. In today’s digital world, social media has almost the same function.

Conclusion

A lot has changed since the industrial revolution. The world went from local sales and personal relationships with every merchant to mass-selling and no connection with merchants thanks to the increased manufacturing capacity brought by technological change. Since social networks have gained popularity, merchants have started to build relationships with their customers online. We have seen a revival in social accountability, meaning that bad customer experiences get shared across the web, resulting in bad publicity for the offending business.

This connectivity is not without its challenges. Brands now need to make special considerations on how to naturally engage with their customers online. Brands have to make plans for dealing with upset customers online or risk a media firestorm. Relationships in business are back to a new, never-before-seen level. You will need to nurture and grow your client relationships or be left behind in the increasingly social world.

The Human Brand discusses the challenges of humanizing your brand in today’s social age. It is a great read for any marketer. Have you read this book? What were your biggest takeaways? As always, let us know on Twitter @VeridayHQ

The Human Side of Digital Engagement

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Over the last decade, digital engagement has become an integral part of any marketing strategy. As the internet has grown from an academic and military repository to the hub for commerce, engagement, and content, people have changed their expectations about online experiences.

In fact, expectations have changed so much that, according to Gartner, 85% of customer interactions are predicted to happen without human contact by 2020. If you are rushing to automate your processes, hold your horses. There is still a human side of digital engagement; one that is absolutely critical to the success of your customer engagement strategy.

Here are four ways that humans can influence your digital engagement efforts:

1. Customers expect human interaction as an option

Human interaction is still a very important part of any customer service and engagement strategy. While there are many instances in which a consumer would like an automated experience there are still many where human interaction is still needed. 83% of U.S. consumers still prefer talking to a human instead of resolving issues over digital channels.

Are consumers willing to pay more for help from a real person? It appears that for the most part, they are. According to the Financial Brand, 38.2% of consumers are willing to pay more and 37% of consumers do not have an opinion on the matter.

Consumers Willing to Pay for Help: Digital Engagement

This fact can be taken advantage of by offering various levels of service. Consider an advisor that offers access to robo-advice for a small fee, but no in-person time with the advisor themself. That advisor can attract one niche to their business by offering robo-advice as a low-cost option, aimed at a certain type of investors. That same advisor could market their “full-service” package to more affluent investors and charge a higher fee. The “full service” option could include personal, in-person advice from the advisor themself along with other “premium” features. This would allow the financial advisor to market their services to two different niches, all at different price points.

While digital channels are very important there still needs to be a way to offer human interaction to every customer who wants it. Some are even willing to pay for it.

The need for human interaction is especially true for complex issues:

2. Complexity: Associated with Human Interaction

A Forrester study about self-service found the following statistics:

  • Use of the help/FAQ pages on a company’s website for customer service increased from 67% in 2012 to 76% in 2014 while phone interactions have remained constant at a 73% usage rate.
  • Online chat adoption continues to rise – from 38% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 to 58% in 2014.
  • The use of communities and virtual agents jumped by over 10 percentage points each.

These statistics show that while self-service problem solving is still growing in popularity, the option to talk to a real person is still very important. Self-service solutions such as FAQs can only solve basic problems. A real person, either over the phone or through some digital communication channel, can suss out more complex problems and help implement solutions.

Some customers prefer to ask their questions over the phone. 27% of consumers prefer to ask commercial questions over the phone (pre-sale) and 35% of post-sale customers prefer to do the same.

Regardless of the communication channel customers want the option for a personal touch.

3. Consumers prefer human context inside a brand

In the Kurt Vonnegut novel, Player Piano (1951), the world was mostly automated, with only engineers and doctors remaining employed. Everything in the world is operated by robots except for restaurants and barbershops. Waiters and barbers were able to stay employed because the working elite felt that replacing them would make dinner and haircuts become too “impersonal”.

Even in a dystopian novel written far before the age of customer engagement, some level of human interaction is absolutely necessary. The same idea goes in business today. When your customer comes into your office, you should greet them as if they were an old friend. They should be able to get to know the people that are providing their financial services.

Reach out to your customers. Start a conversation with them. Answer their questions. Provide human context by mentioning something about employees, customers, partners or thought leaders. Show the customer that your brand lives in the same world that they do.

For more information on the benefits of personifying your brand, check out our article on brand personification.

4. Improving Customer Experience (CX)

Providing human interaction is a way to ensure a balanced engagement strategy. Take, for example, this chart by the Financial Brand  that takes a look at what banks think the biggest opportunities for CX improvements were over the past year:

Biggest opportunities for CX improvements in the next year in Digital Engagement

While improving websites was the #1 priority, employee development and call centre improvements are the next two distinct options.

This shows that while a digital presence is important, there are plenty of opportunities to improve the quality of human interactions in banking. Human interactions are very important to consider when planning customer experiences. Financial institutions realize that employees are one of their biggest assets and they wish to develop them even further. Employees are not digital but they are one of the most effective ways to supplement digital channels through human-to-human interaction.

According to Gallup, retail banking customers who are fully engaged bring 37% more annual revenue to their primary bank than actively disengaged customers. Just under a quarter of banks believe they can develop their employees to provide better experiences to their customers. Providing better experiences will increase customer engagement which will lead to more revenue for your business.

Conclusions

Humans play a critical part in digital engagement. People are not ready for a world in which there is no human interaction in business, in fact, the opposite may be true. Many people have had their fill of digital-only experiences and are looking for more human-to-human interaction. Some people want a combination of both. Regardless, you should ensure that you can offer human-to-human relationships to customers who want those experiences. From helping customers traverse complex situations, to dealing with complaints, to putting a smiling face on your brand, people can do a lot for your branding efforts. Your customers will have a better experience if a human is there to empathize with them while solving their problems. Banks and other financial service professionals have been putting forth the effort to bring higher quality interactions to their customers. 

Do you provide a human face to your digital engagement strategy? Let us know over on Twitter @VeridayHQ how human interaction has helped your customers get a better experience. Every brand can benefit from a little bit of humanization.